The Csoma Collection is the core of the Tibetan Collection – unique in size in Central Europe – of the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The enlargement of this collection was stimulated by the excellent Altaic linguist Lajos Ligeti 1 in the ’30s, when he donated to the Library, besides his Mongolian and Manchu book collection, some Tibetan wood-block prints as well, after returning from his Inner Mongolian research trip.
At the end of the ’60s this collection began to increase rapidly, with new purchases and donations of hundreds of books and manuscripts in Mongolian and Tibetan from Hungarian engineers and orientalists working in Mongolia.
This expansion of the collection continued until the end of the ’80s. Nowadays it increases by only a few books per year. The collection now contains more than 6000 items.
These books come almost exclusively from Mongolia, and are works of monks from the dge lugs pa order, dominant both there and in Tibet.
This monastic order is best known to our readers for the institution of the Dalai Lamas. Its members carried out a successful missionary activity among the Mongolians between the 16th and 19th centuries, and as a result, a flourishing Buddhist literature – both in Mongolian and Tibetan – developed in Mongolia. The sacred writings that once had been translated from Indian and Chinese languages into Tibetan, were subsequently translated into Mongolian, thus creating the Mongolian versions of the Tibetan canon, the Kanjur (in Tibetan Bka’ ’gyur) and the Tanjur (in Tibetan Bstan ’gyur).
The main language of the religion, however, has remained Tibetan. Mongolian monks learned and used this language admirably, often composing works in it that have earned the respect of Tibetan scholars as well. Therefore the authors of several volumes in our collection are not Tibetan, but – whether famous or unknown – Mongolian monks.
The collection contains both manuscripts and traditional Tibetan woodblock prints. Most of the manuscripts were copied in Mongolia in the 19th and early 20th century, on Chinese or Russian paper. A number of the printed books come from Tibet, mostly from the monastery of Labrang (Bla brang bkra shis dkyil) in the Eastern province Amdo, while another others were published in Beijing, capital of the Mandzhu emperors ruling over China from the second half of the 17th century until the first decade of the 20th century.
As to their content, these books cover almost all the important fields of Tibetan Buddhist literature. We find among them the classical books of Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism, the various sutras and tantras, and several copies of such famous works as the Prajńāpāramitahrdaya Sūtra, the Diamond Sutra, the Golden Light Sutra, or the Pańcaraksā. These are primarily printed books published in Beijing or Tibet, but we encounter a large number of their handwritten versions as well.
There are also a number of gsung ’bums, collective works by famous monks from the dge lugs order, including those of Tsong-kha-pa (1357-1419), the founder of the order, and of his two main disciples, Mkhas-grub-rje (1385-1438) and Darma Rinchen (1364-1432). The collection also features the gsung ’bums by the 1st Panchen Lama Blo-bzang Chos-kyi Rgyal-mchan (1570-1662), Klong-rdol Bla-ma, compiler of the famous Buddhist encyclopedia (1719-1794) as well as those of the Mongolian monks Dza-ya Pandita (1642-1708) and Sumātimaniprajńā (1677-1737).
The multi-volume works of the abbots of Labrang also surface in the collection, including the eight volume treatise on Buddhist philosophy by Ngag-dbang Brtson-grus, the 2nd ’Jam-dbyangs Bzhad-pa, which remains a school manual to the present time in this order of Tibetan Buddhism. The Crystal Mirror (Grub mtha’ Shel gyi me long), the great summary of religious history by Blo-bzang Chosh-kyi Nyi-ma, the 3rd Thu’u-bkvan rinpoche, is also conserved in our collection together, which includes so many shorter or longer printed or handwritten treatises by the same author, that virtually his complete works are represented here.
There are furthermore a great number of printed works by better and lesser known Mongolian and Tibetan authors, among them shorter or longer commentaries on the traditional principles (like the concept of emptiness) of Buddhist philosophy, works of epistemology and linguistics, explanations of various tantras and description of the tantric rituals connected with them, as well as works of secular sciences like medicine or history.
In the territories converted by the dge lugs pa order the gzungs bsdus, the collections of incantations, must have enjoyed special popularity. Our collection preserves several copies printed in Beijing as well as one manuscript. The oldest print was published in the final years of the 17th century. They contain mostly canonic incantations and the description of the corresponding ceremonies, but there are some rituals coming from the Bon, the pre-Buddhistic Tibetan religion, as well.
The large number of books on this topic leads us to speculate that magic might have played a serious part in the conversion of the Mongolians. A ritual protecting people and their goods from diseases or various natural disasters must have appeared much more useful to uninitiated Mongolians than the impenetrable and strange world of Buddhist philosophy, and the foreign priests possessing the magic forces necessary to carry out such rituals must have quickly become honored and feared persons.
However, the affluence of people had to be preserved not only by means of magic, but with the help of two secular sciences as well, medicine and astrology. Several 18th-century Beijing prints of the four volumes of Rgyud bzhi, the standard work of Tibetan medicine, can be found in our collection, along with a large number of varied commentaries and appendices, all in the form of woodblock prints made in Beijing. The holdings in astrology are not so rich, and consist of only some shorter manuals and a number of single sheet astrological tables.
The manuscripts include mostly ritual texts, in part classical Tantric rituals, sādhanas, offerings of mandalas, and in part so-called popular religious ceremonies. This name is rather misleading, for the “popular religious ceremonies” were performed by monks rather than by laymen, and they refer to that special stock of Tibetan literature and religion that had no Indian equivalent, but was certainly rooted in pre-Buddhist religion.
Buddhism was only able to gain ground in Tibet by making compromises with the ancient animistic religion. The new religion included in its pantheon the gods of the old one, appointing them protectors of the Dharma, and amalgamated the old cosmography with the one described in the sacred Buddhist writings, taking over the old rituals and inserting them into a Buddhist framework.
This pantheon of gods and demons, together with the rituals connected with them, has also reached Mongolia, and – just like Tantric magic – has won a great popularity there. In this way, together with Buddhism, a part of the old Tibetan system of belief has become implanted among the Mongolians as well, and Mongolian authors have also created new texts of “popular religion” on the model of the Tibetan ones.
The collection contains several hundred handwritten invocations to Tibetan and Mongolian gods of mountains, mdos and glud rituals for placating the demons, as well as texts offerings drink and incense (chan ’khrus, gser skyems and bsang) to the spirits inhabiting the three worlds.
Without doubt this is one of the most valuable parts of our collection, given that the texts of popular religious rituals are much less known than the classical Buddhist sacred writings or the extensive literature of Tibetan commentaries related to them. One of the important future tasks of Tibetan studies will be the analysis of these rituals, for which the Tibetan manuscripts of the Oriental Collection of the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences will offer a material unique in all Europe.