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Monastic Debate in Tibet: A Study on the History and Structures of Bsdus Grwa Logic.

It is regrettable that, even today, the vast quantity of painstaking Japanese scholarship that is carried out in nearly every field within Buddhist Studies remains largely inaccessible to the majority of Western scholars. As a case in point, although Onoda has published regularly on the topic of Tibetan monastic debate since 1978, only his more recent contributions in English have gained significant attention among Western scholars, while his earlier contributions in Japanese remain relatively unknown. It is therefore with the stated intent of making his earlier findings more accessible that Onoda has written the present book (p. 9).

The subject of Tibetan Buddhist epistemology and logic has become increasingly popular over the last decades, producing a number of works that may be divided, not too inaccurately, into those that deal primarily with the logical structures and practices of monastic debate as presented in the Dge lugs pa tradition, often relying on personal training in the traditional Tibetan educational system, and those that have favored an historical and historiographical approach and have primarily treated the earlier traditions deriving from Rngog lo tsa ba Blo Idan shes rab (1059-1109) and Sa skya Pandita (1182-1251). The first approach is best exemplified by a two-part article by Goldberg (1985), which sought to explain the system of Dge lugs pa logic based on the bsdus grwa texts of 'Jam dbyangs Mchog lha' od zer (1429-1500) and Yongs 'dzin Phur bu lcog Byams pa tshul khrims rgya mtsho (1825-1901) via modern Western logical theory. The second approach is best exemplified by several works by van der Kuijp (esp. 1979, 1983, and 1989) and Jackson (1987).(1) Onoda's book is one of the most detailed studies of bsdus grwa literature published to date in a Western language (see also D. Perdue, Debate in Tibetan Buddhism [Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1991] and presents an interesting and welcome amalgam of these two approaches, the logical and the historical. He not only examines particular logical theories and patterns of debate as explicated by the standard Dge lugs pa tradition, but also takes great pains to examine the historical background of the Dge lugs pa system of debate as well as analyze the original formulations of some of the logical concepts it incorporates.

The topic of Onoda's book is what he calls bsdus grwa logic, a term which, as he points out (p. 59), has two distinct senses. In general, it means the introductory course or classes in dialectics that form a basis from which a student advances in the Dge lugs pa tradition of scholasticism. More specifically, it also indicates the first of the three parts of this course, viz., bsdus grwa (ontology), blo rigs (epistemology) and rtags rigs (logic). Onoda primarily employs the term in the former sense, the sense that I adopt here. Yet one should be aware that he also frequently uses the term in a third and more expanded sense to indicate not only the Dge lugs pa introductory system of dialectics, but also the Tibetan historical precursors to this system, namely the "epistemological summaries" (tshad ma'i bsdus pa) which are said to originate with the highly creative Phya pa Chos kyi Seng ge (1109-1069).

Onoda's book consists of a brief, but complete, discussion of previous scholarship on the topic of bsdus grwa (ch. 1); four topical chapters (2-5) comprising the heart of the book, that rework and summarize issues discussed in some of his previous publications, primarily in Japanese; a transliteration of the topical outline of Yongs 'dzin Phur bu lcog's Bsdus grwa,(2) usefully including the definitions and examples drawn both from the Bsdus grwa and other basic Dge lugs pa bsdus grwa textbooks (ch. 6); and finally, a transliteration of Glo bo Mkhan chen Bsod nams lhun grub's (1456-1532) Rtag(s) kyi rnam gzhag rigs lam gsal ba'i sgron me (appendix).

In the first topical essay (ch. 2) Onoda discusses the connection between the Dge lugs pa tradition and the monastery of Gsang phu (s)ne'u thog, founded in 1073 by Rngog lo tsa ba's uncle Rngog Legs pa'i shes rab, at which Phya pa served as abbot for eighteen years. To this end, he presents detailed lists of the colleges (grwa tshang) of the four major Dge lugs pa monastic universities of Dga' Idan, 'Bras spungs, Se ra, and Bkra shis lhun po, as well as the colleges of Gsang phu. He then produces very brief biographical information on sixteen Gsang phu abbots in order to demonstrate clearly the close relationship that existed between the Gsang phu and Dge lugs pa colleges during the 15th through 17th centuries. Next, he succinctly discusses the relationship of Gsang phu to a few Sa skya pa colleges. Finally, he concludes with an outline of the curriculum of monastic seminaries that he summarizes from information gleaned largely from modern sources (p. 35, n. 29).

The second essay (ch. 3) provides a vivid account of the structures of Tibetan monastic debate, describing the formulaic types of questions that may be asked and the highly limited answers that may be given in response. In addition, Onoda discusses the use in debate of the second person pronoun khyod as a logical variable, functioning much like the mathematical variable x.

The third essay (ch. 4) discusses the claim by the later tradition that bsdus grwa literature originated, both in terms of style and content, with the eighteen subjects discussed in Phya pa's Tshad ma'i bsdus pa yid kyi mun sel, as reported by Klong rdol bla ma Ngag dbang blo bzang (1719-94/95). Onoda presents lists of the eighteen subjects ascribed to Phya pa, as well as the subjects employed by several well-known Dge lugs pa bsdus grwa texts, thus allowing one to see the topical similarity at a glance. Presumably, lest one assume that the summaries of Phya pa and his followers were merely earlier versions of Dge lugs pa bsdus grwa texts, however, he does raise the cautionary note that the term bsdus pa was not restricted merely to pramana texts, as both Phya pa and his student, Gtsang nag pa Brtson 'grus seng ge (d. no earlier than 1192), are also said to have written summaries on Madhyamaka. One may also raise a further cautionary note that the mere inclusion of the term bsdus pa in a title does not necessarily imply that the text has the nature of a summary. Gtsang nag pa's Pramanaviniscaya commentary, the Tshad ma rnam par nges pa'i tika legs bshad bsdus pa, for example, is precisely that, a commentary, in spite of containing several topical excursus, and bears little resemblance to the later bsdus grwa texts (see van der Kuijp 1989: 19).

The fourth essay (ch. 5) discusses the topics of logical consequences (thal 'gyur; prasanga),(3) direct and indirect contraries (dngos 'gal and rgyud 'gal), and positive and negative pervasion (rjes 'gro and ldog khyab).

These four chapters function as a collection of focused, carefully researched articles on the same general topic, rather than as a unified whole with a fully integrated and explicit argument. Insofar as they have a common intent, however, it is in firmly locating the historical origins of the Dge lugs pa bsdus grwa system in the summaries of Phya pa. This point Onoda establishes convincingly, thereby dispelling the not infrequent misconception that bsdus grwa is nothing more than a Dge lugs pa training exercise of little historical or philosophical value (pp. 1-2).

An uncertainty inherent in each of the topical chapters, however, is that, while Onoda gives ample and convincing evidence for bsdus grwa's origins in the summaries of Phya pa, he does not always make explicit the historical limits of certain features of his argument. Most conspicuous is the occasional use of the term bsdus grwa as a general expression meant to incorporate the entire Tibetan debate tradition. Even though the term is sometimes used this way in modern literature, it is somewhat anachronistic and potentially misleading, as it can obscure the earlier tradition by regarding it merely as a precursor to the later tradition.(4) Moreover, in his sketch of the structure of monastic debate, Onoda does not specify a period for which the sketch is valid, nor does he identify the sources from which it is drawn. The reader is left to surmise for himself whether it is specific to the Dge lugs pa tradition or may be taken as a reasonably accurate depiction of the entire Tibetan tradition.(5) Another case in point occurs in Onoda's examination of several of Phya pa's logical theories of positive and negative pervasion. His reconstructions of Phya pa's theories of prasanga and of direct and indirect contraries are marked by a careful and reasoned use of Sa pan's Tshad ma rigs pa'i gter, its major commentaries, and Gtsang nag pa's Pramanaviniscaya commentary to make sense of rather knotty issues. His discussion of the subject of positive and negative pervasion, however, although framed by reference to the subject's inclusion among the eighteen subjects attributed to Phya pa, is simply a presentation of Dge lugs pa positions. As the Tshad ma rigs pa'i gter does not supply the necessary evidence, Onoda rightly does not attempt to reconstruct Phya pa's position, but then states that "therefore we have to extrapolate only from later Dge lugs pa works of the bsdus grwa literature" (p. 105). I would argue, or perhaps quibble, that in this case what we have is a truly fine presentation of positions found in Dge lugs pa works, but that we cannot really say anything about Phya pa other than that the topic heading is ascribed to him. Until more information becomes available and can be examined, we must suspend judgment on this issue.

The content of these chapters is almost entirely descriptive and Onoda judiciously refrains from drawing many conclusions, preferring to let the information he presents speak for itself. In this fashion he solidly establishes the connection of bsdus grwa to Phya pa, and therefore grounds it historically. The precise nature of the relationship, however, he leaves for future research.

Aside from the occasional typographies, such as the sections of chapter two running from A to F in the text but from B to G in the table of contents, there are only a few minor errors that I noted.

P. 1, line 7: "eleventh-century" should read "twelfth-century."

P. 32, nn. 3 and 4: "Kuijp 1985" should read "Kuijp 1983."

P. 34, n. 22: Kuijp 1987 is not listed in the bibliography and I have not been able to identify the work to which it refers. See, however, L. W. J. van der Kuijp, "Studies in the Life and Thought of Mkhas-grub-rje, I: Mkhas-grub-rje's Epistemological Oeuvre and his Philological Remarks on Dignaga's Pramanasamuccaya I," Berliner Indologische Studien 1 (1985): 75-105.

P. 47, line 17: In the sentence, "This fact (of being a color) characteristic is not pervaded by the reason, namely the fact of being existant," the phrase "is not pervaded by" should read "does not pervade" or "is not implied by." The point is that a statement such as "white is a color because it is existant" is incorrect because the reason (being an existant) does not imply the predicate (being a color).

P. 72, line 33: "Those seven prasangas to which one can reply ..." should read: "Those seven prasangas to which one cannot reply ...." The error is unfortunate as the quite technical and structured topic of prasanga, which Onoda explicates so lucidly in this chapter, requires a readers careful and ordered attention. The argument of this and the following paragraph, moreover, would be clearer if the distribution of these seven prasangas into those that imply a self-constituted proof and those that do not were made explicit. Namely, only a subset of the seventh of these, which Onoda numbers 13a, implies a self-constituted proof; the other six and a half do not.

P. 110, n. 23: [RTGG] should read [RTNS]. The passage cited, which occurs in Sakya mchog Idan's Tshad ma rigs pa'i gter gyi rnam par bshad pa sde bdun ngag gi rol mtsho, is misidentified as occurring in his Tshad ma rigs pa'i gter gyi dgongs rgyan lung dang rigs pa'i khor los lugs ngan pham byed ces pa'am ming gzhan rtog ge 'khrul 'joms chen mo.

In sum, Onoda has presented a quite technical work including both extensive historical detail and complex philosophical theory in very clear and readable English. Moreover, there are few scholars as qualified as Onoda to discuss the Tibetan bsdus grwa tradition. His excellent book is a considerable addition to a rather sparsely researched field and will be a valuable resource for years to come.

(1) Unless otherwise indicated, all bibliographic references are as found in Onoda's book. (2) The Bsdus grwa actually consists of five separate, but sequential, texts, which have been published collectively as Textbooks of Se ra Monastery for the Primary Course of Studies, ed. Tshulkrim Kelsang and Shunzo Onoda (Kyoto, 1985). (3) The issue of the classification of prasangas that by their contraposition imply a self-constituted proof of similar type (bzlog pa rang rigs 'phen pa) or of dissimilar type (gzhan rigs 'phen pa) is one in which there was considerable disagreement in the Tibetan tradition. Van der Kuijp has located two Mongol blockprints (hor sp/par ma) of the Tshad ma rigs pa'i gter, both of which verify the reading reported in the commentaries of both Go rams pa Bsod nams seng ge (1429-89) and Gser mdog pan chen Sakya mchog ldan (1428-1507) that classifies these prasangas into four of similar type and fourteen of dissimilar type (van der Kuijp, "Two Mongol Xylographs (hor par ma) of the Tibetan Text of the Sa skya Pandita's Work on Buddhist Logic and Epistemology," JIABS 16.2 [1993]: 60-79). Van der Kuijp, moreover, points out several systems that Onoda does not discuss. Bcom ldan Rig(s) pa'i ral gri (c. 1240-c. 1315) classified prasangas into four by thirteen types, respectively. Bo dang pap chen Phyogs las rnam rgyal (1375-1450) argued for a three by eleven classification and against three different classifications of five by sixteen, four by fourteen, and three by ten, the first two of which are also attested by Glo bo mkhan chen Bsod nams lhun grub. In addition to these sources, several other early pramna texts by Dharmaratna, Chu mig pa Seng ge dpal, and others, have also recently come to light. It is hoped that a careful examination of these will shed significant light not only on Phya pa's theories in particular, but also on the internal dynamic of the so-called rngogs lugs and also its relationship to the Tshad ma rigs pa'i gter and its commentaries. (4) It is not yet known precisely when the term bsdus grwa came to be used to refer to the summaries, but as it was not used, to the best of our knowledge, by Phya pa, himself, or his followers, it would be safer to reserve this term for the texts that actively incorporate it, the earliest of which, so far, is Mchog Iha 'od zer's R(w)a stod bsdus grwa. As Onoda notes (p. 60), we cannot be certain of the content of the summaries of the earlier period until we have examined them. Therefore, we should provisionally distinguish between these chronologically distinct terms, as they may well represent distinct textual genres. (5) If Jackson (1987: 196) is right that the debating practice current at the time of Sa skya Pandita was already standardized, then one might be fairly safe in assuming that the system described by Onoda holds reasonably well for most Tibetan monastic debate. Yet unless such an historical comparison is actually made, it would be better to identify those sources actually used and explicitly limit the discussion to them.
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Author:Schwabland, Peter
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1994
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