For English-reading fans of Dza Patrul Rinpoche (rdza dpal sprul rin po che, 1808–1887) these are bountiful times. July saw the publication of Matthieu Ricard’s collection of stories and texts, Enlightened Vagabond, after some three or four decades of research and preparation. This month’s A Gathering of Brilliant Moons includes translations of no less than four texts from the master (by Holly Gayley, Joshua Schapiro and Sarah Harding), and The Essential Jewel of Holy Practice will be released shortly, too.
Patrul Rinpoche, like most Tibetan masters, has several names. He is often called Dza Patrul (Rinpoche) in reference to his native Dzachukha, and more formally he is Orgyen Jigme Chökyi Wangpo (o rgyan ‘jigs med chos kyi dbang po). Another term which occurs in almost every book that features Patrul—and which almost always occasions a footnote—is Abu. This is both how he often refers to himself, as part of expressions such as Abu Hralpo (a bu hral po), Abu Lhöpo (a bu lhod po) and “old dog Abu” (khyi rgan a bu), and how his students often refer to him: as Abu Rinpoche or simply Abu.
But what does Abu mean? What, in other words, do all those footnotes have to say?
In an earlier post, I mentioned that a text commonly attributed to Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (mDo mkhyen brtse ye shes rdo rje, 1800–1866) is actually the work of Dola Jigme Kalzang (rdo bla ‘jigs med skal bzang, b. 1789). The purpose of that post was to discuss the nature of authorship more generally, so I did not go into detail as to why the text might have been misattributed. Now that my biography of Dola Jigme Kalzang is online at Treasury of Lives, it might be a good time to return to this question and address it in more depth.
As I mentioned previously, the colophon to bsKyed rdzogs kyi zin bris blun gtam de nyid gsal ba (Foolish Babble Clarifying Reality: Notes on the Generation and Perfection Stages, or Foolish Babble for short) gives the author as Zhönnu Yeshe Dorje (gzhon nu ye shes rdo rje). This is one of the many names of Dola Jigme Kalzang, but is not attested elsewhere as a name of Do Khyentse — not to my knowledge, at least. Do Khyentse is called Yeshe Dorje, or even Kyebu Yeshe Dorje (skyes bu ye shes rdo rje), but not Zhönnu Yeshe Dorje.
Amongst the many things Tibetans inherited from India was a sense that names, when applied to exalted beings, are far more than mere verbal labels aiding identification. Deities’ names capture something of their essence, and reciting them is a form of invocation and praise. Most mantras have names at their heart, and there are whole texts, such as Mañjuśrī–nāma-saṃgīti (Reciting the Names of Mañjuśrī), devoted to lists of alternative names or epithets.
Lamas usually have several names too, and this can obviously lead to some confusion (of the kind already discussed in a previous post). Gene Smith outlined Jamgön Kongtrul’s many names in a lengthy section of his famous introduction to the Treasury of Knowledge (Shes bya mdzod), stating:
One of the greatest problems confronting the would-be bibliographer of Tibetan literature is the plethora of names, titles and epithets by which lamas are known, especially those of the older orders. The case of Kong sprul illustrates this problem especially well. Kong sprul was given seven types of name during his life: childhood name, monastic ordination name, bodhisattva vow name, tantric initiation name, name as a rediscoverer of hidden treasure, name as a grammarian, and finally an incarnation name.