Bu Ston (Bu TÖN)

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Bu ston rin chen grub (pronounced Bu tön rinchendrub, 1290–1364) was the most illustrious member of Zhwa lu Monastery in Gtsang (Tsang), located in west central Tibet. He was also the Tibetan scholar most active in collating and editing the Tibetan Buddhist canon, the Bka' 'gyur and Bstan 'gyur. The Bka' 'gyur (Kanjur) is the collection of Tibetan translations of works attributed to the Buddha. The Bstan 'gyur (Tanjur) is the collection of Tibetan translations of important Buddhist commentaries and other related materials. The formation of the Bka' 'gyur and Bstan 'gyur began with the collecting of manuscripts and translations of Buddhist texts into Tibetan in the early ninth century. The process culminated in the early fourteenth century when, according to the Blue Annals (a translation of Gzhon nu dpal's Deb ther sngon po), manuscripts scattered over many monasteries and temples in Tibet were gathered together in Snar thang (Narthang) Monastery.

Bu ston then took the Snar thang version of the canon to Zhwa lu, where he checked the translations against Indian originals, added other works, and produced a Bka' 'gyur and an authoritative version of the Bstan 'gyur. The Bka' 'gyur and Bstan 'gyur that Bu ston edited is the origin of the majority of the extant Tibetan canons. The categories under which he grouped the various texts are the most widely used and admired. He gives a detailed description of his work in his Chos 'byung (History of Buddhism), partially translated into English by the Russian scholar Eugène Obermiller in the 1930s.

Bu ston was a conservative editor. As D. S. Ruegg says in The Life of Bu ston Rinpoche (1966), "Bu ston…follows an objective criterion of authenticity which can be accepted by any editor" (p. 28). In practice this led Bu ston to exclude some tantras accepted as authentic by the Rnying ma (Nyingma), or Old School, of Tibetan Buddhism on the grounds that no original Indian version could be located.

Bu ston's collected works (gsung 'bum) include more than two hundred titles in seventeen volumes. Besides his work on the canon, Bu ston composed important commentaries on the yoga set of tantras and on the KĀlacakraTantra. He also wrote a well-known commentary on the Perfection of Wisdom sūtras called Lung gi nye ma, as well as a commentary on the Abhidharmasamuccaya of AsaṄga. Even before Bu ston, Zhwa lu Monastery was known for its expertise in these two areas, and a Zhwa lu school of Tibetan Buddhism is mentioned in earlier histories. After Bu ston, the Zhwa lu school went into decline and was largely eclipsed by the Sa skya (Sakya), Bka' brgyud (Kagyu), and Dge lugs (Geluk) sects, but the tradition of studying Bu ston's works continued. It became so widespread that the study of Bu ston's works (bu lugs) became a minor tradition in itself.

Bu ston's views were highly influential in his day (for example, Tsong kha pa's Sngags rim chen mo—partially translated into English by Jeffrey Hopkins as Tantra in Tibet—draws heavily on Bu ston's work on the yoga tantras) and remain so today. Bu ston's works are still the central texts for study in a number of Tibetan monasteries.

See also:Tibet


Eimer, Helmut, ed. Transmission of the Tibetan Canon: Papers Presented at a Panel of the 7th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Graz 1995. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1997.

Obermiller, Eugène, trans. History of Buddhism. Heidelberg, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1931–1932.

Ruegg, David Seyfort, trans. The Life of Bu ston Rinpoche. Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estreme Oriente, 1966.

Gareth Sparham