TOM J. F. TILLEMANS, one of the foremost authorities on the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist logico-epistemological tradition (pramana, tshad ma) founded by Dignaga (fifth-sixth century) and Dharmakirti (sixth-seventh century), has been intrigued by the question of the status of the Buddha and scripture in that tradition for a long time. His first public entry in this area dates from 1986, followed by another in 1990.(1) The present work is a study and annonated translation of the Ston pa tshad ma'i skyes bur sgrub pa'i gtam, "An Account which Establishes the Teacher [the Buddha] as a Person of Authority," written by the Alashan-Olot Mongol (sog po) scholar Ngag dbang bstan dar (1759-after 1839).(2) Conveniently, Tillemans chose to reproduce the English translation and the Tibetan text on facing pages (pp. 28-67), so that both are relatively easy to follow. In addition, his book contains a lucid introduction to some of the issues addressed by Ngag dbang bstan dar (pp. 1-24) and concludes with notes to his translation (pp. 69-77) and the indexes (pp. 79-91).
Tillemans (p. 2) tells us very little about this man, who is also known as Bstan dar Lha rams pa, Smon lam Rab 'byams pa, and Lha Idan Grwa skor pa, because he took the [Smon lam] Lha rams pa degree during the Great Prayer (smon lam chen mo) festivities in Lhasa in an as yet unknown year,3 and who was a disciple inter alia of the famous Klong rdol Bla ma Ngag dbang blo bzang (1719-95). Born in Bas mtha', the exiguous details of the life of this Dge lugs pa scholar and polyglot were briefly sketched by Th. Stcherbatsky, who reproduced his commentary on Dharmakirti's Santanantarasiddhi, and by W. Heissig in his well-known study of Mongol xylographs of Buddhist texts.(4) More recently, M. Taube has provided us with a relatively complete bibliographical notice of his linguistic oeuvre while studying a Tibetan lexicographic genre.(5) Ngag dbang bstam dar's work on Mongol grammar and orthotactics, the Kelen-u cimeg, was first studied by M. Taube,(6) after which other studies of this little text appeared in Ulan Ude and Seoul, of which the former, published in 1962, is the most comprehensive to date. Another small tract of his, on ontological questions in the context of tshad ma, was studied by A. Klein, and a section of one of his studies on Tibetan grammar was dealt with by Tillemans himself.(7) Ngag dbang bstan dar was also active in Beijing, where he was associated with Yonghegong monastery. There he wrote an exegesis of a little ritual text on the Tibetan "tea ceremony" (ja mchod) composed some three hundred years earlier by the second Dalai Lama, Dge 'dun rgya mtsho (1476-1542),8 and he also appears to have known Chinese rather well, since his writings contain a good number of references to this language and to several Chinese texts.(9) While he stayed for extended periods in Central Tibet and Beijing, his main see was Dge sgrub gling (or Mi pham chos gling) monastery, the "left cloister (g. yon dgon) of A lag sha[n]."
The history of the term "a person of authority" (tshad ma'i skyes bu, *pramanapurusa) that appears in the title of Ngag dbang bstan dar's text is discussed by Tillemans on pp. 5-9, and is now less of a mystery. He refers also (p. vi) to a letter from E. Steinkellner of Vienna, the author of an earlier essay on this term,(10) informing him of its occurrence in Yamari's subcommentary to Prajnakaragupta (ca. 800). Yamari (or Jamari) flourished in Kashmir sometime during the eleventh century, and this reference would be so far the term's first attestation in an Indian Buddhist pramanavada text; a juxtaposition of both elements skyes bu and tshad ma already occurs in the introductory portion.(11) If we accept that tshad ma'i skyes bu is a contraction of the expression tshad mar gyur pa'i skyes bu (*pramanabhutapurusa), and there seems little reason not to do so, then its appearance in Indian Buddhist writings can be pushed back even further. It seems that E. Franco was the first to indicate that its antecedent pramanabhuta is already found in Patanjali's Mahabhasya(12) and recently D. S. Ruegg has collected a valuable dossier on the occurrences of the expression and its cognates in a number of Buddhist and non-Buddhist texts, and analyzed its various usages.(13) To this corpus of sources for the term we may add its use in Dharmamitra's study of the Abhisamayalamkara, the Abhisamayalamkarakarikaprajnaparamitopadesasastratikaprasphutapada.(14) Dharmamitra is usually regarded as a disciple of Haribhadra, and he cites not only Dharmakirti's Pramanavarttika, but also inter alia Kamalasila (late eighth century) and Vinitadeva (eighth century). This means that he probably flourished during the first half of the ninth century, in any event sometime between the beginning of the ninth and the second half of the eleventh century, when the text was translated into Tibetan by Abhiyuktaka Tarasrimitra and Chos kyi shes rab. Not only is tshad ma'i skyes bu then ultimately of Indian origin, but also the concept embodied by the term tshad ma'i lam (*pramanamarga),(15) "the [?spiritually liberating] path of tshad ma" (albeit probably of a relatively late date), which played a rather important role in the Dga' ldan pa / Dge lugs pa "soteriology" of tshad ma.
To all appearances, it was only during the first decade of the fifteenth century that tshad ma'i skyes bu became a pivotal concept in a Tibetan understanding of the Buddha and "buddhalogical" gnoseology in connection with the Pramanavarttika's Pramanasiddhi chapter and, most importantly, with the tshad ma enterprise as a whole. In spite of affirmations of later Dge lugs pa historiography, so frequently revisionist and tendentiously forgetful, Tsong kha pa Bio bzang grags pa (1357-1419), recognized as the founder of that school, may very well have been the first to have conceptualized it in such a fashion.(16) For until now the available textual evidence strongly suggested that the central place it came to occupy in Dga' ldan pa / Dge lugs pa tshad ma soteriology had no explicit Tibetan, let alone, real Indian antecedents. Part of Tillemans' aim in his study is to " ... seek to understand something of the history of the complicated indigenous debates" (p. 1), being all the while " ... conscious that much more remains to be said" (p. 1). Of course, he nowhere states that he intends his essay to be as comprehensive a study of the issues as the published literature allows, but it is nonetheless hard to excuse him completely from not really having followed through on his stated intention, for he spends very little, arguably too little, time on the Tibetan antecedents of Ngag dbang bstan dar's little work, let alone on the expositions of the subject by Tsong kha pa and his disciples--the earlier paper of S. Kimura is thus passed over in silence. This imbalance was in part redressed by D. P. Jackson's recent discussion of the historical issues involved in Tsong kha pa's approach to Buddhist pramanavada and with but one minor reservation I believe him to be absolutely correct when he writes that: "... Tsong kha pa and his immediate circle apparently did play the most active role in actually trying to revive Tshad-ma as a living spiritual practice in the late 14th and early 15th century."(17) But I am not altogether sure whether it is apposite to speak here of a "revival" of sorts. Something had undoubtedly been "in the air" before him. For already his senior contemporary and erstwhile teacher Nya dbon Kun dga' dpal (1285-1379) had characterized the Pramanasiddhi chapter's subject matter as having to do with "soteriological" issues qua "striving for liberation" (thar pa don gnyer).(18) And, as indicated by Stag tshang Lo tsa ba Shes rab fin chen's (1405-after 1477) study of the five domains of knowledge (rig gnas lnga), Dpang Lo tsa ba Blo gros brtan pa (1276-1342) and his main disciple and maternal nephew Lo tsa ba Byang chub rtse mo (1303-80), together with Bla ma dam pa Bsod nams rgyal mtshan (1312-75), had subsumed the texts of Dignaga and Dharmakirti under the rubric of abhidharma, unambiguously suggesting therewith their inclusion in the corpus of treatises that have to do with Buddhist soteriology.(19) Most of Tsong kha pa's biographies also stipulate that Nya dbon taught him his Abhisama-yamlamkara commentary of 1371. And 'Jam dpal rgya mtsho's (1356-1428) biography of Tsong kha pa states that he had also worked on tshad ma with him,(20) so that we can on no account exclude the probability that at least these three men had exerted some influence on him in this direction as well, whether directly or otherwise.
Having said this, we are, however, at the same time confronted by the puzzling absence of an organized explication of the role and function of tshad ma'i skyes bu in Tsong kha pa's own oeuvre on tshad ma, in which he might have employed and explored the meaning of the term, or elsewhere in his writings where, in but a few instances, he alludes to its equivalence with the Buddha, the experience of buddhahood, or one (allegedly) with this experience other than the Buddha. One of these allusions occurs in a grammatically fairly tricky passage of his celebrated Rang girtogs brjod rin po che 'dun legs ma, "A Poetic Autobiographical Narrative: A [Treatise Giving] Good Council," one that is cited in part by Stag tshang Lo tsa ba as well,(21) which Ngag dbang bstan dar quotes as follows (Tillemans, p. 43):
rnam grol don du gnyer ba bcom ldan 'das //
tshad mar bsgrubs shing de las 'di yi ni //
bstan pa kho na thar 'dod [jug ngogs su //
nges pa gting nas rnyed pas ... //
Tillemans (p. 42) translates these lines:
Those who strive for deliverance establish that the
Illustrious One is authoritative and from that, they find
a profound certainty that it is only his teaching which
is the entrance-gate ([jug ngogs) for those desiring
Thus he more or less takes the phrase rnam grol don du gnyer ba as the...