The Ten Virtues of Loudly Invoking the Name of Amitabha: Stein Tibetan 724 and an Aspect of Chinese Nianfo Practice in Tibetan Dunhuang.

Author:Silk, Jonathan A.
Position:Critical essay

In 1993, as an appendix to a paper on a Tibetan poem in praise of the Buddha Amitabha found in Dunhuang, I presented the text of a very short manuscript, a single folio side, on which--I thought--were recorded ten qualities or 'virtues' of the Buddha Amitabha. (1) At that time, I suspected a connection of this text with Chinese Buddhism in Dunhuang, due to the use, in what appeared to be the title of the text, of a mye ta pur, a transcription in Tibetan script of the Chinese name of the Buddha Amitabha, [phrase omitted]. This usage unequivocally locates the text in the multilingual world of Dunhuang, in which some individuals honored Chinese-language Buddhist texts but preferred, probably because of its relative simplicity, the Tibetan script to the Chinese. Now, however, I realize that I earlier mistook the basic nature of the document. I therefore present a new transcript of the manuscript, identify what may plausibly be considered its direct Chinese source, and offer an English translation of the Tibetan text, in light of its evident Chinese Vorlage. Moreover, I also provide the fuller context of the suggested Chinese original, knowledge of which allows us to better locate the text. Finally, in looking at several related texts, I attempt to set the whole in a somewhat broader framework.

Tibetan manuscript IOL Tib J 724: (2)

|| a mye da phur kyi yon tan bcu la || dmyig [written below: gnyi'd] chung ba dang cig || bsdud bsngangs ba dang gnyis || sgra snyan pa grags pa dang gsum || ngan tsong gi sdugs sngal zhi ba dang bzhi || phyi +i sgra skad +gags pa dang lnga || sems myi g.yeng ba dang drug || brtson +grus kyi go ca dang ldan ba dang bdun || sangs rgyas dang byang cub sems dpa+ thams cad dgyes pa dang brgyad || ting nge +dzin thams cad mngon du gyur pa dang dgu || sangs rgyas kyi zhing khams yongs su dag par skye ba dang bcu +o || The source of this list is, I suggest, found in a work attributed (wrongly) to the Tang dynasty scholar Kuiji [phrase omitted] (632-682), a commentary on the Smaller Sukhavativyuha sutra (Amituo jing [phrase omitted]), the Amituojing tongzan shu [phrase omitted]. (3) There we find the following: (4)

[phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted] [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted] The correspondence between the Tibetan text--I would now say, the translation--and the Chinese--I would now say, the original--is very clear. For ease of comparison, I place them here side by side, making the necessary corrections to the Tibetan in brackets, as explained immediately below:

[phrase omitted] a mye da phur kyi yon tan bcu la [phrase omitted] dmyig gnyi'd chung [phyung] ba [phrase omitted] bsdud [bdud] bsngangs ba [phrase omitted] sgra snyan pa grags pa [phrase omitted] ngan tsong [song] gi sdugs sngal zhi ba [phrase omitted] phyi +i sgra skad +gags pa [phrase omitted] sems myi g.yeng ba [phrase omitted] brtson +grus kyi go ca dang ldan ba [phrase omitted] sangs rgyas dang byang cub sems dpa+ thams cad dgyes pa [phrase omitted] ting nge +dzin thams cad mngon du gyur pa [phrase omitted] sangs rgyas kyi zhing khams yongs su dag par skye ba Several observations are necessary to clarify what is generally a very closely corresponding pair of lists. In the first item, I understand the verb chung ba to correspond to pai [phrase omitted] 'to push open' or 'to push aside', taking chung as a miswriting for phyung, perfect of 'byin 'to cast out'. Tibetan has, moreover, (mis)understood Chinese mian [phrase omitted] 'sleep' as the graphically very similar yan [phrase omitted] 'eye', which it renders with the archaic spelling dmyig. The result is meaningful, but somewhat different from the Chinese sense. I do not know the significance of the fact that gnyid is added below the line.

In item two, for bsdud read bdud, a misspelling. The Chinese tianmo [phrase omitted] strictly speaking is equivalent to devamara, which is perhaps more normally rendered in Tibetan as lha'i bdud. I think, however, that the equivalence is close enough to be fully understandable.

In item three, Tibetan does not render shifting , the ten directions. Note that Jaschke (1881: 197) cites as an example sentence khyod kyi snyan pa phyogs bcur grags, "every part of the world rings with thy praise," a rendering which would correspond remarkably well to the Chinese expression.

In item four, ngan tsong should be read ngan song = apaya, another misspelling.

In item eight, the Chinese does not mention bodhisattvas, but the addition is quite normal in Tibetan.

In item nine, mngon du gyur pa indicates something like 'made manifest, realized', and the Chinese xianqian [phrase omitted] means that something is evident as if right before one's eyes; the rendering is thus very precise.

In light of this Chinese text, we may translate the Tibetan, including the introductory expression, as follows:

With regard to the ten virtues of uttering Amita Buddha!:

1) Sleep is cast away from the eyes, and

2) Mara is shocked, and

3) The fame of the voice pervades [the world], and

4) The defilements of the evil states are pacified, and

5) External sounds are suppressed, and

6) The mind is unagitated, and

7) One is endowed with the armor of energy, and

8) All buddhas and bodhisattvas are pleased, and

9) All samadhis are made manifest, and 10) One is born in a purified buddha-field.

In what I believe to be its full original context, the Chinese passage is contained in a comment on the following sentence of the Smaller Sukhavativyuha sutra: (5) "Hearing this music, all spontaneously awaken the mind of mindfulness of the Buddha, mindfulness of the Dharma, and mindfulness of the Sangha." [phrase omitted]: [??] [phrase omitted], [phrase omitted] [phrase omitted][??]. However, to understand the relevant portion of the commentary we need to look to the previous passage in the commentary as well. This, in turn, runs: (6)

The Scripture says: "Sariputra, in that buddha-land gentle breezes blow, moving the rows of jewelled trees and the jewelled nets, which produce exquisite music, just like that of a hundred thousand kinds of instruments being played together." The Clarification says: The eighth [ornament of the Land of Bliss] is that breezes blow, producing music. This discussion is divided into four parts: 1. The wind shakes the jewelled trees. 2. Their voice is like music. 3. Hearing [that music] causes good mindfulness. 4. The completion of the ornaments [of the land]. In the first two expressions here, "gentle breezes" means soft breezes. They are not sudden or violent winds. They blow on the trees and nets, and these subsequently emit exquisite musical sounds. In "just like," "just" indicates a comparison, "like" a resemblance. It is like a hundred thousand melodies performed together. Soft breezes gently arise and blow the trees and nets. Harmonious sounds then fill the entire universe. Their elegance is the same as that of all sorts of music. Therefore it says "just like that of a hundred thousand kinds of instruments being played together." [phrase omitted]...

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