The Culture of the Book in Tibet

The Culture of the Book in Tibet

Kurtis R. Schaeffer
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/scha14716
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  • Book Info
    The Culture of the Book in Tibet
    Book Description:

    The history of the book in Tibet involves more than literary trends and trade routes. Functioning as material, intellectual, and symbolic object, the book has been an instrumental tool in the construction of Tibetan power and authority, and its history opens a crucial window onto the cultural, intellectual, and economic life of an immensely influential Buddhist society.

    Spanning the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries, Kurtis R. Schaeffer envisions the scholars and hermits, madmen and ministers, kings and queens who produced Tibet's massive canons. He describes how Tibetan scholars edited and printed works of religion, literature, art, and science and what this indicates about the interrelation of material and cultural practices. The Tibetan book is at once the embodiment of the Buddha's voice, a principal means of education, a source of tradition and authority, an economic product, a finely crafted aesthetic object, a medium of Buddhist written culture, and a symbol of the religion itself. Books stood at the center of debates on the role of libraries in religious institutions, the relative merits of oral and written teachings, and the economy of religion in Tibet.

    A meticulous study that draws on more than 150 understudied Tibetan sources, The Culture of the Book in Tibet is the first volume to trace this singular history. Through a single object, Schaeffer accesses a greater understanding of the cultural and social history of the Tibetan plateau.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51918-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. VII-XIV)
  4. 1 THE STUFF OF BOOKS
    (pp. 1-18)

    In the conclusion to one of his many works on esoteric Buddhist practice, Butön Rinchendrup, the great fourteenth-century scholar of Shalu monastery in west-central Tibet, recounts a story that one of his masters, Lama Pakpa Ö, had related to him. It was a cautionary tale about books.¹ When Pakpa Ö was himself a student, his master, having grown quite old, had become unable to memorize teachings correctly. The master ordered Pakpa Ö to write down a certain text for him so he might read the work that now lay beyond his mnemonic abilities. Pakpa Ö had been explicitly ordered by...

  5. 2 THE EDITORʹS TEXTS
    (pp. 19-43)

    In the summer of 1364, at the monastery of Shalu in midwestern Tibet, Butön Rinchendrup—scholar, artist, teacher, abbot, and zealous collector of manuscripts containing the word of the Buddha—passed away at the age of seventy-four.¹ During the elaborate rituals of homage and mourning the Kangyur was recited three times. There could have been no more appropriate act of devotion toward Butön, for he had dedicated a large part of his life to the compilation and production of Buddhist canonical collections and had designed the temple at Shalu in which the Kangyur was housed.² While his physical remains were...

  6. 3 THE SCHOLARʹS DREAM
    (pp. 44-72)

    In the second decade of the fifteenth century, Shalu Lotsawa Chökyong Zangpo held a teaching seminar at Riphuk, the retreat center on the slopes above Shalu monastery. As he read the life story of his predecessor, Butön Rinchendrup, out loud for the benefit of his students, rainbows appeared in the sky. They rose above onlookers’ heads, “just as in the paintings,” in ornate patterns and as finely wrought holy objects. And as he finally began, amid this miraculous display, to read of Butön’s death, he wept,¹ mourning the former abbot of Shalu, now dead more than a century and a...

  7. 4 THE PHYSICIANʹS LAMENT
    (pp. 73-89)

    Vivid words of warning from the Four Medical Tantras—the primary work on the healing arts in Tibet—underscore the central place of textual learning in the practice of medicine:

    The physician without a lineage

    Is like a fox that seizes the king’s throne:

    He deserves no one’s respect.

    The physician who does not understand the texts

    Is like a blind person to whom you show something:

    He can discern neither the disease nor the cure.¹

    Textual expertise in its many forms is an integral part of the medical tradition in Tibet, or more precisely, of certain formulations of the...

  8. 5 THE KINGʹS CANONS
    (pp. 90-119)

    On a certain day in the late 1730s, within the halls of Lhündrupteng monastery in the eastern Tibetan region of Kham, Shuchen Tsültrim Rinchen, the “Great Editor” of Degé, stood in a banquet reception line waiting to be greeted by his king and patron, Kunga Trinlé Gyatso. When the King of Degé approached Shuchen, he asked the scholar, “What have you been editing these days?” Shuchen replied, “I have been editing the Sanskrit-language version of the Avadānakalpalatā.” The king retorted, “This Kalpalatā has been edited over and over again! What reason is there to edit it now?” Shuchen was very...

  9. 6 THE COST OF A PRICELESS BOOK
    (pp. 120-146)

    The studies undertaken here are not primarily a history of the Tibetan book in its material existence. Rather, they constitute a history of people talking about books, of the book as a significant object through which to describe, prescribe, and contest culture. Here Polané’s golden Kangyur is as much a rhetorical tool employed by his biographer as it is a finely crafted object. This concluding chapter renders this discussion more explicit by considering the book as a symbolic object, first looking at a single work of history, the Blue Annals, for what it may reveal about the range of discourse...

  10. EPILOGUE: The Boy Who Wrote Sūtras on the Sky
    (pp. 147-148)

    Once, in a land called Yawa, a householder had a son who was quite sharp. The householder and his wife sent this son out to learn his letters and numbers, and they sent their other son out to be a servant. When the elder son would study his letters and numbers, the servant boy would also learn all about writing and reading. The elder son became a teacher, and the servant boy became a shepherd.

    Once in the big field outside the fort there were a lot of shepherds gathered around. The shepherd had faith in writing the Diamond Cutter...

  11. APPENDIX 1. BÜTON RINCHENDRUP’S LETTER TO EDITORS
    (pp. 149-150)
  12. APPENDIX 2. THE CONTENTS OF THE BUDDHIST CANONS
    (pp. 151-158)
  13. APPENDIX 3. THE COST OF THE CANON AT DEGÉ
    (pp. 159-160)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 161-214)
  15. REFERENCES
    (pp. 215-240)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 241-244)