The Sun and the Moon over Kathmandu: the witness of the Buddhist translators’ Endeavor through day and Night

-Sukanya Charoenwerakul, TTP student from Thailand

Kathmandu (Sanskrit: kāṣṭhamaṇḍapa, Pali: kaṭṭhamaṇḍapa “the wooden pavilion”) is a sacred place suffused with the atmosphere of well-learned scholars and accomplished practitioners since the ancient times up to the present, including lotsawas (Tibetan Buddhist translators) who, in order to maintain the buddha dharma and establish all sentient beings in the state of Buddhahood, took the extremely difficult path from Tibet to study here and willingly endured various kinds of hardships even if it cost their lives. Through their immeasurable kindness and blessings, we now have a chance to meet the precious Buddha dharma. It is such a blessing for me to be able to follow their footsteps here, make the aspirations exactly as they have made, and breathe in their warm breath that remained over centuries to circulate through all my veins so that I would become inseparable from them. 

Seeing the sun and the moon over Kathmandu valley every day and night reminds me of Nyi ma’i mdo “Sūtra of the sun” (Derge Kangyur, volume 34, 282a-282b) and Zla ba’i mdo “Sūtra of the moon” (Derge Kangyur, volume 34, 282b-283a), also appearing in the collection of protective texts (gzungs bsdus). These two sūtras are in the group of thirteen sūtras translated into Tibetan in the first decade of 14th century by the renowned Tibetan translator Nyima Gyaltsen Pal Zangpo (Wylie: Nyi ma rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po) aka Tharpa lotsawa “The translator of Thar pa gling monastery”, who studied in Nepal for 14 years and a Sri Lankan monk Ānanda śrī.  

In my article Nyi ma’i mdo and Zla ba’i mdo with Suriya Paritta and Canda Paritta: A comparative study, a part of my doctoral thesis, published in Journal of Buddhist Studies Chulalongkorn University, the major finding is that these two sūtras in Derge Kangyur volume 34 share a lot of similarities with Suriya-sutta (the sūtra of the sun) and Candima-sutta (the sūtra of the moon), the corresponding sūtras in Pāli Tipiṭaka, in terms of structure and content. However, the nearest corresponding versions in Pāli language are not the Tipiṭaka itself, but they are parittas (the protective texts in Pāli) called Suriya-paritta-pāṭha and Canda-paritta-pāṭha in Catubhāṇavāra, a Sri Lankan compilation of the Pāli parittas which derived from Tipiṭaka. Morever, they show significant differences to the corresponding Zla ba’i mdo (Derge Kangyur, volume 72, 259b-260a) which highly probably translated from the (Mūla)sarvāstivādin tradition. Therefore, it is highly probable that these two sūtras were directly translated from the Pāli parittas in the Catubhāṇavāra compilation. It has delighted my heart to see that these two sutras in both Pāli and Tibetan versions are still chanted as protective texts nowadays and are the fruitful effort of the precious translators in bringing these beautiful sūtras in Pāli tradition to Tibet, the land of snow. 

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