José Cabezón’s brief study of long-life prayers (or zhab brtan) in Tibet (“Firm Feet and Long Lives: The Zhabs brtan Literature of Tibetan Buddhism”), which appeared in Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre in 1996, makes the claim that “the zhabs brtan [genre] seems to have developed almost exclusively within the dGe lugs school until very recent times.” In a note, he goes on to say that he “searched, in vain, for examples of zhabs brtan in the works of Tāranātha (b.1575), ‘Brug pa pad ma dkar po, 1526-1592), Jaya Paṇḍita (b.1642) and ‘Ju Mi pham rgya mtsho (1846-1914).” Well, with the benefit of the TBRC database, we can now say that plenty of zhabs brtan prayers do appear in the writings of Minling Terchen Gyurme Dorje (smin gling gter chen ‘gyur med rdo rje,1646-1714), an important figure in the Nyingma school.
Although it might be true that the Gelugpa were the first to compose such texts, it is clear from Minling Terchen’s collected writings that followers of the Nyingma tradition were requesting and composing zhabs brtan as early as the late seventeenth century. Volume Ca of the writings includes a text called bshes gnyen dam pa ‘ga’ zhig la bstod pa brtan zhugs su spel ba dag snang dad pa’i me tog, which is a compilation of brtan zhugs/zhabs brtan works, as well as the closely related genre of prayers for swift rebirth (myur ‘byon gsol ‘debs). The phrase zhabs brtan gsol ‘debs is used in several of the colophons, as is the more unusual form zhabs brtan rten ‘byung.Continue reading
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