I didn’t come across any references to the Sāṃmitīyas in Vanaratna’s rnam thars or related materials. In a conversation reported in Śākya mchog ldan’s rnam thar, Vanaratna tells the adolescent Śākya mchog ldan that he was ordained as a Sarvāstivādin, and gZhon nu dpal identifies this as the vinaya lineage he received at the Mahācaitya Vihāra in Sadnagara. Given the time period I think we can safely assume this means the Mūlasarvāstivādin. That said, there are traces of Pāli and Theravaṃsa influences in Vanaratna’s early narrative (heavily obscured by the Tibetan biographers, if not Vanaratna himself), so I suspect the situation was much more complex than the rnam thars let on.
Vanaratna is reported to have received a broad Mahāyāna-Vajrayāna education in Sadnagara before leaving home for his life of epic travel, but whether the extent of his education described in the rnam thars marks a deliberate attempt to bolster his credentials for his Tibetan audience (or by his Tibetan audience) is a question I address but don’t fully resolve. It does seem that a Mahayāna-Vajrayāna education was still available in the region at the turn of the fifteenth century, but the quality and extent of it is uncertain.
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Thank you, Matthew, Peter and Ryan, for your suggestions. The geographic web site is quite addictive and a useful resource! Thanks for that.
Ryan, your pointers are also helpful. Do you have any indications that others in that region also identified as Sāṃmitīyas? In addition to saying his parents were brahmins (suggesting a brahmanic upbringing which might be why his Sanskrit was so impressive), he also says of himself:
[As for my] knowledge (yon tan), [I] am practiced in Madhyamaka and Pramāṇa. I know by heart the commentaries [made] by Devendrabuddhi and Śākyabuddhi on Dharmakīırti's Pramāṇavārttika. In addition, I am well versed in the commentaries on Prajñākaragupta, Dharmottara, and Yamāri…
[My translation from Caumanns’s German translation]
[Was meine] Kenntnisse (yon tan) [angeht, so] bin [ich] im Madhyamaka und im Pramāṇa geübt. Die Kommentare, [die] Devendrabuddhi und Śākyabuddhi zu Dharmakīırtis Pramāṇavārttika [verfassten], kenne ich auswendig. Darüber hinaus bin ich auch bewandert in den Kommentaren des Prajñākaragupta, des Dharmottara und des Yamāri.
It’s as if, while being a Sāṃmitīya, he is offering a cv touting his expertise in the doctrinal qualities (yon tan = guṇas) desired and in demand at that time from possible Tibetan patrons.