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Bu ston's History of Buddhism in Tibet.

This work of Dr. Janos Szerb was prepared, compared, and completed by Dr. Helmut Krasser after the former's death in 1988.

Szerb had a vision of "critical editions of a number of Tibetan historical sources that are relevant to our understanding of Tibetan history and culture in general" (Szerb, addendum 2, p. 125). Fortunately for scholars, Dr. Krasser also sees the need for such critical editions.

Bu ston's "History" is one of the most famous Tibetan Buddhist historical documents. However, in recent years other Tibetan sources have corroborated, and in some cases supplemented or even contradicted Bu ston, making Szerb's comparative work a valuable resource for a clearer, fuller understanding of Tibetan Buddhist history.

As the introduction states, this text is only a section--the section on Tibetan Buddhist history--of one of Bu ston's numerous writings. Though Bu ston's preeminence has been challenged by modern scholars, his work is still authoritative in many respects. His biography has been translated into English, his work as the cataloguer of the Tibetan Buddhist Canon has made him famous, and his writings remain a valuable resource for Tibetan studies in general. This text (more precisely this portion of the larger text) has been translated into English by E. Obermiller. Szerb acknowledges the value and popularity of Obermiller's English translation(1) but feels Obermiller should have gone further with comparative text-critical research, as Szerb certainly does here.

Szerb cites two "outcomes" of this project, but we find much more in the book. The first is the text edition itself, of which Szerb wrote: "The present publication is intended to provide the reader with a critically edited text of Bu ston's chapter on the history of Tibet. It also includes Bu ston's list of translators. . .".

Szerb mentions the second outcome in addendum 2: ". . . a major outcome of the project is a cumulative list of the persona, geographical, etc. names with proper reference to their sources . . .".

Further, the volume includes a list of all available editions of Bu ston's writings, and is remarkably well annotated, with many primary and secondary bibliographical references. Additionally, in the course of describing his sources, Szerb gives us a valuable list of important Tibetan historical works. The index gives variant spellings, common particularly in handwritten Tibetan manuscripts. Even though it is a short index, because it is drawn from so many primary sources, it is a useful reference tool.

The value and good points of Szerb's and Krasser's work far outweigh all criticisms. The volume should however be regarded as a prototype for a much larger project, which will hopefully include an even wider reference base of Tibetan historical documents. Szerb himself notes that there is a "vast storehouse of Tibetan historical literature." The following comments bring up some points for clarification and revision. (Perhaps Szerb would have addressed these questions had he lived--the text is prepared from his notes.)

Szerb's work sometimes includes too much minute detail, usually textcritical points that will be obvious to scholars able to make use of the Tibetan materials.(2)

The volume would be easier to use if it were written in Tibetan script instead of transliteration, keeping Szerb's method of indicating proper names with bold-face contrast. The transliteration system Szerb uses bears little resemblance to Wylie's system, which is gaining popularity among scholars of Tibetan worldwide. One hopes for standard equivalents in transliteration.

Addendum 1 is rather tangential to the main project; it describes minor graphic variations common to many texts. Again, since this book will be used only by scholars learned in Tibetan language, much of addendum 1 will be of little use. The final section of addendum 2 is misleading, given the previous list of "Primary Sources". The two lists are different, and some of the texts used for the body of the work are much earlier than Bu ston's (ca. 1322), contrary to what is written in addendum 2.

This text is useful as it is, but it would be enhanced by some discussion of Bu ston's place and role in Tibetan Buddhist history.

Finally, Szerb states his motivation for the project, which serves as a good description of his work: ". . . one may conclude that the most urgent task in the field of Tibetan historical studies is to provide standard editions of texts with complete indexing of proper names". The book is proof that Szerb succeeded in this important project; Krasser and his colleagues are to be commended for sharing it with the world academic community.

The inclusion of Dr. Szerb's bibliography is a testimony to his devotion to the study of Tibetan history. A useful book.

1 E. Obermiller, History of Buddhism (Chos-'byung) by Buston, part II: The History of Buddhism in India and Tibet, Materialien zur Kunde des Buddhismus 19. Heft (Heidelberg, 1932). See idem, "Bu-ston's History of Buddhism and the Manjusri-mula-tantra," JRAS 1935: 299-306.

2 For example, the data on page p. xvi, n. 37 are very nearly repeated on the next page, p. xvii, no. 8. Such discrepancies are often found in Tibetan handwritten and printed texts; the meaning is obvious to those with reading knowledge of Tibetan.

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Author:Nietupski, Paul
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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