A Pending Task for New Century  

--The Pioneer works by Tai-xu太虚大師:

   Han-Tibetan Interchange of Buddhist Studies



Prof. Dr. Shunzo ONODA

Bukkyo Univ. Kyoto  


January 2001 saw the publication of a set of books in six-volumes entitled  "中國藏密寶典" from the 民族出版社 in Beijing. The books in this set are actually facsimile reproductions of old textbooks and ritual books originally for students of Chinese Buddhist institutions and schools. The books reproduced were published in the late 1920s to 1930s. Most of them are concerned with traditional Tibetan monastic educational manuals. Some of them are translations from Tibetan originals into Chinese. Others are Introductions or guidebooks of Tibetan Buddhism written in Chinese. A very similar series in facsimile publication was once edited by Zhou Shao-liang (周紹良) and Lu Tie-gang (呂鐵鋼) and entitled "藏密修法秘典"(5 volumes, 華夏出版社). These two series duplicate a lot of the reproductions, but they also contain many titles unique to each series. 

In 1930, Tai-xu Ta-shi (太虛大師: 1889-1946) accepting an invitation from a monastic group of Si-chuan (四川) province went there to propagate Buddhism. At that time, he had close contact with Liu-xiang (劉湘) the then president of Si-chuan province. Liu-xiang’s mother was an enthusiastic Buddhist believer. The president Liu-xiang asked Tai-xu Ta-shi to give advice about how he could deal with the situation that the feeling of resistance against Han Chinese was steadily increasing among the Tibetan peoples such as those in Pha thang (巴塘) and Li thang (?塘) at that time. Tai-xu Ta-shi replied that the most important point is the mutual understanding of each other through Buddhism. Tai-xu Ta-shi asked Liu-xiang to found such a Buddhist institution, and Liu-xiang agreed to the plan and helped to set up the 漢藏教理院. The role of honorary president was filled by Tai-xu Ta-shi and that of honorary director by Liu-xiang, but in filling the position of general manager they requested Fa-zun (法尊:1902-1980), who was residing and studying in Tibet at the time, to come back to Si-chuan . 

Fa-zun's residence in Tibet was actually as a member of the group 留藏學法團[1]. This group was originally organized in Beijing by the scholar-monk Ta-yong (大勇). Previously Ta-yong had founded the Buddhist school 藏文學院 at the 慈因寺 in Beijing a few years beforehand, and then he organized this travel group. They were trying to visit Tibet and study Tibetan Buddhism there. The mother Institution 藏文學院 was founded on the 13th of September, 1924 (民國十三年), and was started under the guidance of Dorje Geshe (多傑格西). Ta-yong looked up to Dorje Geshe as his Lama. Originally Ta-yong was a pupil of Tai-xu Ta-shi (renounced in 1919). When he founded 藏文學院, he called for Fa-zun his former classmate who was also one of the very first students in 武昌佛學院 which was also founded by Tai-xu Ta-shi. They also persuaded other friends such as Guan-kong (観空), Da-gang (大剛), Chao-yi (超一), Yan-ding (厳定), Hui-zhong (會中) and Fa-fang (法舫) to join the movement. Later, some of them came to be teachers in 漢藏教理院 with Fa-zun. The founder, Ta-yong had previously stayed at Koyasan (高野山) in Japan and had studied Japanese esoteric Buddhism. After he returned to China (1923), he took a job teaching in 武昌佛學院, his alma mater, and he studied under a Mongolian master Bai-pu-ren Lama(白普仁喇嘛) of Yong-he-gong (雍和宮) and a Tibetan master Dorje Geshe (多傑格西: rDo rje dge bshes)[2]. During these days, he was gradually aware of the importance of Tibetan Buddhism, and finally he founded 藏文學院and then organized the study tour group 留藏學法團

The group of 留藏學法團 numbering some 20 monks in all started from Cheng-du (成都) on the 4th of June, 1925 (民國十四年). They first moved to 打箭爐(Dar rtse mdo, 康定). They stayed at 安覺寺 and studied the Tibetan language and tried to attain proficiency. According to their regulation book, they were not allowed to read Chinese books and magazines which were not concerned with Buddhism. They were only allowed to read Tibetan Buddhist works written in Tibetan. After almost one year's training they then moved to more western part of Tibet, 甘孜 (dKar mdzes) . 

Before that period, their main sponsors were Buddhist believers in the northern part of China. But in 1926 the political situation had changed; consequently the group was coming encountering more and more difficulties in getting money to continue their studies. In addition, the group leader Ta-yong passed away on the 10th of August, 1929 (民國十八年) in 紮迦寺(dar rgyas dgon) monastery near 甘孜 dKar mdzes where he had been residing. He was 37 years old, ten in ordination years. After his death, Fa-zun, Lang-shan (朗禪) and Chang-guang (常光) were traveling forward to 昌都(Chab mdo). They stayed there for about one year studying various subjects of Tibetan Buddhism. On foot they left 昌都(Chab mdo) with Lhasa as their destination on the 29th of March, 1930 (民國十九年), and reached Lhasa on April 24th. After arriving at Lhasa, they broke up the group and stayed at different dGe lugs pa Monasteries in or near Lhasa. Among their original members Guan-kong (観空), Da-gang (大剛), Chao-yi (超一), Yan-ding (嚴定), Mi-hong (密吽), Mi-yan (密嚴), Mi-hui (密慧) and Mi-zi (密字) continued to stay another ten years in Kham (西康) studying Tibetan Buddhism until 1935 (民國二十四年). Mi-yu (密語) stayed in Tibet even after the invasion by the Chinese communists. 

Fa-zun (法尊: rgya bla ma blo bzang chos 'phags) belonged to Blo gsal gling college (grwa tshang) of 'Bras spung monoastery near Lhasa. The 'Bras spung monoastery or monastic university (grwa sa chen po) had seven colleges (Blo gsal gling, sGo mang, bDe dbyangs, Shag skor, Thos bsam gling, 'Dul ba and sNgags pa grwa tshang) in all. In Blo gsal gling college there were 12 'dzin grwa (2 Rigs lam classes, 6 Phar phyin classes, 2 dBu ma classes, one mDzod and one 'Dul ba class). The college was provided with over 20 khams tshans or regional dormitories. Residing in one of those dormitories, every student attended his appointed class ('dzin grwa) in grwa tshang.[3] It is said that Fa-zun graduated from the whole curriculum of those classes. Prof. Wang Yao(王堯)of Central University of Nationalities (中央民族大學) of Beijing informs me that he even got attained the degree of dGe bshes, but a number of other scholars such as Liu Yu-tao (劉雨濤) doubt that. According to Liu Yu-tao, Fa-zun originally aspired to attain the degree of dGe bshes, but he finally gave up because he prefered to take on translation work rather than to prepare for the examinations for the degree, and the only monk who could get the dGe bshes degree among the group of 留藏學法團 was Mi-yu (密語).[4] Liu's conclusion is probably based upon the shortness of Fa-zun's stay in Lhasa, but we know another similar case. About ten years before this Fa-zun's residence in Lhasa, a Japanese monk attained the degree of dGe bshes. Tokan Tada (多田等観) stayed in Lhasa for a total of ten years in all (September of 1913 to February of 1923), but his stay in the monastery was only three years. He belonged to the Byas pa college of Se ra monastery, and his dormitory was Har gdong khams tshan. Tada finished his whole curriculum in three years and he passed the examinations of the college. They might have employed a special system of jumping classes for those foreign monks who already had basic ability. Tai-xu Ta-shi refers to Fa-zun as 法尊格什(dGe bshes Fa-zun )[5] in the preface of the book "現代西藏 (Modern Tibet)" written by Fa-zun. Tai-xu Ta-shis's knowledge about the Tibetan monastic system was quite accurate. In his essay "西藏問題之適當解決(Toward a solution of the problem of Tibet)" written in 1943 (民國三十二年) he wrote about this dGe bshes system as "The third, the second and the first class of Geshe degree can be identified as 貢生, 舉人 and 進士 respectively.(...其考得第三第二第一等格什, 則猶貢生舉人進士也...)"[6] and he alluded to the advantages of this Tibetan dGe bshes degree system. 

In 1934 (民國二十三年), Fa-zun received an invitation letter from Tai-xu Ta-shi. He was invited to become the vice-president of the college 漢藏教理院 newly founded in Si-chuan province. 1934 was the year that the 紅軍 started their "long march"(長征). As a part of the movement over a hundred thousand soldiers invaded into Tibetan territory: Li thang, Nyarong, Derge and so on. Fa-zun came back to Si-chuan bringing Guan-kong (観空) and Yan-ding (厳定) who had been continuously residing in Kham in order to study Tibetan Buddhism. Their new college was divided into two sections: an ordinary college (普通班: 4 years) and an intensive course (専修科: 2 years)[7] just like modern undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Fa-zun and other teachers had published many books which were needed for teaching in the college as textbooks; some of them are translations from works written by Tibetan scholars and others are translations from the Tibetan Buddhist Canon.[8] Among them we notice works such as Tsong kha pa's Lam-rim chen-mo 菩提道次第廣論 (tr. by Fa-zun)[9], sNgags-rim chen-mo 密宗道次第廣論 (tr. by Fa-zun)[10], Lam-rim bsdus-don 菩提道次第略論 (tr. by Ta-yong)[11], Madhyamakāvatāra 入中論 and Abhisamayālakāra 現観荘嚴論. On the other hand, Fa-zun also tried to translate into Tibetan from the Chinese translation of the Buddhist Canon works such as the Abhidharma-mahāvibhāṣa-śāstra 大毘婆沙論 (bye brag bshad mdzod chen mo).[12] On some occasions they invited Tibetan scholars as their guests such as famous Shes rab rgya mtsho (1908-1968)(喜饒大師) of sGo mang Klu 'bum dGe bshes(visited in 1938).[13] Prof.Wang Yao informed me other names of Tibetan scholars who were invited by them : sDom 'bum rin po che, Nor lha rin po che and Thub bstan bla ma although I could not have fixed them. 漢藏教理院 had been active until 1950. 

The basic approach which Tai-xu Ta-shi, Fa-zun and their colleagues took towards Tibetan Buddhism was a quite foresighted attitude under which they placed a high value on Tibetan traditional monastic training and their accademism as a forerunner of modern Buddhist research not as an object of investigation. Time and the political situation, however, did not allow for its promotion. Ideas advocating the necessities of utilizing traditional Tibetan Buddhology for researching Buddhist philosophy were already prevalent among western scholars since about a half century before Fa-zun's time. They considered Tibetan scholastic works as valued academic opinions and not merely as objects of direct investigation. This kind of attitude had been slowly propagated among modern Western scholars by the efforts of those scholars of the so called Leningrad school such as W. Wassiliew, Th. Stcherbatsky and E. Obermiller.[14] They actually shows their fidelity to the researches done by 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, rGyal tshab Dar ma rin chen and other traditional Tibetan scholars. No one can negate the importance of Dr. D.Seyfort Ruegg's results on Tatāgatagarbha theory in 1970s.[15] His research was mainly constructed by careful examinations of the native scholastic works by traditional Tibetan researchers such as Bu ston rin chen grub. It is also well known that so called Grub mtha' literature played an important part in the Indian buddhist studies done by Prof. Katsumi Mimaki and others.[16] Madhyamika studies have made rapid progress by utilizing the native Buddhist literature of Tibet. In recent years, results for example by Dr. Van der Kujp or by Prof. Tom Tillemans have shown that it is almost essential to use Tibetan Tshad ma literature in the research on Indian Buddhist Logic.[17] 

The pioneering works of Tai-xu Ta-shi; and Fa-zun or their challenge of Han-Tibetan Interchange in Buddhist Studies (漢藏佛學交流) can be considered as a pending task for this new century. We first have to learn the scholastic tradition of Tibet earnestly, and should then combine it with the rich traditions of the Han world. Further, we must evolve it into a true academic discipline by using modern techniques of Buddhist studies; this is the attitude required for Buddhist researchers of the new century.

[1] 第十七章第六節「入藏求法之漢僧」and 第七節「漢藏文化之溝通」in 釋東初『中國佛教近代史』東初出版社, 民國63年刊, pp.441-457.

[2] ibid. pl447 mention of his name as 多傑葛巴格西 (rdo rje rgyal po dge bshes?), whereas「菩提道次第略論序」太虛大師全書・雑藏・文叢(vol.30 ,p.780 refers to his name as 多傑覺拔格西 (rDo rje gcod pa dge bshes?)

[3] cf. Shunzo Onoda (小野田俊藏), Monastic Debate in Tibet, Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismskunde, Heft 28, Vienna, 1992, p.16.

[4] Liu Yu-tao (劉雨濤)「太虛大師輿藏傳佛教」太虛誕生一百周年國際會議(香港, 1988) 発表論文.

[5] 「現代西藏序」太虚大師全書・雑藏・文叢(vol.30 ,p.875.

[6] 「西藏問題之適當解決」太虚大師全書・雑藏・時論(vol.24 ,p.277.

[7] 「漢藏教理院輿佛教文物展覧會」太虚大師全書・雑藏・酬對(vol.27 ,p.840.

[8]  釋東初「中國佛教近代史」pp.993-995.

[9]  法尊『菩提道次第廣論』(重慶, 1936; repr. 臺北, 1975) ;「菩提道次第廣論序」太虛大師全書・雑藏・文叢(vol.30 ,p.777.

[10]  法尊『密宗道次第廣論』(北京, 1942; repr. 北京, 全國図書館文獻縮微復制中心, 1994) ;「密宗道次第序」太虛大師全書・雑藏・文叢(vol.30 ,p.782.

[11]  大勇・法尊『菩提道次第略論』(重慶, 1936; repr. 臺北, 1975) ;「菩提道次第略論序」太虛大師全書・雑藏・文叢(vol.30 ,p.780.

[12] 「藏漢大辭典」(p.1892) informs on Tibetan translation of 大毘婆沙論.

[13] 「従溝通漢藏文化説到融合漢藏民族」太虛大師全書・雑藏・時論(vol.24 ,p.182. ; For his brief biography, see Preface for his collected works: 「喜饒嘉措文集(藏文版)第一巻」青海民族出版社, 1982.

[14]  E.Overmiller, The doctrine of Prajñāpāramitā as exposed in the Abhisamayāla-kāra of Maitreya, Acta Orientalia, vol XI, 1932; Th.Stcherbatsky, Buddhist Logic, Bibliotheca Buddhica, XXVI, 1932, etc.

[15] D.Seyfort Ruegg, Le Traité Du Tathāgatagarbha De Bu Ston Rin Chen Grub, Paris, 1973, etc.

[16] Katsumi Mimaki, La Réfutation Bouddhique De La Permanence Des Choses Et La Preuve De La Momentanéité Des Choses, Paris, 1976; K.Mimaki, Blo Gsal Grub Mtha', Université De Kyoto, 1982, etc.

[17] Leonard van der Kuijp, Contributions to the Italic Development of Tibetan Buddhist Epistemology, Wiesbaden, 1983