Thursday, February 26, 2009
The Dharma's Gatekeepers: Sakya Pandita on Buddhist Scholarship in Tibet - Jonathan C. Gold
This book describes a Buddhist view of scholarship. It is a study of the Gateway to Learning (Mkhas pa ’jug pa’i sgo), a thirteenth-century Tibetan introduction to scholarship by the great luminary Sakya Pandita. The Gateway is in many ways a unique product of its author’s time, place, and worldview. Yet the brilliance with which Sakya Pandita grasped the intellectual issues of that time and place, and the clarity and depth with which he expressed his worldview, make the Gateway a classic of world literature with lessons that resonate in our time.
The Gateway’s principal audience consisted of the most ambitious scholars among the Tibetan monastic establishment, and these were students who struggled, above all, with the complexities of understanding their scriptures in translations from Sanskrit. Sakya Pandita consequently reflects with greater depth than any other premodern Buddhist on the nature of translation, and on the challenges that the dharma faces during its travels among diverse cultures and languages. The many translated Buddhist scriptures and treatises available to Tibetans during this time contained a bewildering variety of doctrines and practices. So Sakya Pandita provides a unique hermeneutic theory that allows for a diversity of interpretive conventions, each legitimate and applicable in its in scriptural context, while yet defining true mastery as comprehension of all contexts. The intellectual repertoire that the Gateway describes is justified by its claim to continue the practices of the true original san·gha established by the Buddha in India. So Sakya Pandita explicitly elevates this scholarly community to the role of just arbiter not only of its elite membership but of the legitimate possibilities of linguistic meaning itself. These are distinctive views of learning and expertise that are rooted in traditional undo-Tibetan Buddhist thought and entwined around the specific frameworks and needs of Sakya Pandita’s thirteenth-century readership.