The Treasury of Knowledge by Kongtrul

Jamgön Kongtrul. The Treasury of Knowledge. Kalu Rinpoche Translation Group. Book One: Myriad Worlds. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion, 1995, 2003. Hardcover, 301 pp. Book Five: Buddhist Ethics. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion, 1995, 2003. Hardcover, 564 pp. Book Six, Part 4: Systems of Buddhist Tantra. Ithaca, N.Y.: Snow Lion, 2005. Hardcover, 554 pp.

The nineteenth-century Tibetan Buddhist adept and scholar Jamgön Kongtrul (1813–1899) achieved fame not only as a learned and saintly champion of the nonsectarian ( rimé) movement within Tibetan Buddhism but also as a savant of encyclopedic knowledge. His 10-volume Treasury of Knowledge is reckoned among the greatest works to be produced in Tibet. It was at the instigation of the Kagyu master Kalu Rinpoche (1905–1989) that his scholarly students began the massive undertaking of translating Jamgön Kongtrul’s work into English.

Kalu Rinpoche asked for the rendering to be faithful to the original, literal, and at the same time accessible. While the Tibetan language does not always permit a literal translation and accuracy can be achieved only to the extent that the subject matter is fully comprehended, the translators can be said to have strived hard to make their rendition accessible. The translation represents the combined effort, under the able guidance of Bokar Rinpoche, of a number of translators and expert consultants, and therefore can claim to be as accurate as one can hope for in the case of a difficult and highly condensed text such as The Treasury of Knowledge.

Myriad Worlds, the opening volume of this multi-volume series, provides a suitable context for what is to follow. It focuses on the cosmological models of Hinayana, Mahayana, Kalacakra and Dzog-chen. Jamgön Kongtrul’s discussion of the structure of space and time furnished him with an opportunity to also introduce basic concepts of the Buddhist path, and his systematic treatment makes otherwise complicated notions very accessible.

Book Five, the second volume to be issued in the projected series, is widely regarded as the core of The Treasury of Knowledge. It focuses on the comprehensive ethics of Tibetan Buddhism organized into four chapters: the qualities of a spiritual teacher and student; the vows of personal liberation (the Hinayana perspective); the vows of liberating all beings (the Mahayana perspective), and the vows of “Secret Mantra” (the Vajrayana or Tantric perspective). Both the Tibetan original and the English translation are exemplary in their lucidity, which makes Jamgön Kongtrul’s work an incredible resource for all serious students of Tibetan Buddhism.

The third volume, issued in 2005, constitutes only the fourth chapter of Book Six of The Treasury of Knowledge, in which Jamgön Kongtrul discusses the nature of Tantra and its diverse levels and systems. Included is a treatment of the nature of body and mind, the causal (karmic) continuum, initiation, the path, and its results. Jamgön Kongtrul also addresses types of Tantric scriptures and methods for interpreting them.

All three volumes published thus far include competent and helpful introductions and notes, which will prove valuable tools at various levels of study. Both the translation committee and Snow Lion Publications deserve high praise for the work done up till now.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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