Mirror of Beryl - Preface

A Historical Introduction to Tibetan Medicine

General Editor’s Preface

It is a joy and a source of deep satisfaction to see the publication in English today of Mirror of Beryl, an important classic of Tibetan literature composed by the prolific seventeenth-century author Desi Sangyé Gyatso. A historical work outlining the various strands in the development of Tibet’s rich system of medical science, profiling the major figures and texts, the book also contains a detailed commentary on the three sets of Buddhist vows and a discussion of the ideal relationship between master physician and disciple. This book is one of three key works composed by Desi on the Tibetan medical system, the other two being the two-volume exposition of the four medical tantras entitled Blue Beryl, and A Sword to Cut the Noose of Untimely Death, an important work on diagnosis and treatment methods. From a literary-historical point of view, one of the greatest values of Mirror of Beryl is its meticulous recording and citing of numerous important works on medicine, many of which are no longer extant.

Among Tibet’s great classical authors, Desi’s position is unique. Though not a monk, he was groomed by the Great Fifth Dalai Lama from an early age, and he acquired in this way an impressive intellectual and cultural education—eclectic in its breadth and steeped in the love of poetry and literature that was a hallmark of the Great Fifth. Taking over rule of Tibet as regent following the Great Fifth’s death, Desi saw through the construction of the monumental reliquary of his predecessor inside the Potala Palace, penned the conclusion of the Great Fifth’s acclaimed autobiography, Silken Robe, and more importantly, took charge of discovering and bringing up of the Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso. The fates of these two figures—the loyal regent and the young incarnation of his mentor—would become intertwined in a profound tragedy involving the unfortunate death of both. Often the full extent of Desi’s contribution to Tibet’s rich intellectual heritage is not appreciated. So to see Desi’s Mirror of Beryl featured in The Library of Tibetan Classics is, for me at least, a source of special satisfaction.

Two primary objectives have driven the creation and development of The Library of Tibetan Classics. The first aim is to help revitalize the appreciation and the study of the Tibetan classical heritage within Tibetan-speaking communities worldwide. The younger generation in particular struggle with the tension between traditional Tibetan culture and the realities of modern consumerism. To this end, efforts have been made to develop a comprehensive yet manageable body of texts, one that features the works of Tibet’s best-known authors and covers the gamut of classical Tibetan knowledge. The second objective of The Library of Tibetan Classics is to help make these texts part of global literary and intellectual heritage. In this regard, we have tried to make the English translation reader-friendly and, as much as possible, keep the body of the text free of scholarly apparatus, which can intimidate general readers. For specialists who wish to compare the translation with the Tibetan original, page references of the critical edition of the Tibetan text are provided in brackets.

The texts in this thirty-two-volume series span more than a millennium— from the development of the Tibetan script in the seventh century to the first part of the twentieth century, when Tibetan society and culture first encountered industrial modernity. The volumes are thematically organized and cover many of the categories of classical Tibetan knowledge—from the teachings specific to each Tibetan school to the classical works on philosophy, psychology, and phenomenology. The first category includes teachings of the Kadam, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyü, Geluk, and Jonang schools, of miscellaneous Buddhist lineages, and of the Bön school. The texts in these volumes have been selected largely by senior lineage holders of the individual schools. Texts in the other categories have been selected primarily in recognition of the historical reality of the individual disciplines. For example, in the field of epistemology, works from the Sakya and Geluk schools have been selected, while the volume on buddha nature features the writings of Butön Rinchen Drup and various Kagyü masters. Where fields are of more common interest, such as the three codes of conduct or the bodhisattva ideal, efforts have been made to present the perspectives of all four major schools. The Library of Tibetan Classics can function as a comprehensive library of the Tibetan literary heritage for libraries, educational and cultural institutions, and interested individuals.

I offer my deep gratitude first and foremost to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for always being such a shining exemplar and an advocate of Tibet’s great classical heritage. I thank the translator of this volume, Gavin Kilty, for doing such a magnificent job in making this important work accessible to the modern reader. In Gavin I have found a real comrade, someone who is always ready to take on the most arduous of the translation projects from The Library of Tibetan Classics and then proceeds with remarkable efficiency and success. I owe heartfelt thanks to David Kittelstrom of Wisdom Publications for being, as usual, a most incisive editor; to the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, for providing full access to its library to my Tibetan colleagues who created the critical edition of the Tibetan text; and to my wife, Sophie Boyer-Langri, for taking on the numerous administrative chores that are part of such a collaborative project. Finally, I express my heartfelt thanks to Curt and Alice Jones, who most generously provided the funding for this translation project, the Ing Foundation for its grant for publishing this volume, and to the Hershey Family Foundation for its longstanding support of the Institute of Tibetan Classics, without which The Library of Tibetan Classics series simply would not have become a reality.

It is my sincere hope that the publication of this volume will benefit many and that it will provide a valuable resource to help people better understand and appreciate the richness of Tibet’s classical intellectual and spiritual heritage. May the efforts of all those who have been part of this endeavor help alleviate the sufferings of all beings; may they especially help us humans become wiser so that we may make this world a more caring and a more peaceful place for all.

Thupten Jinpa
Montreal, 2009

 

How to cite this document:
© Institute of Tibetan Classics, Mirror of Beryl (Wisdom Publications, 2010)

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