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:


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

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.


Sun eclipse in the Manchu Kangyur

RahûThought I would try my hand at a Buddhist text for a change, not that I deem myself very familiar with this kind of texts but this one is not riddled with Buddhist terminology, which makes things easier.

For anything related to Manchu Buddhist texts, the Research Material on Manchu Buddhist Canon website is the place to go. Ten cases out of 108 have already been digitized a few years ago, I hope they have plans to do more at some point. The glossary and the catalog they provide are also very useful.

For those interested in the genesis of the Manchu Tripitaka/Kangyur, M. Bingenheimer has written an article entitled History of the Manchu Buddhist Canon and First Steps towards its Digitization which makes for a very interesting read.

šun be jetere de hūlara nomun.
A sutra told when the sun was eaten.

uttu seme mini donjiha
Thus have I heard.

emu forgon de. fucihi sirawasdi hecen i dzida bujan anata bindadi i eiten be urgunjebure kūwaran de tembihebi.
At one time, the Buddha was dwelling in the Dzida woods (2) of the city of Sirawasdi (3), in the place-of-enjoying-all-things of Anata Bindadi (4).

nergin de rahū asuri han. šun i enduri be daliha manggi.
At that time, after Rahû, king of the Asuri, had concealed the sun,

šun i enduri. jalan i wesihun fucihi be hing seme gūninafi irgebuhe gisun. (5)
the sun god sincerely remembered the revered Buddha of the world and said:

eteme yongkiyafi colgoroko fucihi de dorolorongge.
“Hail to the all-victorious and prominent Buddha!

eiten dalibun be ukcabume geterembureo.
Would you please remove all obstacles quickly?

bi te dalibure jobolon de tušaha.
I am currently suffering from the sun being concealed.

hing sere unenggi gūnin i fucihi de dahambi.
I will sincerely submit to the Buddha.”

nergin de jalan i wesihun fucihi. šun i enduri i jalin. rahū asuri han i baru irgebume wasimbuha hese.
So the revered Buddha of the world, on behalf of the sun god, spoke to Rahû, king of the Asuri:

fucihi i jilan bireme jalan de akūnaha.
“The compassion of the Buddha has reached the whole world.

bata be etehe ineku jihe wesihun de šun i enduri emgeri dahaha be dahame.
Because the sun god now follows the revered thus-come who-has-vanquished-the-enemy,

rahū si hūdun subukini.
Rahû, quickly let [the blockade] be removed!

eiten butu farhūn be efulefi elden genggiyen abkai untuhun de eldekini.
Let every obscurity be destroyed and a bright light shine in the sky!

rahū si ume dalire.
Rahû, do not conceal [the sun]!

hūdun šun i elden be dahūbukini.
Let the light of the sun be restored quickly!”

uthai šun i enduri ci aljafi. da arbun dahūbufi.
At that moment, Rahû left the sun god and its previous form was restored.

asuri han bimadzidara i jakade genefi.
He went before Bimadzidara, king of the Asuri,

mujilen elhe akū beye šurgeme funiyehe sehehun ilifi bederefi
his mind was troubled, his body was trembling and his hair was raised on its head.

emu ergide tehe manggi. asuri han bimadzidara. rahū i baru irgebuhe gisun.
After he sat on one side, Bimadzidara, king of the Asuri, said:

rahū asuri si. ai turgunde šun ci aljahade. arbun giru yooni gūwaliyafi. geleme olhome mini jakade jiheni.
“Rahû! Why, when leaving the sun, has your whole appearance changed? And why did you come to me being fearful?”

rahū asuri han jabume irgebuhe gisun.
Rahû, king of the Asuri, answered:

bi fucihi i irgebun be donjifi.
“I heard the words of the Buddha saying:

aika šun ci aljarakū oci. uju nadan ubu efujefi. eiten jobolon gosihon be alimbi sehe:
‘if you do not leave the sun, I will break your head into seven pieces and you will experience every kind of suffering.'”

(1) Lin Shih-Hsuan has written an article about this text and its obscure origin (it is not referenced in the Taisho catalog and no Chinese parallel is known).
(2) Dzida bujan > (Skt.) Jetavana, “Jeta’s grove”. Jeta was the owner of the place before it became a monastery.
(3) Śravasti.
(4) Anāthapindika.
(5) One charming aspect of this text (and other Buddhist texts I have seen) is that characters are not merely “speaking” or “saying” but they “compose poetry” (irgebumbi) and “order” (wasimbuha hese). The latter is reminiscent of the treatment of the imperial utterances in other Manchu texts.