The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems - Introduction

A Tibetan Study of Asian Religious Thought


696 pages, 6 x 9 inches


ISBN 9780861714643

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The Crystal Mirror: An Excellent Explanation Showing the Sources and Assertions of All Philosophical Systems was completed in 1802, shortly before the death of its author, the third Thuken hutuqtu, or incarnate lama, Losang Chökyi Nyima (1737–1802). Ever since its publication it has, in the words of E. Gene Smith, been considered “one of the most important sources for the study of the comparative philosophical schools of India, Tibet, China, and the Mongol world.” In roughly five hundred folio sides, Thuken discusses the development and structure of religious philosophy in India; in the Tibetan traditions of Nyingma, Kadam, Kagyü, Shijé, Sakya, Jonang, several minor traditions, Geluk, and Bön; in Buddhist and non-Buddhist Chinese settings; and in such inner Asian areas as Mongolia, Khotan, and Shambhala. In numerous cases involving Tibetan orders, he also summarizes the strengths and weaknesses of the tradition under consideration. Thuken’s scope is not just broad but uniquely so among Tibetan treatises.

Among Tibetan scholars, A. I. Vostrikov observes, the Crystal Mirror “enjoys great and fully deserved fame…as the first attempt at expounding not only the history but also the system of views of various philosophical and religious streams of Tibet and neighboring countries.” It has been utilized by members of Thuken’s Geluk order as a textbook for studying traditions other than their own, but it also seems to have been known, and perhaps even appreciated, by members of other orders, notably the Nyingma. Originally published early in the nineteenth century as part of his collected works by Thuken’s home monastery of Gönlung Jampa Ling in Amdo, the Crystal Mirror was issued in subsequent editions in Dergé, Ulan Bator (then Urga), and Lhasa, where it forms part of the famous Shöl edition of Thuken’s writings. In 1969, through the efforts of E. Gene Smith, the Shöl edition was photocopied and bound in large-book format in Delhi by Ṅawang Gelek Demo, making it accessible for the first time to scholars in universities outside the Indo-Tibetan world. In 1984, the Kan su’u mi rigs dpe skrun khang in Lanzhou, in China’s Gansu province, published a different edition of the Crystal Mirror in standard book format, thereby increasing its availability still further. In 2007, the Institute of Tibetan Classics published a new, heavily annotated, book-format critical edition, prepared in Sarnath, that should serve as the standard text for the forseeable future.

The Crystal Mirror has enjoyed equal or even greater celebrity among non-Tibetan scholars. Its existence was first noted in 1855 by the Russian Tibetanist, V. P. Vasili’ev, and subsequent Russian scholars discussed it as well, including B. Ya. Vladimirotsov and, in his great Tibetan Historical Literature, A. I. Vostrikov. The first attempt at translating any of the Crystal Mirror was made in the early 1880s by Sarat Chandra Das, who published, in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, English versions, sometimes partial, sometimes complete, and generally unreliable, of the Nyingma, Bön, China, and Mongolia chapters. In the twentieth century, Western-language translations appeared of the whole or large parts of the chapters on Bön, Jonang, Kadam, India, and China. Chinese and Japanese scholars, such as Li An-che and Tachikawa Musashi employed the Crystal Mirror overtly or indirectly for English-language reports on the Nyingma, Kagyü, and Sakya, and they and others have utilized it in scholarship published in their own languages, as well. In 1985, Liu Liqian published a Chinese translation of the entire text.

Why has the Crystal Mirror gained such renown? A cynic might point out that as an authoritative text on religious philosophies for the most powerful of the Tibetan orders, the Geluk, the Crystal Mirror became a work that members of other Tibetan traditions could ill afford to ignore, and that Geluk lamas could foist on foreign scholars who sought a grand Tibetan summation of a range of Tibetan and other Asian religious systems. There is undoubtedly some truth to this contention, but it overlooks at least two important qualities of the Crystal Mirror that do set it apart from much that Tibetans have written about their own and other religious traditions. The first, already suggested in the quote from Vostrikov above, is that the Crystal Mirror transcends the usual limits of historical and philosophical literature in Tibet, putting it into a genre of which it is one of the few exemplars, particularly in the age in which it was written. The second is that numerous scholars, Tibetan and non-Tibetan alike, have been impressed, in Matthew Kapstein’s words, with Thuken’s “relative impartiality…despite the fact that he was no doubt limited with respect to his sources for schools other than the Dge lugs pa.” Whether or not this is so, the Crystal Mirror does stand as one of the crowning achievements of premodern Tibetan historical and philosophical scholarship. It tells us much about the world in which it was written, and stands as excellent evidence that it is not only Westerners who have attempted to write with “relative impartiality” on the full range of religious and philosophical traditions found in the world known to them.

Thuken’s Times, Life, and Works

It is unsurprising that a work as wide ranging as the Crystal Mirror should have been composed by someone like Thuken, for he was as cosmopolitan as an eighteenth-century Tibetan could be: Mongol by heritage, Geluk Tibetan by education, hailing from the cultural and religious melting pot of Amdo, and equally at home in a central Tibetan monastery, on the steppes of Mongolia, or at the Qing court in Beijing.

The central Tibetan world during Thuken’s lifetime (1737–1802) saw the end of the reign of the Seventh Dalai Lama (1708–57) and most of that of the Eighth (1758–1804), though much of the real power was wielded by lay nobles or monk-regents, and the Panchen Lamas of Tashi Lhünpo served as an important counterweight. Chinese officials or armies occasionally intervened in Tibetan affairs, most notably to repel a Gurkha invasion from Nepal in 1792, but for the most part central Tibet was self-governing. This, however, was not Thuken’s world; rather, as a native of Amdo, he passed most of life under the influence of the Manchu imperium of the great Qianlong emperor, whose lengthy reign (1736–95) coincided almost exactly with Thuken’s lifetime. The Qianlong was perhaps the last great emperor of China, exercising either direct power or significant influence over a vast area that, to the west, included inner and outer Mongolia, eastern Turkestan, and much of the Tibetan cultural region. In the northwest, as had been the case for centuries, the greatest threat to imperial Chinese power came from various Mongol tribes. Most of these were affiliated with the dominant Geluk order of Tibetan Buddhism, and many became deeply involved in Tibetan politics. It was concerns about the balance of power among Mongol tribes that led the Chinese to intervene militarily in central Tibet in 1720 and establish a loose protectorate over the region.

The Qianlong emperor strongly supported Tibetan Buddhism, especially of the Geluk variety, and frequently hosted Geluk lamas in Beijing, most prominently the Mongolian incarnate Changkya Rölpai Dorjé (1717–86). No doubt the emperor had genuine spiritual interests, but his support for Tibetan Buddhism was also motivated by his need to use ethnically Mongolian Geluk lamas as intermediaries between the empire and its Mongol subjects, as well as by the Manchus’ desire to receive legitimation for their rule over the Chinese from a non-Han religious ideology (though they did cultivate Confucianism, as well). The crucible for these complex interactions among Manchus, Chinese, Mongols, and Tibetans was Amdo, especially the region around Lake Kokonor, where a number of great Geluk monasteries had been established.

It was in this part of Amdo that Losang Chökyi Nyima was born in 1737, in the Phüntsok Lungpa valley of the Porö Langdru region (now in the Chinese province of Gansu). He was identified at an early age as the third incarnation of the Mongolian Thuken line. His two predecessors—Losang Rapten (d. 1679) and Ngawang Chökyi Gyatso (1680–1736) hailed from villages in Amdo in what is now Qinghai province, and centered their activities at Gönlung Jampa Ling, one of the numerous important Geluk monasteries in the Kokonor region. They maintained close connections with Geluk monasteries in central Tibet and with other northeastern incarnation lineages, including the Jamyang Shepa, Changkya, and Sumpa. The second Thuken, Ngawang Chökyi Gyatso, had spent time at the court of the Kangxi emperor (r. 1661–1722) in Beijing and was the main teacher of Changkya Rölpai Dorjé, who would in turn become the root guru of his successor, Losang Chökyi Nyima.

Thuken Losang Chökyi Nyima entered Gönlung Monastery at the age of five and received the second Thuken’s novice vows at thirteen from Changkya Rölpai Dorjé, with Sumpa Khenpo Yeshé Paljor (1704–88) also in attendance. He was a star pupil at Gönlung, and in 1755, when he was eighteen, he was sent to Gomang College of Drepung Monastery, near Lhasa, to study with the second Jamyang Shepa incarnate, Könchok Jikmé Wangpo (1728–91), and other accomplished masters, including the Third Panchen Lama, Losang Palden Yeshé (1738–81). At Gomang, as at any major Geluk center, he would have been exposed to the classical monastic curriculum, which focused on study of five basic subjects: Abhidharma (based on Vasubandhu’s Treasury of Higher Knowledge), valid cognition (based on Dharmakīrti’s Thorough Exposition of Valid Cognition), Madhyamaka (based on Candrakīrti’s Entering the Middle Way), the perfection of wisdom (based on Maitreya’s Ornament of Higher Realization), and vinaya (based on Guṇaprabha’s Vinaya Sutra). These topics were mastered through immersion in the relevant Indian and Tibetan texts, attendance at discourses by scholar-monks, debate in the monastic courtyard, and, for the most astute, composition of one’s own works. Thuken would have been exposed not just to literature on the basic subjects but also to other important texts in the Geluk canon, including such classics as Tsongkhapa’s Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, and various works on the worldly sciences, tantric ritual and meditation, history and biography, and the analysis of philosophical systems. Of the last-mentioned genre, the work that undoubtedly influenced Thuken most was the Great Treatise on the Establishment of Philosophical Systems, published in 1747 by his main teacher, Changkya Rölpai Dorjé, which is cited multiple times in the Crystal Mirror and serves as a bulwark of Thuken’s world view.

When he completed his studies at Gomang in 1759, Thuken was made abbot of the famed Shalu Monastery in Tsang, and in 1761 he returned to Amdo to lead his home monastery, Gönlung. Two years later, at the bidding of the Qianlong emperor, he journeyed to Beijing. He visited Changkya Rölpai Dorjé, who was in residence there, and was received with full honors by the emperor, who even, it is said, “presented him his own robes, which contained one hundred and eight dragons worked in gold, together with a hundred thousand crowns of silver.” As he found the Beijing climate unhealthy, Thuken received permission in 1768 to return to Gönlung, traveling there by way of Mongolia, but was called back to Beijing in 1771. He traveled widely for the next twelve years, living variously in the Chinese capital, the nearby border region of Jehol, or at Gönlung, where he occasionally acted as abbot. In the last decades of the century, he remained mostly in Amdo, serving as abbot of Jakhyung Monastery from 1789 to 1793, teaching at Kumbum Monastery, and eventually returning to Gönlung, where he died in 1802. By the time of his death, he was acknowledged as perhaps the greatest Amdo lama of his time, visited, celebrated, and rewarded by monks, potentates, and ordinary people, whether Chinese, Mongolian, or Tibetan.

Although he was far from being the most prolific Geluk scholar of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Thuken amassed an impressive list of publications during his peripatetic life. His collected works amount to 5,746 folios, enough to fill ten large volumes in the book-format edition of his opus published in India. He is credited with well over 250 individual texts, many quite short, but some, especially those on history or philosophy, covering dozens or even hundreds of folios. As is typical of most great Tibetan Buddhist masters, Thuken devoted the majority of his works to tantric ritual. He wrote over fifty texts related to Hayagrīva, around twenty about Vajrayoginī, and lesser numbers on such deities as Tārā, Mañjuśrī, Avalokiteśvara, Vajrabhairava, Kālacakra, and a host of wrathful protectors. He also contributed works on tormas, stupas, and astronomy, and on a such practices as Chö meditation, a method to benefit beings at the time of death, and the fasting ritual of Avalokiteśvara. His nontantric works include biographies of his predecessor, the second Thuken incarnate, and of his main teacher, Changkya Rölpai Dorjé; chronicles of Gönlung and other monasteries; listings of monastic ordinances; surveys of temple images; numerous narrative, propitiatory, and panegyric works in ornate poetic style; and last but not least, the Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems.

How the Crystal Mirror Was Composed

We know just a little of the composition of the Crystal Mirror, from Thuken’s colophon to the text and the writings of his main disciple, Gungthang Könchok Tenpai Drönmé (1762–1823), who after his master’s death would edit Thuken’s collected writings and compose many important works of his own. Around 1799, Gungthangpa and a number of Thuken’s disciples at Gönlung Monastery requested that he write the work. Thuken mentions that when he was about halfway done, he was urged to complete it by his disciple Ngawang Mipham Dawa. Though in declining health, Thuken pushed through to finish the Crystal Mirror because of his disciple’s request and the kindness of his lamas. He dates the completion of the text to mid-January 1802, which means that he worked on it for approximately three years, a very fast pace for a work of the Crystal Mirror’s length and complexity. Thuken admits that the completed text had not been thoroughly edited, noting, “The corrections I made were rough; since I could not make them in detail, it is possible that some mistakes still remain, and they should be amended.” Within the year, Thuken was dead, and the corrections, so far as we know, never were made, so that the Crystal Mirror as we have it is probably a first draft.

How was it drafted? In the colophon, Thuken specifies that (like countless Tibetan texts), the Crystal Mirror was put into manuscript form not by himself, but by scribes, of whom he names three, all monks at Gönlung Monastery. In the manner of many great Tibetan historical and philosophical works, the Crystal Mirror reflects its author’s considerable erudition and draws freely on a range of sources already at his disposal, both with and without attribution, footnoting in the Western academic style being unknown to premodern Tibetan scholars. A full investigation of Thuken’s sources remains to be undertaken, but it is clear that at least some portions of the text are lifted directly, or in paraphrase, from earlier authors. The portions of the India chapter dealing with Buddhist history, for instance, draw frequently from Butön’s Dharma History and Changkya Rölpai Dorjé’s Great Treatise on the Establishment of Philosophical Systems. The chapter on the Nyingma tradition is drawn in part from Gö Lotsāwa’s Blue Annals. The chapter on Kagyü is partially drawn from treatises on Mahāmudrā by Khedrup Norsang Gyatso and the First Panchen Lama, both Gelukpas. The chapter on Sakya draws in part from a work by the Sakya author Mangthö Ludrup Gyatso, while the Shijé chapter draws largely from the Blue Annals. The chapter on Bön draws primarily from a Bön work called the Ornament of Sunlight in the Breach in the Citadel of Secret Mantra and from texts critical of Bön by Drigung and Geluk authors. The chapters on China draw in part from the work of his teacher Sumpa Khenpo, and even more so from the account of Chinese religion by the great Mongolian historian, Gönpo Kyap. With or without credit, Thuken did draw on a remarkable range of genres, including Indian sutras, tantras, and treatises; Tibetan histories of China, Mongolia, or Tibet; earlier Tibetan texts on philosophical systems and subjects; polemical treatises; expositions of tantra; biographies; letters; panegyric verses; songs of spiritual experience; and meditation manuals. If the Crystal Mirror’s mode of composition was like that of other major Tibetan texts, then we can imagine Thuken consulting the works available to him at Gönlung and drawing on others from memory, stitching them into his own grand narrative, which was dictated to his monk-scribes when time and health permitted.

Beyond the immediate circle of disciples who requested its composition, Thuken’s target audience for the Crystal Mirror probably consisted mainly of scholar-monks and literate lay officials in the Tibetan cultural sphere, since, as a Tibetan text, it could be understood by precious few Chinese or Mongolians. That it would eventually be translated into Chinese, not to mention English, Thuken could not have foreseen.

Why the Crystal Mirror Was Composed

Exactly why Thuken’s disciples asked him to write the Crystal Mirror, and why he agreed, is not spelled out in detail, but at least three possibilities may be considered:

1. As a study of religious history. Certainly, as a lama well educated and well traveled within the Tibetan, Mongol, and Chinese worlds of the eighteenth century, Thuken had a great deal of experience and wisdom to impart, and his disciples might simply have wanted to have available a single, reliable description of the cultural, historical, and religious cosmos in which they lived.

2. As an attempt to assess religious systems. Thuken himself suggests in his poetic preface to the book that he will expound the philosophical systems of India, China, and Tibet so as to help beings toward liberation by dispelling the narrow, deluded partiality felt by so many toward their own tradition, whatever it might be. He returns to this theme in his conclusion but there adds that his exposition, if read carefully by an intelligent reader, will lead inevitably to the recognition that the acme of Buddhist systems is that of “Losang the conqueror,” that is the Geluk tradition of Tsongkhapa Losang Drakpa (1357–1419). So, Thuken may have written with the intent to encourage an ecumenical spirit or to promote the Geluk, or both.

3. As a tool of Chinese imperial policy. A historically minded outside observer might suggest that as a text concerned not just with Indian and Tibetan traditions, but also those of China and Mongolia, the Crystal Mirror may also contain political motives and ramifications. Perhaps Thuken sought not just to justify Geluk dominance in the Tibetan Buddhist world but also to legitimize Chinese hegemony over Tibet.

I now briefly address each of these three suggestions, which, it should be noted, are not mutually exclusive.

1. The suggestion that the Crystal Mirror was composed primarily as a source of information about the religious and cultural world in which Thuken and his disciples lived raises the question of just how reliable the text is as a historical source. As we have seen, the text was compiled in some haste near the very end of Thuken’s life and was never significantly revised. Thuken does draw on an impressive variety of sources, and this allows him to paint a broad, fairly well-documented portrait of the various traditions with which he is concerned. Nevertheless, the Crystal Mirror’s historical reliability is compromised by at least four considerations.

First, whatever the considerable resources at his disposal, Thuken inevitably had better information about some traditions than others, limited perhaps by the libraries at the Amdo Geluk monasteries he frequented. Not surprisingly, his sections on the Kadam and Geluk are the best documented, for these are the traditions in which a Geluk lama would have the most thorough education. At the other extreme are traditions like Shijé, Bön, and Daoism, for which he had to rely almost entirely on hearsay and the writings of others for his accounts. In describing most other systems, he seems to have drawn on the material that happened to be available to him, and put together an account as best he could, but he was still handicapped by not having access to all, or even the best, sources on such schools as the Nyingma, Kagyü, and Sakya, or to the full range of Tibetan historical literature.

Second, even in cases where Thuken provides ample documentation, he does not seem overly concerned to investigate critically the sources that he cites. Admittedly, there are a few instances in which he questions a particular writer’s account of an event, or the attribution of a text to a particular author. For the most part, however, rather than attempt to arrive at the most plausible historical account of a given event by weighing all possible sources, he seems intent on laying out a coherent narrative by piecing together whatever textual or legendary material will most help him in the process. This is not unusual in Tibetan historical writing, but Thuken seems in general to display a less critical approach to his sources than a number of his predecessors, like Gö Lotsāwa Shönu Pal, the Fifth Dalai Lama, and Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa. Even if the Crystal Mirror does not measure up to the standards of modern critical historiography, or even to the best Tibetan historical writing, it still stands as an ambitious, clearly structured, and generally coherent attempt to take in a vast historical panorama in a fairly concise manner.

Third, it is worth recalling that the approach to history favored by Tibetans in general and certainly by Thuken in the Crystal Mirror is, in the words of Kurtis Schaeffer, “overwhelmingly biographical, and thus encourages us to look to individual actors as the prime movers of historical change.” Like the “great man” view of history often attributed to Thomas Carlyle in a European context, the Tibetan approach involves the construction of historical narrative through a succession of biographies of eminent individuals. Certainly, such an approach is understandable in Tibet, where lineage is an important religious and political marker, but it does skew historical accounts toward the deeds (especially the religious deeds) of great personages, and away from political, economic, social, or psychological considerations; in short, toward individual history and away from institutional history. This approach has its place on the spectrum of approaches to history, but it does have limitations, particularly in a modern historiographic setting.

Fourth, the Crystal Mirror was written at a very particular time in history, when Geluk power, supported by the Qing dynasty, was near its apogee, and many other traditions found themselves in relatively straitened circumstances. The early nineteenth century, after Thuken’s death, saw the dawning of the transsectarian Rimé movement, which dramatically altered the fortunes of many of the sects on which Thuken commented. The Karma Kagyü, Nyingma, and Sakya, which Thuken viewed as in decline, underwent significant revivals in the nineteenth century that have continued to the present day. Conversely, the nineteenth century was not a particularly vibrant one for Gelukpas, in part no doubt because of the decline of Manchu power. It would be interesting to know how Thuken would have presented the various traditions had he written his history in 1902 rather than 1802.

2. As we have seen, Thuken emphasizes in both the preface and conclusion of the Crystal Mirror that he is attempting to provide an impartial and evenhanded account of the various philosophical systems within his purview. On the other hand, we also have seen that he believes that an impartial consideration of the full range of philosophical systems leads inescapably to the conclusion that only the Geluk captures completely the comprehensiveness, profundity, and clarity of the teaching of the Buddha. Is Thuken, then, an ecumenically spirited religious pluralist or an unabashed Geluk triumphalist? Unsurprisingly, there is no simple answer.

If we leave aside his chapters on Indian, Chinese, Mongolian, and other inner Asian traditions (the last two of which are more historical than evaluative) and survey the way Thuken represents the Tibetan traditions that were at the core of his religious world, we find that the overall spectrum of judgments is quite broad. It ranges from the negative extreme of the Jonang, which is roundly condemned and refuted in extraordinary detail, to the positive extreme of the Geluk, which is treated for the most part uncritically and, indeed, explicitly exalted above all other traditions. We may roughly arrange the other Tibetan traditions considered by Thuken between these two poles. Closer to the positive pole, we find the Kadam, which is, of course, seen by Gelukpas as their school’s own direct precursor, and the Sakya, which while acknowledged by Thuken to reflect various philosophical strands, including Cittamātra and both Prāsaṅgika and Svātantrika Madhyamaka, is presented descriptively and sympathetically, without any attempt to expose philosophical error. Closer to the negative pole, we find Bön, of which Thuken admittedly knows little, and which he presents primarily through verbatim quotations from works on it by its Buddhist critics, who are especially keen to point out the ways in which “transformed Bön” supposedly consists almost entirely of paraphrased Buddhist texts, ideas, and practices. Somewhere in between, we find the Nyingma, Kagyü, and Shijé, which Thuken regards as rooted in pure views and practices but prone in their latter-day forms to errors that their irreproachable founders would not have countenanced. Typical in this regard is his analysis of earlier and later Shijé: “Because the view that is taught is free of extremes, I think it is coextensive with the Madhyamaka view. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that, in the writings of later generations, there often is an admixture of fish and turnips.”

These characterizations are broad and must be qualified by the observation that Thuken’s judgments, both positive and negative, are at least partially mitigated in nearly every case. Even the schools most roundly criticized, Jonang and Bön, are acknowledged in passing for, respectively, their transmission of Kālacakra traditions and their appeal to laypeople. Although Thuken does criticize later developments within such “in-between” traditions as Nyingma, Kagyü, and Shijé, he also acknowledges their pure origins and defends their fundamental teachings against attacks, including those by fellow Gelukpas. By the same token, he is careful to note that, having demonstrated the distinctiveness of the Geluk, he does not mean to imply thereby that liberation is impossible through other traditions. If such were the case, he states, it would follow that no philosophy other than Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka and no method besides highest yoga tantra would lead to liberation, and countless masters who did not employ that view or method would not have been truly enlightened. This is a claim that any number of Gelukpas would have made (and some still do), but Thuken rejects it, saying that, apart from the Jonang, “there does not appear to be even a single system fit for consistent denigration, so those who desire their own welfare should see all of them as pervaded by pure appearance.”

Where does this leave Thuken? As is so often the case, it probably depends on where you stand. Jonangpas and Bönpos undoubtedly will feel that Thuken has merely caricatured their traditions and shown virtually no understanding of their subtleties. Nyingmapas and Kagyüpas may well consider Thuken’s celebration of their founders while he criticizes latter-day practitioners as damning with faint praise, since few adherents of any tradition in any era will admit that their lineage has been corrupted or misinterpreted. Nyingmapas, Kagyüpas, and Sakyapas are likely to take issue with Thuken’s implication that their great founders all were Prāsaṅgika Mādhyamikas. And members of virtually any non-Geluk tradition that was extant in 1800 are likely to find Thuken’s account of their decadence during his era misleading and inaccurate. A Geluk triumphalist, on the other hand, may believe that Thuken has conceded far too much spiritual efficacy to other traditions, arguing that such a concession opens the door to a dangerous relativism that threatens to obliterate the great work of Tsongkhapa in presenting Buddhist tradition with unprecedented and inimitable clarity. On balance, if we consider the range of attitudes toward religions not one’s own that has been articulated in the West, it probably is safe to characterize Thuken’s outlook as falling neither to the extreme of relativistic pluralism, nor to the opposite extreme of triumphalist exclusivism, but under the rubric of inclusivism, which asserts the ultimate supremacy of one’s own tradition but admits that salvation may be achieved through other traditions as well.

3. Summarizing Thuken’s place in the world and its relation to his inclusivism, Matthew Kapstein writes:

He was one of a generation of clergymen from Amdo whose spiritual loyalties were unmistakably Gelukpa, but who allied themselves politically with the Qing court. The worldview of these churchmen bore a strange resemblance to that of medieval Latin Christendom, with the Manchus filling the role of Imperial Rome and the Gelukpa hierarchy that of the Catholic Church. These were not the products of a denomination under fire but rather represented the synthesis of a peerless salvific vehicle with a universal temporal order. Not personally threatened by the Central Tibetan feuds, they could afford to regard the situation there only with equanimous compassion. Their intellectual curiosity could be given free rein to explore their own and other traditions impartially.

Quite apart from suggesting a context for Thuken’s relative impartiality, this passage raises important questions about the political motivations and implications of his work. As with the question of impartiality, there is a spectrum of possible arguments to be made.

On the one hand, it could be argued that Thuken is fundamentally unconcerned with politics and merely seeks to represent the range of traditions known to him, with an eye cast primarily on questions of philosophical view and religious practice, as they may or may not bear upon spiritual liberation. A modern critical theorist, however, would remind us that there is no nonpolitical writing, especially when it comes to history and religion; only writing that is overt or covert about its political agenda and implications. Furthermore, Thuken gives explicit attention not just to matters of philosophy and religion, but also to the political histories of the various schools, and goes into great detail on Geluk relations with the Mongol and Chinese empires. Thus, the Crystal Mirror was not only written from amid Thuken’s political and historical situation, but it also displays knowledge of and interest in that situation. In that sense, it has an explicitly political dimension.

Why does Thuken focus on politics as much as he does? It might be maintained that, to the degree that the text is a Geluk tract, its primary political motivation is to demonstrate to a Tibetan-literate audience that the Geluk has enjoyed the patronage of the greatest East Asian empires of both the past and present, and therefore is distinctive not only in religious terms, but in terms of its patronage and worldly power—always for Buddhists a sign of good institutional karma. Thuken’s particular emphasis on Geluk relations with the Qing dynasty, however, leads to the question whether he might have sought not only to legitimize Geluk religious and political supremacy in Tibet on the basis of its endorsement by the Chinese emperor, but perhaps even, consciously or unconsciously, to promote Qing imperialism. In this view, the Crystal Mirror and other historical works that deal with SinoTibetan relations turn out, whatever their authors’ purported aims, to serve the interests of those in the Chinese court who would incorporate Tibet into a greater China, since any text that established the spiritual and political supremacy of the Geluk within Tibet and at the same time acknowledged Geluk dependence on the patronage of the empire could be seen by extension as validating imperial claims over Tibet.

It certainly is possible that this has been an unintended consequence of the Crystal Mirror and other Tibetan works that dealt with Tibetan-Qing relations. That Thuken self-consciously intended to promote Qing claims over Tibet to his audience, however, is far from evident. Whatever his private views, he never mentions, let alone justifies, those claims in the text. The likelier conclusion, it appears, is that while the Crystal Mirror was written within an imperial context, and may be interpreted as an imperial document, its primary political aim was not the promotion of a Chinese agenda but that of the Geluk, and even there, as we have seen, there is room for qualification.

The Genre of the Crystal Mirror

According to its title, the Crystal Mirror is a drumtha (grub mtha’) text, hence part of the genre of Tibetan literature variously translated as “doxography,” “religious philosophy,” “tenet systems,” “philosophical systems,” “schools of thought,” “philosophical schools,” “philosophical positions,” and so forth. Even a superficial examination of its contents, however, makes it clear that while the Crystal Mirror does present and analyze the views of various schools in a manner suggestive of other drumtha texts, it differs from them in three important respects. First, whereas drumtha texts tend to keep their focus largely on matters of doctrine, each chapter of the Crystal Mirror includes not just philosophical and doctrinal material but significant discussions of the historical development of the tradition or traditions to which the chapter is devoted. Second, whereas drumtha texts usually proceed from “lower” to “higher” schools of thought, the Crystal Mirror, as Gene Smith notes, “seem[s] to have been arranged more by historical than typological considerations,” moving as it does, like Buddhism itself, from India to Tibet, China, and inner Asia, and generally proceeding within its major sections and individual chapters from earlier to later developments, with the Bön chapter occupying a sort of categorical bardo between Tibetan Buddhist and Chinese traditions. Third, whereas most drumtha texts concern themselves primarily with Indian schools of thought, the Crystal Mirror makes a systematic attempt to present and analyze non-Indian traditions, such as those of Tibet, China, and Mongolia. Thus, if the Crystal Mirror is a drumtha text, it is a rather unusual one.

Though the question of its actual genre has been little discussed, it is interesting to note the range of views among those who have sought to define it as more than mere drumtha. Thus, Vostrikov includes it in his chapter on religious histories (chos ’byung), while the website of the Tibetan Buddhist Research Center lists it as both drumtha and logyü (lo rgyus), the latter generally being translated as “history,” “chronicle,” or “narrative.” It may simply be a combination of all three, and, indeed, it is in the combination of genres that the Crystal Mirror’s originality lies. Certainly, Indian traditions had been analyzed both historically and doctrinally by previous Tibetan writers, including two of Thuken’s teachers who were masters of traditional drumtha, Changkya Rölpai Dorjé and Könchok Jikmé Wangpo. Another teacher of his, Sumpa Khenpo, wrote the massive Excellent Wish-Fulfilling Tree, an institutional history of Buddhism in India, Tibet, China, and Mongolia, which also includes some strong polemics against the non-Geluk Tibetan schools but does not examine doctrinal matters as systematically as a drumtha text generally does. Thus, the genius of the Crystal Mirror lies not so much in its creation of a new genre as in the way it brings together intellectual approaches seldom found in Tibet in the same work. In this sense, Vostrikov was quite right to claim that the Crystal Mirror has “a special place among the Tibetan historical works of analytical type,” and one cannot, in the end, really improve on his plain description of it as a “historico-philosophical work.”

As already noted, the very existence of a text like the Crystal Mirror demonstrates that the idea of “comparative religion” is not a solely Western invention. Indeed, it might be argued that the Western notion of what is involved in the study of religion ought to be expanded to include comparative works from outside the West. That notwithstanding, it is worth examining briefly how the Crystal Mirror might stand as a study of comparative religion, given prevailing Western assumptions about how to compare. Could it serve as a textbook for learning about the religions of India, Tibet, China, and Inner Asia, or is it simply a historical curiosity, an intriguing and erudite, but ultimately quaint, example of premodern approaches to studying religion?

The Crystal Mirror clearly is not a text on comparative religion in the modern secular academic style, since it is at least partially concerned with evaluation of the traditions examined, and does on occasion explicitly promote a sectarian agenda. In that sense, whatever the degree of Thuken’s impartiality, his text has too much of a normative element to match the contemporary ideal of a “straightforward” text on comparative religion, which seeks, as neutrally as possible, to describe and explain a range of traditions, leaving aside all attempts at evaluation, or perhaps articulating a respect for all traditions equally.

If we look instead to religious literature about religions, that is, “theological” works that seek to describe multiple religions from within one particular tradition, we might initially consider the Crystal Mirror as an example of heresiography. This genre, of which many instances were produced (and still are) in the Christian and Muslim worlds, often provides considerable information, some of it accurate, about a range of religious traditions, usually within, but sometimes outside, one’s own church or community. It does so, however, in the ultimate service of exposing these traditions as heretical. Heresiography is related, but not identical to, apologetics, the branch of theological writing that seeks to defend the tenets of one’s faith against the views and critiques of those outside the tradition. While the Crystal Mirror may have its triumphalist sections, it does not appear that its primary intent is to expose the faults in other traditions and exalt Thuken’s, so it does not quite fit the definition of heresiography or apologetics.

What is it, then? Perhaps the closest Western parallel may be found in Christian texts, first written as early as the sixteenth century, and appearing with ever-greater frequency since, that attempt to give accounts of a range of what came to be called “world religions.” These texts often claim to be dispassionate in their approach to the various religions, but their descriptions usually are colored by a strong concern for establishing points of comparison with Christianity, and by an assumption, either implicit or explicit, that the world religions, while containing much that is of value, probably fall short of Christianity as fully adequate responses to the human condition. There is actually a significant range within this literature, from works that overtly place other traditions on a par with Christianity but then describe elements common to all traditions that turn out to have their roots in some form of Christianity, to works that analyze the world religions as covert forms of Christianity, practiced by “anonymous Christians” who reflect core Christian values—and may in fact be inspired by God—but express those values through cultural forms that are not obviously Christian. In any case, Thuken’s theologically inclusivist account of the traditions of his day, in which relatively impartial description and analysis is conducted with the framework of the assumed distinctiveness of the Geluk, would seem to qualify the Crystal Mirror as an Asian example of a sectarian world religions text.

A General Outline of the Text

On the most general level, Thuken divides the Crystal Mirror into five sections, on: I. Indian schools, II. Tibetan schools, III. Chinese schools, IV. schools in “other lands” (the central Asian areas of Mongolia, Khotan, and Shambhala), and V. a conclusion. The sections on India and “other lands,” as well as the conclusion, consist of a single chapter each. The section on Tibet is subdivided into chapters on: Nyingma, Kadam, Kagyü, Shijé, Sakya, Jonang and minor traditions, Geluk, and Bön. The section on China is divided into chapters on non-Buddhist traditions and Buddhist traditions. Within each individual chapter, Thuken generally proceeds in the following order: (1) the historical origins of the tradition, including major lineages and important persons; (2) the major doctrines and practices of the tradition, with a particular emphasis on philosophical views and meditative practices; (3) a critical analysis of issues raised by the tradition’s views and practices; and (4) a poetic summary of Thuken’s views of the tradition. Though roughly accurate, this characterization of Thuken’s chapters belies the considerable range of approaches that he actually takes in relation to both presenting and analyzing the doctrinal positions of the different traditions.

For example, it appears that only three of the chapters, those on Nyingma, Kagyü, and Jonang, are explicitly organized in the manner just outlined, though this does not mean that the concerns we have emphasized do not find their way into most of Thuken’s chapters. Moreover, whatever his rubrics, Thuken does not subject every tradition’s doctrines to the same degree of critical scrutiny. His judgments—pro, con, or mixed—are presented quite clearly (though in varying detail) in the cases of the Indian, Nyingma, Kagyü, Shijé, Jonang, and Geluk traditions, but rather less obviously when it comes to Kadam, Sakya, and Bön, as well as Chinese and central Asian schools. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that Thuken generally approaches each tradition by presenting history, doctrines and practices, some analysis, and a poetic conclusion. In the remainder of this introduction, I briefly summarize the contents of each of Thuken’s chapters.

Summary of the Chapters

Thuken’s preface (not numbered by Thuken; chapter 1 of the translation) is a poetic celebration of the Buddha; various bodhisattvas; Indian masters of sutra and tantra; great Tibetan kings, translators, and masters; and, most especially, Atiśa, Tsongkhapa, the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, and Thuken’s own gurus. It also expresses Thuken’s wish to compose the text so as to clear away the blind partiality with which so many Tibetans cling to their traditions as the only true one.

The lengthy discussion of Indian schools (Thuken’s section I; our chapter 2) is structured along the lines of a traditional Tibetan text on philosophical systems. It is divided into a brief section on non-Buddhist traditions—which includes discussions of the materialist, Jain, and various Hindu schools, as well as an explanation of why we must study these systems—and a much longer section on Buddhist schools. This begins with a discussion of the historical development of the four major philosophical schools—Vaibhāṣika, Sautrāntika, Cittamātra, and Madhyamaka—followed by a summary of the positions of each of the four schools. In summarizing these positions, Thuken spends little time on matters of cosmology, valid cognition, or path theory, focusing primarily on the ways in which each school defines the coarse and subtle selflessness that must be realized by practitioners, and, like any good Buddhist, avoids extreme positions. He also spends considerable time establishing the subtle, but important, differences between Svātantrika and Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka. In this sense, Thuken’s treatment of Indian philosophical systems, especially the Buddhist, touches on some vital ontological issues but is far from a complete account and must be read in conjunction with fuller discussions by scholars of earlier generations, like Jamyang Shepa, Könchok Jikmé Wangpo, and especially his main teacher, Changkya Rölpai Dorjé.

Thuken begins his section on Tibetan traditions with a brief overview of the history of Buddhism in Tibet (his section IIA, our chapter 3). This includes summaries of the “early spread of the Dharma” in Tibet during the imperial period (seventh–ninth centuries) and of the early years of the “later spread of the Dharma,” sometimes referred to as the “Tibetan renaissance” (tenth–eleventh centuries).

The first of Thuken’s chapters on specific Tibetan traditions (his section IIB1, our chapter 4) covers the “old” tradition, the Nyingma. He summarizes the major differences between “old” (rnying ma) and “new” (gsar ma) translation traditions, then discusses the early history of Nyingma, beginning with the career of Padmasambhava, and detailing both the nine-vehicle system for organizing Buddhism and the lineages of oral tradition, treasure texts, and pure vision. In his discussion of Nyingma doctrines and practices, he focuses mostly on the philosophical view and meditative practices of the Dzokchen lineage. He then investigates criticisms by new-translation authors that Nyingma is “impure” and concludes that while some more recent practitioners may have lost the tradition, the earlier Nyingmapas and their teachings were pure. He ends the chapter with a summary of political problems faced by the Nyingmapas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and laments their current decadence.

Thuken next turns (his section IIB2, our chapter 5) to the Kadam tradition. He spends most of the earlier part of the chapter extolling the greatness of Atiśa—summarizing his activity in helping restore pure Dharma to central Tibet—and the deeds of his disciples and grand-disciples, including Dromtönpa and the various “Kadam geshés,” such as Potowa and Chekawa. He goes on to give a general explanation of the Kadam teaching—their central texts and the lineages of instruction and special instruction—which deals primarily with the establishment of the Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka philosophical view and the quintessential Kadam practice of mind training (blo sbyong). He does not subject these teachings to critical scrutiny other than to praise them. He concludes by summarizing the great qualities of the Kadam masters.

At over fifty folios, the chapter on the Kagyü tradition (Thuken’s section IIB3, our chapter 6) is the longest on any Tibetan school other than the Geluk. Thuken begins by discussing the etymology of the name and the general history of the order, then gives historical accounts of the two major Kagyü lineages as he understood them: the Shangpa and the Dakpo. He describes the development of each of the subschools of the Dakpo: the Karma, Phakdru, Shangtsal, Drigung, Drukpa, Taklung, Barom, Yasang, and Trophu. His section on doctrine focuses on analyzing the philosophical view of the earliest Kagyü masters (concluding that it is Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka), discussing critically later Kagyü meditations on “seeking the mind,” and describing early Kagyü analyses of Mahāmudrā. In the overtly analytical section, Thuken defends Kagyü Mahāmudrā traditions against charges that they distort Indian tradition and entail quietism, investigates the philosophical view involved in the four yogas of Mahāmudrā meditation, and considers whether Geluk and Kagyü come down to the same point (he argues that they do).

The considerably briefer discussion of the Shijé tradition (Thuken’s section IIB4, our chapter 7) investigates the meaning of the term shijé (zhi byed), then describes the major figures in the school’s development (especially Phadampa Sangyé and Machik Lapdrön) and the divisions and subdivisions of the major Shijé instruction lineages. Thuken then describes the way in which the Shijé lineage is rooted in the Indian perfection of wisdom literature and helps instill the Madhyamaka view, though he notes that this pure tradition was lost in later generations. He concludes the chapter with a brief discussion of the lineage, view, and practice traditions of the Chö (gcod) subschool of Shijé.

Thuken’s chapter on Sakya (his section IIB5, our chapter 8) gives a general history of the Sakya order, with special focus on the great masters of the Khön family line, from Khön Könchok Gyalpo through Sakya Pandita and Phakpa. He summarizes the tradition of sutra exposition then turns to the tantric exposition lineages of Ngor, Dzong, and Tsar. After a brief review of current conditions among the Sakyapa (only relatively healthy, he finds), Thuken discusses the history of the “principal Sakya Dharma,” the Lamdré (“path and fruit”), and defends it against charges of nihilism. He then presents, in some detail, the viewpoint of the Sakya tradition, including esoteric sutra-vehicle instructions for achieving right view according to lineages rooted in Nāgārjuna and Maitreya, and mantra-vehicle instructions on “identifying the mind,” then meditating on how appearances are mind, mind is illusory, and illusions are not inherently existent. As with the Kadam tradition, Thuken has virtually nothing critical to say about the Sakyapas, though he does note the presence of a mixture of Cittamātra and Madhyamaka in certain expositions of their philosophical views and meditative practices.

The chapter on the Jonang school (Thuken’s IIB6, our chapter 9) summarizes the history of the tradition, with a special focus on Yumo Mikyö Dorjé and Dölpopa. Thuken explains how the former misconstrued certain meditative experiences and distilled them into the confused philosophical view known as “extrinsic emptiness” (gzhan stong). That view then is refuted in remarkable detail, as Thuken argues, in turn, that Jonang descriptions of ultimate reality are virtually indistinguishable from those of Hindus, and that Jonang interpretations of such Indian Buddhist classics as the Descent to Laṅka Sutra and the works of Nāgārjuna are sorely mistaken. Thuken goes on to summarize some Tibetan criticisms of the Jonangpas and gives a brief cautionary biography of Shākya Chokden, a latter-day proponent of extrinsic emptiness who, Thuken claims, repented his views on his deathbed. There follows a brief chapter (Thuken’s section IIB7, but folded into our chapter 9) on some minor or syncretic Tibetan philosophical systems, including the Bodong, the Shalu system of Butön Rinchen Drup, and the Lhodrak system of Namkha Gyaltsen.

By far the longest chapter in the Crystal Mirror is that on Thuken’s own tradition, the Geluk (his section IIB8, our chapters 10–12), which covers nearly one third of the text. The first part of the chapter (our chapter 10) is an extensive (sixty-plus folios) biography of the founder of the Geluk tradition, Tsongkhapa. It includes detailed discussions of his studies of sutra-based and tantric ethics, philosophy, and meditation with a multitude of masters; his inner realizations and visionary encounters with the wisdom bodhisattva Mañjughoṣa; his teaching through oral exposition, debate, and composing texts; and his uniquely exalted status among Tibetan masters.

The second part of the Geluk chapter (our chapter 11) focuses on Tsongkhapa’s successors in the order. It enumerates his direct disciples then focuses on the history of the great sutra-based Geluk monastic centers. These include the major monasteries near Lhasa, namely, Ganden, Drepung, and Sera; the seat of the Panchen Lamas, Tashi Lhünpo, in Tsang; centers in the far west; and major sites in Kham and Thuken’s home region of Amdo. Thuken then turns to tantra-centered traditions, detailing the life of Tsongkhapa’s disciple Sherap Sengé, the development of the Sé and Mé lineages, and the founding of the two great tantric monasteries, Gyütö and Gyümé. He also discusses the Ensa ear-whispered lineage—a special transmission within the Geluk that includes teachings on guru yoga and Mahāmudrā—and the history of the Dalai and Panchen Lamas.

The third part of the Geluk chapter (our chapter 12) is an argument for the Geluk’s status as the greatest of Tibetan traditions. Thuken attempts to show the Geluk’s distinctiveness on the basis of its uniquely harmonious synthesis of all the Buddha’s teachings; its uniquely lucid and subtle presentation of the Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka view; its balanced appreciation for the place of meditation on the path and the balance within meditation between tranquility and insight; its scrupulous insistence on maintaining pure vows, whether of a monk, bodhisattva, or tantric yogin; and its sophisticated interpretation of tantric texts and the theories and practices expounded in them. Thuken concludes the chapter by noting that the Geluk not only comprises the entirety of Indian Buddhism but also contains the best of the other Tibetan schools. Of these, he concedes at the very end, all (except the Jonang) contain the basis for achieving enlightenment.

In his short chapter on Bön (his section IID, our chapter 13), Thuken summarizes the history of the three major traditions of Bön: emergent Bön, deviant Bön, and transformed Bön, then discusses the cosmology, metaphysics, rituals, and meditative practices found in the tradition, noting as well some aspects of its monastic organization. He links Bön views and meditations with those of the Nyingma Dzokchen tradition, and makes a point of showing how Bön “transformed,” or imitated Buddhist texts and ideas. In his verse conclusion, Thuken observes that despite their apparent contradiction, Buddhism and Bön have to some degree intermingled, and he observes the irony that many Buddhists seek out Bön specialists for help with worldly problems.

Thuken’s third major section (covering around fifty folios) discusses Chinese philosophical systems in two separate chapters. That on non-Buddhist traditions (his sections IIIA–B, our chapter 14) focuses primarily on Confucianism (“the Ru system”) and Daoism (“the Bön system”), with considerably more attention given to the former. The discussion of Confucianism mentions the great figures and texts in the tradition, devotes some attention to divination practices related to the Yijing (Classic of Changes), and expounds in considerable detail Confucian cosmogony, cosmology, metaphysics, soteriology, and ethics. He compares Confucianism to Buddhism, and though he finds Confucian ethics admirable, he faults the tradition, especially in its later, anti-Buddhist phase, for excessive worldliness. The discussion of Daoism, of which Thuken confesses great ignorance, briefly covers the legend of Laozi (a.k.a. Lao tzu or Lao Tse), who he identifies with Shenrap Miwo, the founder of Bön, and whose views he likens to those of certain Hindu schools. The section also surveys Daoist metaphysics, rituals, institutions, and meditative practices and concludes that it is unlikely that Daoist practices lead to enlightenment. In the last section of the chapter, Thuken briefly discusses minor systems, such as a short-lived Brahmanical school and the Islamic tradition of the Uyghurs; he also makes an oblique reference to Christianity.

The second chapter on China (Thuken’s section IIIC, our chapter 15) covers Buddhist traditions. It discusses how Buddhism came to China from India and focuses on the exemplary figures, ideas, and practices of what Thuken considers the major Chinese lineages: the vinaya lineage (or Lu school), the secret mantra lineage (Chenyen), the lineage of extensive practice (the Yogācāra tradition of Xuanzang), the lineage of profound view (Tiantai and Huayan), and the lineage of essential meaning (Chan). Interestingly, the Pure Land school receives no mention. Chan is discussed in considerable detail, with a special focus on the life of Bodhidharma; in the end, Thuken likens Chan to the Mahāmudrā traditions of the Kagyü school and suggests that the eighth-century Chan master Heshang Mahāyāna, so notorious in Tibetan lore, did not understand his own tradition. Near the end of the chapter, Thuken briefly discusses the influence of Tibetan traditions in China, touching briefly on Sakya relations with the Yuan dynasty and quite extensively on Geluk relations with various Qing emperors, emphasizing the honors bestowed upon various Geluk masters by their imperial patrons.

The chapter on “philosophical systems in other lands” (Thuken’s section IV, our chapter 16) focuses on three parts of central Asia: Mongolia, Khotan, and Shambhala. The section on Mongolia is almost entirely historical, dealing in turn with the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, when Tibetans (especially such Sakya luminaries as Sakya Pandita and Phakpa) first established preceptor-patron relations with Mongols and the Yuan dynasty and began to influence Mongol culture, and with the later period (sixteenth– eighteenth centuries), in which the Gelukpas spread Buddhism far and wide among the Mongols and received Mongol patronage and military assistance—it was a Mongol prince who invented the title “Dalai Lama,” and it was Mongol armies that assured the Fifth Dalai Lama’s control of central Tibet. An extremely brief section on Buddhism in Khotan is followed by a somewhat longer discussion of the Dharma’s spread to Shambhala. Though the existence of Shambhala is given little credence by modern historians, Thuken treats it as a real, if vaguely located, place, and discusses the geography, royal line, and Buddhist history of the kingdom (especially as related to the Kālacakra tantra) as well as prophecies regarding Shambhala’s role in a future war in defense of the Dharma against Muslim “barbarians.”

Thuken’s conclusion (his section V, our chapter 17) is largely written in ornate metered verse. With great metaphorical élan, he celebrates the founding of Buddhism in India, its spread to Tibet and other lands, and the importance of understanding the systems of all cultures, both non-Buddhist and Buddhist, so as to overcome narrow partisanship. This will lead, he says, to recognizing the supremacy of Tsongkhapa’s tradition and the practice of his unique synthesis of the path. Finally, Thuken dedicates whatever merit there may be in his work and pronounces benediction on the world, practitioners of Buddhism, and the Geluk tradition. The final section is the colophon, explaining briefly how the text came to be written.

Whatever its historical reliability, whatever its degree of impartiality, whatever its political agenda and implications, and whatever its genre in either a Tibetan or a Western setting, Thuken’s Crystal Mirror stands as an impressive testament to its author’s deep curiosity and breadth of interest about the religious world in which he lived. Even if imperfectly, it succeeds in its titular claim to hold up a mirror: to the ideas and practices of a range of Asian religions, to the values of the time and place in which it was written, and to a way of thinking about religion and philosophy that, while not quite modern, is far from out of date.


How to cite this document:
© Institute of Tibetan Classics, The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems (Wisdom Publications, 2009)

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