When @idp_uk tweeted yesterday that digitised images of Tangut manuscript fragments Or.12380/187 through Or.12380/290, collected by Aurel Stein from the Tangut fortress city of Khara-Khoto during the summer of 1914, were now available on the International Dunhuang Project site, I dropped what I was doing to have a look. Quickly scanning through the newly uploaded images, two or three items caught my attention as possibly of interest. The first item I looked at was this sheet of manuscript paper comprising ten columns of Tangut text written in a fairly neat, semi-cursive hand. From the regular tear repeated three times along the bottom, it would seem to be part of a scroll that was damaged when rolled up—fortunately, and against all expectations, the tear is positioned such that there is very little loss of text.
British Library Or.12380/226 (Stein no. K.K.II.0284.l)
What caught my attention about this otherwise unremarkable piece of paper was the list of terms numbered 'fourteen' through 'twenty-four' occupying the first four columns (from the right). My initial rough translation, "fourteen, not permanent; fifteen, the wheel turns; sixteen calm; ..." suggested it was a Buddhist text (the wheel turning being a metaphor for Saṃsāra), but it did not give me any idea of exactly what text it was. Intrigued, I continued translating until I got to the end of the sheet, when I encountered the title of the text followed by the word 'end', and I realised that I could have saved myself time and effort if I had started from the end!
Anyway, the title of the text is given as :
le u ir tsir swew gha myr ma
This translates into Chinese as 大乘百法明門本母 Dà chéng bǎi fǎ míng mén běn mǔ, and corresponds to the text entitled 大乘百法明門論 Dà chéng bǎi fǎ míng mén běn mǔ lùn "Treatise on the Gate to Understanding the Hundred Dharmas of Mahayana" in the Taishō Tripitaka (Vol. 31, No. 1614). The original Sanskrit text, Mahāyāna śatadharmā-prakāśamukha śāstra, was written by Vasubandhu (天親菩薩), and was translated into Chinese by Xuanzang (大唐三藏法師玄奘). It is evident that the Tangut version of the text was translated directly from the Chinese version. The text is very short, only 542 characters in length in the Chinese version, and the Tangut text of Or.12380/226 corresponds to the last 110 characters of the Chinese version, which means that about four-fifths of the original scroll is lost or as yet unidentified.
A single copy of the Tangut translation of a commentary on this text, 大乘百法明門本母略釋 Dà chéng bǎi fǎ míng mén běn mǔ lüè shì, is held at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts in Saint Petersburg, under the pressmark Tang. 337 (No. 300 in Kychanov's 1999 catalogue). However, no copies of the Tangut version of the original text without commentary are recorded in Z. I. Gorbachëva and E. I. Kychanov's Tangut Manuscripts and Xylographs (Moscow, 1963), E. I. Kychanov's Catalogue of Tangut Buddhist Monuments at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Kyoto, 1999), or Nishida Tatsuo's Catalogue of Tangut translations of Buddhist texts (Kyoto, 1977). So Or.12380/226 may be the only known partial copy of the Tangut translation of this text ... although now that I have noted it, I feel sure that I will start to see fragments of copies of this text all over the place. The surviving Tangut text is transcribed and translated below.
|Tangut Text and Phonetic Transcription*||Translation of Tangut Text||Chinese Text
(Taishō No. 1614)
gha lyr mi u
gha ngwy jy je
gha chhiw den
gha sha bu she
gha ar dzyr li
gha gy chy bu
ny gha dzen
ny gha lew ler
ny gha ny ngewr
ny gha so dzon ngwe tsir
|Twenty-three, harmonious character;||二十三和合性。|
ny gha lyr mi dzon ngwe
|Twenty-four, unharmonious [character].||二十四不和合性。|
ngwy tsew jen my tsir
|Number five, the dharma of inaction.||第五無為法者。|
bu chhiw my du
|In brief, there are six types:||略有六種。|
lew tsho nga jen my
|One, the inaction of void and emptiness;||一虛空無為。|
ny ge dzar jen my
|Two, the inaction of choosing extinction;||二擇滅無為。|
so mi ge jen my
|Three, the inaction of not choosing [extinction];||三非擇滅無為。|
lyr mi mu jen my
|Four, the inaction of not moving;||四不動滅無為。|
ngwy se lhe dzar jen my
|Five, the inaction of thinking of suffering extinction;||五想受滅無為。|
chhiw mor ghe jen my
|Six, the inaction of true suchness.||六真如無為。|
nga me y ta
|As to saying that there is no I,||言無我者。|
ny my du
|There are two types:||略有二種。|
lew pu ti kha lo nga me
|One, pudgala without I;||一補特伽羅無我。|
ny tsir nga me
|Two, dharma without I.||二法無我。|
le u ir tsir swew gha myr ma
|The original mother [text] of the Bright Gate of a Hundred Dharmas of the Great Vehicle||大乘百法明門本母|
* Tangut phonetic transcription is the simple transcription given in Marc Miyake's Tangut Phonetic Database Version 1.0.
1. Saṃsāra, literally "the turning of the wheel".
2. There appears to originally have been another character after 'calm', which has been rubbed out, leaving just a couple of strokes visible. Below this obliterated character, at the bottom of the column, is the remains of a character which looks like 'ten', duplicating 'ten' at the top of the next column.
3. Twenty and Twenty-one are swapped with respect to the Chinese text, which has "Twenty, direction" and "Twenty-one, time".
4. The Tangut word that I translate "in brief" means 'to shrink' or 'to reduce', and seems to translate Chinese 略 lüè with the meaning 'to omit' or 'to delete', which is incorrect as 略 lüè here means 'approximately'.
Appendix : Character Forms
Tangut Manuscript Miscellanea
- Hundred Dharmas of Mahayana
- Grains of Gold