P. 1
Buddhism and Empire the Political and Religious Culture of Early Tibet Brill 039 s Tibetan Studies Library v 22

Buddhism and Empire the Political and Religious Culture of Early Tibet Brill 039 s Tibetan Studies Library v 22

|Views: 169|Likes:
Empire and Politics, JIATS
Empire and Politics, JIATS

More info:

Published by: theinfamousgentleman on Apr 28, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less

01/25/2015

pdf

text

original

Sections

Buddhism and Empire

Brill’s
Tibetan Studies
Library

Edited by

Henk Blezer
Alex McKay
Charles Ramble

VOLUME 22

Buddhism and Empire

Te Political and Religious Culture of Early Tibet

By

Michael L. Walter

LEIDEN • BOSTON
2009

Tis book is printed on acid-free paper.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Walter, Michael L.

Te political and religious culture of early Tibet / by Michael L. Walter.
p. cm. — (Brill’s Tibetan studies library ; 22)
Includes bilbiographical references and index.
ISBN 978-90-04-17584-6 (hardback : alk. paper) 1. Buddhism—China—Tibet—
History. 2. Buddhism and state—China—Tibet—History. I. Title. II. Series.

BQ7580.W35 2009
294. 30951’5—dc22

2009012415

ISSN 1568-6183
ISBN 978 90 04 17584 6

Copyright 2009 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, Te Netherlands.
Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Hotei Publishing,
IDC Publishers, Martinus Nijhof Publishers and VSP.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission
from the publisher.

Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by
Koninklijke Brill NV provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to
Te Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910,
Danvers, MA 01923, USA.
Fees are subject to change.

printed in the netherlands

I dedicate this work to the memory
of my teacher, counselor, and good friend
Larry William Moses
1935–2008

CONTENTS

Acknowledgements ............................................................................. ix
Abbreviations for Frequently-Cited Works ................................... xi
Introduction ......................................................................................... xvii
Prologue on Old Tibetan ................................................................... xxi

Chapter One Religion and politics in Tibet’s imperial
government, and the place of Buddhism therein ..................... 1
Politics and publication ................................................................. 1
Buddhism and society ................................................................... 4
Oaths and oathing .......................................................................... 10
Anti-Buddhist attitudes ................................................................. 13
Court religion .................................................................................. 14
Te mythology of rule ................................................................... 18
Te noble clans ............................................................................... 24
Tibet’s military culture and the comitatus ................................. 26
Te Tibetan court in context ........................................................ 30
Conclusions ..................................................................................... 36
Methodological observations ........................................................ 37
Endnotes .......................................................................................... 38

Chapter Two Sku, bla, lha, etc.: Te language and phraseology
of early Tibetan politics and religion .......................................... 75
Language, ethnicity, and the Sino-Tibetan ‘Teory’ ................ 75
Tibet’s honorifc language ............................................................. 86
sku ..................................................................................................... 92
sku bla .............................................................................................. 97
bla, bla ma ....................................................................................... 106
lha ..................................................................................................... 110
A brief excursus on the concepts lha chos and myi chos ............. 123
Conclusions ..................................................................................... 130
Methodological observations ........................................................ 131
Endnotes .......................................................................................... 132

Chapter Tree Rituals in the Imperium and later:
Continuity in the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism ........................ 165
rim gro, sku rim .............................................................................. 166

viii

contents

Oathing rites, cup rites .................................................................. 174
Rites dealing with the founding of Bsam-yas ............................ 186
Confession rites .............................................................................. 189
Te Bon tradition ........................................................................... 191
Conclusions ..................................................................................... 195
Methodological observations ........................................................ 196
Endnotes .......................................................................................... 197

Chapter Four Te intersection of religion and politics ............ 215
Why Avalokiteśvara? ..................................................................... 215
Gtsug lag ........................................................................................... 225
A ‘mountain cult’ in the Imperium, and afer? ......................... 230
Cakravartins in Tibet ..................................................................... 240
Btsan po and Rgyal po ................................................................... 245
Nongs ................................................................................................ 250
Conclusions ..................................................................................... 254
Methodological observations ........................................................ 257
Endnotes .......................................................................................... 259

Appendix One Te religio-political signifcance of gold .......... 287
Appendix Two A brief excursus on Bon ..................................... 293
Select bibliography ............................................................................ 297
Index ................................................................................................... 307

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Even before I became engaged in this work, I was fortunate to have good
friends with whom I engaged in stimulating conversations and from
whom I was constantly learning. It is no exaggeration to say that this
work would not be what it is without that good council and support.
Te result of the intellectual processes which this book represents
has been deeply informed by my friend and colleague, Christopher
Beckwith. His numerous researches on the early life and language of
the Tibetan peoples and their place in Central Eurasian culture have
motivated me to consider their implications for the study of Tibet’s
early religious life. Trough our countless conversations over many
cups of cofee I became ever more deeply impressed by the soundness
of his views, which time and again helped me make sense of the special
nature of Tibetan culture during its Imperial period.
Te general approach of my work, looking for the values of religion
as embedded in political culture, was greatly infuenced by the research
of another good friend and colleague, the late Larry Moses, likewise a
Professor in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies (retired) at
Indiana University. For years he sought such connections in the Secret
History of the Mongols, and much of his career has been spent in the
study of the relationship between Buddhism and politics among the
Mongolian peoples. He has kindly provided me with many insights
gained through years of work on this subject.
I also owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Christoph Cüppers, Director
of the Lumbini International Research Institute, Lumbini, Nepal. Our
conversations there inspired me to include a modest amount of material
from later Tibetan government practice. His work on this little-studied
and difcult subject is a pioneering efort which will beneft our under-
standing of the relationship between Buddhism and politics greatly.
In addition to pointing out similarities with older Tibetan beliefs and
practices, he generously provided me with much useful material which
I have utilized in Chapter Tree.
Te opportunity to pursue this work to its conclusion has been the
result of the uncommon patience and support of my wife, Tanaka
Junko. I cannot do justice with words for the support she has given
me for this work. When we frst met I told her, “I’m working on a
book”. Tis is it.

ABBREVIATIONS FOR FREQUENTLY-CITED WORKS

AEMA

Archivum Eurasiae medii aevi

AFL

Ancient folk-literature from north-eastern Tibet /
introductions, texts, translations and notes [by]
F.W. Tomas. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1957.

Annals

I.e., PT1288, IO750, and BM8212. Te incomplete,
year-by-year record of the ofcial acts of the btsan-
pos. Tey are given in order in volume two of the
CDT.

AOC

Acta orientalia Copenhagen

AOH

Acta orientalia hungarica

BAI

Bulletin of the Asia Institute

BEFEO

Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême Orient

BKA’ CHEMS

Byang-chub Rgyal-mtshan, Ta’i Si-tu. Ta Si Byang
Chub Rgyal Mtshan gyi bka’ chems Mthong ba don
ldan bzhugs so. Xining: Bod Ljongs Mi-dmangs
Dpe-skrun-khang, 1989.
BKA’ YANG DAG Bka’ yang dag pa’i tshad ma las mdo btus pa.
Attributed to Khri Srong Lde Btsan. Beijing Btsan-
’gyur (Suzuki edition), Toyko, 1955, vol. 144,
#5839. Citations are to page, column and line.

BOD KYI

Bod kyi rdo ring yi ge dang dril bu’i kha byang.
Pe-cin: Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang, 1984.

BRDA DKROL

Btsan Lha Ngag-dbang Tshul-khrims. Brda dkrol
gser gyi me long. Pe-cin: Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang,
1996.

BU CHOS

’Brom Ston-pa Rgyal-ba’i-‘byung-gnas kyi skyes
rabs Bka’ Gdams Bu chos le’u nyi shu ba bzhugs so.
Xining: Mtsho Sngon Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang,
1993.

BUDDHAGUHYA
(attributed)

Bod rje ’bangs la brdzangs pa’i ’phrin yig AKA
Rje ’bangs dang Bod btsun rnams springs pa’i la
spring yig. Beijing Bstan-’gyur, Suzuki ed. #5693.
Also published in Legs rtsom snying bsdus. Pe-cin:
Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang, 1991, pp. 135–145.
Page citations follow the 1991 edition.

xii

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

BUSHELL

“Te early history of Tibet, from Chinese sources”.
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 1880.435–541.

CDT

Choix de documents tibétains conservès à la Biblio-
thèque nationale; complété par quelques manuscrits
de l’India Ofce et du British Museum / présentés par
Ariane Spanien et Yoshiro Imaeda. Paris: Bibliothèque
nationale, 1978–1980.

Chronicle

According to document PT1287 in CDT and the
romanized text and translation in DTH.
DPA’-BO.1962 Dpa’-bo Gtsug-lag ’Phreng-ba. Dam pa’i chos kyi
’khor lo bsgyur ba rnams kyi byung ba gsal bar byed
pa Mkhas pa’i dga’ ston. Published as: Mkhas-pa.hi-
dga.h-ston of Dpa.h-bo-gtsug-lag / [reproduced] by
Lokesh Chandra. New Delhi, 1962. Reproduction of
a xylograph version of this standard historical work
which may have been carved during the author’s
life.
DPA’-BO.1985 Dpa’-bo Gtsug-lag ’Phreng-ba. Dam pa’i chos kyi
’khor lo bsgyur ba rnams kyi byung ba gsal bar byed
pa Mkhas pa’i dga’ ston. Pe-cin: Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-
khang, 1985. (Citations are from volume one unless
otherwise specifed.) Most passages cited from this
work have been compared with those in the 1962
xylograph reproduction cited above.

DPYID KYI

Ngag-dbang-blo-bzang-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama V,
1617–1682. Gangs-can yul gyi sa la spyod pa’i mtho ris
kyi rgyal blon gtso bor brjod pa’i deb ther Rdzogs ldan
gzhon nu’i dga’ ston Dpyid kyi rgyal mo’i glu dbyangs.
Delhi: 1985.

DTH

Documents de Touen-houang relatifs à l’histoire du
Tibet. Paris: Libraire orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1940.
Includes a romanization and translation of PT1287,
“Te (Old Tibetan) Chronicle” (CHRONICLE), a col-
lection of legends and court traditions from a period
shortly afer the Imperium.
DUNG DKAR Mkhas-dbang Dung Dkar Blo-bzang ’Phrin-las mchog
gis mdzad pa’i Bod rig pa’i tshig mdzod chen mo Shes
bya rab gsal zhes bya ba bzhugs so. Pe-cin: Krung-go’i
Bod Rig-pa Dpe-skrun-khang, 2002.

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

xiii

ESIN

“Te cup rites in Inner-Asian and Turkish art”.

Forschungen zur Kunst Asiens: in memoriam
Kurt Edmann. İstanbul: İstanbul Üniversitesi,
1969, pp. 224–261.
FRANCKE.A.H.1926 Antiquities of Indian Tibet. New Delhi: S. Chand
& Co.

GTAM PHUD

Ngag-dbang-blo-bzang-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama
V, 1617–1682. Sku gsung thugs rten gsar bzhengs
rin po che’i mchod rdzas . . . dkar chag Gtam phud
deb khrims yig gi ’go rgyangs Sde bzhi’i sgo ’phar
phye ba’i skal bzang. Gangtok: Sikkim Research
Institute of Tibetology, 1991, vols. 16–18.

IO

Inventory label for Dunhaung documents
originally housed at the India Ofce Library in
London, now kept at the British Library in the
same city.

ISHIHAMA

Ishihama Yumiko. “On the dissemination of the
belief in the Dalai Lama as a manifestation of
the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara”. Acta asiatica.
64.1993.38–56.

JA

Journal asiatique

JAOS

Journal of the American Oriental Society

JIABS

Journal of the International Association of Bud-
dhist Studies

JTS

I.e., the Jiu tang shu; see XTS

JUVAINI

Juvainī, ‘Alā al-Dīn ‘Aṭa Malik. Genghis Khan:
the history of the World Conqueror, Seattle:
University of Washington Press, 1997.

KVS

Te Karaṇḍavyūhasūtra. Te editions consulted
were those included in the MA .NI BKA’ ’BUM
and the Sde Dge Kanjur. Te Sanskrit verse edi-
tion as published by Aditya Prakashan, Delhi,
1999.
“UNE LECTURE . . .” Ariane MacDonald, “Une lecture des Pelliot
tibétain 1286, 1287, 1038, 1047, et 1290”. Études
tibétaines dédiées à la mémoire de Marcelle
Lalou. Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1971, pp.
190–391.

xiv

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

LI & COBLIN

A study of the Old Tibetan inscriptions. Taipei:
Institute of History and Philology, Academia
sinica, 1987.
MA ṆI BKA’ ’BUM Chos Rgyal Srong Btsan Sgam-po’i Ma ṇi bka’ ’bum
bzhugs so. Xining: [s.n.], 1991.

MAHÂVASTU

Te Mahāvastu / translated from the Buddhist
Sanskrit by J.J. Jones. London: Luzac & Co., 3
vols., 1949–1956.

MDV

Te Madhyavyutpatti. In: Tibeto-Sanskrit lexico-
graphical materials: the Sgra sbyor bam po gñis pa,
the dag yig Za ma tog, and the Dag yig Li śi’i gur
khaṅ. Leh: Basgo Tongspon Publication, 1973.

MPNS

Te Mahayana Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra edited
and translated by Ernst Waldschmidt. For the
edition, see his Das Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra.
Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 3 parts, 1949–1950.
Also referred to here are two studies on special
topics in this work, published in his “Wunder-
kräfe des Buddha. Eine Episode im Sanskrittext
des Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra”. Nachrichten der
Akademie der Wissenschafen zu Göttingen.
1952.48–91 and Die Überlieferung vom Lebensende
des Buddha, part two. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1948 (= Abhandlungen der Akademie
der Wissenschafen in Göttingen. Philologisch-
historische Klasse, Dritte Folge, Nr. 30).

MV

Te Mahāvyutpatti. Te two-volume D.T. Suzuki
edition published in Tokyo as reprinted by the
Suzuki Research Foundation in 1965, with the
originally separately-published index by Sasaki.
Numbers cited here refer to the entry number
in this edition. References to MV/Ishihama are
to the entry numbers of A new critical edition of
the Mahāvyutpatti: Sanskrit-Tibetan-Mongolian
dictionary of Buddhist terminology = ᄅૡ៬儞ټ
ᆠՕႃ. Tokyo: Te Toyo Bunko, 1989.

OTC

Takeuchi, Tsuguhito. Old Tibetan contracts from
Central Asia. Tokyo: Daizo Shuppan, 1995.

OTMET

Old Tibetan manuscripts from East Turkestan in the
Stein Collection of the British Library / compiled by

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

xv

Takeuchi Tsuguhito. Tokyo & London: Te
Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies for
Unesco, Te Toyo Bunko [and] Te British
Library, 1997–1998. Cited by catalogue num-
ber (#) or page.

PT

Inventory label for Dunhuang materials col-
lected by Paul Pelliot kept at the Bibliotheque
nationale. All texts are cited from the Choix
de documents tibétains conservés à la Bib-
liothèque nationale / présentés par Ariane
Spanien et Yoshiro Imaeda. Paris: Bibliothèqu
nationale, 1978–1979. Texts such as PT016,
PT239, etc., are quoted here as they are; “cor-
rected” spellings, etc., are found in some cases
at the opening of the Choix where some texts
have been typeset.

RASHID AD-DIN

Te successors of Genghis Khan / translated
from the Persian of Rashīd al-Dīn (Ṭabīb)
by John Andrew Boyle. New York & London:
Columbia University Press, 1971.

RHR

Revue de l’histoire des religions
RICHARDSON.H.1985 A corpus of early Tibetan inscriptions. London:
Royal Asiatic Society, 1985. (Readings in LI
& COBLIN are generally preferred.)

SBA BZHED.1961

Une chronique ancienne de bSam-yas: sBa-bžed

/ édition du texte tibétain et résumé français
par R.A. Stein. Paris: Institut des Hautes
Études Chinoises, 1961.

SBA BZHED.1982

Sba bzhed ces bya ba las, Sba Gsal Snang gi
bzhed pa bzhugs. Pe-cin: Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-
khang, 1982.

SBA BZHED.2000

dBa’ bzhed: the royal narrative concerning
the bringing of the Buddha’s doctrine to Tibet

/ translation and facsimile edition of the
Tibetan text by Pasang Wangdu and Hilde-
gard Diemberger. Wien: Verlag der Öster-
reichischen Akademie der Wissenschafen,
2000.

SCEAR

Studies in Central and East Asian religions

xvi

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

SECRET HISTORY Mongġol-un niġuca tobciyan. Translated into Eng-
lish with copious notes by Igor de Rachewiltz: Te
Secret History of the Mongols: a Mongolian epic
chronicle of the thirteenth century. Leiden: Brill,
2004. Citations of this translation are by either
the numbered paragraph of the text (¶) or page
number.

TJ

Te Tibet Journal

TLTD

Tibetan literary texts and documents concern-
ing Chinese Turkestan. London: Luzac & Co.,
1935–1963. Quotations are from vol. 2 (“Part II:
Documents”), unless otherwise noted.

TP

T’oung pao
TUN-HONG.1980 Tun-hong nas thon pa’i Bod kyi lo rgyus yig cha =
ཉᅇءٷᘓᖵ׾֮஼. Pe-cin: Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-
khang, 1980.
TUN-HONG.1983 Tun-hong nas thon pa’i gna’ bo’i Bod yig shog
dril / Bsod-nams Skyid dang Dbang Rgyal gyis
phyogs bsgrig dang ’grel bshad byas pa. Pe-cin:
Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang, 1983. (Reprint of
TUN-HONG.1980.)
TUN-HONG.1992 Tun-hong nas thon pa’i Bod kyi lo rgyus yig cha =
ཉᅇءٷᘓᖵ׾֮஼. Pe-cin: Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-
khang, 1992.

WALTER &

Walter, Michael, & C.I. Beckwith, “Some Indo-
BECKWITH.1997 European elements in early Tibetan culture”.
Tibetan studies / edited by Helmut Krasser . . .
(et al.). Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akad-
emie der Wissenschafen, 1997, vol. 2, pp. 1037–
1054.

WZKM

Wiener Zeitschrif für die Kunde des Morgen-
landes

XIYUJI

Si-yu-ki = Buddhist records of the Western world

/ Xuanzang; translated by Samuel Beal. London:
Trubner, 1884.

XTS

Te Xin Tang shu, partial translation from the
posthumous works of P. Pelliot, along with
translations of portions of the JTS/Jiu Tang shu,
in Histoire ancienne du Tibet. Paris: Librairie
d’Amérique et d’Orient, 1961.

INTRODUCTION

Tis is a study of early Tibetan religion. Because we understand a
religion through the culture it lives in, this study is framed in the rela-
tionship between the political, social and religious values of a people.
Anthropologists realize this, which is why we have, in general, learned
much more about Tibetan religion from their eforts than we have from
the work of textologists, whose primary activity has been to interpret
doctrine, and who are ofen only exegetes. Research into authentically
early sources shows that the principal context in which religion func-
tioned during the period of the Tibetans’ entry into history was as part
of their political culture. Tus, we must address this relationship in order
to understand the function and nature of Buddhism in Tibet.
Tibetan religion, and especially Tibetan Buddhism, has been exten-
sively studied. From an early date this activity was the domain of
Indologists, who saw Tibetan translations as a resource for studying
Buddhist texts whose original versions in Indic languages were lost.
Tis involved little need to understand the bases of Tibetan religion,
or the subtle interactions that contacts between Indic and Tibetan reli-
gious concepts would have occasioned. Sinologists, Asian historians,
and, most recently, Buddhist studies specialists have also occasionally
researched the circumstances responsible for the shape Buddhism has
taken in Tibet. Much of their research has been directed to the study
of developments in Tibet that relate to Indian and Chinese religious
traditions. Te over-all focus of these studies has been on doctrinal and
sectarian developments.
Research by social scientists has tended to be complementary to
these interests. Tey have usually centered on the function of religious
traditions on a local level and within Tibet’s social structures. A few
monographs have explored Tibet’s unique politico-religious history,
with the important implications this has for its relations with Nepal
and Central Asia, the Mongols and Manchus. Te methods employed
in these works have been of a diferent order than those of Buddhist
scholars and philologists. Buddhism in Tibet, in its later social and
political contexts, has only occasionally been well studied.
All these approaches have points in common with the study of
religion among other peoples of Central Eurasia. Tose disconnects in

xviii

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

xviii

introduction

data and context which have adversely afected the diachronic study
of religion and politics among many peoples are also found in Tibetan
studies. Most of these are the result of historians, religionists, and social
scientists staking out areas so as to defne the boundaries and nature
of selected phenomena within their purview. For example, historians
ofen describe a ruler or dynasty in simplistic terms, as strictly follow-
ing or favoring this or that religion. Religionists complement this by
ofen defning and then concentrating on ‘traditions’ or ‘-isms’—their
relationship with others, how their followers behave as a unit in fol-
lowing certain doctrines or beliefs, etc.
Tese studies seem to make sense in some areas, especially when
there is a vast written tradition. For example, China has produced a
vast amount of self-referential material, and India also has a wealth
of written sources. It has sometimes seemed easy to draw from them
conclusions about the social and political dimensions of their religious
beliefs. However, peoples who built vast empires in Central Eurasia,
such as the Scythians, Turks, Xiongnu and Mongols, have lef little
detailed evidence for us to understand their religious beliefs on their
own terms. Because of this, in many cases very little progress has been
made in these studies, with many of the same things being said about
these peoples and their beliefs today that were written when Western
scholarship on them began.
Such an approach has also been characteristic of Tibetan studies. Most
eforts to study Tibet’s religious history do not take into account social
and political contexts. (Earlier research ofen was infuenced by Jung,
for example. Ronald Davidson is a scholar who has recently engaged
in presenting a more comprehensive viewpoint.) Likewise, when the
religio-political beliefs of specifc Tibetan times, areas, and leaderships
are examined, it has usually been only on the basis of documents from
one tradition and time. Te search for general patterns and historical
continuities has not been pursued. Tis shows the need for the present
efort to identify some early social and political structures that became
abiding elements in the form that religion, especially Buddhism, has
taken in Tibet.

To begin with, among the most obvious characteristics which defne
Tibetan Buddhism are the power and place of the Bodhisattva
Avalokiteśvara, and the dominant position of monks in society. Closely
related with these is the institution of the sprul sku or ‘incarnate lama’.
How and why did these institutions develop, and what do they tell us

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

xix

introduction

xix

about the relationship between Buddhism and Tibetan culture? Te
power of these beliefs cannot at all be adequately accounted for by look-
ing only at normative Buddhist doctrine or literature. To understand
how these beliefs developed as they did we need to look at the broader
context in which they functioned, and still do function.
Tese characteristics are deeply rooted and resilient. Teir persistence
must rest on a connection with ancient cultural values which have long
determined the place of religion in society. We can demonstrate this if
we can fnd models for these beliefs and the structures around them in
ancient times. Since the Buddhist traditions listed above represent sets
of political and social leadership as well as expressions of religiosity, it is
necessary to look at the intersection of religion, politics, and society in
their early expressions to fnd the bases for their present importance.
It order to fnd these intersections, my book examines various politi-
cal and religious beliefs through several categories. Tis is one method
which may help us understand interrelationships among the scarce
early data we have; it would be difcult to appreciate the complexity
of these important concepts only on the basis of a serial examination
of sources. Te categories pursued in this work are, in order, the his-
torical/cultural, terminological, and ritual. Te fourth category covers
important concepts that are even more isolated; data about them are
so scattered that creating a broader context for their understanding is
highly problematic. Tis plurality of approaches acknowledges what
studies of politics and religion have almost always revealed: that there
is no single system to account for the elements of great polities; no one
approach can be expected to make sense of the political and religious
elements found at a court or in a multi-ethnic society.
Each chapter ends with concluding remarks and methodological
observations about the study of religion in early Tibet.
We know that religion adapts to varying conditions over time. Many
beliefs and practices have come into being and disappeared as political
and social realities have changed. Terefore, this work must analyze its
sources and data in a chronological manner. Te few documents verif-
ably from the Imperial period provide the basis for this analysis; they
are supplemented by later Tibetan sources and data from surrounding
cultures which have been chosen because they help create a context for
understanding early Tibetan politics and religion.
Even though Buddhism has provided many constants of Tibetan cul-
ture, the key to understanding its role is to observe its adaptations over

xx

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

xx

introduction

time. Tus, connections with more recent political and religious systems
are briefy discussed, in particular in Chapters Tree and Four.

Te nature of our sources, their paucity and the various agendas they
represent, requires that we orient our eforts around specifc topics, as
described above. Tus, the organization of the chapters is topical. In
addition, in order to examine details of belief and practice in diferent
contexts, some topics are addressed from diferent points of view at
several places in this work. References to chapters and endnotes, as well
as the index, connect the reader to other discussions of the topic.
Bibliographic references are generally limited to sources and stud-
ies directly pertinent to the topics discussed. In general, earlier stud-
ies have based their interpretations of religion in early Tibet on later
mythological and cosmological traditions, which until now have been
the chief source of such information. Tese later sources have actually
preserved few accurate memories of the lives and reigns of these fg-
ures, as is shown in this book and in a few specialized studies which
compare the truly ancient sources with later literature. Since we have
no reason to believe that these later Tibetan works provide accurate
materials for understanding the political and religious life of the early
period they pretend to inform us about, I have generally not included
them or studies which depend upon them, unless they pertain specif-
cally to points I discuss.

Tis work deals with the earliest period of Tibetan history for which we
have data extensive enough to allow a reconstruction, albeit incomplete,
of their society, and especially of its leadership. It is the hope of the
author that those who read this book can picture this world with more
clarity than previously possible, and can appreciate its unique qualities.
It is only through such an approach that we can fairly judge both its
distance from later Tibetan civilization as well as the degree to which
it established models for the relationship between religion and politics
which obtain until today in that culture.

PROLOGUE ON OLD TIBETAN

Te most important sources for studying the history of a people’s
religion are the earliest and verifably emic data. In the case of Tibet,
the number and extent of documents satisfying such criteria are very
small. As is generally known, they fall into two groups: Inscriptions
dating with certainty to the reigns of the btsan-pos, most still extant
in Central Tibet, and those documents and fragments from sites in the
Central Asian colonial territories of the Tibetan Empire in what is now
Gansu and East Turkestan (Xinjiang).
Tese materials are written in a language known as Old Tibetan,
which is actually a cover term used to describe the language of the
early written Tibetan materials as well as isolated terms and phrases
recorded in Chinese sources. It is a cover term because, in order to
describe the language of the documents as Old Tibetan and to place
them in even a relative chronology, recourse must be made to grammati-
cal, syntactic, stylistic and orthographic features considered together.
None alone is sufcient to positively identify their age, and few occur
as a set in one group of materials.1

Te inscriptions must remain our
standard on these points. Tose documents which possess the strongest
characteristics from all these categories, or those few which are dat-
able to the earliest periods, must be considered truly Old Tibetan; all
else—nearly all the written documents from Dunhuang—fall into one
or more gray areas.2
Tese gray areas are due, in part, to our ignorance of the development
of writing in the above colonial territories. Many documents from these
areas were composed in a language and orthography which incorporates
some of the above elements, and they are also normally referred to as
Old Tibetan. However, it is known that, particularly in Dunhuang,
a very conservative writing style preserved its earliest elements for a
long period of time. Tis makes a detailed stratifcation of the forms
of written Tibetan, the history of its orthography, difcult.3
Chronology is not the only consideration here. Te importance of
stylistic features for the study of politics and religion in this period is
obvious. We know that the major inscriptions were court productions.
Terefore, they cannot be doubted to represent the religio-political
thinking of that institution at that time. Tere are a few other undated

xxii

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

xxii

prologue on old tibetan

documents and fragments from Gansu and Eastern Turkestan which
might be ofcial products of the Imperium.4

However, the reliability
of their contents is always open to doubt because, despite the obvious
antiquity of some, we cannot say that they possess that same bona
fdes. Te only Old Tibetan document from Dunhuang which has the
same bona fdes as the inscriptions is the Annals. It is our only other
example of an “ofcial” court production, and it was written in a lan-
guage and style more similar to the inscriptions than other documents
from Gansu and Eastern Turkestan. Tese qualities also distinguish it
from the Chronicle, which contains some ancient traditions but almost
certainly dates to the post-Imperial period.5

Some other truly Old
Tibetan documents with imperial vocabulary and references to court
beliefs may be called into question because of their origins. Some are
almost certainly translations, such as PT1047. Because they may contain
popularized or inaccurate representations of court beliefs, or popular
foreign concepts, they do not have the standing of documents com-
posed under the Imperium.6

In other cases, such as some texts in the
AFL, concepts from the Imperium have been adapted for specialized
purposes which may take them far from their original meaning. Of
course, these also lack the standing of the inscriptions and the Annals.
(On referring to the Tibetan Empire in this work as an Imperium, see
Chapter One, n. 1.)
Based on this analysis, we may establish a provisional hierarchy of
the accuracy of Tibetan sources for reconstructing religion during the
Imperium.7

Te inscriptions and the Annals (which latter, unfortu-
nately, has virtually no religious content), are our most direct sources.
Afer these come truly ancient Old Tibetan materials from late in the
Imperium; prominent here is PT016/IO751. Ten there are docu-
ments with signifcant early content that were most likely composed
shortly afer its fall, such as the Chronicle. Te sources which are most
removed from the Imperium are the vast majority of other Dunhuang
documents that are demonstrably not Imperial-period for a number of
reasons. Te contents of many fail to consistently match with one or
more of the categories mentioned above. Many others are not written
in the Old Tibetan language, some being virtually modern in style and
expression—a sort of language sometimes called Pre-Classical Tibetan.
Tis could separate them by centuries from the courts of the Tibetan
Empire, thus greatly diminishing our confdence in their value as

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

xxiii

prologue on old tibetan

xxiii

sources. Despite these problems, some of them have been asserted to
have such value and have been cited as such in scholarly studies.
Tis is not the place for the sort of detailed paleographical and stylis-
tic analysis which could assign these documents a relative chronology
through the categories described above. Such a topic would be better
pursued in a comprehensive analysis of the early stages of the Tibetan
language, such as in a detailed grammar. However, some general
paleographical observations may be made. Te following orthographic
characteristics of Dunhuang documents are not, in and of themselves,
dependable indicators of great antiquity, not to mention proof that
they were produced during the Imperium: Te use of reversed gi gus
(although sweeping, rounded gi gus written in both directions are char-
acteristic of the earliest documents); da drag not used with preterite
verbs in correct syntactic position, and most nonstandard spellings.8
Te ya btags used with ma and mi is also problematic. Te ya btags
is certainly a characteristic of truly Old Tibetan materials, but it also
has been preserved because it is a linguistic feature of the northwest
Tibetan culture area. It has continued to be used in what are clearly
more recent texts, both from Dunhuang and elsewhere, so it is not a
reliable indicator of the antiquity of a document.
Some orthographic features are at least strongly indicative of antiq-
uity. Te most distinctive of these is the letter called by non-Tibetans
’a chung or a chung. In the inscriptions it seems usually to be capped
by a right-bending hook, which can easily be seen in the plates in
RICHARDSON.1985. Tis feature is also found in most Imperial-period
documents from Gansu and Eastern Turkestan, although it does not
consistently appear in the written contracts dating to that era which
have been reproduced and studied by Takeuchi Tsuguhito in Old
Tibetan manuscripts from Eastern Turkestan in the Stein Collection of
the British Library. Terefore, when we fnd it used ofen in some old
documents, such as PT1287/Chronicle, we are uncertain whether it is a
mark of antiquity or an afectation, perhaps even a deliberate imitation
of the Annals or the inscriptions.
With regards to the orthography of Tibetan letters as a whole, the
following observation is useful. Examining the photograph of the Treaty
Inscription of 821/822, we can see that already by that time the dbu can
Tibetan letters had reached a form virtually indistinguishable from that
of the modern period. Terefore, when we fnd what seem to be earlier
forms of letters in handwritten dbu can and dbu med materials from

xxiv

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

xxiv

prologue on old tibetan

Dunhuang, we may be tempted to consider them to be much older.
However, once again with recourse to the facsimiles of the contracts
in the work of Takeuchi, we see that nearly all of these are dated to a
period near to or afer that inscription was carved. Tus, once more, we
should not consider the mere appearance of an archaic style to be an
indicator of great antiquity. Much work remains to be done to establish
standards for even a relative chronology for Tibetan paleography.

Unfortunately, most truly ancient Dunhuang documents are secular
in nature, like the Annals, and thus contain only sparse references
to religious beliefs. Te majority of the latter concerns Buddhism.
Terefore, we are lef with a very small amount of reliable information
indeed upon which to ‘reconstruct’ the religion (and politics) of the
Imperium as written by those with direct knowledge of it. If one had
to estimate the ratio of the amount of information about the Imperial
period in contemporary documents to that we fnd in later documents,
including histories of the Dharma and mythological materials, it is one
to the hundreds or even thousands.
Of course, ‘Old Tibetan’ is not solely a philological concept. Because
it is the written medium of a particular period in Tibet’s history, mate-
rials composed in it may be expected to carry characteristics of that
time. However, there are some characteristics of later Old Tibetan and
non-Old Tibetan texts which betray concerns of a later time, afer the
ofce of the Btsan-po and the Imperium were either wholly or mostly
removed from the scene. Te following motifs do not occur in the few
unquestionably early (Imperial-period) materials we have, and many
represent realities and attitudes which would likely not have been com-
municated by the Imperium, but are well represented in later sources.
(Te Sba bzhed traditions ofer good examples of several of these.)

1) Obsession with Glang Dar-ma as an evil emperor, and his assas-
sination by Lha Lung Dpal-gyi Rdo Rje.
2) Preoccupation with Bon-pos and Mu-steg-pas and how they harmed
Tibet, in particular during Khri Srong Lde Brtsan’s reign.
3) Dramatic motifs about obstacles to the plans of the btsan-pos, oppo-
sition of noble clans to Buddhism, etc., especially if provided with
great detail. (We are pretty sure there was almost constant opposi-
tion to the plans of btsan-pos, and not only as regards Buddhism,
but on what basis and by whom we are usually not at all sure. Too
much detail may betray later elaboration.)

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

xxv

prologue on old tibetan

xxv

4) Any text or motif which shows the btsan-pos in a subservient posi-
tion to any religious teacher, Buddhist or Bon-po. (Of course, even
if this did happen, it would not be a part of any ofcial court record.
In any event, we have no evidence of such a dynamic, which would
be counter to usual court realities.)
5) Mythological narratives about the btsan-pos which refer to their
light-nature, or that they ascend a dmu thag upon death. Tese ideas
come from later Buddhist tradition.9
6) References to the ruler as rgyal po rather than btsan po.
Most of these points are addressed below.

A fnal observation: All students of humanities are aware that old ideas
may be found in later materials, and that ideas found in old documents
may be innovations, not part of some hoary antiquity. Te intersection
of religion and politics in particular gives rise to reinterpretations and
reinventions of tradition intended to serve immediate needs. Terefore,
until we have established some chronology for our oldest Tibetan docu-
ments, and then studied them critically with regard to later traditions,
we will be seriously hampered in our eforts to understand the processes
that were at work in the early religio-political system of Tibet.

Endnotes

1

András Róna-Tas, in Wiener Vorlesungen zur Sprach- und Kulturgeschichte Tibets
(pp. 95–101), undertakes a detailed schematization of the earliest layers of written
Tibetan. He equates the beginning of Old Tibetan with the founding of the Tibetan
Imperium (a term explained here in Chapter One, n. 1), and then proceeds to detail
three subsets of the language within that period. Te frst is Early Old Tibetan, which
he states obtained from its inception until 650. Te evidence the author cites for this
comes from indirect and non-Tibetan sources. Unfortunately, no sources that we have
can be fxed to this period of Tibetan history. In other ways also his study is much too
detailed for the available evidence. In any event, the author brings forth no linguistic
evidence which would justify these periodizations. Tey are more a hypothetical con-
ceptualization than historical schematization.

2

Te only dated documents we have from the Imperium are the inscriptions of the
btsan-pos and some commercial and legal documents. Te inscriptions have usually
been dated approximately as by Róna-Tas, op. cit., p. 99f: Zhol, 764; Bsam-yas, 779;
Phyong Rgyas, 797; Zhwa’i Lha Khang, 805–812; Rkong-po and Skar Chung, 810–815;
Khri Lde Srong Btsan tomb, 815; and, the Sino-Tibetan Treaty, 821–2. Fify-eight
contracts in OTC are dated with some precision (by animal cycle, for example), a few
with certainty.

Unfortunately, for the present study we are still limited to the transcriptions
provided by Hugh Richardson in A corpus of early Tibetan inscriptions (otherwise
RICHARDSON.H.1985). Te rather poor photographs which accompany this study
are quite useful, for lack of any better reproductions, and one can actually compare

xxvi

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

xxvi

prologue on old tibetan

Ngawang Narkyid’s transcriptions with these images in some cases. Te difering
readings found in Li & Coblin’s A study of the Old Tibetan inscriptions (otherwise LI
& COBLIN) are based, in part, on the use by its authors of a variety of rubbings and
photographs, including Richardson’s. Although a better textual study, not including
these resources in their work requires continued dependence on the photographs in
Richardson’s work. On the history of rubbings, etc., of the Rkong-po inscription, see
Helga Uebach, Ein Beitrag zur Dokumentation der Inschrif von rKoṅ-po, esp. pp. 5–7.
One should also consult Samten Karmay, “Inscriptions dating from the reign of Btsan
po Khri Lde-srong-btsan”. Tibetan studies. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie
der Wissenschafen, 1997, vol. 1, pp. 477–486.
We will not discuss here punctuation in the inscriptions and Old Tibetan documents.
One may consult on this the website, “Reading Tibetan manuscripts: punctuation and
ornamentation”, at readingtibetan.wordpress.com.

3

Te only disciplined study of the paleography of early Tibetan documents is that
of Jacob Dalton, Tom Davis and Sam van Schaik, “Beyond anonymity: paleographic
analyses of the Dunhuang manuscripts”. Following procedures used in forensic hand-
writing analysis, the authors suggest that large numbers of manuscripts previously
considered to be from the Imperial period actually date to the tenth century. Such
a later dating corresponds to suggestions made here for other works based on their
phraseologies or the conceptions contained in them. For other valuable studies on
Tibetan paleography, see the articles by Géza Uray and Takeuchi Tsuguhito cited in
n. 30 of the above article.

4

We omit from this survey the numerous fragments of documents found at Miran,
etc., many of which are almost certainly Imperial-period, but from which little useful
data about beliefs of the time can be recovered. Tese have been gathered in an excel-
lent study by Takeuchi Tsuguhito in OTMET.

5

Although it contains the largest amount of surviving religious and mythological
data about the Imperium, and much of it accords with other early beliefs found in the
inscriptions, it is certainly post-Imperial. It may date to as late as the early eleventh
century, based on a lack of truly ancient spellings and the conservative writing style
that can be seen in many other undated Dunhuang materials, some clearly late.
Among other clear indications that it is not an Imperial-period document are its
contents. It is clearly a resume of activities at various courts, told from a perspective of
some distance. Te prominence of the noble clans, in fact, indicates that it was actually
composed for their greater glory, and this makes more sense in a post-Imperial envi-
ronment. Further evidence of this is the title rgyal po ‘king’ occasionally used for the
rulers, as at line 338. Documents from the Imperial period do not use that title; only
btsan po ‘emperor’ is used. (On the use of the latter term see Christopher Beckwith,
Te Tibetan empire in Central Asia, p. 14n.) A comparison of the terms rgyal po and
btsan po is found in Chapter Four, below.
How all of this afects our interpretation of data contained in the Chronicle is beyond
the scope of this work. However, as with other works of uncertain date cited here, a
provisional approach is to give some credence to those motifs, narratives, etc., which
best accord with the little truly early datable data—especially that in the inscriptions—
that we have.

6

Many dice-divination texts show such a strong similarity with the Old Turkic Ïrq
bitig that the connection between them is “beyond coincidence”, according to Takeuchi
Tsuguhito at OTC.4.

7

Of the foreign sources, the Chinese and Arab historical accounts all date to the
post-Imperial period, with the exception of the pre-Imperial period (the Fuguo text),
on which see the dissertation of Christopher Beckwith (A study of the early medieval
Chinese, Latin and Tibetan historical sources on pre-Imperial Tibet, p. 84f), and the
Tang-period Tongdian of Du You, who lived from 735 to 812.

abbreviations for frequently-cited works

xxvii

prologue on old tibetan

xxvii

8

Tis includes conjugations outside of those in the many verb tables (re’u mig) one
could consult. Comparing the data in these, one quickly comes to the conclusion that
there are no established, standard forms, and probably never were. Terefore, it is dif-
fcult to trace with any certainty changes in verbal morphology over time.

9

E.g., the idea of the ‘sky rope’ almost certainly originated in Central Asian Bud-
dhist funeral customs. Tombs in the Turfan region in the period just before the rise
of the Tibetan Imperium were ofen equipped with silk yarn of great length through
which the dead—local nobility—could climb to heaven with the guidance of monks.
On this, see Xinri Liu, Silk and religion, p. 60f.
Tis custom and beliefs surrounding it could easily have been introduced to the
Tibetan court by monks, especially those from Khotan. If it was practiced there, only
for a brief time, there would have been sufcient impetus to establish the tradition of
a dmu thag, which then underwent local development.

CHAPTER ONE

RELIGION AND POLITICS IN TIBET’S IMPERIAL
GOVERNMENT, AND THE PLACE OF BUDDHISM THEREIN

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
scribd
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->