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The SHE-RAB DONG-BU (Tree of Wisdom) is a metrical translation in Tibetan of a Sanscrit ethical work entitled Prajnya Danda, written by Nagarjuna who flourished in the fourth century of the Buddhist era (about 100 B.C.), The Tibetan version was probably made about the 11th century of our era but the exact date has not been determined. It is included in the Ten-gyur, ངོ་ section, volume གོ་, beginning at leaf 165. The Tibetan translator describes it as the second volume but I cannot say whether the remainder of the work has been preserved in Tibetan--the Sanscrit original is apparently lost.
When this work was selected as one of the textbooks for the Higher Proficiency Examination in Tibetan, the Tibetan text was edited by the late Rai Bahadur Sarat Chandra Das and printed in continuous lines as is done in Tibet. This adds to the difficulties of the student as there is nothing to show where one verse ends and the next begins. No English translation was prepared at that time, and the present attempt has been made with the object of assisting future students of Tibetan.
The poem is known by name to the educated classes in Tibet but few laymen appear to have read it and fewer still to understand the many obscure passages. In the course of two years spent in Tibet I sought the assistance of monks and laymen in and around Gyantse but only succeeded in finding one elderly scholar who had read the poem. The Abbot of the Palkor Monastery was good enough to make enquiries at Trashi Lhunpo regarding the possible existence of a commentary on this work, but without success. By the courtesy of the Tibetan Trade Agent at Gyantge, Khenchung Lobzang Chungne Lotsawa, the printed text was compared with the xylograph edition forming part of the Ten-gyur collection in the Palkor Monastery and a number of errors detected. It must, however, be added that the Palkor text does not appear to be absolutely accurate. All that can be claimed for the present edition is that it is more correct than the earlier printed text. A number of emendations have been suggested in the foot-notes.
Rai Bahadur Sarat Chandra Das remarked in his preface that the She-rab Dong-bu was "largely quoted by Tibetan authors" but it is hardly quotation in the ordinary sense of the word. Later writers have borrowed many of the sentiments and sometimes entire lines, inserting them in their own compositions. This is particularly the case in the Sakya Leg-she (Sans. Subhashita Ratna Niti Nama Shastra), written by the celebrated Kun-gah Gyaltsen in the 13th century of our era, which is said to be a rechauffé of the works of three earlier writers on the same subject. I mention this here as the works of Nagarjuna appear to have been not so much the subject of quotation as the source of extensive literary piracies
The present translation was made at Gyantse, but the number of passages to which no clear meaning could be assigned by the Tibetans was so great that I was in doubt whether it would be possible to proceed with publication, until I came to Gangtok and obtained the invaluable assistance of Kazi Dawa Samdup, Head Master, Bhutia Boarding School. Kazi Dawa Samdup had the advantage of receiving a scholarly explanation of the first 102 verses from a learned Lama Ge-she Kachen Tundrup of Shigatse, who studied the book some years ago and was accordingly able to give the meaning assigned by tradition to some of the passages which appear quite incomprehensible at first sight. The latter part of the translation was done without this special advantage and some of the more difficult passages remain to be properly explained. The extreme baldness of the translation is intentional.
I take this opportunity of recording my gratitude to the many Tibetan gentlemen who assisted me at the start, and above all to Kazi Dawa Samdup, without whose assistance this translation would never have seen the light. Finally I would acknowledge my obligation to the Hon'ble Sir Asutosh Mookerjee Sind the Calcutta University who have undertaken the printing of the text and translation.
W. L. CAMPBELL.
|S.C.D.||The late Rai Bahadur Sarat Chandra Das.|
|D.S.||Kazi Dawa Samdup.|
|P.T.||The xylograph text in the Palkor Monastery at Gyantse.|