Chinese chan poetry in Manchu garb

Update. Many thanks to Dr. Alan Wagner, who has been kind enough to point out that I erred in attributing the poems to Yan Bing, while they are in fact the works of others and have been inserted in his text as commentary. I have modified the text below to reflect this.

The SOAS-University of London digital library recently put online a Manchu work I knew nothing about. Its title is Bolgo weilen be dasara bithe. wara be targara bithe / 浄業文 戒殺文 (1). There is no preface or publishing date, but at some point somebody twice wrote a date belonging to the year QL57 [1792] at the beginning of the book.

As the title shows, there are in fact two different works in this fascicle (with separate pagination), whose full titles are:
– the ši dz fung ba i žu žu yan bing ni araha bolgo weilen be dasara be hacihiyara bithe (f°1-16)
– the liyan cy daši i araha wara be targara ergengge be sindara be gubci tafulara bithe (f°1-4)

The first one is the work of Yan Bing (顏丙, aka ‘Layman Ruru’/如如居士, d. 1212), a ‘Chan Buddhist layman of the Southern Song’. The other is the work of Zhu Hong (祩宏/蓮池大師, 1535-1615).

This is cause enough for interest since I am not aware that many texts of this kind have been translated into Manchu. As far as I know, Manchu translations of Buddhist texts consist mainly of common sutras (that are shared with other traditions) or of texts that are specific to the Tibetan tradition. This is probably the result of translators generally devoting themselves first to the main canonical texts and of Qianlong’s personal interest in this particular branch of Buddhism, an interest which eventually led him to publish a complete Manchu Buddhist Canon modeled on the Tibetan one (2). Going against this trend, the work now online at the SOAS website shows that translation of Buddhist works belonging purely to the Chinese tradition also took place.

Another very interesting aspect of this book is that the part authored by Yan Bing features many poems by various authors, which serve as commentary. These poems are rendered in Manchu verse, characterised by initial alliteration and final rhyme, according to the following scheme:

A……………B
A……………B
A……………C
A……………B

Here is the first of the poems (together with a translation which probably does justice neither to the Manchu, nor to the Buddhist content):

(f°3)
siowei fung ni tukiyecun i gisun.

emteli dengjan dabufi dobori eldešembi.
ereci besergen de tafafi fomoci sabu be sumbi.
ere ilan fayangga nadan oron tolgin deri geneci.
eici cimari jidere jiderakūngge boljon akū ombi (sehebi).

A hymn of praise by Xuefeng (雪峯)

A single lamp has been lit and keeps shining in the night.
One then goes to bed and removes socks and shoes.
When these three yang-souls and seven yin-souls (3) move away from the dream,
One might become without waves, wether tomorrow comes or not .

I hope the SOAS Library will go on with their Manchu books digitalisation program, especially since they seem to have plenty of interesting material (4).


(1) It appears in T. Pang’s Descriptive Catalogue of Manchu Manuscripts and Blockprints in the St. Petersbourg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies, 2001, p. 150-151, n°355.

(2) See M. Bingenheimer’s History of the Manchu Buddhist Canon for a good history of how the Manchu Canon came into being (especially p. 207-208 for Qianlong and the Changja Khutugtu’s somewhat distrustful attitude towards aspects of the Chinese Buddhist tradition).

(3) San hun qi po, 三魂七魄.

(4) There is for instance another intriguing work which is presented as [Unidentified Manchu text]. Given the title (Dai yuwan i kooli ningguci. Sidzu) and what I have read of the content, I would be tempted to see in it the drafts of the translations of the Yuan dynastic history (Dai yuwan gurun i suduri) published in 1646. This would be a fantastic find but I cannot confirm it, not having access the the printed text of the Dai yuwan gurun i suduri.

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A Manchu learner’s composition book? (3)

Another text from the Manchu manuscript BNF 270 (see here for more about this manuscript):

(f°7b)
mini boode ilan šorho teile ujimbihe mini emu gucu jifi šorho be gaifi šaolafi(1) wacihiyan jekebi. eden daden(2) funcehengge maktafi ini indahūn ulebuhe: yala tere gucu kabula kai. jai jici mini duka fita yaksifi dosimburakū oho. akū oci mini boode bisire ele jetere hacin uthai wajimbi:

‘At home I was raising only three chicks. A friend of mine came, took one, roasted it and ate the whole thing. Moreover, he threw away what was left and fed his dog. This friend is such a glutton! If he comes back, I will lock my door tightly and he won’t come in. If I fail to do this, my food supply at home will run out.’

————————————————
(1) For šolombi?
(2) For ede dade?