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Vajradhara in Human Form: The Life and Times of Ngor Chen Kun Dga' Bzang Po

Vajradhara in Human Form: The Life and Times of Ngor Chen Kun Dga' Bzang Po

Author:Jorg Heimbel
ISBN 13:9789937028493
Subject:Books on Nepal

About the Book

Contents: Introduction. 1. Previous research on Ngor Chen and the tradition he founded. 2. Tibetan sources on Ngor Chen's life. 3. Childhood and religious training. 4. Major episodes from Ngor Chin's life. 5. Ngor Chen's writings. 6. Catalogue of ngorchen's writings. Appendices. List of plates. Abbreviations and bibliography From the preface: The present study was undertaken by a combination of philological-historical and ethnological methods, including expert interviews (conducted in Tibetan). Major parts originate from a careful and close reading of a wide range of Tibetan textual sources central to the life and times of Ngor chen and his tradition. This corpus of sources comprises (1) the extant biographies (mam thar) of Ngor chen and his teachers, disciples, and important contemporaries, (2) Ngor chen's own writings, (3) autobiographies (rangrnam) and biographies of successive Ngor abbots and influential Ngor masters, as well as the successive abbatial histories (gdan rabs) of Ngor Monastery, and (4) a variety of religious histories (chos 'byung), genealogies (gdung rabs), religious chronologies (bstan rtsis), and other sources dealing with the religious, political, and doctrinal developments important to the life of Ngor chen and the history of his tradition. In the field, these sources were read in whole or in part with Tibetan scholars and difficult passages contained therein were discussed in detail. In addition, interviews on Ngor chen, the history of Ngor and its tradition were conducted with leading lamas of the Ngor tradition, such as Klu lding mKhan chen Rin po che 'Jam dbyangs bsTan pa'i nyi ma (b. 1931), the seventy-fifth abbot of Ngor (tenure: 1954-1957). Two other important research steps that greatly enhanced my understanding were visiting such monasteries as Ngor, Chu mig, and Sa skya, and discussing my research project with Phan bde mKhan Rin po che 'Jam dbyangs Thub bstan snying po, the present abbot of Ngor Monastery in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). This study also benefitted enormously from the greater accessibility of many important textual sources that surfaced during my research, owing to the efforts of the late mKhan chen A pad Rin po che Yon tan bzang po (1927-2010) and the dPal brtsegs bod yig dpe rnying zhib Jug khang, researchers and publishers of rare books. In the present study, I have deliberately decided against preparing a translation of one of two extant full-length biographies of Ngor chen. Though this would have revealed my unsatisfactory translation skills, that is not the reason I have chosen not to include such a translation; rather I found it more important to thoroughly analyse the aforementioned corpus of texts than to restrict myself to just one of Ngor chen's biographies. That put me in a much better position to embed his life in the eventful developments of fifteenth-century Tibet and to assess the impact of his manifold activities. However, to convey a better impression of how Ngor chen is portrayed by his biographers and other Tibetan authors, I found it equally important to provide translations of significant episodes from his biographies and the related textual sources, followed by discussions. This study contains six parts. Part One gives an overview of the research conducted previously on various aspects of Ngor chen's life and the history of Ngor and its tradition. Part Two introduces the primary sources for studying Ngor chen's life, focussing on his extant as well as currently unavailable biographies and their authors. In addition, other important sources, such as Ngor chen's own writings and biographies of his disciples, are introduced. Part Three and Part Four are devoted to the exploration of Ngor chen's life. Part Three opens with a discussion of text passages from two sutras that are traditionally interpreted as prophecies of Ngor chen's appearance in this world and his achieving of Buddhahood and continues with a short compilation of references to his previous lives. This is followed by an investigation into Ngor chen's familial background in Sa skya and a discussion of the historical context in which he was born. The rest of this part is devoted to Ngor chen's youthful studies and later religious training. For a better assessment of the different teaching traditions he received, I provide, as far as possible, biographical sketches of Ngor chen's teachers, try to locate his studies under them in place and time, and discuss the actual subjects of his studies. Part Four explores major episodes from Ngor chen's life after having completed his religious training, such as his early teaching activities and travels, his attempt to revive the two lower Tantra classes, his involvement in religious disputes, his foundation of Ngor Monastery, and his three travels to Mustang (Glo bo). It also introduces his other monastic foundations and large network of patrons and disciples. After a summary of the last years of his life leading up to his death, this part also thematises the religious tradition that Ngor chen established at Ngor Monastery, investigating the Lam 'bras tradition of Ngor in comparison to the systems of other Sa skya sub-schools. Both Part Three and Part Four also contain discussions of Ngor chen's commissions of famous bal ris style thangka sets in fulfilling the last wishes of his late teachers. The main aim of these discussions is to clarify the historical context of their commission and offer new insights into their dating. Part Five approaches Ngor chen's writings. It gives a first tentative overview of the compilation history of his collected works, the Pod bzhi ma, and presents a descriptive catalogue of its four-volume block-print recession from sDe dge. In addition, other works by Ngor chen that were not included in this collection will be located and described as well. The present study concludes with two appendices, compiling an annotated list of the successive abbots of Ngor Monastery and bringing together critical editions of longer Tibetan text passages that were given in translation within the previous parts. To present a more general portrayal of Ngor chen, it was necessary to restrict the scope of this study to subjectively chosen episodes from his life that I consider essential for a better understanding of his activities and long-term impact. Thus the present study can only scratch the surface of the many important contributions Ngor chen made to the religious life of Tibet. Nevertheless, I hope that it will make a small contribution to our understanding of the history and development of Tibetan Buddhism, in general, and of the Saskya school, in particular.