A copy of the Collected Tantras of the Ancients.
What is the Collected Tantras of the Ancients?
The Tibetan Buddhist ‘School of the Ancients’ (rnying ma pa) goes back to the time of the early introduction of Buddhism in Tibet in the 7th century and is still active today. A number of texts in this school’s canon of Buddhist Tantras were not included in later standardised versions of the Tibetan Buddhist canon. Instead, they were put together in a separate corpus, the Collected Tantras of the Ancients (Tibetan: rnying ma rgyud 'bum).
The Collected Tantras of the Ancients were printed in eastern Tibetan printing house of Derge but there are also numerous manuscript versions of these texts.
What do we know about this manuscript?
The manuscript on display is a particularly fine copy, produced in the mid-18th century in the Kyirong valley in the South-West of Tibet. The miniatures in the individual volumes show a portrait of Katog Rigdzin Tsewang Norbu (1698–1755) who was one of the most eminent Lamas of the School of the Ancients during his time. The set of the Collected Tantras held by the British Library is not complete and consists of only twenty-nine out of thirty-three volumes (volume one is held by the Bodleian Library in Oxford). Because of its incompleteness it also does not contain the usual section that informs the reader of the details of the production of this precious set of manuscripts. Fortunately, the other volumes contain hints by the scribes that the work was commissioned by a well-known Buddhist nun and member of the Tibetan aristocracy whose name was Pema-Chodzin (Tibetan: Padma chos 'dzin). She was the sister of Polhané (Tibetan: Pho lha nas bsod nams stobs rgyas, 1689-1747) who was later to effectively become the ruling prince of Tibet. Pema-Chodzin was also a close disciple of the eminent Lama depicted in the manuscript and it is likely that she commissioned this high quality manuscript of the Collected Tantras of the Ancients in her teacher’s honour after he passed away.