Mongolia, the Tangut country, and the solitudes of northern Tibet/Volume 1/The Gandjur or Kanjur: the Sacred Literature of Tibet


P. 211.

The collection of sacred books—the Tibetan Bible, is entitled Kanjur, i.e. Translation of the Word (of Buddha). It was translated entirely from Sanskrit originals in the eighth and ninth centuries, when the canon was closed. It consists of 100 volumes, in some editions extending to 108 vols.—oblong folios of separate leaves, 400-700 in each volume, unbound, placed between two rough boards, and fastened with a rude strap and buckle. The Kanjur contains not less than 1083 distinct works, which relate to the teachings of Buddha, and which were set down by three of his disciples, and after certain revisions formed into the present codex. It is divided into seven parts, each containing several volumes.

In addition to this great compilation—the Bible of the Lama hierarchy,—the Tibetans possess a still greater collection, called the Tanjur, i.e. Translation of Doctrine, in 225 folio volumes. This, however, is not included in the canon. It may be looked upon as a body of divinity, ethics, philosophy, grammar, logic, rhetoric, poetry, prosody, medicine, and alchemy, for the information of the Lamas. It probably corresponds to the Atthakathas of the Southern Buddhists, the Singhalese, Burmese, and Siamese—but the Tanjur is much more extensive. It consists of two divisions, printed in the rudest manner in some editions, but some beautiful manuscripts exist of parts of each. The value differs according to the ink with which the manuscript is produced; a copy in red is 108 times more precious and efficacious than one in black; in silver, 108 times more availing than one in red; in gold, 108 times more effectual than in silver.

The Kanjur is found in many editions not only issued from Peking, Lhassa, Teshu Lumpo, Kunbum, and other sacred cities, but also from the presses in various monasteries.

The Tanjur is very rarely met with. It appears to have been printed for the first time in 1728-1746. Foucaux says that the collection was in existence in the beginning of the seventeenth century.

An ordinary copy of the Kanjur cost a few years ago, in Peking, 150l. The edition of the Emperor, Kien-long, was valued at 2,000 ounces of silver (600l.). M. Vassilieff paid for a copy of the Tanjur at Peking only 700 silver roubles (100l.). The Buriat tribe obtained a copy of the Kanjur for 7,000 oxen, and copies of the Kanjur and Tanjur together for 12,000 silver roubles. Complete copies of both these works are deposited in the Library of the India Office, having been given to the late Hon. East India Company by their agent, the resident in Nepaul, Mr. Brian H. Hodgson, to whom the Grand Lama presented them in appreciation of Mr. Hodgson's tolerant spirit and manner of treating with the Tibetan Buddhists.[1]

  1. See 'The Phœnix,' vol. i. p. 10, an article by the editor, the Rev. J. Summers; from which I have summarised the above particulars.—M.