Posted on: 26 July 2015

Digital Rare Book:
Pag Sam Jon Zang
History of the rise, progress and downfall of Buddhism in India
By Sumpa Khan-po Yece Pal Jor
Edited by Sarat Chandra Das
Published by The Presidency Jail Press, Calcutta - 1908

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Relevance of this book can be seen in D.N.Jha's rebuttal of Arun Shourie's essay on the marxist interpretation of the destruction of the Nalanda University:

..."Here is the relevant extract from Sumpa’s work cited by Shourie : “While a religious sermon was being delivered in the temple that he [Kakut Siddha] had erected at Nalanda, a few young monks threw washing water at two Tirthika beggars. (The Buddhists used to designate the Hindus by the term Tirthika). The beggars being angry, set fire on the three shrines of Dharmaganja, the Buddhist University of Nalanda, viz.— Ratna Sagara, Ratna Ranjaka including the nine-storeyed temple called Ratnodadhi which contained the library of sacred books” (p.92). Shourie questions how the two beggars could go from building to building to “burn down the entire, huge, scattered complex.” Look at another passage (abridged by me in the following paragraph) from the History of Buddhism in India written by another Tibetan monk and scholar Taranatha in the 17th century:

During the consecration of the temple built by Kakutsiddha at Nalendra [Nalanda] “the young naughty sramanas threw slops at the two tirthika beggars andkept them pressed inside door panels and set ferocious dogs on them”. Angered by this, one of them went on arranging for their livelihood and the other sat in a deep pit and “engaged himself in surya sadhana” [solar worship] , first for nine years and then for three more years and having thus “acquired mantrasiddhi” he “performed a sacrifice and scattered the charmed ashes all around” which “immediately resulted in a miraculously produced fire”, consuming all the eighty four temples and the scriptures some of which, however, were saved by water flowing from an upper floor of the nine storey Ratnodadhi temple. (History of Buddhism in India, English tr. Lama Chimpa & Alka Chattopadhyaya, summary of pp.141-42).

If we look at the two narratives closely, they are similar. The role of the Tirthikas and their miraculous fire causing a conflagration are common to both. Admittedly one does not have to take the miracles literally but it is not justified to ignore their importance as part of traditions which gain in strength over time and become part of collective memory of the community. Nor is it desirable or defensible to disregard the element of long standing antagonism between the Brahmins and Buddhists which may have given rise to the Tibetan tradition and nurtured it till as late as the 18th century or even later. It is in the context of this Buddhist-Tirthika animosity that the account of Sumpa assumes importance; it also makes sense because it jibes with Taranatha’s evidence. Further, neither Sumpa, nor Taranatha, ever came to India. This should mean that the idea of Brahminical hostility to the religion of the Buddha traveled to Tibet fairly early and became part of its Buddhist tradition, and found expression in the 17th-18th century Tibetan writings."

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