The Dispute Between Mkhas Grub Rje and Ngor Chen: its Representation and Role in Tibetan Life-Writing
by JÖRG HEIMBEL
In the second decade of the fifteenth century an intense religious dispute erupted between mKhas grub rJe dGe legs dpal bzang (1385–1438) and Ngor chen Kun dga’ bzang po (1382–1456). According to Tibetan textual sources of the Sa skya pa school, this dispute was essentially over the interpretation of the
However, it has been shown elsewhere that the dispute was actually a gradually intensifying exchange of rhetorical blows that was also fuelled and intensified by several other arguments. The polemic-loving mKhas grub rJe can be singled out as one of its main players; he antagonised
the Sa skya pa—the very school he himself was closely linked to through his own religious training prior to meeting Tsong kha pa (1357–1419)—with his harsh attacks against not only Ngor chen but also against other prominent masters, such as Red mda’ ba gZhon nu blo gros (1349–1412), his own teacher, and Rong ston Shes bya kun rig (1367–1449). But Ngor chen also played his role in the dispute. He had initially objected to some of Tsong kha pa’s positions, such
as on deity yoga or the body maṇḍala practice of Cakrasaṃvara, which mKhas grub rJe felt impelled to defend. This, in turn, gave rise to those new arguments that spurred further tensions, escalating in what has become known as the dispute about the Hevajra body maṇḍala.2 1 Smith 2001: 237. 2 See the important contribution by Yael Bentor in this volume. I would like to thank Yael Bentor for sharing earlier drafts of her
paper and her valuable remarks on certain passages of this paper. Thanks are also due to September Cowley for carefully proofreading my English. For an indepth study of another debate, namely the polemic exchange between the rNying ma pa master ’Ju Mi pham (1846–1912) and his dGe lugs pa opponent dPa’ ris Rab gsal (1840–1912), including also an investigation into the debate’s socio-historical and possible religiopolitical backgrounds, see Viehbeck 2014. On polemics and polemical literature in Tibet, see Cabezón and Dargyay 2007: –33. See also Lopez 1996 and Viehbeck 2014: 40–50.
In general, the dispute was not merely a polemical exchange written in a cutting tone—there is nothing to suggest that mKhas grub rJe and Ngor chen ever met personally3—but was also conducted from a sectarian standpoint, which shaped the religious realities of fifteenth-century Tibet. One direct outcome was a travel ban placed on the religious scholars of Sa skya. The intense dispute had inflamed passions to such an extent that the administration of Sa skya
prohibited its own scholars from travelling, probably aiming at easing the agitated emotions and preventing any further disputes.4 Ultimately, the dispute contributed to an ever-growing sectarian divide and polarisation between followers of Tsong kha pa’s emerging dGe lugs pa school and those of the old Sa skya pa school.5 While researching my dissertation on the life and times of Ngor chen,6 I noticed that the dispute also played an important polemical role
in the related biographical and historiographical literature, especially in textual sources from the dGe lugs pa school.7 That life-writing can, for instance, exhibit such a polemical function has already been pointed out by Janet Gyatso, who noted its “polemical agendas,” “namely to assert the religious achievements of a master and his or her lineage in contrast to those of rival schools,” and that this literature reflects “the competitive
climate of Tibetan sectarian politics.”8 Similarly, in his recent contribution on lifewriting and the formation of early dGe lugs pa identity, Elijah Ary has argued that “Tibetan biographical writing is not merely a historical, inspirational, and/or instructional account, as Willis maintains, but also a powerful tool in establishing philosophical authority and legitimacy, both personally and institutionally,” and that “in our study of Tibetan religion we
need to take better account of biographical writing as a crucial instrument of sectarian formation.”9 In a similar line, I shall argue in this essay that the description of sectarian disputes in Tibetan life-writing, as exemplified by that between mKhas grub rJe and Ngor chen, together with the slanderous portrayal of Buddhist masters involved in it, functions as an important narrative strategy in establishing not only the religious authority of a religious
master and his doctrinal superiority over his opponent but ultimately also the superiority of the school with whom he is associated over that of his rival. In doing so, they also strengthen intersectarian differences and create and consolidate a common unifying sectarian identity. They share this function with the
3 See the Dus kyi me lce (p. 51.1–4). 4 See Heimbel 2014: 356–358. 5 On the sectarian divide between the dGe lugs pa and Sa skya pa, see Dreyfus 1997: 33–41. See also Dreyfus 2005: 293–297, Jackson 2007: 352–357, and Jackson 2010: 178–179. 6 See Heimbel 2014. 7 Though the dGe lugs pa were first referred to as dGa’ ldan pa, after the name of Tsong kha pa’s monastic foundation of dGa’ ldan, and then also as dGe ldan pa, for simplicity’s sake, I shall use the later designation dGe lugs pa. 8 Gyatso 1998: 103. 9 Ary 2015: 103.
actual polemic writings that originate within those disputes. As has been pointed out by Cabezón and Dargyay, Yet another reason for the genre’s popularity, therefore, has to do with the role that it plays in forming and nourishing a sense of identity and belonging. Polemics is both the parent and the child of sectarian identity-formation. When such an identity becomes important to a culture (…) scholars will often resort to polemics to create a sense of distinctiveness for their particular school. Followers of that school will in turn look to polemical works to give them a sense of identity: to show them how their school differs from and is superior to that of their rivals.10
Among the numerous accounts of mKhas grub rJe’s life, the second earliest extant is his secret biography by Se ra rJe btsun pa Chos kyi rgyal mtshan (1469–1544), the twelfth abbot of Se ra Monastery (tenure: 1538–1541),11 which discusses at great length the debates that mKhas grub rJe engaged in.12 This biography has been utilised as a major source by Elijah Ary in his important study on the early dGe lugs pa history, showing, among other things, how mKhas grub rJe’s position within that school’s hierarchy was elevated throughout the centuries and how he was styled as one of Tsong kha pa’s two closest disciples and his chief spiritual heir and interpreter.13 But it is not only mKhas grub rJe’s portrayal that is of interest here. Also very telling is the presentation of the debates he engaged in and the portrayal of the religious masters he debated, as both are given in a highly sectarian tone, conveying the
10 Cabezón and Dargyay 2007: 6. 11 See the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fol. 22a3–4). rJe btsun pa served also in many other monastic positions: abbot of Se ra Byes college (tenure: 1511–1540), zhal bdag of dGe ldan Byang gling, and abbot of sTag rtse Rin chen sgang (installed in 1523); see the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fols. 16a5–6, 22a2–6). 12 There are different block-print editions of mKhas grub rJe’s collected works, such as from sKu ’bum, Zhol, and bKra shis lhun po. Interestingly, his secret biography contained in the sKu ’bum recension (mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1), which is used for this essay, is
much more extensive than that in those from Zhol (mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 2) and bKra shis lhun po (mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 3). It contains passages that are entirely missing from the other two, and numerous individual sentences are either extended in the former or shortened in the latter two. Note that also the Zhol and bKra shis lhun po recensions vary to a certain extant from each other. For references to biographies and biographical sketches of mKhas grub rJe’s life, see Ary 2015: 41, n. 121. For a translation of his secret biography according to the reading of the Zhol recension, see ibid.: 121–149. 13 See Ary 2015: –66 and passim.
tensions and animosities that had arisen between the emerging dGe lugs pa and Sa skya pa schools.14 On two occasions, rJe btsun pa discusses various arguments that mKhas grub rJe had with other religious masters: first in a subsection on mKhas grub rJe’s deeds for the Buddha’s teachings through explanation and practice, and a second time in the succeeding subsection on the many protector deities who praised him and performed their activities for him.15 In both subsections, he also deals with Ngor chen, and paints a highly negative picture of him when first mentioning him in the former:16
Furthermore, the one known as Ngor pa Kun bzang, whom the Sa skya pa worship like Vajradhara, though he had received many profound teachings of the Vajrayāna from rJe btsun Tsong kha pa,17 due to [his] very clinging to the riches and honours of this life, ignoring [his] tantric pledges and vows like
grass, he engaged in denigrating Tsong kha pa, the father, and his spiritual sons, and also expressed verbally a lot of terrifying slander by simply regurgitating [others]. But Ngor chen is not the only Sa skya pa master to be attacked by rJe btsun pa. His portrayal is preceded by the adverse criticism directed against Rong ston, with whom mKhas grub rJe quarrelled at dPal ’khor Chos sde in about 1427, and followed by that of Kon ting Gu shrī Nam mkha’ bzang po from Sa skya’s Nyi lde bla brang.18 Finally,
14 Those animosities still existed in the twentieth century, as we learn from an account by dGe ’dun chos ’phel (1903–1951), who, while visiting Ngor in the 1930s, remarks that some Ngor pa monks were disparaging Tsong kha pa; see the gSer gyi thang ma (pp. 30.20–31.5): grwa pa yon tan can ’ga’ zhig rje btsun tsong kha pa chen po la lam dman par zhugs pa zhes mi ’os pa’i ngan smras cher byed| rigs pa’i rgyu mtshan ci smras kyang phan par mi ’dug| der ngas
’o na rgyal ba rin po che yang lam ngan du zhugs par thal| de tsong kha pa’i rjes su ’brangs pa’i phyir smras pas khong tsho’i kha rbad kyis chod| deng sang gi rigs pa’i gsang tshig chen po zhig de nas go|. 15 See the mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fol. 6a2–4). On the structure of mKhas grub rJe’s secret biography, see Ary 2015: 59–66. 16 mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fol. 11b1–3): gzhan yang| ngor pa kun bzang pa zhes grags pa sa skya pa rnams kyis rdo rje ’chang lta bur bkur ba des kyang| tshe ’di’i rnyed bkur la ha cang zhen pa’i dbang gis| rje btsun tsong kha pa las rdo rje theg pa’i chos zab mo du ma zhig nyan yang| dam tshig dang sdom pa rtswa ltar yal bar dor te| rje tsong kha pa yab sras la skur ba ’debs pa la zhugs nas| ngag tu yang rdzes [= rjes] zlos byed pa tsam gyi [= gyis] ya nga ba’i ngan smras du ma byas shing|. 17 During his first sojourn in dBus (1414–1417), Ngor chen paid a visit to Tsong kha pa at Ri bo dGe ldan (i.e., dGa’ ldan Monastery), receiving the reading transmissions for the Lam rim gnyis (i.e., Tsong kha pa’s two main treatises on
the path: the Lam rim chen mo and sNgags rim chen mo), the gSang ’dus kyi bshad rgyud gsum gyi ṭīk, Sarvadurgatipriśodhanatantra, and Dhyānottarapaṭalaṭīkā. However, Ngor chen’s main reason for approaching Tsong kha pa at that time was not merely to request teachings, but rather to gain support for his undertaking to revive the two lower tantric systems of Kriyā and Caryā. On Ngor chen’s visit, see the Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 2 (pp. 514.1–6, 522.4–523.6). 18 See the mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fols. 11a3–b3, 11b3–4), respectively. For a more
all three are characterised as “fools who have not understood the essence of the excellent words [of the Conqueror] [and] do not have an impartial mind.”19 However, it would be unjust to think that rJe btsun pa simply fabricated his portrayal of Ngor chen. He actually drew on a slanderous passage that mKhas grub rJe himself had included in one of his writings originating within the body maṇḍala controversy. mKhas grub rJe had written that work in reply to a
refutation by the above-mentioned Kon ting Gu shrī, who had initially attacked mKhas grub rJe for his chapter on the body maṇḍala included in his presentation of the creation stage of Guhyasamāja.20 mKhas grub rJe’s rejoinder bears no title, but in his biography by Paṇ chen bDe legs nyi ma (fl. 16th century) the work is listed as the Rejoinder to the Response that Kon ting Go’u shrī Gave about the Guhyasamāja Body Maṇḍala (Kon ting go’u shrīs gsang ’dus lus dkyil lan btab pa’i yang lan).21 After discussing what he considered to be Kon ting Gu shrī’s misconceptions of Buddhism, in general, and of the
body maṇḍala, in particular, mKhas grub rJe also deals with Ngor chen, attacking him harshly, though without identifying him by name. In a long introductory passage full of caustic rhetoric,22 he portrays Ngor chen as a religious master who, though having received Vajrayāna teachings from Tsong kha pa, discarded his tantric pledges like grass out of hope for the riches and honours of this life and disparaged Tsong kha pa holding much hate and jealousy.23 Though Ngor chen had not received a religious training under teachers skilled in the sūtras and tantras, as mKhas grub rJe argues, he took on
the burden of refuting the fine explanations of true scholars, writing texts that made others feel ashamed. mKhas grub rJe continues in this way, detailed presentation of mKhas grub rJe’s confrontation with Rong ston, see the mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fols. 11a3–5, 14a2–18a6) and Rong ston gyi rnam thar (pp. 346.3–347.1). See also Cabezón 1992: 17–18, 389–390, 399, n. 20, Jackson 2007: 352–356, and Jackson 2010: 178–179. 19 mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fol. 11b4–5): de lta na yang blun po gsung rab kyi gnad ma go ba gzu bor gnas pa’i blo dang mi ldan pa de dag dri ma med pa’i rigs pas rjes
su ’dzin par ga la nus|. 20 In his rejoinder, mKhas grub rJe refers to Nam mkha’ bzang po simply as “Kon ting Gu shrī, the great universal religious teacher of the Great Monastic Seat;” see the Yang lan (p. 775.2): gdan sa chen po’i yongs kyi dge ba’i bshes gnyen chen po kon ting gug shri bas|. However, based on a remark in the mDo smad chos ’byung of dKon mchog bstan pa rab rgyas (1801– 1866), it is possible to identify Kon ting Gu shrī as Nam mkha’ bzang po; see the mDo smad chos ’byung (p. 6.16–17): glo bo mkhan chen gu ge chos dpal bzang po| kwan ting ku shri nam mkha’ bzang po rnams kyis mdzad pa’i ngor
shar ba’i gdung rabs lnga| rjes ma ’dis mkhas grub rin po cher dgag pa’i rnam pa zhig phul ba’i lan gsung ’bum thor bur bzhugs|. Cf. van der Kuijp 1985: 34, who has identified him as Theg chen Chos rje Kun dga’ bkra shis (1349–1425). 21 See the mKhas grub rje’i rnam thar 2 (fol. 12b5–6). 22 Cabezón and Dargyay 2007: 17 call mKhas grub rJe “one of the great masters of invective,” citing another passage by him as an example for the different kinds of polemic insult one finds in polemical works. 23 On Ngor chen’s objections to some of Tsong kha pa’s positions, see the contribution by Yael Bentor in this volume.
also attacking Ngor chen’s supporters, who “with the firewood of [exaggerated] words ignited ever greater the flame of hatred” (tshig gi bud shing gis zhe sdang gi me lce ches cher sbar ba), before he finally comes to his main point, the flaws that he perceived in two works by Ngor chen on Hevajra.24 In the
succeeding subsection on the many protector deities that appeared to mKhas grub rJe, rJe btsun pa includes a long narrative on mKhas grub rJe’s conflict with the Sa kya pa school, styling him as the innocent target of the baseless allegation that he had refuted the Sa skya pa’s doctrinal system (sa skya pa’i grub mtha’). Though mKhas grub rJe, as his biographer acknowledges, had first trained in that very system, he was a student of Tsong kha pa and had
been that already for many lifetimes. To clarify his master’s pure teachings, he took birth in this world and followed Tsong kha pa just like Ānanda had followed Buddha Śākyamuni. While he was serving Tsong kha pa’s teachings through exposition, disputation, and composition, people claiming to be Sa skya pa became overwhelmed by jealousy and spread everywhere, without any reason, the rumour that mKhas grub rJe had refuted the doctrinal system of the Sa skya pa, “getting ready to take their shoes off by [hearing] the sheer sound of water” (i.e., precipitately jumping to wrong conclusions).25 But since none of those Sa skya pa scholars were capable of debating mKhas grub rJe, they tried to defeat him by all sorts of spellcasting sorcery (mthu), such as throwing magical gtor ma weapons (gtor zor). The most powerful experts of magical incantations (ngag nus) gathered at Sa skya and many times threw gtor ma weapons
into the direction where mKhas grub rJe resided. Though, prior to that, mKhas grub rJe considered the Sa skya pa’s chief protectors—that is, the two Mahākāla forms of Vajrapañjara (i.e., Gur gyi mgon po) and Caturmukha (i.e., mGon po zhal bzhi pa)—to be his main personal protectors, in repelling those attacks, he successfully relied on another form of Mahākāla—that is, Ṣaḍbhuja Mahākāla (i.e., mGon po phyag drug pa)—who was also an important protector of
Tsong kha pa and his tradition. Later on, when mKhas grub rJe served as abbot of dGa’ ldan, the Sa skya pa were once again engaging in black magic, throwing gtor mas into that monastery’s direction. However, it was in vain because mKhas grub rJe repelled all attacks. But at Sa skya itself, as a downside of that sorcery (mthu log), the main temple collapsed, showing that the use of a powerless incantation can turn against oneself.26 At the time of
those encounters, Ngor pa Kun bzang (i.e., Ngor chen) took on the responsibility of the Sa skya pa and sent messages to Rong ston and Chos rje bSod blo to gain their support in challenging mKhas grub rJe, because he was refuting the 24 See the Yang lan (pp. 797.2–801.2). mKhas grub rJe wrote his rejoinder between the years 1427 and 1431 while still living in gTsang. On the date of his
rejoinder and the critique that he expressed therein, see the forthcoming publication of my dissertation (Heimbel 2014). 25 mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fol. 24b3): chu’i sgra kho nas lham ’phud [= ’bud] pa’i rtsom pa sngon du btang nas|. 26 See the mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fols. 24b1–25a5).
Sa skya pa’s doctrinal system (sa skya pa’i grub mtha’).27 To uphold that system, Ngor chen wanted to debate on tantric subjects and asked Rong ston to do the same on Prajñāpāramitā and Chos rje bSod blo on Pramāṇa. But since the latter two perceived this as highly inappropriate, it fell on Ngor chen alone to
write a text (yig cha) refuting the doctrinal system of Tsong kha pa and his disciples (rje btsun tsong kha pa yab sras kyi grub mtha’). Ngor chen had his polemic writing (rtsod yig),28 which allegedly was full of mistakes, making him an object of shame, delivered by an envoy to mKhas grub rJe, who wrote in reply the Rejoinder, Wheel of Thunderbolts (rTsod lan gnam lcags ’khor lo), refuting all of Ngor chen’s erroneous views.29 When rJe btsun pa compiled his
biography of mKhas grub rJe,30 the sectarian divide between the dGe lugs pa and Sa skya pa schools was firmly established; this is also reflected by his choice of words in presenting mKhas grub rJe’s disputes. In
27 Chos rje bSod blo was possibly Chos rje bSod nams blo gros who is given as a teacher of ’Jam dbyangs Shes rab rgya mtsho (1396–1474), the third abbot of Ngor (tenure: 1462–1465); see the Ngor gyi gdan rabs (p. 7.1). 28 Cabezón and Dargyay 2007: 12 translate rtsod yig as “disputational document or record,”
and ibid.: 251, n. 39 explain that the term refers “to the written accusation that initiates a polemical exchange.” This shows that rJe btsun pa perceived Ngor chen as having initiated the dispute. 29 See the mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fol. 25a5–b5). rJe btsun pa presents two such mistakes from the rejoinder that mKhas grub rJe wrote to Kon ting Gu shrī, which shows that rJe btsun pa’s presentation of the polemical exchange is mistaken. In that
rejoinder, mKhas grub rJe attacked Ngor chen for both his Hevajra body maṇḍala sādhana from 1410 and his extensive exposition of the Hevajra sādhana from 1419. mKhas grub rJe only wrote his rTsod lan gnam lcags ’khor lo later while serving as abbot of dGa’ ldan (tenure: 1432–1438). He wrote it in reply to Ngor chen’s two refutations from 1426. Ngor chen’s refutations are, in turn, a reply to the chapter on the body maṇḍala that mKhas grub rJe had included in
his presentation of the creation stage of Guhyasmāja (which he wrote in the first half of the 1420s). On the chronology of the polemical exchange, see the contribution by Yael Bentor in this volume. 30 Unfortunately, rJe btsun pa did not date his mKhas grub rJe biography. From the colophon, we only learn that he based his work on an earlier mKhas grub rJe biography by dGe slong Chos ldan rab ’byor, a student of both Tsong kha pa and mKhas grub rJe, and that
he added accounts that had been related to him by Kun dga’ bde legs rin chen rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po (1446– 1497) of gNas rnying Monastery, a disciple of mKhas grub rJe’s younger brother Ba so Chos kyi rgyal mtshan (1402–1473); see the mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fol. 39a1–3). rJe btsun pa studied under that master as a small boy starting at age six (i.e., 1475) for five or six years, also taking from him both lay-follower (in 1475) and novice-monk
ordination (in 1481); see the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fol. 5a5–b4). At the urging of his teacher, he later returned to gNas rnying to teach at its Se ra grwa tshang from the end of 1495 until about 1499. During that period, he also received many teachings from Kun dga’ bde legs rin chen that descended from Ba so Chos kyi rgyal mtshan; see the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fol. 12b2–6). It was probably during that period that Kun dga’ bde legs rin chen told rJe btsun pa the accounts of mKhas grub rJe’s life that he mentions in his colophon. Thus I would suggest to date rJe btsun pa’s mKhas grub rJe biography to post-1495. For the mKhas grub rJe biography by Chos ldan rab ’byor, see the mKhas grub rje’i rnam thar 1. See also Ary 2015: 41–47, 59, 107–120. On gNas rnying Monastery and its colleges, see the Baiḍūrya ser po (pp. 247–249, no. 27).
designating mKhas grub rJe’s opponents and their doctrine as Sa skya pa, and mKhas grub rJe as a close disciple of Tsong kha pa, whose teachings he was expounding, rJe btsun pa separates both groups from each other, projecting the intersectarian division of his time to the widening intrasectarian
differences of that of mKhas grub rJe’s. The body maṇḍala dispute ultimately contributed to that division, but during its heyday in the 1420s a clear-cut division was yet to occur.31 By then, mKhas grub rJe obviously considered himself still a Sa skya pa. This can be seen in his aforementioned reply to Kon ting Gu shrī, in which he, as pointed out by Leonard van der Kuijp, “though admitting and justifying his polemics, vehemently defends his Sa-skya-pa
orthodoxy, reasserts his allegiance to basic Sa-skya-pa doctrine, and denies having maverick tendencies.”32 Through his representation of the dispute, rJe btsun pa establishes mKhas grub rJe’s superiority, both doctrinally and as a tantric specialist, over the ignorant Sa skya pa, who, unable to defeat him by scholastic means, resorted to powerless tantric sorcery. But since mKhas grub rJe was defending Tsong kha pa’s positions, rJe btsun pa not only engenders
faith in his authority as a legitimate and powerful expounder of his master’s teachings but also establishes the doctrinal superiority of Tsong kha pa himself. Thus, ultimately, he highlights the doctrinal superiority of his own school, 31 Dreyfus 1997: 36 has pointed out that “by the end of Dzong-ka-ba’s life (1419), the new Gaden-ba school seems to have been organized as a partly
separate group, although it is unclear how self-conscious this was.” Ibid.: 36 has further stated that “the Ga-den-bas did not see themselves as completely separate from other schools. There was a particular lack of differentiation from the Sa-gya school, to which Dzong-ka-ba and most of his disciples belonged. (…) It is hard to know the degree to which sectarian labels were even applicable to this time.” But ibid.: 36 has also pointed out that the
situation may have changed in the 1430s with the installation of mKhas grub rJe as abbot of dGa’ ldan, who enforced a stricter orthodoxy. Similarly, Jackson 2007: 356 has stated that “stricter dGe lugs pa factionalism in dBus, especially in the areas nearest Lhasa, began by the early 1440s, possibly under the indirect influence of mKhas grub rJe,” and that by 1442 further dogmatic hardening occurred when “the sNe’u rdzong ruler enforced a stricter and
more rigid sectarian division between Sa skya and dGe lugs monks in the Lhasa area. This noble, acting as patron and follower of the great dGe lugs pa monasteries, ordered certain Sa skya pa monks in his domain (including the unwilling young Shākya mchog ldan) to join religious classes at dGe lugs pa monasteries.” See also Cabezón and Dargyay 2007: 42, who have remarked that “some of Tsong kha pa’s closest and most influential students—Mkhas grub rje
and Dge ’dun grub chief among them—were attempting to create a unique and separate identity for their new school, a project that involved, in part, distancing themselves from their Sa skya pa roots.” 32 Van der Kuijp 1985: 34. For the relevant passages, see the Yang lan (pp. 775.5–776.5, 793.3– 798.3, 801.2–5). In the same work, mKhas grub rJe accuses Ngor chen of classifying Tsong kha pa as a lama from a different tradition as opposed to the five
founding fathers of the Sa skya pa school; see the Yang lan (p. 798.3–4): de nyid kyis kye rdor gyi sgrub thabs kyi bshad pa zhig byas gda’ ba de na| nged kyi rje btsun tsong kha pa chen po la gzhan lugs bla ma zhes pa’i tha snyad byas| sa skya pa’i rje btsun gong ma dang chos rje khu dbon la rang lugs bla ma zhes pa’i tha snyad byas nas|.
the dGe lugs pa, over the Sa skya pa. In order to establish that superiority, he also needs to denigrate the Sa skya pa, in general, and those Sa skya pa masters with whom mKhas grub rJe had clashed, in particular. Ngor chen’s vilifying portrayal is but one of many examples. As mentioned, rJe btsun pa partly
drew on a passage by mKhas grub rJe for it, though that does not justify it. Rather, it reveals the negative image he wanted to create of Ngor chen and those other Sa skya pa masters among his audience, which can initially be located within his dGe lugs pa monastic circles at Se ra and his supporters and patrons. rJe btsun pa also raises the body maṇḍala dispute to a higher, much more general level. Without specifying any concrete issue, he styles the
dispute as a general conflict between the Sa skya pa, on the one hand, and Tsong kha pa and his disciples, such as mKhas grub rJe, on the other hand. By comparison, in his reply to Kon ting Gu shrī, mKhas grub rJe voiced his lack of understanding of certain misinterpretations that his remarks on the body maṇḍala had provoked, such as that he was accused of having refuted the Lam ’bras or the venerable founding fathers of the Sa skya pa tradition (rje btsun
gong ma), which he strictly denied.33 However, rJe btsun pa describes the conflict as an unjust attack by the Sa skya pa against mKhas grub rJe, who accused him of having refuted not just individual points but the entire doctrinal system of the Sa skya pa. Similarly, he states in a general way that Ngor chen, upholding the doctrinal system of the Sa skya pa, wrote a text that refuted the system of Tsong kha pa and his followers. By this simplified
presentation, rJe btsun pa exaggerates the erstwhile doctrinal differences by drawing on the sectarian divide of his time. In doing so, he further strengthens this divide and contributes to an antagonistic and also competitive climate between both schools. A t the end of his subsection on the protector deities that appeared to mKhas grub rJe, rJe btsun pa included several accounts that can be understood as a vindication of both mKhas grub rJe’s
turning away from and criticism of the Sa skya pa school. These accounts contrast the desolate state of the Sa skya pa school with the superiority of the qualities and teachings of both Tsong kha pa and mKhas grub rJe. Even the Sa skya pa’s chief protectors are said to have followed Tsong kha pa and mKhas grub rJe, disobeying their original orders to harm them. This passage has been summarised by Elijah Ary:34 All of those deities extol Khedrup—once again
portrayed as one of Tsongkhapa’s closest disciples—for being such an excellent and upstanding religious figure and scholar, but each interacts with Khedrup in a somewhat different way (…). Some simply appear and praise him, others demand his propitiation, while yet others tell him that they were sent by the Sakyapas to destroy him. The latter
33 See the Yang lan (pp. 775.4–5, 796.5–6). See also Bentor (forthcoming) and Davidson 1991: 222, 234–235, n. 64. 34 Ary 2015: 64. Those accounts were extracted from mKhas grub rJe’s biography by Chos ldan rab ’byor, though rJe btsun pa did rearrange them.
group of deities, upon seeing Khedrup and realizing his great qualities, disavow their mission, feeling it inappropriate to follow through with their orders. One such deity even says that, were it not for his previous promises to protect and serve the Sakyapas, he would have joined Tsongkhapa’s entourage as their protector (…). The latter group of deities include the Sa skya pa’s chief protectors Vajrapañjara and Caturmukha. In order to better convey an
accurate impression of those episodes, I shall give here the first appearance of Vajrapañjara in translation, which directly follows the presentation of mKhas grub rJe’s dispute with Ngor chen:35 In that case, because the Sa skya pa were not able to withstand the dispute via textual authority and reasoning, [they] performed sorcery, such as throwing gtor ma weapons. At that time, Vajrapañjara showed his physical appearance [to mKhas grub rJe] and said [to him]: “You, human, do not give up Sa skya! Stay at Sa skya!” As for that, rJe Bla ma thought: “For staying at Sa skya, if there would be a single person
with a pure view and conduct, [I] would stay. But the doctrine of the previous lamas [i.e., the founding fathers of Sa skya] does no longer exist. Likewise, the disciples of the subsequent generations have disappeared. Who is able to stay at this sad place whose temples are full of women, donkeys, cattle, and barmaids? Though [I] did not stay physically, [my] mind has been upholding [the Sa skya pa doctrine]. Especially during this short life, [I, however,] stay where rJe Bla ma Tsong kha pa chen po resides.” [[[mKhas grub]] rJe] replied: “[I] am offering gtor mas to you, ḍākinīs and Dharma protectors of Sa skya.”
35 mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fols. 25b5–26a5): de ltar sa skya pa rnams kyis lung rigs kyi sgo nas ni rtsod par ma bzod pas| gtor zor ’phen pa sogs mthu byas pa’i tshe na| rje bla ma ’di nyid la gur gyi mgon pos sku’i snang ba bstan te mi khyod kyis sa skya blos ma gtong| sa skyar sdod ces gsungs| der
rje bla mas sa skyar sdod pa la lta spyod rnam par dag pa gcig yod na sdod mod| bla ma gong ma’i grub mtha’ ni med| phyi rabs kyi gdul bya ni ’di bzhin du song| gtsug lag khang rnams ni bud med dang bong bu ba glang chang mas gang| skyo sa ’dir sus sdod tshugs| lus kyis ma bsdad kyang sems kyis bzung yod| khyad par du mi tshe thung ngu ’di la| rje bla ma tsong kha pa chen po gar bzhugs su sdod bsam| khyed sa skya’i mkha’ ’gro chos skyong rnams la gtor ma ni
’bul gyi yod zhus pas| bstan pa nub sar sdod dgos pa yin| dar sar gang byas kyang yong mod| nga yang ’di na lta spyod la ltos nas bsdad pa min| bla ma snga ma’i dam tshig dang bka’ bsgo yod pas bsdad pa yin| gzhan yang nged cag ’khor bcas khyod kyi bla ma’i rjes su ’brang gi yod| sa skya pa rnams khyod la gtan nas mi dga’ bar ’dug| nga la gtor ma byin nas blo bzang grags pa yab sras dang| khyad par du khyod la gnod pa ci ’khyol gyis shig zer| khong tsho’i ngo ma
chog pa dang| bla ma snga ma’i bka’ bsgo dran nas| kha rag tshun chad du ’jigs pa’i cha lugs kyis ’ongs| slar log nas phyin zhes gsungs so||. For the original account, cf. the mKhas grub rje’i rnam thar 1 (fol. 6a3–b2).
[Vajrapañjara] then spoke: “One should stay where the [[[Buddha’s]]] doctrine is ceasing. As for the place where [it] flourishes, it would be fine whatever one did. I, too, have not stayed here depending on the [[[pure]]] view and conduct [of Sa skya’s monks]. [I] have stayed because of the tantric commitments of the previous lamas and the command [I] have [from them]. Beyond that, I and [my] retinue are following your lama [i.e., Tsong kha pa]. The Sa skya pa do not
like you at all. Giving me gtor mas, [they] said: ‘Inflict harm on Blo bzang grags pa, the father, and [his] disciples, and especially on you, as best as [you] can.’ Unable to refuse their request, and remembering the command of the previous lamas, [I] came in a terrifying form as far as Kha rag. [But I] returned again and went [to Sa kya, not following through with my orders].” Subsequently, similar accounts on encounters with Caturmukha are given. This
protector tells mKhas grub rJe, for instance, that he must uphold the tradition of the Sa skya pa (sa skya pa’i srol), and that if he would not stay at Sa skya, he would follow him wherever he would go.36 On another occasion, he tells him that he was dispatched by the Sa skya pa to harm him, but realising his qualities, and the negative consequences if Tsong kha pa and his disciples were to be harmed and left without protection, he returns to Sa skya.37 The
episodes discussed above figure prominently in mKhas grub rJe’s secret biography and their general tone is highly sectarian. Drawing on the doctrinal divide between the dGe lugs pa and Sa skya pa schools, rJe btsun pa created a powerful image conveying to his audience both the necessity and legitimacy of mKhas grub rJe’s polemics and his doctrinal superiority over those Sa skya pa masters he had debated.38 Breaking with mKhas grub rJe’s past as a Sa skya pa
student, he also established his identity and authority as an authentic expounder of Tsong kha pa’s teachings. Ultimately, by highlighting the sectarian divide between the Sa skya pa, on the one hand, and Tsong kha pa and his disciples, on the other hand, he contributed to the process of consolidating a self-conception and sectarian identity of his dGe lugs pa audience as an independent school, distancing them from their Sa skya pa origins. Later dGe lugs pa generations could also reaffirm and strengthen this identity by drawing on those accounts of mKhas grub rJe’s victories. In presenting mKhas grub rJe’s disputes, rJe btsun pa may generally have been influenced by the political unrest and military clashes between the Rin spungs pa and 36 See the mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fol. 26a5–6). For the original account, cf. the mKhas grub rje’i rnam thar 1 (fol. 6b2–3). 37 See the mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fol. 26a6–b2). For the original account, cf. the mKhas grub rje’i rnam thar 1 (fol. 7b3–5). 38 rJe btsun pa also expresses this directly within the subsection on the protector deities. He states that mKhas grub rJe did not deliberately object to the doctrine of the Sa skya pa. He did so because a number of its aspects were unacceptable. It was not mKhas grub rJe who was to blame, but the Sa skya pa’s doctrine. See the mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fols. 27b6–28a3).
Phag mo gru pa that dominated the religiopolitical landscape of central Tibet during the last decades of the fifteenth and early decades of the sixteenth centuries. In particular, he may have been influenced by his personal engagement in debates and polemics.39 Thus a brief excursus into the history of that
period is needed to embed rJe btsun pa’s life into the larger religiopolitical context of his time. During those politically unstable times characterised by constant shifts of power and forming of new alliances, from 1480 on, the Rin spungs pa family of eastern gTsang gradually succeeded in taking control of dBus, which they dominated from 1498 to 1517. With the loss of power of the Phag mo gru pa government and their local allies (e.g., the sNel pa and Brag
dkar nobles), the dGe lugs pa lost one of their earliest and strongest patrons, suffering from harsh restrictions that the Rin spungs pa enacted against them in the area of lHa sa. For instance, from 1498 on, as a strategic measure to control the movement of the dGe lugs pa, they were forbidden to participate in the New Year’s Great Prayer Festival (smon lam chen mo) in lHa sa, which had originally been initiated by Tsong kha pa in 1409, but was now
overseen by monks from the Karma bKa’ brgyud pa and Sa skya pa schools, which were patronised by the Rin spungs pa. The Rin spungs pa’s support of the hierarchs of the Karma bKa’ brgyud pa school—the Fourth Zhwa dmar pa Chos grags ye shes (1453–1524) and Seventh Karmapa Chos grags rgya mtsho (1454–1507)—further contributed to sectarian clashes. For example, monks from Se ra and ’Bras spungs are said to have destroyed a new Karma bKa’ brgyud pa monastery
that had only recently been built by the Seventh Karma pa near lHa sa, and the Karma pa himself was attacked by monks of the dGe lugs pa school.40 rJe btsun pa—a native of gTsang who received his religious training at gNas rnying and bKra shis lhun po in gTsang and Se ra and dGa’ ldan in dBus—engaged during those eventful times in rituals to repel the enemy’s army (dmag bzlog) and debated with Sa skya pa scholars, both in person and writing, as we learn from his biography by his disciple Paṇ chen bDe legs nyi ma. He performed those rituals while at Bye ri sTag rtse when it came to long-lasting war-related disturbances (sde gzar)
39 On the life of rJe btsun pa, see Ary 2015: –102. Kapstein 2006: 128 has pointed out that “it is one of the unfortunate illusions of Tibetan history that religious tension has too often been taken as the cause, rather than as a symptomatic ideological projection, of the underlying fissures that have
often afflicted Tibetan society.” 40 On these developments, see the Bod kyi lo rgyus (vol. 2, pp. 538.12–540.19), Czaja 2013: 235–255, Jackson (under preparation), Kapstein 2006: –131, Rheingans 2010: 244–249, and DiValerio 2015: 133–141. In addition, Nālendra, a large Sa skya pa monastery to the north of lHa sa in ’Phen po may have been sacked by dGe lugs pa monks; see Jackson 1989: –5, 18–25, and Jackson (under preparation). However, the political situation was much more complicated than this simplified presentation may suggest, and cannot simply be reduced to a conflict between gTsang and dBus. For instance, the Fourth Zhwa dmar pa was also closely connected to the Phag mo gru pa and mediated in those conflicts, and the rGyal rtse lords of eastern gTsang supported the Phag mo gru pa in dBus.
between gTsang and dBus, apparently in support of the Phag mo gru pa and their allies. Since his rituals are said to have been successful, the local governors (sde pa dpon blon) developed a deep faith in him.41 The first debate he engaged in is recorded for the period when he served as main teacher (’chad nyan) of the bDe ba chen college of Rong Byams chen Chos sde, which he did for thirteen years from 1499 on. The Byams chen Chos sde was the main Rin spungs pa monastery and one of numerous Sa skya pa monasteries in gTsang whose foundation the Rin spungs pa lords had patronised.42 Among its seven colleges (grwa tshang), there was one dGe lugs pa grwa tshang, bDe ba chen, which rJe btsun pa was leading as teacher.43 On one occasion, his Rin spungs pa
patron staged a debate (bgro gleng) at his seat at Rin spungs, out of which rJe btsun pa is said to have emerged victorious, defeating the foremost Sa skya pa dge bshes present at Rin spungs and winning fame for spreading Tsong kha pa’s teachings.44 His patron was the sDe pa sGar pa, the general of the Rin spungs pa army encampment, who can be identified as Don yod rdo rje (1463–1512), who on another occasion brought together many learned Sa skya pa dge bshes
in lHa sa, staging debates (bgro gleng) in the Po ta la and at gZhis ka sNe’u with dGe lugs pa lamas from Se ra—whose Byes mKhas snyan grwa tshang rJe btsun pa had been heading since 1511—and ’Bras spungs.45 The unrivalled rJe btsun pa is said to have defeated 41 See the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fols. 20b5–21a1). Bye ri sTag rtse refers to the Bye ri sTag rtse rdzong, a Phag mo gru pa outpost near Zhogs on the
right bank of the sKyid chu; see Sørenson & Hazod 2007: 22–24, 208, n. 542, 767, n. 5, and passim. According to Hazod 2004: 31, it was founded under Ta’i si tu Byang chub rgyal mtshan (1302–1364) and was “one of several governing seats occupied by families from the Phag gru ruling house.” Though undated, rJe btsun pa apparently performed those rituals prior to his 1523 installation as abbot of sTag rtse Rin chen sgang; see the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fol.
22a2–3). 42 Byams chen Chos sde was founded in 1427 by Nor bu bzang po (1403–1466); see the Rin spungs pa sger gyi gdung rabs (p. 130.1–2) and Czaja 2013: 483–484. Other Sa skya pa monasteries that were established under the patronage of the Rin spungs pa were, for instance, ’Bras yul sKyed mos tshal (1448), Zi lung at Pan Khyung tshang (1452), which Shākya mchog ldan transformed into gSer mdog can (in 1471), rTa nag gSer gling (1467), and rTa nag Thub bstan
rnam rgyal (1473). 43 According to sDe srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho (1653–1705), the Byams chen Monastery had seven colleges (grwa tshang): four Sa skya pa (sDe rgyas, dPal ’byor sgang, Shar chen pa, and lHum ra sdings), two Bo dong pa (Nor bu gling and Chen khang pa), and one dGe lugs pa (bDe ba can); see the Baiḍūrya ser po (p. 230, no. 14). rJe btsun pa is listed as the third lama heading that college; see the Baiḍūrya ser po (p. 230, no. 14). In 1647, Byams
chen was converted into the dGe lugs pa monastery named dGa’ ldan Byams pa gling; see the Baiḍūrya ser po (p. 401.5–10). 44 See the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fols. 12b4–13a2, 14b2–6). 45 Jackson (under preparation) has pointed out that “the sNel pa family were among the most powerful nobles in Central Tibet at the end of the Phag mo gru pa, controlling as they did the important sNe’u rDzong (the district including Lha sa, and a fort on the banks of the
all of them, leaving behind stunned officials (dpon skya) among the spectators adhering to the Sa skya pa doctrine, who could not believe that in all of dBus and gTsang no worthy opponent could be found to cope with him.46 These accounts by bDe legs nyi ma attest to public debates between dGe lugs pa and Sa skya pa masters that were staged by the Rin spungs pa when that noble family was controlling both dBus and gTsang. 47 These occasions provided the debaters with the chance to settle their doctrinal differences in front of their patrons, to distinguish themselves publicly by establishing the doctrinal superiority of their own tradition,
leading branch of the family (…) aligned itself in the mid-fifteenth century against the Rin spungs pas, but in the 1490s lost its power when defeated by the armies of Rin spungs pa Don yod rdo rje and his allies,” thereby also losing their estate, the gZhis ka sNe’u. They were also patrons of Tsong kha pa
and the three large dGe lugs pa monasteries of dGa’ ldan, ’Bras spungs, and Se ra; see Jackson 2007: 355. Similarly, Czaja 2013: 245–246 has pointed out that “with the elimination of the noble house of Sne’u the Dge lugs pa lost a noble family which had patronised them for generations. Having lost the patronage of the Phag mo gru pa some decades earlier, the result was disastrous. It weakened the position of the Dge lugs pa significantly.” On the
governors of sNel pa (or sNe’u), see Sørenson & Hazod 2007: 759–763. See also Czaja 2013: 569. 46 See the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fols. 16b4–17a1). Some days prior to his own passing on the nineteenth day of the eleventh lunar-month of the male wood-dragon year (i.e., 1544), rJe btsun pa was invited from Byams chen Monastery because the sDe pa dMag dpon pa had fallen sick, but heard on the next day that he had already passed away. Here the Rin spungs pa
lord cannot be Don yod rdo rje, who had already passed away in 1512, but may possibly be Ngag dbang rnam rgyal; see Czaja 2013: 488–489. On another occasion, rJe btsun pa was invited from Gong dkar by a certain dPon po bDag mo, probably the wife of a Gong dkar or Yar rgyab noble. Since this invitation was extended when rJe btsun pa was serving as abbot of Se ra (tenure: 1538– 1541), the noble lady cannot be the famous dPal ldan rDo rje bde ma (d.
1490/91)—the sister of Hor rDo rje tshe brtan, the ruler of Phyong rgyas valley—who was married to two brothers from the neighboring Yar rgyab house. One of her most famous children was Kun dga’ rnam rgyal (1432–1496), who founded the Sa skya pa monastery of Gong dkar rDo rje gdan in 1464. Czaja 2013: 263–264 mentions several visits that Padma dkar po (1527–1592) paid to Gong dkar, the first, in 1536, following the invitation of a noble lady called dPon sa
bDag mo and on another occasion in 1552, when he became the lama of a certain bDag mo, whom Czaja identifies as ’Phyong rgyas rTse ma. Probably at the Gong dkar rdzong, rJe btsun pa gave teachings to the zhal ngo (i.e., either the sons of that noble lady or her minor nobles/functionaries), and also to scholars of various traditions and the best Sa skya pa dge bshes from Gong dkar Monastery, who are all said to have developed a great trust in his enlightened activities and paid him their respect. See the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fol. 22b1–3). On rDo rje bde ma, see Fermer 2010: 95–98. 47 dPa’ bo gTsug lag phreng ba (1504–1566) mentions an earlier debate between the Karma bKa’ brgyud pa master Chos rje gSung rab mang thos, a disciple of the Seventh Karma pa, and sMon lam dpal (1414–1491), abbot of both dGa’ ldan and ’Bras spungs during most of the 1480s, and Legs pa chos ’byor (1429–1503), the latter’s
successor on the ’Bras spungs throne; see the mKhas pa’i dga’ ston (p. 1167.4–9), Baiḍūrya ser po (pp. 78–79, 107), and Jackson (under preparation). sMon lam dpal successfully revolted for a few years against the invading Rin spungs pa troops and may have been involved in the aforementioned misfortunes of Nā lendra Monastery; see Jackson 1989: 18–25 and Jackson (under preparation).
and to prove that they were worthy of their patrons’ continuous support. In the case of rJe btsun pa, however, we must note that, though he was a dGe lugs pa, he also maintained connections with the Rin spungs pa, whose lords originally followed an even-handed approach in their religious patronage, as
exemplified by the aforementioned dGe lugs pa college of the Byams chen Chos sde. However, by the turn of the century, out of primarily political reasons, they predominantly patronised the Karma bKa’ brgyud pa and Sa skya pa schools. That Don yod rdo rje staged one of those public debates at the estate of the sNel pa nobles, the erstwhile rulers of lHa sa and important dGe lugs pa patrons, can be seen as a further attempt to humiliate the sNel pa donor and their
dGe lugs pa donee, though, according to his biography, rJe btsun pa ermerged victorious over the Sa skya pa. bDe legs nyi ma describes rJe btsun pa’s debates with Sa skya pa lamas in a cordial atmosphere free of sectarian tensions. But the tone of his presentation changes slightly when discussing the polemical writings rJe btsun pa directed against the Sa skya pa masters Go rams pa bSod nams seng ge (1429–1489) and Shākya mchog ldan (1428–1507), both of
whom had written refutations of Tsong kha pa. Twice, he refers to rJe btsun pa’s polemic writings, styled both times as a direct quote of his master: first in a passage when discussing his studies as a young boy and later as an episode preceding his passing away. In the first passage, we are told that, unable to tolerate the spreading of Tsong kha pa’s teachings, Go rams pa and Shākya mchog ldan composed evil verses slandering Tsong kha pa, which is why rJe btsun pa wrote a few verses in reply, fearing that otherwise Tsong kha pa’s teachings would come to harm. But apart from that, from the time when he was first able to speak, he had never spoken any words with the thought of harming others.48 This is partly reiterated in the second episode: Since Go rams pa and Shākya mchog ldan had slandered Tsong kha pa and refuted his teachings, rJe btsun pa, on the verge of dying, discontinued his daily ritual commitments
and wrote his responses to those two masters’ refutations.49 By contrast, the polemical exchange with the young Eighth Karma pa Mi bskyod rdo rje (1507–1554) is described as a cordial exchange between like-minded scholars, lacking such statements as the Karma pa discrediting Tsong kha pa.50 According to bDe legs nyi ma, the Karma pa had his commentary on the Abhisamayālaṃkara delivered to rJe btsun pa along with a letter praising him as one of the greatest
scholars alive, and requesting that he review his commentary and provide an answer.51 Similarly, the Karma pa also sent his commentary to dGe ’dun rgya mtsho (1475– 1542), who, however, too busy to respond, urged rJe btsun pa to do so, which he 48 See the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fol. 4a1–3). 49 See the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fol. 30a1–3). 50 Cabezón and Dargyay 2007: 30 consider Mi bskyod rdo rje to be one of “the most famous classical critics of Tsong kha pa.” On his critique of the dGe lugs pa Madhyamaka, see Williams 1983a. On his life, see Rheingans 2008 and Rheingans 2010. 51 For the Eighth Karma pa’s commentary, see the Karma pa’i gsung ’bum (vols. 12–13). On his commentary, which he began in 1529 and completed in 1531, see Rheingans 2008: 129–131.
accordingly did by writing his Kar lan klu sgrub dgongs rgyan.52 rJe btsun pa then had his work delivered to the Karma pa, whose encampment was pitched at sNye mo. After a detailed analysis, the Karma pa considered the work to be an exceptional composition and is said to have developed strong faith in the
Madhyamaka system as expounded by Tsong kha pa,53 sending to rJe btsun pa a letter full of praise together with some authentic hair (dbu skra ’khrul med) from Tsong kha pa as an enclosure (rten). He also distributed the Kar lan among the most famous scholars of dBus and gTsang and among many political leaders (sde dpon), asking them to respond to rJe btsun pa’s work.54 Within his discussion of the polemical exchange with the Eighth Karma pa, bDe legs nyi ma also mentions rJe btsun pa’s responses to Go rams pa’s and Shākya mchog ldan’s refutations of Tsong kha pa for a third time. We are told that rJe btsun pa contacted the Eighth Karma pa in this respect, asking him to testify or give witness (dpang po mdzad) in his project. But since the Eighth Karma pa considered rJe btsun pa to be the most suitable person to rectify the Buddha’s doctrine, he urged him to write his responses, though he stated that it
would be very important for him to receive these texts afterwards. Thus, when shortly before his death rJe btsun pa finished writing his response to Shākya mchog ldan (Shāk lan) and the first part (stod tsam) of Go rams pa’s (Go lan), he sent both to the Eighth Karma pa, who is said to have been very delighted and at all times full of praise for rJe btsun pa.55 A similar picture is found in the opening sections of the actual responses that rJe btsun pa wrote to
Go rams pa, Shākya mchog ldan, and the Eighth Karma pa, representing the two Sa skya pa masters in a rather bad light compared with his respectful portrayal of the Eighth Karma pa, though all three had written refutations of Tsong kha pa.56 52 For the Kar lan klu sgrub dgongs rgyan, see the dGag lan phyogs bsgrigs (pp. –173). It has been mentioned, for instance, by Brunnhölzl 2007: 150–
151, Brunnhölzl 2010: 713–714, n. 341, Cabezón and Dargyay 2007: 30, Lopez 1996, and Seyfort Ruegg 1988: 1271–1272. 53 ’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa (1648–1722) also states that the Eighth Karma pa “repeatedly says that the foremost precious [[[Dzong-ka-ba’s]]] system is flawless;” see Hopkins 2003: 516–517. 54 See the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fols. 23b2–24b6). 55 See the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fol. 24b2–6). See also the rJe btsun pa’i rnam thar (fol. 30a3–4).
According to sDe srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, rJe btsun pa was requested by the Eighth Karmapa to write his responses to Go rams pa and Shākya mchog ldan; see the Baiḍūrya ser po (p. 140.2–3). In his commentary on the Madhyamakāvatāra, the Eighth Karma pa included some critique of Go rams pa and Shākya mchog ldan; see Williams 1983b. For his Madhyamakāvatāra commentary, see the Karma pa’i gsung ’bum (vol. 14). He began writing this commentary at the end of 1544
or beginning of 1545; see Rheingans 2008: 141, n. 170. According to Seyfort Ruegg 1998: 1271, his commentary “can be presumed to contain Mi bskyod rdo rje’s response to the searching questions and objections directed to him by Ser byes rje btsun Chos kyi rgyal mtshan (1469–1546) in his Kar lan Klu sgrub dgoṅs rgyan.” 56 See the lTa ba ngan pa’i mun sel (pp. 177.17–178.13, 385.11–386.1) and Kar lan (pp. 71.18– 72.2), respectively. As has been pointed out by Cabezón and Dargyay 2007: 30, the responses
In summary, it can be stated that rJe btsun pa was actively engaged in defending the views of Tsong kha pa against attacks launched from non-dGe lugs pa masters, be it in the debating ground or through polemical writings.57 Moreover, he flourished during politically unstable times temporarily characterised
by the surpression of his dGe lugs pa school in its traditional stronghold in and around lHa sa, accompanied by the loss of power of its erstwhile religious patrons. It thus cannot be ruled out that in his portrayal of mKhas grub rJe’s disputes with such eminent Sa skya pa masters as Ngor chen, rJe btsun pa was not only influenced by the larger political developments and his own polemics but might have had his own agenda.
Negative portrayals of Ngor chen and the seat of his tradition—the monastery of Ngor E waṃ chos ldan that he founded in 1429 in the upper reaches of the remote Ngor valley about 30 km southwest of bSam grub rtse (present-day gZhis ka rtse)—can also be found in later sources by scholars of the dGe lugs pa
school. For instance, a later calumny is the well-known account of Paṇ chen bSod nams grags pa (1478–1554), who in his Deb ther dmar po gsar ma recounts Ngor chen’s alleged efforts in urging the Rin spungs pa lord Nor bu bzang po (1403–1466) to withdraw the support he was granting the dGe lugs pa:58
to Go rams pa and Shākya mchog ldan form two parts of a single work, the Phyin ci log gi gtam gyi sbyor ba la zhugs pa’i smra ba ngan pa rnam par ’thag pa’i bstan bcos gnam lcags ’khor lo. After a common opening section, the work begins with the rebuttal of Shākya mchog ldan, followed by that of Go rams pa, and concludes with a versified summary, revealing that the entire work was completed by rJe btsun pa’s disciple and biographer bDe legs nyi ma; see the lTa ba ngan pa’i mun sel (pp. –178, 178–385, 385–514, 514–518), respectively. On that work, see also Lopez 1996. It would lead us too far astray to
investigate the relation between rJe btsun pa and the Eighth Karma pa, for which the sources on the latter’s life must also be analysed. On them, see Rheingans 2008: 82–93. 57 Ary 2015: 78–79 points out that rJe btsun pa also aimed at doctrinal cohesion and purity within his own tradition, refuting as
well the writings of his forbears and contemporaries. 58 Deb ther dmar po gsar ma (pp. 99a1–100.5): chos lugs sa dkar la mos kyang dge ldan pa la’ang dag snang mdzad| de yang khong gis chos rje ngor pa la khrid zhu bar rtsam [= brtsams] pa’i tshe bla ma’i zhal nas| nged kyi ’dod pa gsum sgrub na khrid ster
gsung [= gsungs]| de la khong gis sgrub par nus na de bzhin byed zhus| khrid thon pa na| bla mas mnga’ zhabs kyi dge ldan pa rnams sa skya par sgyur ba dang| dka’ bcu ba dge ’dun grub dgon pa ’debs pa’i mkhar las ’di ’gog pa dang| ngor dgon gsar la mor ban mang po ’bul ba rnams dgos zhes gsungs| de la nor bzang pas| spyir chos lugs bsgyur ba dbang yod sus kyang bya mi ’os shing| khyad par nged kyis <chos chos> [= chos] rje rgyal tshab pa la chos ’brel zhus pas khong dge ldan pa la dam tshig srung dgos pa’ang yod| dka’ bcu ba dgon pa ’debs pa la grogs dan byed pa ma byung kyang bkag na nged sde pa la gtam ngan
phog ’ong bas dgag mi spobs| dgon gsar la mor ban ltos [= gtos] chen po ’bul ba| gong ma na rim gzhis bskor la phebs pa’i zhabs tog las ka skyel mi’i rgya ban rnams kyi sna len| sde bzar [= gzar] gyi rkyen khur sogs dgos pas ’bul mi bde zhes zhus pa yin skad|. Emendations made by the author. For Tucci’s emendations, see Tucci 1971: 125–126.
Though the religious traditions [to which Nor bzang] was inclined were the Sa [skya pa] and dKar [[[brgyud]] pa], [he] also saw the good side of the dGe ldan pa. In fact, when he began to request from Chos rje Ngor pa instructions, that lama said: “If [you] accomplish my three wishes, [I] will give you the
instructions.” With this regard, [he] replied: “If [I] am capable to accomplish [your wishes], [I] will do accordingly.” At the time when the instructions took place, the lama spoke: “[I] want the conversion of the dGe ldan pas that are under [your] rule to Sa skya pas, the end of the construction work of the monastic foundation [of] dKa’ bcu ba dGe ’dun grub [i.e., bKra shis lhun po], and an offering of many mor ban servants to the new monastery of Ngor.” As to
that, Nor bzang is said to have replied: “In general, it is not worthy for anyone in power to convert a religious tradition and, in particular, because I have established a Dharma connection with Chos rje rGyal tshab [i.e., Dar ma rin chen], [I] also have to uphold the commitment [I made] to him [and] the dGe ldan pa. Even though [I] have offered no assistance to bKa’ bcu ba for [his] monastic foundation, in case [I] would bring [the construction] to a halt,
I and [my] office would suffer from a bad reputation. Thus [I] do not dare to stop [it]. [It] is not convenient [for me] to provide a large number of mor ban servants to the new monastery [of Ngor], because [I have many] obligations, such as the responsibility for hosting the successive [[[Phag mo gru pa]]] rulers who are making formal visits to the estates, the officials delivering orders for official duties, the rgya ban servants, [and the responsibility
for] the incidents of warfare-related disturbances [occurring here in my domain]. However, it was stated by the Fifth Dalai Lama Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho (1617–1682) that this account was fabricated and lacked credibility. In his history of Tibet, he corrected and strongly criticised bSod nams grags pa’s remarks, dismissing them based on what he perceived to be an historical anachronism:59
For his translation, see ibid.: 239–240. Based on explanations by Khri byang Blo bzang ye shes bstan ’dzin rgya mtsho (1901–1981), ibid: 239, n. 2, 240, n. 1 provides explanations and paraphrases for otherwise lexically unattested terms: mor ban were “female servants as a part of the mi ser provided as servants of a monastery and attached to its property and service;” zhabs tog las ka skyel mi is paraphrased as zhabs zhu’i las don gyi bka’ yig skyel
mkhan; and rgya ban clarified as bran g.yog, who in gTsang are “also called skye’o = ban c’en.” Cf. ibid.: 125, where he suggests to emend rgya ban to skya ban. 59 dPyid kyi rgyal mo’i glu dbyangs (p. 160.2–11): chos rje bsod grags pas| chos rje ngor chen pas rin spungs nor bzang pa la| rje dge ’dun grub kyis dgon pa ’debs pa ’gog dgos tshul gsungs pa ni ngag rgyun ma dag pa’i ’chal gtam zhig bris par snang ste| thams cad mkhyen pa dge ’dun grub kyis bkra shis lhun po ’debs skabs| bsam ’grub rtse’i rdzong dpon ’phyong rgyas pa hor dpal ’byor bzang po yin zhing| ’di nyid kyis rje dge ’dun grub kyi sbyin bdag gi mthil mdzad par ming tsam gi mkhas pa ma yin pa’i grags pa don dang mthun pa’i paṇ chen byams pa gling pa bsod nams rnam par rgyal bas mdzad pa’i yar rgyab kyi gdung rabs na gsal bar gsungs so||. For the translation of this passage, see also Ahmad 2008: 127. On the foundation of bKra shis lhun
That Chos rje Ngor chen told Rin spungs Nor bzang that [he] wants [him] to stop the foundation of [bKra shis lhun po] Monastery by rJe dGe ’dun grub is a fabricated rumour of a false oral tradition, which appears to have been written down by Chos rje bSod grags. Because when the Omniscient dGe ’dun grub
founded bKra shis lhun po, the district governor of bSam grub rtse was ’Phyong rgyas pa Hor dPal ’byor bzang po. That this [governor] acted as the foremost among the patrons of rJe dGe ’dun grub is clearly stated in the Genealogy of Yar rgyab written by Paṇ chen Byams pa gling pa bSod nams rnam par rgyal ba, whose fame for not being a scholar in name only was justified. The fact that bSod nams grags pa sought to denigrate Ngor chen in other contexts is further
evident from remarks he made in two other writings. In his history of the old and new bKa’ gdams pa schools, the bKa’ gdams gsar rnying gi chos ’byung, he mentions as a side note that Chos rje Kun bzang (i.e., Ngor chen) showed an “attitude of jealousy” (phrag dog pa’i rnam ’gyur) towards bKra shis lhun po.60 And while po, a discussion of dPal ’byor bzang po’s role in its foundation, and the accuracy of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s argument, see Czaja 2013: 223–225,
n. 54 and Shen 2002: 106–111. On the Yar rgyab kyi gdung rabs by Byams pa gling pa bSod nams rnam rgyal (1400–1475), see Martin 1997: 63, no. 99 and Shen 2002: 207–208, n. 289. However, the Fifth Dalai Lama’s regent, sDe srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, alludes to tensions between Ngor chen and dGe ’dun grub, mentioning as an aside in his biographical sketch of the latter that dGe ’dun grub composed his famous song (gsung mgur) known as Shar gangs ri ma because
of the jealousy shown by Ngor chen; see the Baiḍūrya ser po (p. 238.20): gsung ’bum gras ngor pa kun bzang pas phrag dog mdzad par brten pa’i shar gangs ri ma sogs (…). Indeed, after having praised his own masters (i.e., Tsong kha pa and his disciples) in the first part, dGe ’dun grub criticises certain hostile masters in his second part. For instance, he says: (Shar gangs ris ma, p. 367.5): lar da lta gangs ri’i khrod ’di na|| rang bstan pa ’dzin par khas len zhing|| gzhan bstan ’dzin dgra bo’i dwangs mar ’dzin|| tshul ’di la skyo ba gting nas skyes||. Partly, the song thus reflects the tensions and animosities between the emerging dGe lugs pa and old Sa skya pa schools. The song, the colophon of which is by a different hand and does not provide any date or place of composition, may have been written somewhere in gTsang or even in bKra shis lhun po because dGe ’dun grub refers in it to dGa’ ldan
Monastery as located in the east. For the song’s translation, see Mullin 1985: 119–121. Ibid.: 266, n. 4 also commented on the historical background of the aforementioned verse: “This refers to an intensive campaign of persecution that had been launched against the Ge-luk-pa school by certain of the older sects who, jealous of the Ge-luk’s overnight popularity, attempted to maintain the status quo by means of force. Gen-dun Drub, typical to his style, does
not identify anyone by name. However, a glance at any fifteenthcentury history of Tibet reveals quite clearly the sources of the problem.” 60 See the bKa’ gdams gsar rnying gi chos ’byung (p. 148.11–18). The two statements of bSod nams grags pa have also been criticised by the late Sa skya pa master gDong thog Rin po che bsTan pa’i rgyal mtshan (1933–2015); see the Dus kyi me lce (pp. 136.15–138.7). The former statement has been defended by the dGe lugs pa
master mDo smad pa Yon tan rgya mtsho (1932–2002); see the Kun khyab ’brug sgra (pp. 30.19–31.16). A similar comment like that of bSod nams grags pa was also made by a much later non-dGe lugs pa historian, though it seems to have been based on it. In a short summary of controversies that emerged between and also among followers of the new
discussing in his Deb ther dmar po gsar ma the patronage the Sa skya pa school received from the kings of Glo bo (i.e., Mustang), he relates that with the invitation of Ngor chen all the monasteries in that domain were forcibly converted into the Sa skya pa, in general, and the Ngor pa, in particular, and
that the king A ma dpal (1388– ca. 1456) was slightly adverse to the dGe lugs pa.61 Given bSod nams grags pa’s bias as a pro-dGe lugs pa historian, and the fact that his accounts were sometimes dismissed by less sectarian lamas of his own tradition, the reliability of his accounts can be dismissed.62 As far as we know, Ngor chen was on good terms with the house of Rin spungs, whose lords are recorded among his chief patrons, and he would have had no need to win
them over for the sectarian activities alleged by bSod nams grags pa.63 The biographical sources mention at least two visits that Ngor chen paid to Rin spungs. The first is recorded as being in the year 1441 or 1442, while he was on his way back from the Phag mo gru pa court, to which he had been invited by Gong ma Grags pa ’byung gnas (1414–1445), the sixth sovereign of the Phag mo gru pa regime (r. 1432–1445).64 The second took place a couple of years
later in 1446, when he was invited by Nor bu bzang po and his brother dPal bzang rin chen (b. 1405).65 We should also not forget that Ngor chen embarked in 1447 on his third journey to Glo bo, only returning in the second half of 1449, and tantra schools (gsar ma ba), sTag sgang mKhas mchog Gu ru bkra shis (fl. 18th/19th century) mentions that a “passionate and aggressive attitude” (chags sdang gi rnam pa) was shown from Ngor when dGe ’dun grub established bKra shis lhun po; see the Gu bkra’i chos ’byung (p. 992.19–20). On this passage, see also Cabezón and Dargyay 2007: 271, n. 216. 61 See the Deb ther dmar po gsar ma (p. 39a2–6): blo ’o ni rdzong kha ba’i dpon sa skya ’phar ba’i sde dpon du ’dug la| de yang dpon a ma dpal gyi ring snga sor chos rje phyogs las pa dang| phyis ngor pa kun bzang pa spyan drangs pa rtsa ba’i bla mar khur te| mnga’
zhabs kyi chos sde rnams spyir sa skya pa dang dgos [= sgos] ngor pa yin na min na byed du bcug ste| dge ldan pa la sdang zur re tsam yang ston| de rjes dpon bkra shis mgon gyi ring yang chos lugs sngar bzhin la dge las stobs che|. For the translation of this passage, see Tucci 1971: 170. On this passage, see also Vitali 1996: 499, n. 843, 509, n. 862. 62 According to van der Kuijp 1983: 260, n. 19, sDe gzhung Rin po che Kun dga’ bstan pa’i nyi ma (1906–
1987), “is also inclined to hold this allegation as a fabrication on Bsod-nams gragspa’s part.” Cf. Shen 2002: 107–108, 207–208, n. 289, who perceives bSod nams grags pa’s account as accurate. For further critique of bSod nams grags pa by the Fifth Dalai Lama, see Jackson 2007: 351–352, n. 20 and van der Kuijp 2013: 138–145. On distorted accounts by later dGe lugs pas on the dispute between mKhas grub rJe and Rong ston Shes bya kun rig, see Jackson 2007: 354, n.
32. 63 See the Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 2 (p. 535.3–5). 64 See the Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 1 (p. 462.2–3) and Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 2 (p. 545.1–6). 65 When this invitation reached him, Ngor chen was bestowing the Lam ’bras at Ngor. He discontinued his teaching, and, installing Mus chen as his representative, he travelled to Rin spungs. See the Mus chen gyi rnam thar 1 (p. 608.2–4). Cf. the Mus chen gyi rnam thar 2 (p. 218.2–4), which states that
Ngor chen travelled to sNubs Chos lung. But this does not contradict the former statement, because that monastery of the Chos lung tshogs pa was located in the Rong valley forming part of the domain of the Rin spungs pa lords.
thus he might have had already left by the time bKra shis lhun po was founded.66 However, it is conceivable that Ngor chen was at least unamused when he learned of the plan of dGe ’dun grub (1391–1475) to establish a dGe lugs pa institution only about half a day’s walk away from his own seat.67 But until
new sources prove otherwise, there is no reason to accept bSod nams grags pa’s remarks. Like the lords of rGyal rtse and La stod Byang,68 the Rin spungs pa, as mentioned above, followed traditionally an even-handed approach in their religious patronage and allowed dGe ’dun grub to built bKra shis lhun po in close vicinity to bSam grub rtse, the districtfort (rdzong) that Nor bu bzang po had recently brought under his control.69 More than three hundred years
after the founding of bKra shis lhun po, the fairly sectarian dGe lugs pa scholar Thu’u bkwan Blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma (1732–1802) looks back on those developments from a different point of view, thereby revealing the great significance his school ascribed to the foundation of bKra shis lhun po as a foothold in hostile territory. In his Grub mtha’ shel gyi me long, he relates that dGe ’dun grub was offered the abbatial throne of dGa’ ldan after the
death of Zha lu pa Legs pa rgyal mtshan (1375–1450), the fourth abbot of dGa’ ldan (tenure: 1438– 1450). However, concerned about the future development of his newly established seat, dGe ’dun grub is said to have declined that offer, arguing:70 66 On Ngor chen’s three visits to Glo bo, see Heimbel 2014: 341–426. 67 It is difficult to say whether high sectarian tensions actually arose between bKra
shis lhun po and Ngor during the time of their first few abbots. If they did, they eased over time. From the seventeenth century onwards, we find regular references to visits paid by Ngor pa lamas to bKra shis lhun po, as would be expected during the dGa’ ldan pho brang period when bKra shis lhun po dominated much of gTsang politically. 68 For instance, seven of the seventeen colleges (grwa tshang) of dPal ’khor bDe chen (or dPal ’khor sDe chen or dPal
’khor Chos sde) and ten of the twenty-five colleges of Ngam ring Chos sde (or Ngang rings Chos sde) were dGe lugs pa; see the Baiḍūrya ser po (pp. 244–247, no. 26, 263–267, nos. 79–88), respectively. 69 On different datings of this capture (1434/35 or 1446), see Czaja 2013: 20, 221, n. 43, 223, and Shen 2002: 211–212, n. 302. 70 Grub mtha’ shel gyi me long (pp. 354.6–355.1): dgra mkhar dgra’i lung par rgyag dgos pa yin| nged rang gi ’dir yang dga’ ldan tsam zhig
’ong ba’i re ba yod gsungs nas ma phebs|. For the translation of this passage, see also Thuken Losang Chökyi Nyima 2009: 280 and Shen 2002: 223, n. 341. Cf. the dGe ’dun grub pa’i rnam thar (p. 64.1–2), where dGe ’dun grub’s rejection of the dGa’ ldan abbacy is not phrased in such a harsh tone: rje bla ma’i gsung nas| bdag der mi ’gro| de’i rgyu mtshan yang dgon pa ’di yang btab ma thog tu song bas rgyun brtan pa cig ma byung dogs shing| khyad par sngar byas pa thams cad kyang bstan pa spyi sgos ’ba’ zhig la bsams| da dung yang rje btsun tsong kha pa chen po’i bstan pa ’ba’ zhig la bsams te ’dir ka sdod pa yin gsungs te (…). For the translation of this passage, see Shen 2002: 223. This passage served as the model for the presentation by Yong ’dzin Ye shes rgyal mtshan (1713–1793); see the Lam rim bla ma brgyud pa’i rnam thar (vol. 2, p. 634.4–6): (...) rje ’di bas bdag dge ldan gyi gdan sa byed du mi ’gro| de’i
rgyu mtshan yang dgon pa ’di yang btab ma thag tu song bas rgyun brtan pa cig ma byung dogs shing| khyad par sngar byas pa thams cad kyang bstan pa spyi sgos ’ba’ zhig la bsams[|] da dung yang rje btsun tsong kha pa chen po’i bstan pa ’ba’ zhig
[So] saying, [he] did not go [for the abbatial throne of dGa’ ldan]. Thu’u bkwan specified the sectarian reason that allegedly prompted dGe ’dun grub to decline that offer:71 [It] appears that [dGe ’dun grub] spoke like that because in the vicinity of this monastery [i.e., bKra shis lhun po] were many at
that time with wrong views about the doctrine of the Lord [[[Tsong kha pa]]] such as Ngor pa, Go [rams pa], and Shāk[ya mchog ldan]. But later on, by the splendour of bKra shis lhun po, which had gradually unfolded, [[[Sa skya pa]] monasteries] such as [the seats of those aforementioned masters of] Ngor, rTa nag
Thub bstan [[[rnam rgyal]]], and gSer mdog can were characterised by [their] invisibility like fire flies in front of the sun. A similar statement is contained in another eighteenth-century source, namely the compilation of the lives of Lam rim masters by Yong ’dzin Ye shes rgyal mtshan (1713–1793), though it is
given within a slightly different context: dGe ’dun grub is said to have declined the abbatial throne of dGa’ ldan for a second time after the passing away of Chos rje Blo gros chos skyong (1389–1463), the fifth abbot of dGa’ ldan (tenure: 1450–1463):72
la bsams te ’di khar sdod pa yin|. Cf. also the bKa’ gdams chos ’byung (pp. 790.23–791.2): zhal nas| nga nyid la ’di bas re che ba cig yod pa yin| nga ’di kha ru dga’ ldan tsam zhig e yong lta ba yin| zhes gsungs pa gda’|. On both passages, see also Shen 2002: 223–224, n. 341. 71 Grub mtha’ shel gyi me long
(p. 355.1–2): de dus chos sde ’di’i nye ’khor na ngor pa dang go shāk sogs rje’i ring lugs la log par lta ba mang bas de skad gsungs par snang la| phyis su bkra shis lhun po rim gyis dar rgyas su song ba’i gzi brjid kyis| ngor dang| rta nag thub bstan dang| gser mdog can sogs nyi ma’i drung du me khyer bzhin
snang mi rung gi mtshan nyid can du gyur to|. For the translation of this passage, see also Thuken Losang Chökyi Nyima 2009: 280 and Shen 2002: 223, n. 341. This passage has also been discussed in polemics exchanged between the dGe lugs pa master mDo smad pa Yon tan rgya mtsho and the Sa skya pa master
gDong thog Rin po che; see the Dus kyi sbrang char (pp. 130.5–131.5), Dus kyi me lce (pp. 40.15–43.8), and Lung rigs thog mda’ (pp. 13.16–18.11). gDong thog Rin po che discusses also a second passage from Thu’u bkwan’s Grub mtha’ shel gyi me long, in which the latter belittles the Sa skya pa’s influence in
eastern Tibet; see the Grub mtha’ shel gyi me long (p. 214.3–4), Dus kyi sbrang char (pp. 128.18–130.5), and Dus kyi me lce (pp. 36.16–40.14). For the response to that criticism by Yon tan rgya mtsho, see the Kun khyab ’brug sgra (pp. 40.4–41.10) and Lung rigs thog mda’ (pp. 11.16–13.15). Moreover, such
debates as that between mKhas grub rJe and Rong ston and that between mKhas grub rJe and Ngor chen are also discussed; see the Dus kyi me lce (pp. 43.18–52.12) and Lung rigs thog mda’ (pp. 18.14–22.8). 72 Lam rim bla ma brgyud pa’i rnam thar (vol. 1, p. 926.2): (…) kho bo dgra yul du dgra mkhar brtsig [= rtsig?] dgos pa yod pas ’di kha rang du rje’i bstan pa ’dzin pa yin|. On this passage, see also Shen 2002: 223–224, n. 341.
Because a hostile fort needs to be built on the enemy’s land, just at this [[[monastery]]] here, I am upholding the teachings of the Lord [[[Tsong kha pa]]]. Those
accounts suggest that some dGe lugs pa enthusiasts considered Ngor chen and his monastic foundation to be one of the major obstacles to their expansionist ambitions in gTsang. By the time of the foundation of bKra shis lhun po, Ngor chen was surely a towering figure on the religious scene of gTsang and formed a counterweight to the expanding dGe lugs pa. Similar to Tsong kha pa, he can be considered a reformer in his own right, who not only tried to renew the Sa skya pa school from within but also, as Leonard van der Kuijp has put it, “sought to weed out a number of Tibetan opinions which he considered to be non-supportable.”73 A similar statement is made by Gung ru Shes rab bzang po (1411–1475) in his continuation of Ngor chen’s Lam ’bras history:74 In particular, at the time when the precious teachings of the glorious Sa skya pa were drowned in the swamp of superimposition and depreciation by ourselves and others,
and were thus unclear, this Great Being [i.e., Ngor chen], showering down a heavy rain of textual authority and reasoning (…), performed the clean-up of washing off all filth of misconceptions. It should be emphasised that Shes rab bzang po mentions the distortion of the Sa skya pa teachings by both internal and external forces. This brings us back to Ngor chen’s role in counterbalancing the dGe lugs pa expansion. That he was allotted such a role even
by his own Sa skya pa school is evident from a statement found in the main part of the biography that Go rams pa wrote in 1465 of his teacher Mus chen dKon mchog rgyal mtshan (1388–1469), the chief disciple of Ngor chen and second abbot of Ngor (tenure: 1456–1462). At one point, Go rams pa presents in direct speech a long remark Mus chen is said to have made about the reason why he felt deeply grateful towards Ngor chen:75
73 Van der Kuijp 1987: 176, n. 2. 74 Lam ’bras kyi byung tshul (p. 496.4–6): khyad par du dpal ldan sa skya pa’i bstan pa rin po che rang gzhan gyis sgro ’dogs dang skur ’debs kyi ’dam du bying ste mi gsal ba’i skabs su| bdag nyid chen po ’dis rang gzhan gyi grub mtha’ rgya mtsho’i pha rol tu son pa’i lung rigs kyi char chen phab nas| log rtog gi dri ma thams cad ’khrud pa’i byi dor byas te|. 75 See the Mus chen gyi rnam thar 1 (p. 625.2–5): (…) bod du rdo rje theg pa’i lam srol la bla ma gong ma nas brgyud pa’i lam srol ’di dang| mar pa nas brgyud pa’i rngog gzhung gi bka’ srol| shangs pa nas brgyud pa’i ni gu sogs kyi bka’ srol dang| bu ston rin po che nas brgyud pa’i yo ga’i bka’ srol sogs mang du yod kyang| dus phyis chos rje ri bo dge ldan pas| gsang sngags kyi bka’ srol la grub mtha’ bsam pa rkang btsugs nas bshad nyan gyis gtan la phabs par mdzad| de sngar gyi bka’ srol de dag gang dang yang mi mthun pa ’dug kyang| dbus gtsang gi dge ba’i bshes gnyen phal cher de la dad pa cig byung| de la chos rje rin po ches grub mtha’ snga phyi’i gnad gzigs nas dgag sgrub mang du mdzad| bla ma gong ma’i bka’ srol gyi rkang btsugs te de’i rjes su zhugs pas chog pa cig byung pa yin|. Given the critique Go rams pa directed against Tsong kha pa, one might wonder whether it is not Go rams pa himself speaking through the subject of his biography. On Go rams pa’s
In Tibet, the Vajrayāna tradition has many [[[traditions]]] such as this tradition transmitted from the previous [[[Sa skya pa]]] lamas [i.e., the five founding fathers], the tradition of the rNgog gzhung transmitted from the Mar pa [[[bKa’ brgyud]] pa], traditions such as of Ni gu transmitted from the Shangs pa [[[bKa’ brgyud]] pa], and the tradition of the yoga[[[tantras]]] transmitted from Bu ston Rin po che. Later on, however, Chos rje Ri bo dGe ldan pa [i.e., Tsong kha pa]
established an idea of tenet for the secret mantra tradition and determined [it] through teaching. Though that [new system] was contradictory to any of those older traditions, most of the religious teachers of dBus and gTsang developed some faith in it. In that regard, having investigated the crucial points of the earlier and later doctrines, Chos rje Rin po che [i.e., Ngor chen] made many refutations and proofs. Since he established the previous lamas’
[i.e., the founding fathers of Sa skya’s] tradition, it [again] became permissible that it could be followed. This passage was somewhat simplified by bDag chen Blo gros rgyal mtshan (1444– 1495), the twenty-first throne-holder of Sa skya (tenure: 1473–1495), who included it in his own biography of his teacher Mus chen, which he compiled in 1479 partly based on Go rams pa’s work:76 In general, regarding the Vajrayāna tradition in Tibet, many [[[traditions]]] appeared
such as that transmitted from the previous Sa skya pa lamas [i.e., the five founding fathers], the tradition of the rNgog gzhung pa transmitted from the Mar pa [[[bKa’ brgyud]] pa], that transmitted from Bu ston Rin po che, and the tradition of Ni gu transmitted from the Shangs pa [[[bKa’ brgyud]] pa]. Later on, however, a newly established Vajrayāna tradition appeared that was contradictory to any of those [older traditions], [and] also most of the people [developed] lots of faith for [a tradition] like that. As to that, Chos rje Rin po che [i.e., Ngor chen] investigated the crucial points of the earlier and
later doctrines. Holding on to the tradition of the previous Sa skya pa lamas, [he] separated the authentic from the non-authentic practices. It became [then again] permissible that this [[[tradition]]] could be followed. We could thus assume that the aforementioned portrayals of Ngor chen as a sectarian figure from the pens of partisan dGe lugs pa historians were simply aimed at establishing the superiority of their own school by discrediting Ngor chen, and thus
76 See the Mus chen gyi rnam thar 3 (p. 28.3–6): (…) spyir bod du rdo rje theg pa’i bka’ srol la sa skya pa’i bla ma gong ma nas brgyud pa dang| mar pa nas brgyud pa’i rngog gzhung pa’i bka’ srol dang| bu ston rin po che nas brgyud pa dang| shangs pa nas brgyud pa’i ni gu’i bka’ srol sogs mang du byung kyang|
dus phyis de dag gang yang mi mthun pa’i rdo rje theg pa’i bka’ srol gsar btsugs byung ba skye bo phal cher kyang de lta bu la dad pa mang| de la chos rje rin po che’i zhal snga nas grub mtha’ snga phyi’i gnad gzigs| bla ma gong ma’i bka’ srol la bzung nas nyams len rnam dag yin min so sor phye ba ’di’i rjes su zhugs pas chog par byung|.
only two are presently available. His earliest extant biography was written in 1455 by his chief disciple and abbatial successor to the throne of Ngor, Mus chen dKon mchog rgyal mtshan, when Ngor chen was still alive and in his seventy-third year.77 The second extant biography is a much later compilation of
early Ngor chen biographies written by Ngor chen’s direct disciples, including that of Mus chen. It was compiled in 1688 by Sangs rgyas phun tshogs (1649–1705), the twenty-fifth abbot of Ngor, 232 years after Ngor chen’s death.78 Both these biographies contain references to the body maṇḍala debate, direct and indirect, and three passages are of interest here, whereby the first two are found in both works and the third only in the later compilatory work. In
the section on Ngor chen’s engagement in the arts of exposition, disputation, and composition (’chad rtsod rtsom), his biographers inform us about his polemical writings in the passage on disputation. Both also mention his refutations within the body maṇḍala dispute, though without identifying his opponent by name:79
77 After his master’s passing, Mus chen wrote a short addendum in 1457, which focussed on the circumstances of Ngor chen’s death and the subsequent religious activities; see the Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 1 (pp. 468.2–473.6). 78 On Ngor chen’s biographies, see Heimbel 2011 and Heimbel 2014: 29–85. In
compiling Ngor chen’s biography, Sangs rgyas phun tshogs, according to his colophon, followed the command of his teacher lHun grub dpal ldan (1624–1697), the twenty-fourth abbot of Ngor (tenure: 1673–1686), who told him that because the lives of Ngor chen composed by the latter’s personal disciples were both “difficult to bring together” (’dzom dka’) and “difficult to understand” (rtogs dka’), he should compile a new biography incorporating the information from
those old ones. One can thus speculate that those old biographies were scattered across various locations, hard for even an abbot of Ngor to easily lay his hands on. In addition, the religiopolitical climate of central Tibet, which with the 1642 establishment of the dGa’ ldan pho brang government was heavily dGe lugs pa dominated, may have further stimulated that project. To preserve the memory and legacy of the founder of Ngor and its tradition, Sangs rgyas
phun tshogs compiled a new Ngor chen biography, on the basis of which future generations of Ngor pa monks could define their identity and community. To distribute his compilation, he oversaw its carving at the powerful court of his new patron, the king of sDe dge, where he spent the last years of his life as court chaplain, being one of the first Ngor pa masters to serve in that function. Owing to his activities, the relationship between Ngor and sDe dge was
further deepened and would intensify even further over the course of the eighteenth century, when almost continuously a series of retired Ngor abbots acted as chaplains at the court of sDe dge, outside of the administrative grip of the dGa’ ldan pho brang government. On this donor-donnee relation, see Heimbel 2014: 46–52, –521. 79 Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 2 (p. 546.2–5): de ltar ’chad pa’i sgo nas sangs rgyas kyi bstan pa gsal
After [he] had in this way clarified the [[[Buddha’s]]] doctrine by means of exposition, [[[Ngor chen]]] repudiated the false conceptions by others through disputation: (…) There also emerged the terrifying mistaken conception by a later day [faction] that the body maṇḍala of Hevajra (…) was a fabrication nowhere taught in the tantras [and] Indian treatises. [[[Ngor chen]]] correctly refuted [this misapprehension] by means of textual authority, reasoning, and
esoteric instructions, and composed the two [refutations] Eliminating the Argument about the Body Maṇḍala, Destruction of the False Position and [Eliminating the Argument about the Body Maṇḍala,] Destruction of the False View, which are great treatises that establish the unsurpassed intent of the tantras and scriptures. Both biographies also contain a longer account on Ngor chen’s endeavour to revive the two lower tantric systems of Kriyā and Caryā, which is told in the larger context of the sectarian dispute between the emerging dGe lugs pa and Sa skya pa schools. According to Ngor chen’s biographers,
during the winter teaching session at the end of 1425 or the beginning of 1426, many monks experienced dreams that a misfortune (sku chag) would befall Ngor chen, and divinations also confirmed that impending threat. Consequently, several senior monks approached Ngor chen requesting that he perform a spong dag offering, which consists in the distribution of one’s personal belongings, and to go into a strict retreat. Though questioning the certainty of those divinations, Ngor chen complied and distributed his possessions in the Bla brang Shar to the monastic community of Sa skya. Afterwards, he secluded himself
bar mdzad nas| rtsod pa’i sgo nas gzhan gyis log par rtog pa bzlog pa yang| (…) yang phyis kyis kye rdo rje’i lus dkyil rgyud rgya gzhung gang nas kyang ma bshad pa’i rtog brtags yin no zhes pa’i log rtog ’jigs su rung ba (…) de lung rigs man ngag gi sgo nas legs par sun phyung nas| rgyud gzhung gi dgongs pa
bla na med pa sgrub par byed pa’i bstan bcos chen po’i lus dkyil rtsod spong smra ba ngan ’joms zhes bya ba dang| lta ba ngan sel zhes bya ba gnyis mdzad do||. For the original passage, see the Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 1 (p. 462.4–6). For the two refutations, see the Ngor chen gyi bka’ ’bum (vol. 1, pp. 545–580.6, 580.6–625.3). Sangs rgyas phun tshogs mentions the body maṇḍala debate a fourth time within the context of Ngor chen’s three sojourns in Glo bo:
“Hearing of the fame of this rDo rje ’chang, [[[A ma dpal]]] invited with great believing trust and under large efforts [[[Ngor chen]]] again and again. But since previously the dispute had emerged that the view of the Tantra Trilogy [of Hevajra] along with the Esoteric Instructions [i.e., the Lam ’bras] of the Sa skya pa was “mind only” and that the Sa skya pa body maṇḍala was not taught in the tantras [and] treatises, the monastic rule was established that there was no place to where Sa skya pa dge bshes could go to. After this [restriction, Ngor chen] got no opportunity to visit [[[Glo]] bo];” see the Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 2 (p. 537.3): rdo rje ’chang ’di’i snyan pa thos nas dad ’dun dang bka’ [= dka’] spyod chen pos yang yang spyan drangs kyang| snga ma sa skya pa’i rgyud gsum man ngag dang bcas pa’i lta ba sems tsam yin zer ba dang| sa skya pa’i lus dkyil rgyud gzhung nas ma bshad zer ba’i rtsod pa byung nas| sa skya pa’i dge bshes rnams ’thor sa med pa’i bca’ khrims byas nas ’byon stabs ma byung|.
live for another thirty-nine years.80 At the evening two days prior to the conclusion of his retreat, he called two disciples, mNga’ ris pa dKon mchog ’od zer and Mus chen, disappointedly reflecting on his unsuccessful undertaking:81 Apart from performing a few refutations and proofs of our doctrine, [I] have
not caused harm to anybody. Nevertheless, some have performed a kind of sorcery [to magically cause harm] based on the Six-armed one. The magical display of this [[[Wikipedia:sorcery|sorcery]]] should have occurred last year, but because [the practice of] the Dharma by me, the master, and [my] disciples, was flawless, [I] have not been harmed [by it]. Also the agitated dream from some days ago seems to be for me like a magical display for a positive outcome. If [I] had entered
into retreat half a month later, [it] would have turned out harmful. In that regard, even if it had been harmful, there is no moral responsibility of other [[[people]]] at all. Ngor chen’s direct speech continues and we learn more details about his undertaking such as that, during his first visit to dBus (1414–1417), he deliberately went to see Tsong kha pa at dGa’ ldan to secure support. He did, however, not succeed in securing the support he had hoped to gain,
because Tsong kha pa considered the training in the lower tantric systems less beneficial than that of the highest. The entire account ends with a reference to an earlier episode that had already been dealt with in the section on Ngor chen’s religious training, namely his studies under Tsong kha pa.82 80 While in retreat, Ngor chen also composed his two aforementioned refutations in the Hevajra body maṇḍala dispute against mKhas grub rJe’s misrepresentation of Bu ston (1290–1364) and praises of Uṣṇīṣavijayā, Pañjaranātha with his consort Śrīdevī, Four-faced Śrīmahākāla, and Pu tra brother and sister, beseeching them for their help in overcoming his obstacles. For the praise of Uṣṇīṣavijayā and those of the other protector deities, which were arranged as one work, see the Ngor chen gyi bka’ ’bum (vol. 1, pp. 72.3–78.5, 87.2–92.3), respectively. Since Ngor chen wrote the first praise for the
fulfilment of his own wishes (rang gis [= gi] ’dod don zhu ba’i phyir du) and the second to request for his own ends the activities of the dharmapālas (rang gi ’dod pa’i phrin las zhu ba’i phyir du), it is evident that he was somehow troubled. 81 Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 2 (p. 522.2–4): rang re’i grub mtha’i dgag sgrub re tsam ma gtogs su la yang gnod par ’gyur ba ma byas kyang| ’ga’ zhig gis phyag drug pa la brten pa’i byad kha ’dra byas par ’dug| ’di’i
cho ’phrul na ning ’ong rgyur ’dug na’ang na ning rang re dpon slob rnams kyis chos smar po byung bas ma tshugs par gda’| khar sing nas kyi rmi lam tshab tshub de pa’ang rang re la dkar phyogs ’dra’i cho ’phrul ’dra yin tshod du ’dug| mtshams byed pa zla phyed kyi ’phyis na skyon du ’gro bar gda’| de la skyon du song na’ang gzhan sems kyi ’khri ba ci yang mi ’dug|. Sangs rgyas phun tshogs copied this passage with slight variations from Mus chen’s Ngor chen
gyi rnam thar 1 (pp. 456.6–457.2). The sorcery is also mentioned by A mes zhabs (1597–1659); see the mGon po chos ’byung (pp. 260.6–261.1). That impending threat and Ngor chen’s undertaking to revive the two lower tantric systems is also briefly mentioned in Mus chen’s own biographies, though in a different context; see the Mus chen gyi rnam thar 1 (p. 598.2–4), Mus chen gyi rnam thar 2 (p. 215.3–5), and Mus chen gyi rnam thar 3 (p. 10.1–4). 82 For the entire episode, see the Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 1 (pp. 455.6–458.2) and Ngor chen gyi
As only told by Sangs rgyas phun tshogs, while at dGa’ ldan, Ngor chen also received a few reading transmissions from Tsong kha pa and was himself requested by such masters as gNas brtan rGyal ’od to confer such empowerments as of Kālacakra. But Ngor chen denied those requests, establishing merely a few religious connections (chos ’brel) by giving teachings on guruyoga. His rejection was related to a dream that he had while at dGa’ ldan. In that dream,
a white figure was laying with his right side on the ground, saying: “You should not teach the Dharma here. Do not stay for a long time. I will not do [you any] harm.”83 After the conclusion of Ngor chen’s entire narration, both his biographers relate a short conversation between him and his two disciples that he had now overcome the imminent threat (sku chag or chag sgo).84 But only Sangs rgyas phun tshogs then refers once again to Ngor chen’s aforementioned dream that he had while staying at dGa’ ldan.85 This entire episode is interesting insofar as, though mainly concerned with Ngor chen’s failed attempt to
revive the two lower tantric systems, it clearly adopts a subtle sectarian undertone, revealing the sectarian conflict between Tsong kha pa and his followers and Ngor chen. The main elements are Ngor chen’s statement that apart from writing a few refutations he had not caused any harm, the sorcery directed against him, his failure to get Tsong kha pa’s support, and his dream at dGa’ ldan. The narration can also partly be linked with passages from mKhas grub rJe’s secret biography, which reveal the identity of both the Six-armed one, who was requested to attack Ngor chen, and the person behind that
request. As mentioned above, in repelling the magical attacks of the Sa skya pa, mKhas grub rJe relied on a new protector, Six-armed Mahākāla. Considering the passages from Ngor chen’s and mKhas grub rJe’s biographies, the “Six-armed one” can surely be identified as Sixarmed Mahākāla, and the person behind the ritual curse as originating within the dGe lugs pa school, if not as mKhas grub rJe personally or his immediate circle, as it is conveyed by those biographies. These accounts from both mKhas grub rJe’s and Ngor chen’s biographies also reveal the important role that sorcery played within the dispute,
or, at least, in its textual representations.86 rnam thar 2 (pp. 521.1–523.6). 83 Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 2 (p. 514.6): khyed ’dir chos ma ’chad| yun rings ma ’dug ngas gnod pa mi byed (…). On Ngor chen’s stay at dGa’ ldan and his studies under Tsong kha pa, see n. 17. A meeting between Tsong kha pa and Ngor chen is also confirmed by Tsong kha pa’s and mKhas grub rJe’s biographies. In his extensive Tsong kha pa biography, rGyal dbang Chos rje Blo bzang ’phrin las rnam rgyal (fl. 19th century) reports
that meeting, but predates it to 1399, fifteen years prior to Ngor chen’s first visit to dBus; see the Tsong kha pa’i rnam thar (p. 175.10–12). rJe btsun pa confirms the meeting in his disparaging portrayal translated above; see the mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 (fol. 11b1–2). 84 See the Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 1 (p. 458.1–2) and Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 2 (p. 523.4–5). 85 See the Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 2 (p. 523.5–6). 86 Sorcery was also employed in the polemical exchange between Mi pham and dGe lugs pa
The third passage is only found in the compilatory work of Sangs rgyas phun tshogs, who opens his account of Ngor chen’s life by quoting at length two sūtras in which the Buddha, according to tradition, prophesied Ngor chen’s coming and his future attainment of Buddhahood (i.e., the Kuśalamūlaparidharasūtra and Saddharma puṇḍarīkasūtra).87 However, Sangs rgyas phun tshogs quotes the first sūtra in a fragmentary or selective way by
picking out only certain verses and skipping others, but presenting them as one citation; he even reverses the sequence of the sūtra by citing back to front.88 Comparing the citations from the Kuśalamūlaparidharasūtra in Ngor chen’s biography with the sūtra itself, it is obvious that the original reading of the sūtra was considerably altered and one verse was apparently added. This finding is interesting because part of that passage is traditionally
interpreted as the prophecy of Ngor chen’s conflict with mKhas grub rJe. Sangs rgyas phun tshogs cites this part as:89 Whatever bhikṣus will appear in later times, Other rough, fierce, and extremely harsh Bhikṣus will challenge this. He then adds a quote from two lines later in the sūtra:90 [They will say]: “This Dharma was not taught by the Conqueror.” Look how [those people] rejoice in the mistaken world!
in central Tibet attempted to vanquish Mipham through sorcery and exorcisms. Mipham however triumphed unharmed through his spiritual powers and the sorcery and excorcism are said to have rebounded onto the performers themselves, bringing abnormal diseases and death.” Note the similar narrative pattern as in the above-mentioned account by rJe btsun pa of the Sa skya pa attacking mKhas grub rJe with sorcery. This sorcery also backfired and at Sa skya itself the
main temple allegedly collapsed. 87 For Sangs rgyas phun tshogs’ quotations, see the Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 2 (pp. 477.3–479.1, 479.1–479.4), respectively. For the Kuśalamūlaparidharasūtra, see the bKa’ ’gyur dpe bsdur ma 119 and P 769. For the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, see the bKa’ ’gyur dpe bsdur ma 131 and P 781. 88 For the quotations from the fifth chapter of the Kuśalamūlaparidharasūtra, see P 769 (fols. 99a2, 99a5–8, 99b5–7, 100b1, 100b4,
100a8–100b1, 100b2–3, 100a1–2, 100a3–4) and for those from the ninth chapter of the Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra, see P 781 (fol. 94a4–8). 89 Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 2 (p. 478.3–4): gang dag phyi dus dge slong rnams ’byung ba|| rtsub dang gtum dang shin tu rtsub pa yi|| dge slong gzhan gyis ’di la rtsod par ’gyur||. 90 Ngor chen gyi rnam thar 2 (p. 478.4): chos ’di rgyal bas gsungs pa ma yin zhes|| ’jig rten phyin ci log la kun dgar ltos||. By comparison with
the Kuśalamūlaparidharasūtra (P 769, fol. 100b4), the second line of Sangs rgyas phun tshogs’ verse reads dgar instead of dga’. This could be a play on words of Ngor chen’s personal name Kun dga’ bzang po and may suggest that Sangs rgyas phun tshogs intended an understanding of the line as: “[This] worldly view is mistaken and [[[people]] saying like that] will lean on Kun dga’ [[[bzang po]]]” or [This] worldly view is mistaken and [[[people]] saying like that] shall look for Kun dga’ [[[bzang po]]].”
The Kuśalamūlaparidharasūtra reads: Whatever bhikṣus will appear in later times, [They will] be rough, fierce, and extremely harsh.91 [They will say]: “This Dharma was not taught by the Conqueror.” Look how [those people] rejoice in the mistaken world!92 Short citations from both sūtras,
though varying to a certain extent from the originals, are also found in a section on Ngor chen in the Lam ’bras history of ’Jam dbyangs mKhyen brtse’i dbang phyug (1524–1568), which predates Sangs rgyas phun tshogs’ work by more than a century. With regard to the religious conflict, mKhyen brtse’i dbang phyug openly reveals the identity of Ngor chen’s opponent:93 Even the denigration by Chos rje mKhas grub [saying] ‘[This] is not a sūtra [i.e., an
authentic teaching]’ was prophesied in the Kuśalamūlaparidharasūtra: “Other angry, fierce, and extremely harsh bhikṣus will challenge that.” Up to now, I was unable to identify the verse “Other (...) bhikṣus will challenge this (or that)” from Sangs rgyas phun tshogs’ quotation and the Lam ’bras history. It might have been added and the yin in the preceding verse (rtsub dang gtum dang shin tu rtsub pa yin) might have been changed to yi to join the next verse
(dge slong gzhan gyis ’di/de la rtsod par ’gyur). By comparison, Ngor chen’s dispute with mKhas grub rJe is not as openly discussed in his two biographies and elaborated on as rJe btsun pa did in his secret biography of mKhas grub rJe. They also lack any disparaging portrayal of mKhas grub rJe similar to that of Ngor chen drawn by rJe btsun pa. Nevertheless, the passages discussed above function in a similar way as those in mKhas grub rJe’s secret biography. For
his biographers, it was naturally Ngor chen who emerged victorious out of the dispute by writing his refutations against “the terrifying mistaken conception by a later day [faction] that the body maṇḍala of Hevajra (…) was a fabrication nowhere taught in the tantras [and] Indian treatises.” Since Ngor chen, according to his biographers, “correctly refuted [this misapprehension] by means of textual authority, reasoning, and esoteric instructions,” his doctrinal authority and tantric expertise
91 Kuśalamūlaparidharasūtra (P 769, fol. 100b1): gang dag phyi dus dge slong rnams ’byung ba|| rtsub dang gtum dang shin tu rtsub pa yin||. 92 Kuśalamūlaparidharasūtra (P 769, fol. 100b4): chos ’di rgyal bas gsungs pa ma yin zhes|| ’jig rten phyin ci log la kun dga’ ltos||. 93 gSang chen bstan pa rgyas byed (p. 150.2–3): ’phags pa dge ba’i rtsa ba yongs su ’dzin pa’i mdor| (…) khro dang gtum dang shin tu rtsub pa yi|| dge slong gzhan gyis de la rtsod par ’gyur|| zhes chos rje mkhas grub pas mdo ma yin zhes skur pa ’debs pa’ang lung bstan pa dang (...). For the translation of this passage, see also Stearns 2006: 245.
were established as superior to mKhas grub rJe’s, whose identity, though not openly revealed, was surely well-known to the audience within Sa skya pa monastic circles. Ngor chen’s superiority over mKhas grub rJe was further substantiated by the quotation that Sangs rgyas phun tshogs pieced together from the Kuśala mūla paridharasūtra, in which the Buddha allegedly prophesied Ngor chen’s conflict with mKhas grub rJe. Though Sangs rgyas phun tshogs did not
openly reveal the identity of that fierce monk disputing the authenticity of what can be interpreted as the Hevajra body maṇḍala, it is more than obvious that he alluded to mKhas grub rJe, as we have learned from the Lam ’bras history of ’Jam dbyangs mKhyen brtse’i dbang phyug. Employing that quotation, Sangs rgyas phun tshogs authenticated Ngor chen’s doctrinal superiority and mKhas grub rJe’s inferiority by letting the Buddha himself proclaim that Ngor chen held a correct view and mKhas grub rJe an erroneous one. The long account on Ngor chen’s undertaking to revive the two lower tantric systems was told within the larger context of the sectarian dispute. Both biographies conveyed the impression that Ngor chen, as the result of his polemic engagements, suffered from an unjust attack of sorcery originating within the monastic circles of the dGe lugs pa, though he himself had not inflicted harm on anyone.
His seventeenth century biographer reinforces the sectarian undertone by twice mentioning that dream Ngor chen had while at dGa’ ldan, in which he was told not to teach there and only stay for a short time, otherwise, he would be harmed. By these statements, Sangs rgyas phun tshogs reveals to his audience that Tsong kha pa’s monastic foundation of dGa’ ldan with its community of followers was a hostile environment for a Sa skya pa master to stay and teach. We saw
similar narrative strategies also in the aforementioned passages from the Lam ’bras history of Gung ru Shes rab bzang po and the biography that Go rams pa wrote of his teacher Mus chen. Shes rab bzang po established the superiority of Ngor chen’s doctrinal positions over erroneous views both within and without of the Sa skya pa school: Ngor chen, “at the time when the precious teachings of the glorious Sa skya pa were drowned in the swamp of
superimposition and depreciation by ourselves and others,” by “showering down a heavy rain of textual authority and reasoning (…), performed the clean-up of washing off all filth of misconceptions.” Go rams pa was much more concrete, directly spelling out very clearly whose doctrine needed to be rectified,
namely that of Tsong kha pa, whose views were, as he argues, contrary to all earlier Vajrayāna traditions present in Tibet, yet his tradition gained a large following in dBus and gTsang. Ngor chen then investigated the key points of the old and new doctrines and performed many refutations and proofs. In doing so, he re-established the old Sa skya pa tradition and made it again possible to follow.
Analysing the textual passages that represent the religious controversy between mKhas grub rJe and Ngor chen, and also its related textual material, we saw that each tradition portrays their respective protagonist as emerging victorious out of it by successfully refuting the erroneous views of their opponent.
Though such engaging in religious debates is considered to be one of three scholarly qualities a Buddhist masters exhibits for the benefit of others—the other two being exposition and composition (’chad rtsod rtsom)—the discussed accounts show that the dispute was not merely a simple exchange of standard polemics but a heated debate with the aforementioned immediate and far-reaching consequences. As later reflections about the dispute, those accounts openly
convey the tensions and animosities that arose between the emerging dGe lugs pa and Sa skya pa schools. As suggested by rJe btsun pa’s presentation, they may both be a result of such disputes and a cause contributing to increase already existing tensions through their highly partisan representation. As we saw, those accounts were not given without any ulterior motives. Cabezón and Dargyay have pointed out that “the motives of polemicists are in many cases
far from noble. A desire for reputation, patronage, power, and followers is in some cases more evident as the driving force than a desire for the truth.”94 Similarly, the authors of biographies and other historiographical works, who at times were polemicists themselves, can be assumed to have had their own motives and personal agenda for including those sectarian passages. By representing each of their respective protagonists as emerging victorious over his rival, of whom an insulting portrayal can be drawn,95 the authors of those passages authenticate their respective subject as a powerful expounder of the Buddha’s doctrine, establishing the doctrinal superiority of the views associated with him and his lineage above that of his rival. In doing so, they contribute to the process of consolidating a distinctive sectarian identity for the lineage and school associated with their biographical subject. On the
basis of those accounts, later followers could reaffirm and strengthen their sectarian identity and sense of community by recalling the victories that the important founding figures of their tradition—mKhas grub rJe as the chief disciple and expounder of Tsong kha pa and Ngor chen as the founder of the Ngor branch of the Sa skya pa school—had achieved over rivals from outside of their own schools.
Tibetan sources Kar lan = Se ra rJe btsun pa Chos kyi rgyal mtshan (1469–1544). gSung lan klu sgrub dgongs rgyan. In dGag lan phyogs bsgrigs, pp. 69–173. Karma pa’i gsung ’bum = Eighth Karma pa Mi bskyod rdo rje (1507–1554). dPal rgyal ba karma pa sku ’phreng brgyad pa mi bskyod rdo rje’i gsung ’bum. 26
vols. [[[Lhasa]]]: [s.n.], . TBRC (W8039). Kun khyab ’brug sgra = mDo smad pa Yon tan rgya mtsho (1932–2002). brGal lan kun khyab ’brug sgra: gDong thog sprul sku la gdams pa brgal lan kun khyab snyan pa’i ’brug sgra. Paris: Yon tan rgya mtsho, 1979 (offset); New Delhi: dGe slong bsTan ’dzin dge legs, 1980. TBRC (W29046). bKa’ ’gyur dpe bsdur ma = Krung go’i bod rig pa zhib ’jug lte gnas kyi bka’ bstan dpe sdur khang (ed.). bKa’ ’gyur (dpe bsdur ma). 109 vols.
Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2006–2009. bKa’ gdams chos ’byung = Las chen Kun dga’ rgyal mtshan (1432–1506). bKa’ gdams kyi rnam par thar pa bka’ gdams chos ’byung gsal ba’i sgron me. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 2003. bKa’ gdams gsar rnying gi chos ’byung = Paṇ chen bSod nams grags pa (1478–1554). bKa’ gdams gsar rnying gi chos ’byung yid kyi mdzes rgyan. Gangs can rig mdozd, vol. 36. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying
dpe skrun khang, 2001. mKhas grub rje’i rnam thar 1 = dGe slong Chos ldan rab ’byor (fl. 15th century). mKhas grub thams cad mkhyen pa’i rnam thar. In [gSung ’bum mKhas grub rje]. 16 vols. sKu ’bum Byams pa gling: sKu ’bum Byams pa gling par khang, [199?], vol. 1 (ka), pp. 109–133. TBRC (W23693). mKhas grub rje’i rnam thar 2 = Paṇ chen bDe legs nyi ma (fl. 16th century). mKhas grub thams cad mkhyen pa’i rnam thar mkhas pa’i yid ’phrog. In [gSung ’bum mKhas grub rje]. 16 vols. sKu ’bum Byams pa gling: sKu ’bum Byams pa gling par khang, [199?], vol. 1 (ka), pp. 79–108. TBRC (W23693). mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 1 = Se ra rJe btsun pa Chos kyi rgyal mtshan (1469– 1544). mKhas grub thams cad mkhyen pa dge legs dpal bzang po’i rnam thar rje btsun chos kyi rgyal mtshan gyis bsgrigs pa dad pa’i rol mtsho. In [gSung ’bum mKhas grub rje]. 16 vols. sKu ’bum Byams pa gling: sKu ’bum Byams pa gling par khang,
[199?], vol. 1 (ka), pp. 1–77. TBRC (W23693). mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 2 = Se ra rJe btsun pa Chos kyi rgyal mtshan (1469– 1544). mKhas grub thams cad mkhyen pa’i gsang ba’i rnam thar rje btsun chos kyi rgyal mtshan gyis mdzad pa. In The Collected Works (gSuṅ ’bum) of the Lord mKhas-grub rJe dGe-legs-dpal-bzaṅ-po. 12 vols. Reproduced from a set of prints from the 1897 lHa-sa old Źol (dGa’-ldan-phun-tshogs-gliṅ) blocks. New Delhi: Mongolian Lama Gurudeva, 1980–1982, vol. 12 (a), pp. 421–470.5. TBRC (W384).
mKhas grub rje’i gsang rnam 3 = Se ra rJe btsun pa Chos kyi rgyal mtshan (1469– 1544). mKhas grub thams cad mkhyen pa’i gsang ba’i rnam thar rje btsun chos kyi rgyal mtshan gyis mdzad pa. In [gSung ’bum mKhas grub rje]. 10 vols. Reprinted from a set of impressions of the old Tashilhunpo blocks. Dharamsala, H.P.: Sherig Parkhang, 1997, vol. 10 (tha), pp. 567–604.2. TBRC (W29195). mKhas pa’i dga’ ston = dPa’ bo gTsug lag phreng ba (1504–1566). Dam pa’i chos kyi
’khor lo bsgyur ba rnams kyi byung ba gsal bar byed pa mkhas pa’i dga’ ston. 2 vols. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1986. Gu bkra’i chos ’byung = sTag sgang mKhas mchog Gu ru bkra shis (fl. 18th/19th century). bsTan pa’i snying po gsang chen snga ’gyur nges don zab mo’i chos kyi byung ba gsal bar byed
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