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and the Reinvention
TIBET IN THE SEVENTEENTH AND
BRYAN J. CUEVAS
& KURTIS R. SCHAEFFER
Universite de la Rochelle S.U.
POWER, POLITICS, AND THE REINVENTION OF TRADITION
'r"" I ,....,
. I 6 8 ')
POWER, POLITICS, AND
THE REINVENTION OF
Tibet in the Seventeenth andEighteenth Centuries
PlATS 2003: Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the Tenth Seminar
of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Oxford, 2003.
Managing Editor: Charles Ramble.
BRYANJ. CUEVAS AND KURTIS R. SCHAEFFER
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Bryan J. CUEVAS and Kurtis R. SCHAEFFER 1
I. POWER, POLITICS, AND RELIGION
1. Benjamin BOGIN
Royal Blood and Political Power: Contrasting Allegiances in the
Memoirs of Yo1mo Bstan 'dzin nor bu (1598-1644) 7
2. Marina ILLICH
Imperial Stooge or Emissary to the Dge lugs Throne? Rethinking
the Biographies of Chankya Rolpe Dorje 17
3. R. Trent POMPLUN
Ippolito Desideri, S.l on Padmasambhava's Prophecies and the
Persecution of the Rnying rna, 1717-1720 33
4. Nikolay TSYREMPILOV
Dge lugs pa Divided: Some Aspects of the Political Role of
Tibetan Buddhism in the Expansion of the Qing Dynasty ...... 47
5. Gray TUTTLE
A Tibetan Buddhist Mission to the East: The Fifth Dalai Lama's
Journey to Beijing, 1652-1653 65
II. THE REINVENTION OF TRADITION
6. Jake DALTON
Recreating the Rnying rna School: The Mdo dbang Tradition of
Smin grol gling 91
VI TABLE OF CONTENTS
7. Georgios HALKIAS
Pure-Lands and other Visions in Seventeenth-Century Tibet: A
Gnam chos sadhana for the Pure-land Sukhavati Revealed
in 1658 by Gnam chos Mi 'gyur rdo rje (1645-1667) 103
8. Derek MAHER
The Lives and Time of' Jam dbyangs bzhad pa 129
9. Guilaine MALA
A Mahayanist Rewriting of the History of China by Mgon po
skyabs in the Rgya nag chos 'byung 145
10. Jann RONIS
Bdud 'dul rdo rje (1615-1672) and Rnying rna Adaptations
to the Era of the Fifth Dalai Lama 171
11. Kurtis R. SCHAEFFER
Ritual, Festival and Authority under the Fifth Dalai Lama 187
12. Simon WIKHAM-SMITH
Ban de skya min ser min: Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho's
Complex, Confused, and Confusing Relationship with
Sde srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho as Portrayed in the
Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho 'i mgul glu 203
Bryan J. Cuevas and Kurtis R. Schaeffer
The twelve essays included in the present volume underscore common
interests that have been emerging within the study of Tibetan history
over the last several years. Each essay focuses on a particular figure,
institution, or literary corpus, and each makes a specialized contribution
to our collective understanding of these respective topics. Yet all are
concerned, more or less explicitly, with relationships between the past
and the present evoked in Tibetan historiography, ritual literature, and
Buddhist esoteric writings. For the most part, in matters of legitimation
and power, whether political or religious, Tibetan historians, philoso-
phers, and ritual specialists have always placed critical emphasis on the
preservation of tradition and the succession of authentic lines of
transmission. Any variation from the unbroken lineages of tradition
meant in every case that legitimate authority could never be properly
established. Still, there was much room for innovation, but only through
creative strategy and the manipulation of the details of history and biog-
raphy. With few exceptions, the Tibetans studied here in this volume lay
claim to the venerable authority of established traditions in order to
promote new or significantly re-fashioned practices, doctrines, and
ideologies. Most of these Tibetan figures go to great lengths to validate
their current practices and perspectives as part of an uninterrupted
ancient tradition, very often reaching back to the life of Sakyamuni
Buddha and the founding moments of Buddhism in India and Tibet. Yet
in the very act of drawing out these connections between tradition and
innovation they reveal how necessary it is to actively maintain such
practices through deliberate and constant reference to the past.
In this tension between visions of unchanging order and the reality
of local contingency we see a good example of what historian Eric
Hobsbawm has termed 'invented tradition,' or "a set of practices,
normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or
symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of
behavior by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the
past."! While the contributors to this volume of essays may not have
1 Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983: 1.
2 B. CUEVAS AND K. SCHAEFFER
been influenced explicitly by the insights of Hobsbawm, they all focus
on a particularly rich era of Tibetan history, the mid-seventeenth through
early eighteenth centuries. Hobsbawm acknowledges that "there is
probably no time and place with which historians are concerned which
has not seen the 'invention' of tradition. '" Nevertheless, Hobsbawm
suggests, "we should expect it to occur more frequently when rapid
transformations of society weakens or destroys the social patterns for
which 'old' traditions had been designed."2 The period of the
seventeenth-eighteenth century in Tibet stands as an exemplary case for
testing the relevance of the notion of invented tradition. The period is
marked by the end of civil war in central Tibet and the rise in 1642 of the
Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) to unprecedented political prominence,
resulting in the centralization of institutional authority in Lhasa and the
increase of Tibetan involvement in the territorial power struggles be-
tween Mongols and Manchus throughout the early Qing empire.
A brief summary of the chapters provides some sense of the
overarching themes that characterize this pivotal period in Tibetan his-
tory. Benjamin Bogin (Chapter 1) introduces the Memoirs of the third
Yol mo sprul sku Bstan 'dzin nor bu (1598-1644), paying particular
attention to the issue of sectarian identity. Significantly, he shows that
the common distinctions drawn by contemporary scholarship between
Buddhist sectarian groups, such as the Dge lugs pa and the Bka' brgyud
pa, are less important for the Tibetans actually affiliated with these
'schools.' More significant, Bogin argues, are the relationships defined
by family ties, geographical proximity, ordination lineage, and other
similar social-religious group associations. Marina Illich (Chapter 2)
discusses the biographical literature dedicated to Leang skya Rol pa'i rdo
rje (Chankya Rolpe Dorje, 1717-1786). Of particular interest to Illich is
the focus of Leang skya's biographers on the details of Qing ritual
protocol when describing the formal meetings between Tibetan Buddhist
leader and Manchu imperial leader. Illich suggests that this deliberate
appropriation of the logic of imperial ritual was an attempt by the Ti-
betan authors to "deflect the hegemonizing strategies of the Qing by
asserting a narrative of Dge lugs indispensability to the realization of
Qing ambition." Trent Pomplun (Chapter 3) analyses the writings of the
Jesuit missionary Ippolito Desideri (1684-1733) on the prophecies of
Padmasambhava. Pomplun shows that this eighth-century visionary from
o rgyan loomed large in Desideri's interpretations of Tibetan Buddhism
2 Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983: 4.
and that for this Jesuit missionary the prophecies of Padmasambhava
provided the most credible narrative framework for making sense of the
Dzungar persecutions of the Rnying rna pa during the political chaos in
central Tibet in the years 1717-1720. Nikolay Tsyrempilov (Chapter 4)
explores the political role of Dge lugs pa figures in the expansion of the
Qing dynasty. He argues that insufficient attention has been paid to the
relations between the Qing emperors and the religious leaders of Tibet
who, more often than previously described, were active in supporting and
promoting Qing policies in Tibet and throughout Inner Asia. Gray Tuttle
(Chapter 5) chronicles the Fifth Dalai Lama's trip to Beijing during the
years 1652-1653. On close reading of the accounts of this journey, Tuttle
is able to highlight the missionary impulse in Tibetan society of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, leading to the broad expansion of
Tibetan Buddhism into Inner and East Asia. Jake Dalton (Chapter 6)
looks at how, at the tum of the eighteenth century, the two brothers of
Smin grol gling, Gter bdag gling pa (1646-1714) and Lo chen Dharmasri
(1654-1717), worked to recreate the Rnying rna school, and how the
Siura Empowerment (Mdo dbang) literature and ritual practices played a
key role in this recreation. Dalton points out that "the identity of the
Rnying rna school is still defined in large part by the regular observance"
of the full ritual program originally conceived and initiated by the Smin
gling brothers. Georgios Halkias (Chapter 7) draws attention to the un-
derstudied Pure Land tradition in Tibet by focusing on the important
Sukhavati sddhana of the young gter ston Gnam chos Mi 'gyur rdo rje
(1645-1667). Halkias demonstrates that Mi 'gyur rdo rje's siidhana is a
remarkable example of Tibetan syncretic liturgy, drawing from diverse
sectarian ritual sources and integrating multiple elements into a single
and effective Pure Land ritual program. Derek Maher (Chapter 8) exam-
ines the successive incarnation lineage of 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa'i rdo
rje (1648-1722) and the 'biographical strategies' used by Dge lugs pa
writers in early eighteenth-century Amdo. Maher argues that "through
the construction of such a lineage, the doctrinal legitimacy and personal
charisma of some particular current figure can be created or fortified by
appealing to the luster of previous personalities." Guilaine Mala (Chapter
9) takes up the important eighteenth-century "History of Buddhism in
China," the Rgya nag chos 'byung, completed in 1736 by the Mongol
scholar Mgon po skyabs (Mong. Gombojab). Mala argues that this
unique Tibetan historical work uses Indian Mahayana literature and
tantric prophecies to recast the complex history of Buddhism in China
4 B. CUEVAS AND K. SCHAEFFER
through the lense of Tibetan Buddhism from a decidedly Dge lugs pa
perspective. Jann Ronis (Chapter 10) surveys the biography of Bdud 'dul
rdo rje ( 1615-1672), an important Rnying rna pa figure active in Sde dge.
Ronis emphasizes Bdud 'dul rdo rje's attempts to adapt to the changing
political landscape of late seventeenth-century Tibet through the
revelation of texts (gter ma) and the opening of hidden lands (sbas yul).
His efforts, Ronis concludes, were somewhat less-than-successful. Kurtis
R. Schaeffer (Chapter 11) discusses the extensive innovations in the
annual ritual and festival cycle undertaken by Sde srid Sangs rgyas rgya
mtsho (Sangye Gyatso, 1653-1705) during the 1690s, and uses two of his
works, Tales of the New Year (Lo gsar 'bel gtam) and the Lhasa
Circumambulation Survey (Lha sa skor tshad) as entry points to the
larger project of assessing his role in and contribution to the development
of Tibetan and Buddhist culture after the founding of the Dga' ldan
Government in 1642. Finally, Simon Wikham-Smith (Chapter 12)
analyses the songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama (1683-1706) in an effort to
understand the relationship with his much older mentor and regent, Sde
srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho.
The essays in this volume offer diverse perspectives on a critical pe-
riod in Tibet's history when Tibetans found themselves caught up in the
tides of political turmoil and forced into the center of a much larger Cen-
tral Eurasian struggle for power and territorial control between the Man-
chu rulers of the Qing empire and the Mongols of the north. The Tibet-
ans, speaking with multiple voices and with allegiances to varied local
religious and social groups, were compelled to make sense of their
changing world and their place within it while still maintaining their ties
to the great traditions of Tibet's past. This collection focuses on the vari-
ous ways Tibetan historians, biographers, and scholars of all sorts during
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries succeeded in this task of rein-
venting and reinforcing their respective traditions.
Hobsbawm, E. and T. Ranger. 1983. The Invention of Tradition.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
1. POWER, POLITICS, AND RELIGION
ROYAL BLOOD AND POLITICAL POWER:
CONTRASTING ALLEGIENCES IN THE MEMOIRS OF
YOL MO BSTAN 'DZIN NOR BU (1598-1644)
In the chronological schemes of Tibetan historiography (both classical
and modem), the water-horse year 1642 occupies a place of paramount
importance. The ceremony held in that year, through which dominion
over Tibet was bestowed upon the Fifth Dalai Lama Ngag dbang blo
bzang rgya mthso by the victorious Gushri Khan, dramatically marks the
dawn of the era dominated by the Dga' ldan pho brang government.
Considering the unanimous agreement upon the importance of this date
in the history of Tibet, it is somewhat surprising that the events of that
year, let alone the complex social and political upheavals which preceded
it, have largely escaped rigorous historical investigation. The first work
to designate 1642 as a year of momentous importance was the Great
Fifth Dalai Lama's seminal history of Tibet, The Song of the Queen of
Spring (Spyid kyi rgyal mo 'i glu dbyangs) , composed in 1643. The
account of Gushri Khan's conquest of the Bsam 'grub rtse palace found
in the last chapter of that work firmly established a model that has been
followed by historians to the present day.
The Song of the Queen of Spring has commanded our view of
Tibetan history in much the same way as the Potala commands the
cityscape of Lhasa. Just as it is difficult to imagine Lhasa without the
monumental palace atop Dmar po ri, it is equally challenging to imagine
the history of the early seventeenth century without relying on the Fifth
Dalai Lama's version of events. In this paper I would like to demonstrate
the potential value of biographical and autobiographical works composed
prior to 1642 as tools with which historians might begin to address this
challenge. In particular, through a close reading of the Memoirs (Rang gi
rtogs pa brjod pa) composed by Yol mo Bstan 'dzin nor bu in 1632, I
will question the primacy afforded to sectarian affiliation in most
accounts of the period and discuss the memoirist's distinction between
royal authority and political power.
8 BENJAMIN BOGIN
The final chapter of The Song of the Queen of Spring describes the
fall of Bsam 'grub rtse as the resolution of a battle between the forces of
Buddhism led by Gushri Khan (who is described as an emanation of
Vajrapani) and the demonic forces led by the King of Upper Gtsang
(gtsang stod rgyal po), a descendant of the treacherous usurper, Zhing
shag pa Tshe brtan rdo rje. These two adversaries are further associated
with their geographical bases of support, in Dbus and Gtsang, and with
their respective allegiances to the sectarian traditions (chos lugs) of
Rgyal ba Tsong kha pa and those of the Karma Bka' brgyud pa. Later
historians, such as Sum pa mkhan po Ye shes dpal 'byor, further
emphasized the sectarian nature of the rift dividing seventeenth century
Tibet into two opposing camps. This basic structure is reflected in
modern historiography, for example, in the heading given to Giuseppe
Tucci's pioneering account of the period (1949: 39-46)-"'Reds' against
'Yellows, '" that is, the Karma Bka' brgyud pa and their champions the
Kings of Gtsang versus the Dge lugs pa and their Mongolian allies.
The Memoirs of the third Yol mo sprul sku, Bstan 'dzin nor bu
(1598-1644), entitled, The Sarangi with the Vajra Sound (Rdo rje sgra
ma'i rgyud mangs), challenge this two-toned view of the period by
describing a world in which affiliation to a 'Red' or 'Yellow' chos lugs
is just one thread of a complex web of social, religious, and political
identities and allegiances. The fact that the memoirs were written ten
years before the events of 1642 provides the author with a perspective
very different from the retrospective clarity of later historians and
biographers, who saw the history of the early seventeenth century as a
series of events inevitably leading to the establishment of the Dga' ldan
pho brang government. In this sense, Yol mo Bstan 'dzin nor bu's
memoirs offer a sort of last glimpse into the shadowy world of early
seventeenth century Tibet. Furthermore, the events of Bstan 'dzin nor
bu's own life call into question the dichotomy of 'Reds' versus
'Yellows': he was, on the one hand, a disciple of the Sixth Zhwa dmar pa
Gar dbang chos kyi dbang phyug (1584-1630) and an active figure at the
court of the King of Gtsang, and on the other hand, an advisor and ally of
the Fifth Dalai Lama.
Before examining in detail a few passages from the Third Yol mo
ba's memoirs, it will be necessary to briefly review the major events of
ROYAL BLOOD AND POLITICAL POWER 9
his life.' Bstan 'dzin nor bu was born in Kong po in 1598, son of the Jo
nang master Lo chen Spyan ras gzigs.? In childhood he was recognized
as the Third Y01 mo sprul sku, a lineage of reincarnations associated with
the Northern Treasures (byang gter) tradition.' and the Bya rung kha shor
stupa- and Yol mo gangs ra sbas yul of Nepal.> He studied at a number
of monasteries in Gtsang and received monastic vows from the Sixth
Zhwa dmar pa and the great Kiilacakra master, Lo chen 'Gyur med bde
chen (1540-1615). At the age of nineteen, the young monk encountered
the head of the Northern Treasures tradition, Rig 'dzin Ngag gi dbang po
(1580-1639), consequently turning his attention to the study and practice
of the Northern Treasures. After the completion of his first major retreat,
he gave up his dge slang vows and became a sngags pa, eventually
marrying a princess of Gung thang. In the latter part of his life, Bstan
'dzin nor bu was engaged in the discovery of treasure-texts, the
performance of rituals to avert Mongolian invasions, and the
establishment of Rdo rje brag as the institutional seat for the Northern
Treasures. This last task he completed shortly before his death by
securing the patronage of the Fifth Dalai Lama and recognizing and
enthroning Padma 'phrin las (1640-1718) as the second Rdo rje brag Rig
One might expect that the memoirs of a relatively obscure gter stan
with close ties to both the Bsam 'grub rtse court and the ascendant Dga'
ldan pho brang would shed much light on the potential conflicts arising
from connections with powers holding opposing sectarian allegiances. In
fact, the so-called 'Reds' and the ' Yellows' are lost amidst the sheer
complexity of the relationships described by the author: those defined by
ties of family lineage, monastic and tantric vows, geographical
boundaries, incarnation lineages, and a host of other religious, social, and
political categories. The notion of affiliation with a specific doctrinal
system that has dominated most discussions of the period hardly appears
in his autobiographical writings. The few mentions of sectarian identity
, For an overview of the lives of the first five Yol mo ba incarnations, see Ehrhard
(in press). I am grateful to Dr. Ehrhard for first drawing my attention to the writings of
the Third Y01 mo sprul sku and for his consistent encouragement throughout my research.
2 Lo chen Spyan ras gzigs 'Phrin las dbang phyug was the reincarnation of Sman
sding 10 tsa ba Ratnabhadra (1489-1563).
3 See Boord 1993.
4 See Blondeau 1994, Dowman 1973, and Ehrhard 1990.
5 See Khenpo Nyima Dondrup 2003.
10 BENJAMIN BOGIN
that one finds pale in significance when compared with the much
stronger emphasis on a plethora of other types of allegiance.
Now I would like to tum to a few examples from the memoirs
which illustrate the complexity of these intertwined allegiances by
briefly discussing Bstan 'dzin nor bu's religious education and then
focusing on his relationships with two important secular rulers. The early
education of the young sprul sku seems to have been a matter of
contention between the regent appointed by the Second Y01 mo ba and
the boy's father. The father resisted early attempts by the regent, 0 rgyan
don grub rdo rje, to take the boy off to his monastery and in his final
testament ordered that the child be educated at Bzhad grwa tshang. This
monastery, founded by Tsong kha pa's direct disciple, Grags pa bzang
po, included the boy's father and the father's previous incarnation, Lo
chen Ratnabhadra, among its former abbots.s Although both of these
masters are generally considered as proponents of the Jo nang tradition,"
Bstan 'dzin nor bu describes Bzhad grwa tshang as a monastery where
the traditions of Sa skya, Dge lugs, Kar rna and 'Brug pa Bka' brgyud
were equally venerated and practiced.
Apart from praising the monastery's eclectic curriculum, Bstan
'dzin nor bu has nothing positive to say about Bzhad grwa tshang and
laments the misery he endured at the hands of its cruel teachers and
monastic officials. He was able to escape from the monastery on a
number of occasions to study with another close associate of his father's,
the Kiilacakra master Lo chen 'Gyur med bde chen at Dpal ri bo che. As
he grew older, although still under the authority of the regent appointed
by his previous incarnation, the young sprul sku seems to have felt freer
to determine the course of his own education. He remembers being
inspired by a friend who had become a Sa skya rab 'byams pa and
deciding to study the Sa skya tradition. However, he soon realized that
the preliminary stages of the 'Path and Result' (lam 'bras) practices
required a lot of effort and turned elsewhere. During his teenage years,
he finally found his place at the Zhwa dmars Nyin byed gling
monastery, where he took dge slong vows in the Bka' brgyud tradition.
After a journey to Nepal, he returned to central Tibet and completed his
formal education by participating in the annual debate festival held at
Ngam ring chos sde, a monastery renowned as a stronghold of the Dge
6 See Sde srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho: 255-56.
7 See, for example, Ngag dbang blo gros grags pa: 62-63.
ROYAL BLOOD AND POLITICAL POWER 11
Were we to summarize this early education along sectarian lines, we
could say that the Third Y01 mo ba, a Rnying rna sprul sku born as the
son of a 10 nang father, was educated in a Sa skya/Dge lugs monastery
before pursuing higher studies as a Bka' brgyud monk, completed
through participation in a Dge lugs debate festival. This jumble shows
that affiliation to a specific chos lugs was highly mutable and non-
exclusive. It also suggests that other forces were at play in determining
the course of the Third Yol mo ba's education. Among these, the most
influential factors in the early education were the connections inherited
from his previous incarnation and from his father. Later, as he moved
into adolescence, his own interests and abilities, the opinions of his
friends, and chance encounters with various teachers played more of a
role in determining his course of study. This movement between various
teachers and monasteries strikes me as an important aspect of Tibetan
religious life that is often distorted by the tendency to represent
individuals and institutions as belonging exclusively to a single sectarian
tradition. The evidence of Bstan 'dzin nor bu's autobiography suggests
that we need to reduce our dependence upon this category and examine
the notion of chos lugs much more critically when employing it in our
interpretations of Tibetan history.
With this in mind, I should now like to leave aside the question of
sectarian identity and discuss Bstan 'dzin nor bu's connections with two
important centers of secular power: the Gung thang kingdom and the
Bsam 'grub rtse court of the Gtsang pa sde srid. His relations with each
may again be traced along lines of reincarnation and family lineages as
well as through his monastic vows. The Gung thang chos rgyal, Bsod
nams dbang phyug, was a disciple of the Second Yol mo sprul sku,
whereas the Gtsang pa sde srid was an associate of Bstan 'dzin nor bu' s
father. In the latter case, it was through his status as a disciple of the
Sixth Zhwa dmar pa that Bstan 'dzin nor bu was fully welcomed at the
court of Sde srid Phun tshogs rnam rgyal and later his son, Bstan skyong
dbang po. In his descriptions of these two courts, the Third Y01 mo ba
implicitly draws a distinction between their sources of authority: an
authentic lineage of royal blood in the case of Gung thang and political
power and military might in the case of Gtsang.
First of all, there is a terminological distinction concerning
designation. Khri Bsod nams dbang phyug, the king of Gung thang, is
consistently referred to throughout the text as mnga J bdag, mnga J ris
gong ma chen po, or btsadpo byang chub sems dpa. J Each of these titles
12 BENJAMIN BOGIN
indicates Khri Bsod narns dbang phyug's status as a direct descendant of
the early medieval kings. The Gtsang pa sde srid, on the other hand,
despite being effusively praised, is never referred to in these terms but
rather as mi dbang stobs kyi rgyal po or gtsang pa ma hd rd ja. Bstan
'dzin nor bu's recollections of his youthful visits to each court further
illuminate this division. His first encounter with Khri Bsod nams dbang
phyug is described in these words:
The Sovereign Lord (mnga' bdag) had a dream in which he felt that he
saw my previous incamation coming and offering him empowerments.
Then, I was received as his lama. At our first meeting, there was a
formal reception. I was not able to climb onto the throne so my friend
needed to lift me up. The honor and veneration [presented to me] went
beyond the limits of my imagination. I stayed for a while in the kings
palace. Again and again, the Sovereign Lord came to see [me]. He
showed respect in a pure and sincere way ...8
The marriage alliance that would eventually bring the Yol mo ba
even closer to the royal family of Gung thang is foreshadowed in the
passage relating his second visit to the palace:
The princess had just reached the age of eight at the time. Bdag mo sras
yum [=the princess] would come to me every day, each time carrying a
gift such as would make a young boy happy: crystal bowls of red and
green, a conch-shell, an excellent rosary, a damaru and so forth. The
princess would not sit where the cushions had been arranged [for her],
but [instead] was always coming to sit right next to me. She was very
These passages convey a sense of refined elegance that contrasts
with the Yol rno ba's recollections of his first visit to the Bsarn 'grub rtse
palace. There, Sde srid Phun tshogs rnam rgyal ("the powerful lord, the
8 Yol rna Bstan 'dzin nor bu: Rang gi rtogs pa brjod pa rdo rje sgra ma'i rgyud
mangs, 16b6-17a2: mnga' bdag gi mnallam du sprul sku gong rna byon nas dbang phul
ba 'i thugs nyams byung tshod du 'dug/ de nas bla mar bzhes/ thog rna'i mjal 'phrad/ gzhi
len sogs kyi skabs/ khri la 'dzeg mi thub par zla bos skyel dgos pa dang/ rnyed bkur blo 'i
mtshams las sgal ba byung/ rgyal tsam rgyal po 'i khab de nyid du sdad/ mnga ' bdag nyid
yang yang 'phrad par byon/ thugs [gJnang dag par byungl
9 Ibid., 17a5-b1: learn 'di de skabs dgung 10 brgyad tsam phebs pa geig 'dug/ bdag
mo sras yum nyin bzhin shel dam dmar pol ljang khu/ dung ehos/ phreng ba legs pol 71
rna ru/ sogs kho bo na gzhon nu la dga' tshor yong ba'i mjal rten re bsnams nas phebs
kyi yod/ learn 'di bzhugs gdan bshams pa la mi gzhugs pari nga 'i tsa rang na bear nas
bzhugs mkhan snying rje mo geig yodl
ROYAL BLOOD AND POLITICAL POWER 13
king of strength, whose judgment, bravery, and ability to conquer set him
apart from all of his enemies"), invited him to stay and study for three
months, promising that the court attendants would take care of all of his
needs. Bstan 'dzin nor bu reports that during that time:
My living conditions were equal to those of the head-lamas. I stayed in
the room above the Sde sri's private chambers, called 'Lotus-light' and
I felt a bit awkward... [The Sde sri,] seeing that I had a high forehead
and long earlobes, said, "Do you have designs of wheels on the palms
of your hands and the soles of your feet?" Although I looked very
carefully, I didn't have any. I did not become arrogant. 10
This passage suggests a touch of ostentation in place of the simple
elegance attributed to the Gung thang court and the Sde srid's praise
comes across as flattery in comparison with the 'sincere praise' of the
Gung thang chos rgyal.
In the later chapters of Bstan 'dzin nor bu's memoirs, the contrast
between these two courts becomes increasingly stark. Phun tshogs mam
rgyal conquered Gung thang in 1620 and imprisoned the Chos rgyal at
Shel dkar.U Both rulers died shortly after and the Gtsang pa sde srid was
succeeded by his sixteen year-old son, Bstan skyong dbang po (r. 1621-
1642). Although the memoirs describe several occasions in which Bstan
'dzin nor bu performed rituals at the behest of Bstan skyong dbang po,
his treatment of this final Gtsang pa sde srid ranges from ambivalent
disregard to outright scorn. In one passage, Bstan 'dzin nor bu discovers
that Bstan skyong dbang po is camped nearby and ponders whether he
should meet the young ruler:
These people have crossed into excessive arrogance regarding their
family lineage. They are renowned for quarrelling with the Red-hat and
Black-hat emanations about [the height of their] seats. [Sde srid Bstan
skyong dbang po expects all] to perform prostrations to him and raise
up piles of tea [as offerings]. He even [acts] like this to our lama! He
rejoices in [the lama's] great qualities such as the power of his
blessings and magical abilities; yet, he was unable to humble himself in
the matter of the [height of the] seat and so forth... U rgyan Rin po che
did not bow to the king. Afraid to diminish the king's merit and in
10 Ibid., 26b3-6: bdag rkyen ni dbu bla rnams dang mnyams/ sde srid rang gi
gzims chung thog padma 'od du sdad pas gu dog tsam byung/ ... bdag spyi bo mtho ba
dang/ rna shal rgyas pa sogs la gzigs/ phyag mthil zhabs mthil rnams la 'khor 10 'i ri mo
Eyod gsungs/ gzigs phyogs legs po 'dug kyang/ gtan nas med zhus/ khengs rna byas/.
II See Kah thog rig 'dzin Tshe dbang nor bu: 143--44.
14 BENJAMIN BOGIN
order to increase the teachings of the secret mantra, he did not do it. ..
In general, I'm not pleased with people who act in this way. In
particular, while being venerated as the chief lama of the Gung thang
chos rgyal, I never had any problems with [the hierarchical
arrangement of] seats ... Then, I thought about what I should do. I said,
"Although I don't want to meet him, I'll just go and see him for a
moment." Then, I went. 12
This passage highlights the importance of protocol in interaction
between political and religious authorities in Tibet. Bstan 'dzin nor bu's
principal criticism of Bstan skyong dbang po is that he behaves in a
manner unwarranted by his family's status in Tibet's elaborate social
hierarchy. It seems likely to me that many of Bstan 'dzin nor bu's
contemporaries shared the feeling that the successive Gtsang pa sde srid
rulers were unrightful usurpers of power begrudgingly accepted because
of their economic and military might. Their eventual defeat by the Dga'
ldan pho brang/Gushri Khan alliance seems in part to have been
determined by this lack of royal blood. The sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries clearly saw a gradual shift of power away from the courts of
the old aristocratic families and into the hands of the monastic
institutions. Nevertheless, our propensity to understand Tibetan history
by defining figures and institutions primarily as affiliates of a sectarian
tradition has blinded us to the salience of factors such as family lineage
and political power.
It is my hope that this brief reflection upon a few scattered passages
from the memoirs of the Third Yol mo ba demonstrates the potential for
further research based on related literature. Schaeffer (1998: 858) has
raised the question of whether it is "possible that the distinction between
the historical (group/impersonal) and the biographical (individual!
personal) masks as much as it reveals in the case of Tibetan literature."
The two are certainly inextricably linked. Most literature in the historical
genres (deb ther, chos 'byung, rgyal rabs) consist of excerpted and/or
12 Yol rna Bstan 'dzin nor bu: 38a6-39a2: khong rnams rigs rus kyi khengs ha
cang thai basi mtshan yongs grags kyi sprul pa 'i sku zhwa dmar nag la yang bzhugs gdan
la brtsod/ phyag la 'gyings/ja sna la rtseg/ bdag cag gi bla ma 'di la yang/ byin rlabs kyi
tshan kha dang/ mthu stobs sogs che ba 'i yon tan la 'gu/ bzhugs gdan sogs kyi bkur bzos
chen po zhu bar ma nus nasi .. U rgyan rin po che rgyal po la phyag mi mdzad pa ni
gsang sngags kyi bstan pa 'i che ba dang rgyal po bsod nams 'bri bar dogs nas mi mdzad
par 'dug/ ... spyir yang 'di 'dra mdzad mkhan la dga' mo med/ lhag par yang gung thang
chos kyi rgyal po 'i dbu blar bkur ba 'dis nil sa gang du yang go 'phangs la mtho khyad
ma byung/ ... gzhan ci rang byed bsam pa byung/ '0 na mjal 'dod rang ni mi 'dug then
tsam byed zhus la mjal/.
ROYAL BLOOD AND POLITICAL POWER 15
reformulated materials from the biographical genres (rnam thar, rang gi
rnam thar, rtogs brjod). However, there are also significant distinctions
between the two genres in terms of narrative structure, authorial intent,
and audience. As with any historiographic enterprise, the authors of
Tibet's annals and chronicles attempted to transform the dizzying
complexity of the past into a simplified and coherent tale. More often
than not, the authors of such works were also explicitly concerned with
glorifying the history of the institution to which they belonged. In the
works of memoirists such as Yol mo Bstan 'dzin nor bu, far more limited
in chronological scope, the central narrative concern is with an individual
life; and the political and social events of the day merely provide the
background. As such, these are much messier works for historians to deal
with and yet, they provide a class of information that more orthodox
histories lack. Yol mo Bstan 'dzin nor bu's memoirs do not help to
clarify a chronology of events leading to the fall of Bsam 'grub rtse, nor
do they explicitly address the shifting political allegiances of the day;
still, the anecdotal descriptions of his personal experiences illuminate
details of the early seventeenth century world that otherwise would
remain hidden behind the shadows of later histories.
Bstan 'dzin nor bu, Yol mo ba III. (1632). Rang gi rtogs pa brjodpa rdo
rje sgra ma'i rgyud mangs, Nepal-German Manuscript Preservation
Project: Reel No. £2691/4. [Also in The Autobiography and
Collected Writings (Gsun thor bu) of the Third Rig- 'dzin Yol-mo-ba
Sprul-sku Bstan- 'dzin Nor-bu. Reproduced from a manuscript set
preserved in the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Damchoe
Sangpo, Dalhousie, 1977, 63-267; and Collected Writings ofYol-mo
Sprul-sku Bstan- 'dzin-nor-bu. Reproduced from a manuscript
collection from the Library of Bla-ma Senge of Yol-mo, Dawa
Lama, Delhi, 1982, 95-248.]
Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, Fifth Dalai Lama. (1643). 1988. Bod
kyi deb ther dpyid kyi rgyal mo 'i glu dbyangs. Beijing: Mi rigs Dpe
skrun khang (reprint of 1957 edition).
Ngag dbang blo gros grags pa. 1983. Jo nang pa 'i chos 'byung gsal byed
zla ba 'i sgron me. 'Dzam thang: n.d.
Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Sde srid. (1698). 1989. Dga' ldan chos 'byung
Baidiirya ser po, Xining: Mtsho sngon zhing chen zhin hva dpe
16 BENJAMIN BOGIN
Tshe dbang nor bu, Kah thog Rig 'dzin. (1749). 1990. Bod rje lha btsad
po 'i gdung rabs mnga' ris smad gung thang du ji ltar byung ba'i
tshul deb ther dvangs shel 'phrul gyi me long zhes bya ba, in Chab
spel tshe brtan phun tshogs and Ldan lhun sangs rgyas chos 'phel
(eds) Bod gyi 10 rgyus deb ther khag lnga. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod
yig dpe mying dpe skrun khang, 87-150.
Blondeau, A.M. 1994. Bya-rung kha-shor: legende fondatrice du
bouddhisme tibetain. In P. Kvaerne (ed.) Tibetan Studies. Oslo:
Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture.
Boord, M. 1993. The Cult of the Deity Vajrakila, Tring: Institute of
Dowman, K. 1973. The Legend of the Great Stupa and the Life Story of
the Lotus Born Guru. Berkeley: Tibetan Nyingma Meditation
Ehrhard, F.K. 1990. The Stilpa of Bodhnath: A Preliminary Analysis of
the Written Sources. Ancient Nepal 120, 1-9.
-. (in press). A Forgotten Incarnation Lineage: The Yol-mo-ba sPrul-
skus (16th to eighteenth centuries). In R. Prats (ed.) The Pandita
and the Siddha: Tibetan Studies in the Honour of E. Gene Smith.
Boston: Wisdom Publications.
Khenpo Nyima Dondrup. 2003. Sbas yul spyi dang bye brag yol mo
gangs ra 'i gnas yig. Kathmandu: Lusha Press.
Schaeffer, K.R. 1998. Review of D. Martin, Tibetan Histories: A
Bibliography of Tibetan Language Historical Works. Journal of
Asian Studies 57(3), 856-58.
Tucci, G. 1949 . Tibetan Painted Scrolls. Reprint, Kyoto: Rinsen
INIPERIAL STOOGE OR EMISSARY
TO THE DGE LUGS THRONE?
RETHINKING THE BIOGRAPHIES OF CHANKYA ROLPE DORJE
The life of Chankya Rolpe Dorje (Leang skya Rol pa'i rdo rje, 1717-
1786), the famed eighteenth-century Geluk lama from eastern Amdo (A
mdo), has been a subject of interest in Tibetological and Buddhological
circles for some time and is gaining increased attention in New Qing
Studies/Manchu Studies circles. To date, however, scholars from these
disparate disciplinary backgrounds have tended to portray Chankya
Rinpoche I as a mouthpiece of Manchu interests, an imperial stooge who
facilitated Qing expansion in Mongolia and Tibet.? This commonplace, I
1 Rinpoche (Tib. rin po che), literally meaning "Precious One," is an honorific title
used to address reincarnate lamas.
2 Western language sources on the life of the Second Leang skya Rinpoche, Rol
pa'i Rdo rje, include, prominently: Berger 2003, Chen 1991, Everding 1998, Grupper
1984, Hopkins and Wilson 1987, Kampfe 1976, Smith 1969, Wang 2000, and Zhao 1990.
Chen, Smith, Wang and Zhao present Rol pa'i rdo rje (or the Leang skya incarnation
lineage in general) as a figure who was decidedly pro-Qing and instrumental to the Qing
subjugation of Mongolia and Tibet. Chen, for example, describes Lcang skya as a lama
who had "cast in his lot with the Qing dynasty" and characterizes court-sponsored lamas
of the Qing era as conduits through whom "the [Qing] courts exerted influence on and
ruled the regions of the Tibetan and Mongolian nationalities." Chen 1991: 83, 67. Smith
states that Leang skya and his biographer, Thu'u bkwan Blo bzang Chos kyi Nyi rna,
"served as willing agents of Chinese imperial policy" and goes on to write that
"[e]ighteenth century Tibetan history is the tale of the cunning imposition in the guise of
religious patronage of a Chinese protectorate over Tibet. Lcang-skya Ro1-pa'i rdo-rje
played a noticeable role in the manipulations." Smith 1969: 2.
By contrast, Hopkins 1987 and Kampfe 1976 present Lcang skya as a mediator
who leveraged his authority among Tibetans, Mongols and elites at the Manchu court to
fulfill both Qing and Dge lugs imperatives. Berger's work further exemplifies the fact
that Leang skya maintained multiple lines of allegiance by touching upon several of the
manifold roles he played as a mediator and diplomat, advisor to the throne, translator,
scholar, tantric adept and guru. Ultimately, however, her work reinforces the image that
Leang skya was an imperial right-hand man who "helped secure Qing control over Ti-
bet." Berger 2003: 178. For his part, Grupper rejects the thesis that the Qing emperors
sponsored lamas purely as a utilitarian measure to encompass Tibetan Buddhist constitu-
encies. In his discussion of Kampfes study of the Second Leang skya Rinpoche, for ex-
18 MARINA ILLICH
argue, is reductive and methodologically problematic. Chankya
Rinpoches biographers undoubtedly show him cooperating with the
Manchu throne but they also devote considerable space to illustrate the
complex and manifold ways that he co-opted Manchu sponsorship and
openly resisted Manchu imperialism to further his own agenda:
consolidating a pan-Geluk spiritual empire crowned by the Dalai Lama
in Lhasa. In short, Chankya Rinpoches two primary biographies, or
rnam thar, depict him as an active agent of history, rather than a passive
The glaring disparity in traditional Tibetan and academic
representations of Chankya Rinpoches life derives, in part, from a
modem scholarly tendency to conceive of political, military and
bureaucratic power as "real," and "religious" power as cross-cut with
false consciousness. Employing a positivist and "secularist" reading of
history, many Western-trained academics have been quick to write off
the indigenous organization of Tibetan biographies, as well as the
historical narratives they construct, as didactic and devotional
fabrications of "hagiographers" inhabiting a fictitious cosmology beset
with "supernatural" and "magical" imaginaries." While such readings of
Tibetan historiographic texts may tell us agreat deal about ourselves, as
Western-trained academics, and the cultural legacies to which we are
ample, he writes that the "discriminatory allocation of power [by the Qing court] over
socially subordinate groups and landed property to the Dge lugs pa, in those regions un-
der Manchu domination did not begin as an instrument of social control to instill Mongol
submission to the Manchu emperor, but instead developed in accordance with traditional
Tibeto-Mongol cultural standards which the Manchus acknowledged as their own."
Grupper 1984: 56-7.
3 The two main Tibetan biographies of Leang skya Rol pa'i rdo rje are: Demo 1969
reprinted as Thu'u bkwan 1989, and Chu bzang 1976.
4 See, for example, Vostrikov 1970: 185-190, Tucci 1949: 42 and Petech 1950: 2.
While recent scholarship has shown a greater willingness to treat works of Tibetan spiri-
tual biography as valid sources of history, many of these works continue to discriminate
between Tibet's "religious" history and its geo-political history in a way that uncritically
invokes an Enlightenment conception of the "religious" and "secular" as discrete, if not
mutually exclusive, domains. (See, for example, Rawski 1998, Crossley 1999, Berger
2003 and Chia 1992.) To theorize Tibetan history in these terms is anachronistic and
methodologically troubling. The Tibetan categories of chos, the domain of the supra-
worldly, and srid, the domain of worldly administration, are not cross-cultural equiva-
lents to the categories of "religion" and "politics"/"temporal affairs" which developed out
of the post-Enlightenment Western discourse on secularism. Unlike "religion" and "poli-
tics" which refer to discrete, if not mutually opposed, realms of social action, chos and
srid refer to mutually-imbricated domains that constitute contiguous facets of a single
IMPERIAL STOOGE OR ROYAL EMISSARY? 19
heir, they doom us to failure in the task of reconstructing the concerns-
cosmological, soteriological and epistemological-which shaped the
lives of Tibetan (or Tibetanized) historical protagonists.
Contemporary PRC scholars have also contributed substantially to
our understanding of Chankya Rinpoches life. However, because they
work under the strict supervision of censor bureaus and must adhere to
historiographic guidelines issued by the state, PRC scholars have little
choice but to frame their discussion of eighteenth-century Tibetan history
in the anachronistic terms of contemporary People's Republic of China
(P.R.C.) state discourse. By definition, their work brackets Tibet under a
"minority nationality" rubric whose main ideological purpose is to
contrast a normative P.R.C. "Han" subject with a panoply of so-called
"non-Han others" situated at the state's periphery. Their work narrowly
conceives of geographic Tibet as a modem-day Tibet Autonomous
Region (T.A.R.) abutted by a congeries of "Tibetan prefectures" in the
surrounding "inland" or nei di provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and
Yunnan. In short, bound by Party directives, these scholars have little
choice but to portray Tibet as a trans-historically inalienable part of
China in a way that profoundly obscures questions of Tibetan agency.
Few of these scholars, for example, have been able to meaningfully
theorize the manifold ways that Qing-era Tibetans attempted to deflect
and resist Manchu imperialism.'
In short, both PRC and Western-trained academics have consistently
depicted Chankya Rinpoches life and Qing-era Tibet in anachronistic
and discursively alien terms which obscure our ability to understand how
Chankya Rolpe Dorje and his contemporaries imagined themselves and
the multi -faceted roles they played as agents of history. 6
5 Chen's 1991 article which is based on both Tibetan and Chinese historical ac-
counts of the early Leang skya lineage is perhaps the broadest appraisal of Leang skya' s
life published in contemporary China. Among other things, it notes in some detail that the
Leang skya Rinpoche was apportioned a high level of state subsidy in the form of grain,
money, precious metal gifts, etc. It comments on Leang skya's various roles at the court
as monk, scholar and diplomat. It further highlights several instances in which ritual
guest protocol was breached in Leang skya's favor. Finally, it notes several instances in
which the emperor deferred to Leang skya's judgment on a matter of geo-political and/or
religious significance and took action that decidedly benefited Tibetan Buddhist constitu-
encies, not the Empire. Despite all of this, Chen's study tenaciously maintains that Leang
skya was a mouthpiece of Qing interests who was co-opted and deployed by the court to
secure the submission of Tibetan Buddhist constituencies across the empire.
6 Unfortunately, I do not read Japanese and cannot give consideration here to Japa-
nese Tibetological works. However, judging from works available in English, Japanese
scholarship seems to avoid these pitfalls in conceptualizing Tibetan history.
20 MARINA ILLICH
In this paper, I will attempt a different reading of Chankya
Rinpoches biographies. Briefly stated, I will approach them as counter-
narrative inscriptions that self-consciously attempted to deflect Manchu
imperialism by inscribing Chankya Rolpe Dorje as a paradigmatic agent
of a pan-Geluk will to power." Specifically, I will argue that the lama
disciples who composed Chankya Rinpoches spiritual biographies very
self-consciously engaged the logic of Chinese imperial ritual in the way
they write about Qing imperial encounters with Tibetan lamas and
dignitaries. Their focus on the minutiae of ritual protocol, I argue, does
not reflect an arcane fascination with ceremonialism or seemingly
impertinent detail. Rather, it reflects a self-conscious attempt to deflect
the hegemonizing strategies of the Qing by asserting a narrative of Geluk
indispensability to the realization of Qing ambition. According to this
narrative, Geluk acumen in fields as diverse as subduing physical or
unseen enemies, stymieing drought and deluge, curing illness and, of
course, guiding their disciples to enlightenment constituted a sina qua
non of Qing imperial success.
This reading of Chankya' s biographies is methodologically indebted
to the workof cultural historians James Hevia and Angela Zito.f In their
respective studies of Chinese imperial Guest Ritual (Ch. binli) and
7 By "will to power" I do not mean simply raw power as it is conventionally con-
ceived: control over the production, distribution and allocation of material and ideologi-
cal resources including discourse, capital, human labor and so forth. Rather, I retain the
idea of power as it was defined normatively by proponents of Tibetan Vajrayana monas-
ticism themselves, namely: the power to secure stable patronage and proliferate Dge lugs
institutions and practices (particularly monasteries) as a means to institutionalize a sys-
tematic curriculum of "pacifying" the mind in order for individuals to transform them-
selves from ordinary or alienated beings (Tib: so so skye bo) into holy (Tib: 'phags pa)-
that is, selfless-beings. While Tibetan historical sources brim with examples of corrup-
tion, sectarianism, politicking and so forth, they also provide abundant testimony to the
manifold ways that lamas acted out their stated Bodhisattva objectives, in particular, by
negotiating nonviolent solutions to social confl icts even when doing so put them in
harm's way. By "will to power," then, I hope to capture both definitions of power which
historical evidence suggests motivated Dge lugs expansion: the power to leverage requi-
site material and spiritual resources to actualize an ethos of self-Iessness and social har-
mony through the individual cultivation of "wisdom and compassion;" and the power to
leverage the Dge lugs order into a position of control over social and ideological re-
sources. To write off the former sense, as many historians do, by asserting that Tibetan
lamas who deployed Buddhist rhetoric were ipso facto either cynical manipulators using
their status to leverage raw power, or were 'sincere believers' (and, therefore, cross-cut
with false consciousness), is both reductive and neo-colonial in its privileging of an epis-
temology of the self and the cosmos that is very specifically a product of the modern
S See Hevia 1989, 1993, ] 994, 1995 and Zito ] 995, ] 997.
IMPERIAL STOOGE OR ROYAL EMISSARY? 21
Imperial audiences (Ch. chaojian) during the Qing, Hevia and Zito have
shown that imperial rituals were not symbolic expressions of other kinds
of power or attempts to mime an idealized but unattainable social order
through the charade of posing the Emperor as a semi-divine Son of
Heaven. Rather, they argue, imperial ritual was the crucial venue through
which emperors instantiated themselves as universal sovereigns by
encompassing a host of others within their own rulership.
As Hevia and Zito show, Qing sovereignty was organized around
the notion that the Emperor, or huangdi, was a "lord of lords" who
materialized his universal and unsurpassed jurisdiction through the active
incorporation offanwang, or lesser lords, within his imperial fold. In so
doing, he legitimated his claim to the Mandate of Heaven by producing
himself as an exemplar of imperial virtue and a paramount embodiment
of "yang" power.? Hevia writes:
In Qing China, the emperor's task was to include others (often quite
alien others) in imperial sovereignty. Put another way, Manchu-
Chinese imperial sovereignty was possible only through the successful
encompassment of other centers of power, a kind of summation of the
constitutive powers of an emperor, who could and must include the
similar powers of other kings within his own kingship. I 0
To actualize this idealized "yang" subject position, however, the
emperor could not simply overcome others by force. He had to
manifestly include them within his projects of rulership. As Zito points
out, "In social relations, the yang position of power and authority never
9 Briefly stated, according to classical Han social philosophy, socio-cosmic har-
mony was predicated on the correct instantiation of an idealized set of social relations
between "yang" superiors and "yin" inferiors exemplified by the Five Bonds-relations
between ruler/minister, father/son, husband/wife, elder/younger brothers and
friend/friend. The "yang" side of these dyads maintained a position of superiority because
"yang" subjects had the power to initiate actions which "yin" counterparts were expected
to complete. In so doing, "yang" subjects could direct their counterparts into specific,
inferior subject positions and, thereby, define and delimit "yin" agency. By the same
token, since "yang" power derived from encompassing "yin" subjects within the field of
its own subjectivity and not from exerting top-down, hegemonic power, it could be chal-
lenged by unwilling "yin" subjects who failed to acquiesce in completing "yang" objec-
tives. The emperor was considered to be the supreme embodiment of "yang" power and,
thus, the paramount arbiter of this social dialectic. While clearly a "yin" subject vis-a-vis
his ancestors and Heaven, he also stood in the highest earthly position as the world's
universal sovereign and was thus poised to encompass, within his exemplary field of
virtue, all his inferior but complementary "yin" subjects.
10 Hevia 1994: 186.
22 MARINA ILLICH
reigned absolute in its stability, but required its Other in a yin position to
complete its initiatives"ll Or as Hevia puts it,
relations were contingent and provisional, requmng continuous
renegotiation and refashioning as conditions in the world changed. In a
political situation in which lords vied with each other for supremacy,
any claim that the emperor might make to supreme lordship was
predicated on his dexterous management of relations with other lords;
he must include their strength without diluting it so that he could, if
necessary, command them to assist him in the ordering of the world. 12
Imperial Guest Ritual, Hevia and Zito show, was the crucial
medium for negotiating this process. In Guest Ritual, the emperor, as
superior, initiated a sequence of rituals action, and the lesser lord, as
inferior, brought (or at least was expected to bring) them to completion.
In so doing, the lesser lord signaled that he had been encompassed within
the emperor's rulership. Thus, through Guest Ritual, the Emperor could
actualize an idealized spatial and hierarchical orchestration of bodies that
visibly manifested his "yang" power and imperial "de," or power as
cosmic exemplar, and by extension the legitimacy of his claim to
universal rulc.! '
Chankya Rolpe Dorjes biographers, I argue, were keenly aware that
imperial power was constituted-and could be contested-through the
performance of ritualized audience sequences and the narrati ve
inscription of those encounters.t- Such a reading would explain why
II Zito 1995: 15.
12 Hevia 1989: 81.
13 As Hevia points out, "Sovereignty, as it was fashioned in Qing ceremonial prac-
tice, manifested the generative powers of a superior to initiate and the capacity of inferi-
ors, through their actions, to bring to completion the sequence of events set in motion by
the emperor. In Chinese studies this is classically referred to as the power of the exem-
plar: the extension of imperial virtue into the world. Together, superiors and inferiors
constructed a historically specific and situation-contingent relationship between a su-
preme lord (huangdi, the emperor) and a lesser lord (janwang, a lord of the periphery).
The completing capacity of an inferior is crucial in the formation of such relationships,
and it resonates throughout all audience rituals." Hevia 1994: 186. In short, as he under-
scores elsewhere, "[t]he overwhelming emphasis in Chinese ritual texts on the position
and disposition of bodies in ceremonial space meant that ritual actions constituted a
cosmo-political order in highly consequential ways." Hevia 1989: 89.
14 Indeed, as Zito states in comparing Tibetan and Chinese accounts of the Fourth
Panchen Lama's visit with Emperor Qianlong in 1780, "everyone present in the Chinese
and Tibetan texts knew what was going on here-they were apprised of the rules of these
various games [of ritual protocol] in ways that the Europeans were not, as their accounts
of the same events make ludicrously clear." Zito 1995: 31.
IMPERIAL STOOGE OR ROYAL EMISSARY? 23
Chankya's biographers took pains to recount the manifold ways and
many times that the emperor granted special dispensations to Chankya
Rinpoche and other high-ranking lamas during imperial encounters. Let
us consider the following examples:
Passage one, from the shorter biography by Chubzang Rinpoche
(Chu bzang Ngag dbang thub bstan dbang phyug):
Then, when he was eight, Chankya Rinpoche went to the Golden
Capital [Beijing] by order of the Manjushri Emperor [Yongzheng].
First, on an astrologically pure and auspicious day, he had an audience
with the Manjushri Emperor in the Sandalwood Temple.I> When they
exchanged greetings, the Emperor expressed enormous delight, as if he
had found a wish-fulfilling gem. Seating [Chankya]directly besides
himself [on the throne], the Emperor offered him [to take] as his
residence the great monastic seat of Zongzhusi, or Tashi Rabgye Ling
Temple, a pleasure grove filled with all the translated scriptures of the
Buddha's word and the Indian commentaries, whereupon he gave
orders for it to be fully renovated immediately. 16
In his longer biography, Thukwan [Thu'u bkwan Chos kyi nyi rna]
gives his readers an even more embellished account. As the emperor
approached the courtyard leading into the temple, Thukwan writes,
knelt down on one knee and offered him a statue of Amitayus made of
a gold and silver alloy together with an immaculate silk scarf. The
emperor descended from his palanquin, grabbed the tulku' s [sprul sku]
hand and, pulling him up to standing, instructed the precious lama to
proceed ahead of him. But [Chankya] knelt down again and insisted
that the emperor proceed first, in the manner of someone well-
acquainted with the customs of imperial protocol. The Emperor lifted
[Chankya] up onto his lap and invited him inside [with him] where he
requested the precious tulku to be seated at the center of the cushion on
his [the emperor's] imperial throne. Seating himself on the edge of the
throne cushion, the Emperor grasped the precious lama's hand and
reminisced about [Chankya's] former incarnation [the Emperor's root
15 The Sandalwood Buddha Temple, or Zhantansi, located in the northern corner of
the Imperial City, was constructed in 1665 during the reignof Emperor Kangxi and re-
stored in 1760 under the auspices of the Qianlong Emperor. Home to hundreds of monks,
the temple was an active center of Tibetan Buddhist practice in the Qing imperial capital
and was named after the holy image it housed, a life-sized, antique sandalwood statue of
Shakyamuni. See Naquin 2000: 342.
16 Kampfe 1976: 15b-16a.
24 MARINA ILLICH
guru]. Thereupon, he broke down into tears and appeared unable [even]
to speak for some time. 17
As soon as Chankya Rinpoche had come out of retreat [in 1745], the
Great Brahma of the Earth [the Qianlong Emperor] requested [his
master] to bestow the Cakrasamvara initiation upon him. For about ten
days, [Chankya] had clear visions of the deities he was propitiating
[who appeared] adorned in their implements as if they were directly in
front of him and he received timely prophecies from them which
clearly demonstrated the sacredness of the site.
At the time of [performing] the requisite preparations to initiate
the Manjushri Emperor, the One Ordained by Heaven, into the five-
deity Cakrasamvara, the Emperor threw the so shing
and it landed
planted completely upright. When it came time to analyze the sign that
the so shing [augured by landing this way], examining how it was
upright, [Chankya] said '[the Emperor] is a vidhyddhara,' 19 Marvelous
signs were said to have appeared such as that when it came time to
examine [the emperor's] nighttime dreams, [it came out that] the
Emperor had been jolted awake in his imperial quarters by the clear
sound of the master [Chankya] reciting the seven-syllable mantra of
Cakrasamvara [far off] in his sleeping quarters.t?
On the following day, they completed all stages of the actual
initiation. From then on, [the Emperor] held this master atop his five-
Buddha clan crown. Thereafter, he never transgressed his [lama's]
commands and forevermore delighted in propitiating him with the three
types of offering [of his body, speech and mindj.U In so doing, the
17 Thu'u bkwan 1989: 88-89.
18 The so shing is an instrument used in the preliminary rites of offering (Tib. sta
gon) in the five-deity Cakrasamvara initiation. In these rites, the initiate drops the so
shing onto the mandala and the deity in whose direction it lands pointing is thought to be
the initiate's karmically-ordained spiritual guide and protector. The implement is called a
so shing, literally meaning "tooth-stick," because it was traditionally made of the neem
branch used for tooth brushing in India.
19 Vidhyddhara is a Sanskrit synonym for siddha, meaning tantric adept or Bud-
dha. This miraculous landing of the so shing was considered particularly auspicious not
only because it landed upright, defying all laws of gravity, but because it landed in the
center and thus indicated that the Emperor had a special affinity with the central Buddha,
20 Kampfe 1976: 52a.
21 The Buddha-clan crown is a crown depicting the five Buddha clans which is
worn by a tantric initiate during initiation ceremonies. By claiming that the Emperor held
Chankya atop this crown, the author is asserting that Qianlong accepted his master as
indivisible from the Buddha and regarded him as a superior to whom he was spiritually
bound by oath.
IMPERIAL STOOGE OR ROYAL EMISSARY? 25
Great Protector of the Earth [the emperor] opened many doors of
profound and auspicious [karmic] connection indicating that he would
spontaneously fulfill his master's wishes.
Thereafter, [the Emperor] took many profound and extensive
teachings [from Chankya including] the experiential instructions on the
two stages of the profound path of Cakrasamvara, together with the
branch teachings. Later, while Chankya was initiating [the Emperor]
into the Vajrayogini tantra, an amazing sign appeared as [the master]
had predicted. Just at the time of the descent of the wisdom being,22 the
Emperor did such things as pull out the cushion beneath him and kneel
directly on the floor for the duration of the initiation ceremony, thereby
visibly manifesting that he had generated unshakable faith in his lama
and had genuinely accepted him as the Vajradhara Buddha himself.
Passage three: In recounting the Panchen Lama's visit to the
Manchu court in 1780, Chubzang underscores a number of similar
special ritual dispensations which were granted on this occasion. Among
other things, he tells us that the Panchen Lama arrived at the emperor's
quarters on a yellow palanquin borne by eight men.z- Later, the Emperor
"showed the [Panchen Lama] inconceivable respect" by offering him (as
well as Chankya Rinpoche) extraordinary lama head dresses emblazoned
with the Cakrasamvara mantra as well as agolden palanquin borne by
Similarly, when the Panchen Lama was due to arrive at the Summer
Imperial capital in Jehol (present day Chengde), the Emperor met
directly with the Panchen Lama and, just as they met, the Emperor
excused him from having to kneel down and instead greeted the lama in
22 The ye shes sems pa or "wisdom being" (Skt: jhiinasattvai is the second of the
three kinds of sems pa' or "beings." The first of these, the dam tshig sems dpa' (Skt:
samayasattva) or "devotee being" is the deity visualized either externally, at the crown,
or as the practitioner him/herself. The jiuinasattva or "wisdom being" is a wisdom dupli-
cate of the deity that is ritually invited to merge indivisibly with the practitioner (alterna-
tively, with the deity icon visualized at the practitioner's crown), or with the material icon
being consecrated. As such, the "devotee being" is like a ritual vessel into which the deity
is invoked transforming his or her unenlightened mind-body into the actual deity itself.
(The third being, the ting 'dzin sems dpa' (samiidhisattvai or "concentration being," is
usually a seed syllable visualized at the heart representing the practitioner's inner mind
essence or innate Buddha nature.)
23 Kampfe 1976: 52a-52b. Compare with Thu'u bkwan 1989: 295-96 which makes
no mention of the Emperor kneeling directly on the bare floor.
24 Kampfe 1976: 11Ob.
25 Kampfe 1976: 112a.
26 MARINA ILLICH
the kha btags-to-kha btags fashion.
The Emperor then offered the
Panchen Lama a banquet to celebrate his arrival and, extending
unsurpassable respect to him and his retinue, the emperor finally
installed him in the Tashi Lhunpo Temple-[a grandiloquent temple
project, we should note, which the emperor commissioned exclusively
for the Panchen's visit to the court.]27
At their final meeting in Beij ing, Chubzang informs us, the Emperor
ordered the Panchen Lama to be carried in his palanquin as far as the
third level from the bottom proceeding up to Audience hall and Chankya
Rinpoche as far as the second level. Chubzang then adds that "people say
that it is very hard for other high-standing dignitaries under Heaven to
merely enter this courtyard without Imperial permission, what to speak
of being escorted this far up [towards the imperial chambers.]"28
Passage four: The following year, soon after the Panchen Lama had
passed away and his death rituals had been completed, Chankya
Rinpoche went to Wutai Shan with the Emperor. Once there, Chubzang
tells us, the Emperor turned to Chankya Rinpoche and said, "Come sit on
the throne [with me]. We should sit together." Taking Chankya
Rinpoche's hand, he added, "When I have you by my side, I'm happy."29
These passages all highlight major ritual dispensations which the
Emperor allegedly granted Chankya Rinpoche and other senior
26 Traditionally, bka tags, or silk scarves, were only exchanged this way between
individuals of equal status.
27 Kampfe 1976: 112a-112b. Thukwan's biography informs us that when the
Panchen Lama met the Emperor at Jehol (on the eve of the Emperor's 70th birthday cele-
bration), he was granted the "unsurpassed privilege" [Tib. bdag rkyen bla na medpa, lit.,
'unsurpassed gift'] of being carried on his palanquin, by imperial order, directly into the
Emperor's imperial private chambers [Tib. gzim khang] just as had been done on every
occasion that he met with the emperor on this visit. (Thukwan adds that Leang skya Rin-
poche was carried as far as the threshold (ie: just outside) the Emperor's imperial private
chambers.) Thu'u bkwan 1989: 583. A bit further on, Thukwan explains how at one point
during the Panchen's visit, Leang skya Rinpoche took him on a tour of the "yo mi yan"
garden and explained to the Panchen Lama that other ministers were not allowed in the
garden but that the Emperor had granted the Panchen Lama a special dispensation not
only because he was a long-time proponent of the teachings in general but also because
he had unshakable faith in the Panchen Lama and hoped for the holy lama to confer his
blessings on the site. "If we consider this [the special dispensation the Emperor has given
you]," Leang skya Rinpoche pointed out, "it is a marvelous fruition in the present of [the
joint commitment to] the profound compassionate mind of enlightenment [bodhicitta]
which you two, the lama and patron [the Emperor], initiated long ago." Thu'u bkwan
28 Kampfe 1976: 113b. See also Thu'u bkwan 1989: 586.
29 Kampfe 1976: 115b-116a. See also Thu'u bkwan 1989: 598.
IMPERIAL STOOGE OR ROYAL EMISSARY? 27
dignitaries in serious contravention of orthodox binli or Guest Ritual. As
Hevia points out, according to Imperial Guest protocol: ambassadors
were not supposed to come inside the Imperial Hall, but to conduct their
audiences from the courtyard where they were posted on the Western
perimeter. They were not supposed to koutou, or prostrate, directly
before the emperor but outside in the courtyard. Ambassadors were not
supposed to approach the throne but to kneel at the threshold of the
audience hall. Finally, the actual presence of an embassy in the audience
hall was considered a special situation.w
According to the accounts of Chubzang and Thukwan, however, the
Emperor eschewed many of these norms of ritual protocol in his
meetings with Chankya and his contemporaries. Their accounts tell us
that upon first meeting the young Chankya Rinpoche, the Yongzheng
Emperor not only greeted the boy in person but directly lifted him onto
his lap and then seated him in the center of the throne (while the Emperor
himself sat to the side.) In 1745, they tell us, the Qianlong Emperor not
only knelt before his guru during his initiation into the Cakrasamvara
Tantra, but went so far as to remove the floor cushion beneath him to
kneel directly on the floor. In his 1780 audience with the Panchen Lama,
they tell us, the Qianlong Emperor relieved the lama of his duty to kneel
(itself a dispensation from the regular koutou) and then went so far as to
greet the Lama in a traditional Tibetan kha btags-to-kha btags manner
that traditionally signaled equal status. The Emperor further arranged to
have the lama escorted not just in a golden palanquin borne by eunuchs
but very nearly to the top level of the audience hall. (And he arranged for
Chankya Rinpoche to be carried almost as far.) Finally, towards the end
of Chankya Rinpoches life, they tell us, the Qianlong Emperor invited
Chankya Rinpoche to sit besides him on the throne (bringing the
narrative full circle?) and then openly professed his heartfelt attachment
to the lama with a display of uncontrolled emotion. These passages, we
should remember, constitute but a few examples of the special
dispensations which Chankya Rinpoche s biographers claim the Emperor
granted him and his colleagues.
Moreover, the inscription of all of these passages is explicitly
couched in the language of the mchod yon or the lama-patron idiom. The
lama-patron institution was developed from an Indian Buddhist model of
kingship which conceived of rulership as a joint project between worldly
kings responsible for administering the seen world, and supra-worldly
30 Hevia 1993: 257-8.
28 MARINA lLLICH
kings-s-namely, realized Buddhist masters-responsible for mediating
between the seen and unseen worlds and for guiding all beings on the
path to supreme liberation. In this scheme, the patron or yon bdag Cone
who gives offerings to a religious person or object")-whether king,
khan, or Son of Heaven-was considered to possess mere worldly
jurisdiction whereas the lama or mchod gnas Ca person or thing to which
religious offerings are made") was viewed as a Buddha wielding cosmic
jurisdiction.U By framing their narration of events in the terms of the
lama-patron discourse, Chankya Rinpoche 's narrators were actively
inscribing Chankya Rinpoche in what we might call a "yang" subject
position vis-a-vis the Emperor and his subjects.
To be sure, in depicting the Emperor as a yon bdag or patron,
Chubzang and Thukwan were claiming that he was nothing less than a
wheel-turning cakravartin king commanding universal worldly
jurisdiction. But in depicting Chankya Rinpoche as a mchod gnas, an
enlightened master worthy of imperial worship, they were
simultaneously asserting that Chankya Rinpoche-e-and not the
Emperor-commanded universal sovereignty as master of the supra-
worldly realm and realized Buddha guide showing the path to
enlightenment. In short, they were claiming for Chankya Rinpoche, and
not the emperor, the status of ultimate "king of kings." Visually, this was
represented in thankas depicting Chankya Rinpoche seated upon (or,
more accurately, floating several inches above) the Emperor'scrown.
This is not to say that Chubzang and Thukwan do not also mention
the many times that Chankya Rinpoche does kotou, that he is seated to
the west of the Emperor, as per imperial protocol, that he has to get
imperial permission to leave to go home to Amdo, go on retreat and so
forth. But they couch their narration of these events in triumphalist
language that clearly restores Chankya Rinpoches agency as an
historical actor and casts him, and not the emperor, as paramount arbiter
and overseer of cosmic events. Simply put, in lama-patron terms,
Chankya Rinpoche 's koutou to the Emperor constitutes but an act of
worldly submission. The Emperor's prostration to his lama, by
comparison, signals the ultimate act of submission by emperor to his
lama. Presented in these terms, it is the lama and not the Emperor who
succeeds in the final act of encompassment, incorporating the Emperor's
worldly realm and apportioning it a proper place within his own infinite,
31 Wylie 1977: 119.
IMPERIAL STOOGE OR ROYAL EMISSARY? 29
In short, the narrative emphasis on ritual sequences that we find in
these biographies, I contend, is not arbitrary, nor does it signal some sort
of "pre-modem" or sacerdotal obsession with the minutia of ceremonial
protocol. Rather, these inscriptions constitute deliberate attempts on the
part of Chankya Rinpoches historiographers to portray him as a
paradigmatic tantric lama and king of kings, a master of ceremonies
whose supra-worldly jurisdiction is no match for that of an earthly
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-1993. Lamas, Emperors and Rituals: Political Implications in Qing
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IPPOLITO DESIDERI, S.J. ON
PADMASAMBHAVA'S PROPHECIES AND THE PERSECUTION
OF THE RNYING MA, 1717-1720
R. Trent Pomplun
Among the many ancient books that are in general circulation in Tibet,
two especially talk of Padmasambhava. The first is entitled Lungh-ten,
or the prophecies of was the first book that was
translated to me word by word after I arrived in Lhasa and began to
study the books of this people. The other book, which I also studied
word by word, tells of the life of Urghien, his arrival in Tibet, and his
stay there. In the first book and some of the chapters of the second,
there is an extensive series of prophecies in the form of a dialogue
between the King of Tibet and Urghien, in which the latter predicts
those things that shall happen in the kingdom after many centuries have
The Italian Jesuit Ippolito Desideri (1684-1733) is well known for his
fascinating but flawed account of the Dzungar invasion and Manchu
takeover of Tibet in the early eighteenth century. According to his own
testimony, he also seems to have been the first Westerner to study the
prophetic literature of the Rnying rna school of Tibetan Buddhism. While
Luciano Petech was content to note the influence of this literature on the
Jesuit's views of Tibetan religion and culture, his student Giuseppe
Toscano, in the introduction and notes to his translation of Desideri's
! "Convien dunque sapere che tra molti libri che da antico tempo corrono nel
Thibet per Ie mani di tutti due specialmente son molto notabili al presente proposito. Uno
e intitolato Lung-ten, cioe Profezie d'Urghien, e fu questo appunto il primo libro che mi
capito aile mani e che parola per parola mi feci con molta diligenza spiegare nel primo
mettermi a studiare i libri di quella gentilita poco dopo il mio arrivo a Lhasa. L'altro con-
tiene la vita d'Urghien, la sua andata al Thibet e sua dimora in esso; e fu questo il sec-
ondo libro che in quella lingua studiai, e che parimenti parola per parola mi fece molto
accuratamente interpretare. Or in tutto quel primo libro e in alcuni capitoli del secondo, in
forma di dialogo tra il re del Thibet e tra Urghien, si riferisce una lunga serie di profezie
da questi fatte circa Ie cose che in quel regno per lunga serie di secoli erano per sue-
cedere." Petech 1944-1946, VI: 265-66. As the reader can see, I often paraphrase the
missionary's longer sentences or omit his redundant phrases, but J include the full Italian
text to give one a sense of his style.
34 R. TRENT POMPLUN
Tho rangs mun sel nyi ma shar ba, demonstrated the influence of the
Padma thang yig and the prophecies (lung bstan) of Padmasambhava on
the Jesuit's punctuation, vocabulary, and style.2 Indeed, when the
missionary presented his first Tibetan work to Lha bzang Khan in solemn
audience on the sixth of January 1717, he compared Christian revelation
to a gter mas and even compared himself to a gter ston like Moses." If
this work exposes the errors of Tibetan religion by means of the
genealogical criticism common to Christian missionaries like Matteo
Ricci and Bartholomteus Ziegenbalg.> the missionary's later texts-
exemplified by the Questions Concerning Reincarnation and the View of
Emptiness Offered to the Scholars of Tibet by the Christian Lama
Ippolito (Mgo skar bla ma i po li do shes bya ba yis phul ba'i bod kyi
mkhas pa rnams la skyes pa snga ma dang stong pa nyid kyi Ita ba 'i sgo
nes zhu ba)-follow the expository scholasticism of yig cha texts.v This
dramatic change in style might give the impression that the missionary
abandoned Rnying rna literature in favor of Dge lugs scholasticism after
he began his studies at Se ra monastery in the summer of 1717. It would
be wrong, however, to think that Desideri's turn to scholasticism
represents a purification of the cultic or supernatural elements of either
Christianity or Buddhism-as Toscano often implies." There is no
2 See Luciano Petech's editorial remarks in Petech 1944-46, VI: 346-49, nn. 141-
63. Toscano 1981: 77-82. On Desideri's use of the gter rtags, see 157, n. 2. On his vo-
cabulary, see 161, n. 15 and 209, n. 8. On his style, see 187, n. 7 and 200, n. 2. Toscano
often ascribes a specifically Rnying rna interpretation to Desideri's use of terms such as
rang byung and rang grub. I find this ascription a bit forced, but Desideri's familiarity
with the vocabulary of the Padma thang yig is readily apparent.
3 Desideri 1981: 117.7.
4 Desideri 1981: 89.6. 53.7-65.5 contain Desideri's rendering of the Exodus of Is-
rael. In addition to describing himself as a gter ston to rival Padmasambhava, Desideri
describes God with titles reminiscent of Avalokitesvara, such as thugs rje chen po. Cf.
Desideri 1981: 6.1, 3] .1, and 66.2.
5 The standard introduction to Matteo Ricci is Spence ]984. On Bartholomreus
Ziegenbalg, see Singh 2000.
6 The title appears to contain a misspelling. Mgo skar [=mgo dkar]. Mgo skar is ac-
tually a self-conscious neologism intended to echo its homonym. Toscano's translation,
'cristiano,' is borne out by the original Italian manuscript of the Tho rangs. Cf. Toscano
7 Note the following passage in Toscano 1981: 20: "Per comprendere
I'atteggiamento polemico del p. Desideri nella sua prima opera ..., si deve tener presente
che il suo primo contatto con la religione tibetana non estato con la seconda forma pili
elevata, rna esclusivamente con la prima risultante dalla mescolanza del bon con il bud-
dhismo tantrico." Or again, Toscano] 981: 78 (quoting Tucci] 976: 239): "II Desideri
non combatte il buddhismo in quest'opera rna la sua degenerazione, quella degenerazione
della quale il Tucci scrisse: 'La graduale disgregazione delle basi dottrinarie del bud-
IPOUTO DESIDERI, S.J. ON PADMASAMBHAVA 35
historical, philosophical, or theological reason to suppose that Desideri
abandoned either his genealogical criticism of Tibetan religion or his
interest in Tibetan prophetic literature. In fact, Padmasambhava's
prophecies continued to influence the Jesuit missionary's interpretation
of the political events that wracked Tibet during the early eighteenth
century, for he saw in them the persecution of his Rnying rna friends and
his own rivalry with Padmasambhava. Why the prophecies so fascinated
Desideri-and how he came to read them-remain something of a
mystery. As I hope to show, the identity of one of Desideri's friends, the
mysterious 'Lungar lama' from Dwags po, might offer scholars new
insights into these issues.
With the possible exception of Lha bzang Khan, no figure is so
readily analyzed in Desideri's Notizie istoriche as Padmasambhava.s The
ancient sorcerer frames the missionary's journey: he is waiting when the
missionary enters Tibet through the Western deserts in 1715 and rises
again when the missionary descends the Tibetan plateau in 1721. This is
Desideri's account of their first meeting:
On the ninth of November 1715, we arrived at the highest point of our
journey, indeed, the highest point that we reached in all of our
wandering. This place--a bleak desert indeed-is greatly respected and
venerated on account of a certain Urghien, who established the religion
or sect that one finds in Tibet. Away from the road is a mountain of
excessive height, quite large in circumference, its summit enveloped in
cloud and perpetually encased in snow and ice, which remains quite
horrible and austere, for it is most bitterly cold. Urghien lived for some
time in complete solitude and continuous contemplation in a cave
carved from the living rock of this very mountain.?
dhismo, riconoscibile gia nella sua espressione tantrica, nel Tibet e tanato avanzata da
permettere la soprevvivenza della concezioni autoctone. ",
8 Desideri devotes considerable space to retelling his story. Cf. Petech 1944-46, VI:
9 "A' 9 di Novernbre arrivammo al piu alto de' luoghi, che abbiamo passato in tutto
questa nostro pellegrinaggio. Tal luogo (che pur' edeserto) eappresso i paesani di molto
rispetto e venerazione, per riguardo a un certo Urghien, che stabili nel Thibet la religione
o setta che in esso corre. V'e quivi fuori di strada un monte streminatamente alto, molto
largo di circuito, nella sommita ricoperta dale nuvole e 'da perpetue nevi e ghiacci, e nel
resto molto orrido e rigido per I'acerbissimo freddo, che in esso fa. In una spelonca, ch'e
farmata di viva pietra eli questa monte, dicono che dimoro qualche tempo in un total ritiro
e asprezza e in continuo contemplazioni il sopradetto Urghien." Petech 1944-46, V: 174-
175. As one can see from the two passages quoted, Desideri is rarely consistent in his
phonetic transliteration of Tibetan words.
36 R. TRENT POMPLUN
This passage may seem dry enough to us today, but to Desideri' s
readers it would have fairly bristled with tension. Wind-swept deserts
and lonesome mountains were common settings in Christian literature,
portending epic temptations and terrible battles. Just as Matteo Ricci's
readers would have caught the scriptural allusions when he spoke of
China as un deserto si lontano or its people as questa remotissima
gente.t» Desideri' s readers would have shivered with fear when he
referred to the Himalayas as "the very picture of desolation, horror, and
death itself."11 A missionary of the early eighteenth century could have
found such ideas confirmed by scientists of his day, for whom it was no
exaggeration to say that the very existence of mountain ranges, including
the very range upon which Desideri confronted Padmasambhava, spoke
of the most ancient sins of the human race, for it was common scientific
opinion in the seventeenth century that such peaks formed only after the
waters of Noah's flood subsidcd.l- Such confrontations were also fast
becoming a dominant staple of missionary lore. Harkening to the tale of
Elijah and the priests of Baal, the Catholic Church deployed its own
thaumaturges in the war for souls and took evident delight in the miracles
they performed. 13 The Jesuit missionary is no exception in this regard: he
unabashedly describes the miracles of the saints who preceded him in the
Asian missions, and he treats his eighteenth-century reader to several
anecdotes calculated to instill in them the belief that the Holy Spirit still
performed such miracles in the Church.t-
It is with such sentiments that Ippolito Desideri entered the
phantasmagoria of Tibetan politics. As the Jesuit compared himself to a
gter ston in the court of Lha bzang Khan, he was hardly aware that the
10 Spence, p. 56.
11 ." .. se fait entre des montagnes qui sont une vraye image de la tristesse, de
l'horreur, & de la mort mesmes." Letter to Ildebrando Grassi (10 April 1716) Petech
1944-46, V: 34.
12 Rossi 1984.
13 Discussing men such as the Augustinian Juan Bautista de Moya, Serge Gruzin-
ski says "From 1550 to 1650, from Queretaro to the bishopric of Oaxaca, from the valley
of Puebla to Michoaciin, these holy men filled the Mexican countryside with the renown
of their exploits, mastered the natural elements, kept away storms, attracted rain, ordered
the clouds and plants, lit or put out fires at will, and devoted themselves to prophecy and
divination. Above all they multiplied miraculous healings before and after their death,
since their relics and their bodies ... were themselves endowed with miraculous powers."
Gruzinski 1993: 189. Compare the encounter between the Jesuit fathers and the magician
Guiraberu in de Montoya 1993: 99-100.
14 Desideri 1944-46: 148, 150-51, 157. Compare Desideri's Letter to Francesco
Piccolomini (21 August 1714). Desideri 1944-46: 16.
IPOLITO DESIDERI, s.r. ON PADMASAMBHAVA 37
Qoshot chieftain would soon lose "his kingdom, his family, and his very
life."15 Although it is impossible to describe the tangled politics of Lha
bzang Khan's reign in such a short essay without over-simplifying
matters, suffice to say that the Dge lugs order was divided into several
competing factions from A mdo, Gtsang, and Dbus, each of which with
complex and ever-shifting alliances with Tibetan aristocrats, Mongol
chieftains, and Manchu nobles.lc Between Sde srid Sangs rgyas rgya
mtsho and the Qoshot Khan in central Tibet-and the Manchu Empire
and the Dzungars beyond its borders-these various factions existed in
delicate tension at the tum of the eighteenth century. I 7 When Lha bzang
Khan's wife had the regent decapitated in the Stod lung Valley and the
Sixth Dalai Lama defected to the brothels of Lhasa in 1705, each of the
various Dge lugs factions turned to its foreign benefactors, and the seeds
of war were sown.If Such seeds bore fruit on the thirtieth of November
1717, when the Dzungars-aided by a coalition of Dge lugs from 'Bras
spungs, Se ra, and Dga' ldan monasteries-sacked Lhasa and murdered
Lha bzang Khan. This ramshackle coalition briefly controlled Lhasa and
a few surrounding districts but was still caught between the Dge lugs
factions from A mdo and Gtsang, both pro-Manchu and both quite
hostile. In an attempt to find firm footing on shaky ground, Stag rtse pa
and the Dzungar government began a wholesale persecution of Rnying
ma and Bka' brgyud monks and laymen under the direction of Blo bzang
phun tshogs, a Dzungar lama of Sgo mangs college. From November
1717 to October 1720, these Dge lugs and their Dzungar allies sacked
and pillaged monasteries along the Gtsang po River, reaching as far as
Dwags lha sgam po to the East. Although we have not yet untangled the
complex reasons for these persecutions-I believe that they are best
understood in terms of family conflicts and land polity-one thing is
15 "Pili felice sarebbe stata la di lui prudenza, se all'altre qual ita che
I'accompagnavano avesse saputo accompagnare I'altra qualita tanto necessaria ne' reg-
nanti, di sapere al1e volte sospettare; per mancanza di che perde il suo regno, la sua
famiglia e la propria sua vita." Desideri 1944-46: 41 n.
16 Petech  1972 is still the standard work. Petech 1988 contains valuable in-
sights as well, especially into Desideri's limitations as an historian.
17 Ahmad 1970 remains the primary European-language work on the relationship
of the Sde srid to the Dzungars. It must be used with extreme caution, however, until
much of the current research being done on the regent is published.
18 Standard accounts for these events can be found in Kun mkhyen 'Jigs med
dbang po 1987: 108 tf; Blo bzang ye shes dpal bzang po 1981-85: 447 1'1'; Mdo mkhar
Tshe ring dbang rgyal 1981: 119 1'1'; Sum pa mkhan po Ye shes dpal 'byor (Yang 1970),
and Tsepon Shakabpa 1976: 482 ff.
38 R. TRENT POMPLUN
clear. The monasteries sacked were predominantly Rnying rna and Bka'
brgyud institutions in Dbus, Gtsang, and Dwags po, and most notable
among these were the Rnying rna monasteries-Rnam rgyal gling, Bsam
lding, Smin grol gling and Rdo rje brag-s-that had intimate ties to the
Fifth Dalai. While Petech sees these persecutions in racial terms-as a
policy imposed upon Tibetans by the Dzungars-Desideri believed them
to result from internal Tibetan conflicts, Petech, too, seems at pains to
ensure that the Tibetans had little to do with the persecutions and implies
that the Dge lugs merely allowed the pillaging of Rnying rna monasteries
as they waited for the rightful Dalai Lama to appear. The Jesuit
missionary is a more severe critic and-at least in this regard-a more
interesting historical source. He observes, for example, that the Dge lugs
differed in their opinions about the Rnying rna, Some Dge lugs were
content to edit or suppress the biographies of Padmasambhava but did
not support such wholesale persecuti on.!? Others engaged in gratuitous
iconoclasm and violently oppressed the Rnying rna, and several of the
most esteemed Rnying rna lamas were deposed, banished, or murdered.
Many, Desideri relates, fled with nothing and refuge in hidden
Fearing that his friendship with the deposed QOShOl chieftain would
cost him his life, Ippolito Desideri fled to Dwags pO.21 While there, he
befriended a 'rosy and rotund' man he calls the 'Lungar lama.' "We
enjoyed a great friendship and close familiarity," Desideri writes, "and
he often invited me to pass two or three days in his company, and was
very generous, offering me presents time and time again, especially great
quantities of gold."22 Sadly, the joint Tibetan-Dzungar government
expanded its pillaging into Gtsang and Dwags po in 1718, Awakened one
night by shouts outside his door, the Lungar lama snatched his son and
hurriedly disappeared into a secret passage, Under cover of the night,
they descended a steep path to the river and made a daring escape by
boat. It chanced that, in their flight, they Jesuit's house and
borrowed some money. "Not without compassion and tears," Desideri
19 Petech 1944-46, VI: 161-62, 273n. Here Desideri echoes debates about the biog-
raphies ofPadmasambhava discussed by Blondeau 1980. Compare abo BJondeau 1987.
20 Petech 1944-46, VI: 159.
21 Petech 1944-46, V: 201.
22 "00. aveva egli stretto con me una grandissirna amicizia e un'intima famil-
iarita., .. Frequentemente m'invitava ad andar da lui a passer ora due cora tre giorni in
sua compagnia; e come era di genio molto liberale, m'aveva piu e piu volte fatto copiose
offerta, specialmente d'oro in quantita." Petech 1944-46, Vi: 159-1
IPOLITO DESIDERI, s.r. ON PADMASAMBHAVA 39
tells his reader, "I assisted the flight of the Lungar lama, who was
miserably destitute and in great pain, so that he might escape the hands
of his barbaric persecutors. "23
Such escapes were all-too-common during the Dzungar
persecutions. Mi 'gyur dpal sgron rna, the daughter of the Smin grol
gling abbot Gter bdag gling pa, fled the Dzungars and found refuge in the
hidden valley 'Bras mo Ijongs, in present day Sikkim.e- When faced with
such trials, Rnying rna followers like Mi 'gyur dpal sgron rna or the
'Lungar lama' turned for solace to the very prophecies that Desideri read
in the court of Lha bzang Khan. Although scholars in recent years have
doubted the veracity of such 'treasures' (gter rna), they provided the
narrative and ideological framework of much of Tibetan politics,
especially in times of political crisis.x> While the biographies of
Padmasambhava were well-known by all the participants in this drama,
special mention should be made of the mystical cartographies of hidden
sanctuaries (sbas yuI) that are most often associated with the teachings of
the 'northern treasure' (byang gter) school that flourished at Rdo rje brag
under Padma 'phrin las (1640-1718), one of the Rnying rna lamas singled
out by the Dzungars for extreme persecution.zs Although such sbas yul
texts differ in specific details, as a whole they describe a period of stable
Mongol rule, after which foreign invaders conquer Tibet and social and
spiritual disintegration ensues. Desideri, working within this general
framework, saw the Mongol ascent to power, the Dzungar invasion, and
the establishment of the Manchu protectorate foretold in the prophecies.
While I cannot yet say exactly which of the treasure texts the Jesuit
father may have read-beyond the dialogues contained in the Padma
thang yig-it is sufficient for our purposes that he tells us that he read
them, since little ingenuity is needed to read the events of the
23 "Non senza compassione e non senza lacrime soccorsi io nella sua fuga il Lama
di Lungar, miseramente fuggitivo e con gran pena scappato dalle mani de' barbarii perse-
cutori." This passage precedes Desideri's description of the lama: "Come sopra ho detto,
equesti uno de' Lama che con maritati. Era egli di complessione molto grasso, di genio
molto affabile e cortese, d'ottima indole, signore d'un gran feudo, abbondante di ric-
chezze, potente per la parentela di grosse e molto cospicue famiglie e universalamente
molto amato e rispetto." Petech 1944-46, VI: 161.
24 Khyung po ras pa ] 984: 96.4 ff.
25 For an overview of gter rna literature, see Gyatso 1996, Karmay 1988, and Aris
1989. Important studies include Gyatso 1986 and Gyatso ] 993, Germano] 994, and Kap-
26 For my discussion of sbas yul, I depend heavily on the work of Childs 1999 and
Ehrhard ] 999a, 1999b.
40 R. TRENT POMPLUN
seventeenth and early-eighteenth century into them.z? All of those who
suffered saw themselves in the texts. Those in Gtsang and Dwags po who
had supported Lha bzang Khan could thus see in his death the end of the
stable Mongol rule that the texts prophesied. The Dzungar conquest, the
religious persecutions, and the Manchu takeover followed with equal
Although it is difficult to say what the Jesuit thought of the
prevalence of such gter ma, there is little reason to think that they would
have offended his own religious sensibilities. Similar religious
phenomena were by no means scarce in Christianity.zf What I find rather
fascinating is that Ippolito Desideri did not doubt the prophecies'
veracity. When he first arrived in Tibet, he tells his reader, he thought
them ridiculous and "fit for a few good laughs." Later, when he saw the
prophecies fulfilled in the wars that engulfed Tibet, the Jesuit could only
marvel at Padmasambhava's uncanny accuracy. Witnessing the
prophecies fulfilled as monasteries in Dwags po were destroyed, Desideri
felt compelled "to prostrate myself upon the earth and adore the supreme,
most just, most holy and inscrutable Providence of God, and repeat the
words of the Holy Prophet David time and time again: Justus es,
Domine, et rectum iudicium tuum. "29 This is not to say that Desideri
believed his rival to be privy to any special graces. The Jesuit father, like
his fellow Tuscan Dante Alighieri, knew that demons could predict the
future, and this is precisely how he explains Padmasambhava's prophetic
success.w Tibetan religion-and his own-remained thoroughly
supernatural to the end.
27 Pctech 1944-46, VI: 265-66.
28 Augustine, in an account that would surely have been known to Desideri, tells
how Ambrose miraculously discovered the relics of Gervasius and Protasius. Giovanni
Nanni of Viterbo, too, 'discovered' twelve ancient texts that proved his rather ingenious
theories about the origins of the Italians. Christians commonly interpreted the political
upheavals of the seventeenth century by recourse to the Apocalypse of John. See, for
example, the standard studies by Wilson 1969 and Toon 1970.
29 "In sol genere di si fatte cose mi giova qui iI riferire, che al puro intenderle e ri-
trovarle parte scritte e parte stampate ne ' Iibri, ne' primi principj della mia dimora in quel
regno, mi diedero occasione di far bcffe e di ben grasse risate, rna dipoi nel progresso del
tempo m' obbligarono e mi costrinsero a inchinar millioni de volte e batter per terra river-
ente la testa profondamcnte adorando la suprema, giustissima, santissima, imperscrutabile
Provvidcnza di Dio, e col S. Profeta David mille emilie volte ripetendo quelle parole:
Justus es Domine. et rec111117 judicium tuum." Desideri 1944-46: 265. Desideri quotes
Psalm 119.137: "Righteous art thou, 0 Lord, and right are thy judgements."
30 Petech 1944-46, VI: 267.
IPOLITO DESIDERI, S.l. ON PADMASAMBHAVA 41
However much Desideri increasingly came to see the influence of
demons in Tibetan affairs, I prefer to look for a more down-to-earth
explanation of his estimation of Padmasambhava's prophecies. I like to
think that a friendly and garrulous gter ston convinced Desideri of their
truth, perhaps a gter ston who fled the Dzungars or opened a hidden
sanctuary, perhaps even the lama from Lungar who made the daring
escape through the secret passage. Perhaps Desideri' s friend is none
other than Chos rje gling pa (1682-1726), the gter ston from Klu mkhar
('Lungar') in Dwags po. Until more information about Desideri's travels
comes to light, I think this feasible. Initiated into both Rnying rna and
Bka' brgyud lineages, Chos rje gling pa opened hidden sanctuaries in
Kong po and Spo bo in order to escape the Dzungarsu and had ties to
Lha bzang Khan.V He fits the age and, apart from details about his girth
and complexion, the description of Desideri' s 'Lungar lama.' I offer this
identification only tentatively but, if correct, it has important
ramifications for how we understand Desideri's knowledge of early-
eighteenth century Tibet. If Desideri knew Chos rje gling pa, we can
reasonably place the young Jesuit within the ambit of some of the most
fascinating political characters of the time, most notably Mi 'gyur dpal
sgron ma,33 her Dge lugs 'Rasputin' Sle lung bzhad pa'i rdo rje,34 and
Pho lha nas Bsod nams stobs rgyas.t> More to the point, if Chos rje gling
pa is Desideri's 'Lungar lama,' he would be the most obvious source for
Desideri's continued fascination with the prophecies of Padmasambhava
as well as his sympathies for those who suffered so at the hands of the
Dzungars. He might even be the source of other prophecies the
missionary may have read,36
Desideri's belief that demonic voices guided Padmasambhava's
prophecies does not seem to have affected his friendship with Rnying rna
priests like Chos rje gling pa. While he repeatedly condemned the cruelty
of the Dge lugs from central Tibet and their complicity in the Dzungar
invasion, the Jesuit consistently expressed his admiration for the piety
and virtue of the Rnying rna who remained steadfast during the
31 Gu ru Bkra' shis 1990: 415.4ff.
32 Kun bzang nges don klong yangs 1976: 324.4.
33 Chos rje gling pa and Mi 'gyur dpal sgron rna seem to have been in Kong po at
the same time. Cf. Khyung po ras pa 1984: 104.5.
34 Sle lung Rje drung Bzhad pa'i rdo rje 1983: 12.1ff, 3 6 8 f t ~ and 454ff.
35 Sle lung Rje drung Bzhad pa'i rdo rje. 1984: 279-359.
36 Chos rje rling pa 1985.
42 R. TRENT POMPLUN
persecutions.t? He even suggested that the Dge lugs persecuted the
Rnying rna because ordinary Tibetans found them more inclined to
virtue.P' Desideri's confrontation, after all, was with Padmasambhava,
not the Tibetans who venerated him. In fact, the Rnying rna men and
women who resisted Stag rtse pa and the Dzungar government came to
play an important role in Desideri' s own religious and theological
understanding of Tibetan culture. With the death of Lha bzang Khan, the
Rnying rna became his great hope for the conversion of the Tibetan
This hope, too, would be dashed. When the Jesuit returned to Lhasa
in 1721, the Capuchin fathers showed him the legal decision from Rome
granting them exclusive rights to the mission and orders from the Jesuit
general Michelangelo Tamburini commanding him to leave. Had he not
lost the Tibetan mission to the Capuchins, Desideri would have seen
even worse wars during the next decade. After dilapidating the Tibetan
granaries and destroying the economy, the Manchu military garrison left
the Tibetans to fight among themselves, and fight they did. The civil war
of 1727-1728 would see the murder of Khang chen nas, the victory of
Pho Iha nas and the Gtsang pa Dge lugs over their A mdo rivals, and the
exile of the seventh Dalai Lama, whose office would remain greatly
weakened, if not powerless, until Manchu Dynasty fell in the early
twentieth century. Before descending the Tibetan plateau, however,
Ippolito Desideri paid his old friend one last visit. Recounting their
reunion years later, the loquacious Jesuit found himself at a loss for
I cannot describe the tears and expressions of friendship with which the
good lama described his disgrace and deprivation, our old friendship not
having suffering in the slightest, but being made stronger and more robust.
He wished not only to return the money he had borrowed but also to give
me copious presents, but I refused to take either, which cut him to the
quick with the loss that comes with the departure of a most sincere
37 Petech 1944-46, VI: 272.
38 Petech 1944-46, VI: 158.
39 "Sono inesplicabili Ie Iacrime e Ie amorevoli espressioni, con cui il buon Lama
mi fece conoscere che la disgrazie e l'assenza non solamente non avevano punto in lui
diminuito l'antica amicizia, rna che pili tosto l'avevano resa pili forte e pili solida. Voleva
egii non solamente restituirmi il denaro che gli avevo inviato, rna voleva aggiugnergli
copiosi donativi; rna ricusando io di ricevere ne questi ne quello, prese quindi motivi di
IPOLITO DESIDERI, s.r. ON PADMASAMBHAVA 43
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Spence, J. 1984. The Memory Palace ofMatteo Ricci. New York: Viking
Toon, P. (ed.) 1970. Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel:
Puritan Eschatology 1600 to 1660. Cambridge, MA: lames Clarke.
Toscano, G., S.l. 1981. Il T'o Rans (L 'Aurora). Rome: Istituto Italiano
per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.
Tucci, G. 1976. Le Religioni del Tibet. Rome: Edizioni Meditterrane.
Wilson, J.F. 1969. Pulpit in Parliament: Puritanism during the English
Civil Wars 1640-1648. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Yang, H.C. (trans.) 1970. The Annals ofKoke nor. Bloomington: Indiana
DGE LUGS PA DIVIDED: SOME ASPECTS OF
THE POLITICAL ROLE OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM IN
THE EXPANSION OF THE QING DYNASTY
In the seventeenth century, Central Asia was witness to an
uncompromising struggle of armies and ideologies that finally resulted in
the establishment of an empire, which had no equal in this part of the
world from the time of the great Mongol Conquest. Still, historians are
far from answering all the questions raised by those events, even if so
complicated a phenomenon could ever be completely understood by
modem people. Nevertheless, thanks to the efforts of generations of
scholars, modem historians have managed to rid themselves of a number
of myths, stereotypes and artificial simplifications that reigned in this
scientific area until recently.
Undoubtedly, one of the gravest errors related to the history of the
Qing Empire is "to refer to this political regime as a 'dynasty'
exclusively."l Elimination of this methodological error, as well as
understanding the obvious fact that the Qing Empire was established
through the efforts of many forces and with the participation of various
national and state formations, has opened a number of new perspectives
and directions for research. With such an approach, investigations of the
evolution of relations between the rulers of the empire on the one hand
and various authorities controlling important regions in Central Asia on
the other are of great importance. In addition, the problem of
contradictions inside each party is still far from being resolved; the latter
is directly connected with the question of the balance between pro- and
anti-Imperial forces. Possible results of the analysis of this important
problem could contribute to a deeper understanding of the process of
establishing this Asian empire.
Touching upon the question of the inclusion of Tibet into the sphere
of direct imperial control, it is necessary to specify one more defective
1 Crossley 1997: 8.
48 NICOLAY TSYREMPILOV
position, which is peculiar to some historians. The relations which
existed between the Qing emperors and the religious leaders of Tibet,
mainly the Dalai and the Panchen Lamas, as well as other forces and
opinions from among the Buddhist clergy, in some cases promoting the
Qing policy not only in Tibet but also in other regions of Inner Asia, are
ignored as if they never existed. The source base for investigations of
this kind expands each year, allowing us to make some cautious
conclusions about existence of such forces. The present work is not
aimed to prove these, as it is hardly possible at the stage Tibetan studies
has reached at this moment. My purpose is to attract experts' attention to
this problem, as its resolution, in my opinion, will facilitate the proper
understanding of the history of the establishment of the Qing Empire.
It seems that the first time the problem of the heterogeneity of the
religio-political authorities in Tibet of the nineteenth-twentieth centuries
and the conflicts between the largest Dge lugs pa monasteries and the
government of the Dalai Lama was considered, is in one of the works of
Melvin Goldstein. In this connection, he writes: 'Religion' (and the
religious segment), however, was not the homogeneous entity it is
typically implied to be, even within the Dge lugs pa Sect, and the great
Dge lugs pa monasteries were often at odds with the Dalai Lama's
government.2 Having examined some characteristic cases of collision
between the government of Tibet and some groups of Dge lugs pa
monks, the author comes to the following conclusion:
This discord, however, was typified not by conflict over the ideology
that religion must dominate in Tibet, but rather over the monks' belief
that this meant that the interests of the monasteries should reign
supreme. The Three Seats [Dge lugs pa monasteries Sera, Dga' ldan
and 'Bras spungs-N. T] thus had no qualms about challenging the
government when they felt their interests were at stake, for in their
view they were more important than Ganden Photrang [Dga' ldan pho
brang-N.T.], the government headed by the Dalai Lamas)
It seems to be pertinent to look at the problem of variously oriented
ecclesiastic groups of the Dge lugs pa order through a prism of their
perception of the expansion of the Qing Empire and the correlation of
their corresponding interests with this expansion.
2 Goldstein 1990: 231.
3 Goldstein 1990: 244-45.
DGE LUGS PA DIVIDED 49
Many things have been said about the high objective value of the
Manchu-Mongol alliance. Indeed, it is hardly possible to deny the
opinion of those historians who say: The Mongols' participation was
crucial to the success of an empire-building [the Qing-N.T.] process in
which they were at first essential allies, gradually thereafter reduced to
the status of mere subjects, albeit privileged ones.'
It would not be an exaggeration to say that their hands had built the
Qing Empire. The Mongol's loyalty was primarily facilitated by the
unique ability of the Qing emperors to play various roles depending on
certain circumstances. Their political flexibility, which contributed to the
relative ease of their conquests, is often explained by the fact that they
lacked the "strong tribal consciousness or strong historical tradition of
the Mongols."5 They had managed to include in their empire the peoples
of so many different cultures and religions due to the quality that was
defined by American historian Kent Guy as 'simultaneities': "One of the
Manchu's unique capacities was their ability simultaneously to embody
crucial elements of the political traditions of the several people over
whom they ruled."6 The Qing emperors can be easily recognized in
different roles: a Son of Heaven and an embodiment of virtue, a re-
creator of the Yuan Empire and a legal successor of Chinggis Khan,
cakravartin-king and a protector of Buddha Doctrine and, at last, an
emanation of bodhisattva Manjusri.? Each of these roles was effectively
played in different situations for the corresponding audience. Seemingly,
that very quality had made it possible to integrate into the empire two
such antagonistic peoples as the Hans and the Mongols.
Having made the establishment of an empire their aim, the Manchus
had to face two serious obstacles in Inner Asia, namely two ideologies
which for a long time competed with the traditional Confucian world
outlook: the Central Asian idea of the Great Khan of the Mongols and
the 'patron-patronized' conception in the form of a special kind of
relationship between a secular governor who assumes an honorable title
of cakravartin-king, and a Lama as the latter's religious instructor. Both
concepts used to exert a huge influence upon Mongols; both world
outlook systems were capable of challenging Confucian political theory.
In addition the two ideas were, though rather artificially, bound.
4 Mote 1999: 869.
5 Lattimore 1932: 44.
6 Kent 2002: 57.
7 On those two last roles of the Qing Emperors see: Farquhar 1978: 5-34.
50 NICOLAY TSYREMPILOV
Manchus had started resolving the first problem at the dawn of the
Qing Empire. Actually, the very rise of the Qing had been possible
because of Qongtaiji's successful usurpation of the Great Khan position.
It seems that without the legitimization of the Manchu supremacy over
Mongols through elimination of Legden Khan and the seizure of the
Yuan state's seal, the rise of the new empire would hardly have been
The key to the second problem was Tibet, namely the figure of the
Dalai Lama. Manchus could not but know that control over that
institution would provide them with big political advantages. From the
moment the patron-patronized relationship between Altan Khan of
Turned and Bsod nams rgya mtsho was established, it was for the most
part the Dalai Lama (and only secondly the Dge lugs tradition as a
whole) who became a key figure in Mongol-Tibetan religious and
political relations. I would say that the second wave of the spread of
Buddhism among Mongols had been caused by the political needs of
Mongolian society and from the very beginning had taken the form of the
patron-patronized relationship, elaborated in the Yuan era. In other
words, in those historical circumstances the pattern of the relation
preceded the actual relationship. For all of Qing history, the relationships
between Mongolian khans and the Dalai Lamas were formed by the
above-stated principle. It is important to remember, that these ties were
exclusively of individual character: the Dalai Lama and one of
Mongolian khans. This and other factors, which will be discussed later,
explain the rise in status of the Dalai Lamas over other Dge lugs pa
The second problem appeared to be more difficult and took much
more time than the first. On the other hand, the controversial tendencies
that had split the Dge lugs pa hierarchy at the time of the Fifth Dalai
Lama and the regent Sde srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, resulted in the
political crisis which jeopardized the integrity of the Qing Empire.
As is widely known, Dge lugs pa borrowed a 'reincarnation'
phenomenon from its main political rival-Karma pa school. It suffices
to say that this method of institutionalization of authority had a number
of advantages over others. Turrell Wylie first pointed them out, having
distinguished three fundamental features of the reincarnation idea that
made it more effective than other types of authority in Tibet. The third
and, as it seems, basic advantage, from those distinguished by Wylie, is
DGE LUGS PA DIVIDED 51
the reoccurrence of reincarnation generation after generation would
inevitably depersonalize the anthropomorphic 'god' it creates. This
would facilitate the transition from charisma of person to a charisma of
office: a change essential to the establishment of a hierocratic form of
government that could survive as an institution regardless of the
charisma of any individual hierarch.f
A line of Dalai Lamas essentially differs from that of Karma pas, as
the Dalai Lama has never been formally recognized as the head of the
tradition he originates from. The fact that many scholars of the past were
sure of the opposite is an illustration of the extreme importance of this
institution, which, in combination with the personal charisma of some
representatives of this line, provided the Dalai Lamas with the highest
position in the Tibetan Buddhist world. Keeping in mind all the
aforesaid, it is not so difficult to notice an asymmetry in the Tibetan
authority structure formed at the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The
orderliness of the Dge lugs pa internal hierarchy was broken by the
displacement of its center. As I have noted, the Dalai Lamas have never
been heads of the Dge lugs pa (this office was elective, at least ideally),"
the dominating Buddhist tradition in Tibet. Nevertheless, they were the
recognized rulers of Tibet. That was possible due to the advantages of
the reincarnation institution I have mentioned above. This contradiction,
which was brought into the tradition by Mongols, manifested itself in
various forms of opposition only in times of strong Dalai Lamas
claiming authoritarian rule in the country. Probably, for the first time the
relations between the Dalai Lama and a part of the high Dge lugs pa
hierarchy became strained in the middle of the seventeenth century after
the Oirad military leader Gushri Khan granted Tibet to the Fifth Dalai
Lama. From that moment, the new governor of the country took
consecutive actions directed towards the sacralization and
universalization of the institution he represented, and absolutization of
his authority. All this could not but put him in opposition to Dge lugs pa
It is generally accepted that the fifth representative of the Dalai
Lama's line was one of the greatest politicians the Tibetan state ever
knew. His swift rise was preconditioned by the alliance of different
8 Wylie 1978: 584.
9 In some cases an abbot of the Dga' Idan monastery, a successor of Rje Tsong kha
pa as a head of the tradition, was appointed by the decree of the Dalai Lama rather than
elected by the community of the Dga' Idan monastery.
52 NICOLAY TSYREMPILOV
forces, of which a strong confederation of Qoshouts and some Dge lugs
pa hierarchs whose interests were represented by the Dalai Lama's regent
Bsod nams chos 'phel, were most important. After military control over
Tibet was established, Gushri Khan had granted the conquered territories
to the regent and the Dalai Lama as an offering. In that act one can see a
differentiation between the Dge lugs pa school, represented then by Bsod
nams chos 'phel, and the Dalai Lama, as a figure directly connected with
the tradition, but having a special status. Z. Ahmad believes 10 that in the
Dge lugs pa hierarchy formed by the middle of the seventeenth century,
the position of a regent was lower than that occupied by the Dalai Lama
and Gushri Khan. The individual relationship of patron-patronized,
mchod-yon, which four hundred years before had been established
between the 'Phags pa bla rna and Qubilai, were set in 1642 between
these two figures. Thus, the Great Fifth and Gushri Khan assumed the
positions of 'Phags pa bla rna and Qubilai respectively, which
symbolized a full restoration of the ancient tradition. Presumably,
Mongols associated the reconstruction of the lost relations with Tibet
firstly with the Dalai Lama and only secondarily with Dge lugs pa
tradition. Thus, the Dalai Lama occupied a key position in the power
structure of the country, only formally sharing it with the regent and the
Qoshout ruler. Having occupied the highest seat in the state, the Dalai
Lama became an exponent of the interests not only of his religious
tradition. There was one step left for securing his position: to work out a
state ideology in which the Dalai Lama would be thought of as a central
figure. In one of her works, I 1 Ishihama Yumiko convincingly
demonstrated the process of the rise in status of the Fifth Dalai Lama
over all other institutions mainly through the dissemination of the belief
that the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara manifests himself in each
representative of the Dalai Lama line. There was an obvious purpose: the
ancient Tibetan belief in that Buddhist deity as a destined divine
protector of the country legitimized the absolute authority of the Dalai
Lamas in Tibet and provided the reason for the sacralization of the whole
institution. In this connection, it does not seem irrelevant to cite the
In Tibetan historical works (chos 'byung) and 'discovered' texts (gter
rna) dating from even before the establishment of the Dge lugs pa
10 Ahmad, 1970: 191.
II Ishihama 1993: 38-56
DGE LUGS PA DIVIDED 53
school there are, regardless of sectarian affiliations, statements
identifying Tibet with the land to be converted by Avalokitesvara, and
both Gnya' khri btsan po, said to have been Tibet's first king, and
Srong btsan sgam po, believed to have been the first king to have
united Tibet are described as manifestations of Avalokitesvara, Hence,
for people who identified the Dalai Lama with Avalokitesvara it would
have been quite natural to regard him as the head of state. 12
One more quotation:
Perhaps, at this stage, one might permit oneself two comparisons.
Perhaps, one might say that what was established in Tibet in 1642/45
was what was established in Tudor England, and what was attempted in
India under Akbar the Great: a national state and a national state
As a natural result at this stage, a tension had arisen in the relations
between the Dalai Lama as a protector of interests of the state, and the
defenders of the interests of Dge lugs pa as a Buddhist sect
predominating in Tibet and in other parts of Central Asia. What was the
reason for this tension? At what moment had the standpoints of the two
It is obvious that the disagreement between certain circles of the
Dge lugs pa hierarchy over whether to oppose or support the Fifth Dalai
Lama appeared because of the attitude of the latter to other Buddhist
traditions of Tibet. It is widely known that the Dalai Lama both in his
private life and in state affairs also considered the opinions of some
representatives of Rnying ma pa and was even an adherent of their secret
doctrines. The facts proving the tension in the relationships between
some Dge lugs pa hierarchs and the Dalai Lama on this ground can be
found in the works of Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho himself. There
are some intriguing details in the so-called "Golden manuscript," the
Great Fifth's composition containing the vivid descriptions of his secret
visions, for instance, this one:
Legs ldan rdo rje begins to perform the ceremony, but the Dalai Lama
is unable to recognize its deity. Dbang po sde then performs the
empowerment ceremony of the divinity Karmaguru and gives him a
ritual dagger (phur pa). At that moment, he feels that the Treasurer
12 Ishihama 1993: 44.
13 Ahmad 1970: 143.
54 NICOLAY TSYREMPILOV
Bsod nams Tab brtan 14 and other (Dge lugs pa) monks are looking at
him through the window at the eastern side of the Chapel of Mahakala,
giving the impression that they do not approve of his participating in
the ceremony, which is performed by the Rnying rna lamas. He thinks
that if they, the Dge lugs pa monks, criticize him, he will hit them with
the ritual dagger and rushes out, but the monks look very subdued. He
then awakes feeling totally recovered from his illnesses. 15
Probably, this conflict was expressed most sharply in the tragedy of
Grags pa rgyal mtshan, which had far-reaching and adverse
consequences for the whole Tsong kha pa tradition. The known
circumstances of the tragic death of this main antagonist of Ngag dbang
blo bzang rgya mtsho may seem to indicate a repressive aspect to the
Fifth Dalai Lama's attitude towards his ideological opponents inside the
tradition, although there are no wide documentary confirmations of this
fact. If, however, there were repressions on the part of the Fifth Dalai
Lama directed to some representatives of the Dge lugs pa hierarchies,
such a tough policy could be explained by the following reasons. The
problem has its roots not only and not so much in Ngag dbang blo bzang
rgya mtsho's adherence to the secret doctrines of Rnying rna pa. Surely,
this might excite irritation among Dge lugs pa purists who were, as it
seems, always in abundance. The fundamental root of this disagreement
was once formulated by G. Dreyfus in one of his works devoted to the
origin of the Rdo rje shug ldan cult as follows:
The resentment against the power of the Fifth Dalai Lama was
primarily connected to a broad and far-reaching issue, the desire of
some of the more sectarian Ge-luk hierarchs to set up a purely Ge-luk
rule. Some even seem to have argued for the suppression of the schools
against which they had fought for more than a century, particularly the
Kar-ma Ka-gyu tradition. The Fifth seems to have realized that such a
rule would have had little support and would have exacerbated the
Inter-sectarian violence that had marred the last two centuries of
Tibetan history. To avoid this, he attempted to build a state with a
broader power base, state that he presented as the re-establishment of
the early Tibetan empire. His rule was to be supported by the Ge-luk
tradition, but would also include groups affiliated with other religious
1-+ The same person as Bsod narns chos 'phel mentioned above.
]5 Karmay 1%X: 30.
16 Dreyfus 1998: 232.
DGE LUGS PA DIVIDED 55
It seems obvious that the Great Fifth associated Rnying rna pa with
the imperial period of Tibetan history, as this Buddhist tradition traces
back to that time. Touching upon this question, it is hardly possible to
speak about the opposition to the institution of the Dalai Lamas on the
part of Dge lugs pa sectarians. One can see in the logic of the events of
the sixteenth century the opposition not to the institution of the Dalai
Lamas in general but to the form of the state, which the Fifth Dalai Lama
was creating: a proto-national state, What exactly was unacceptable for
some of Dge lugs pa monks in such type of the state? To answer this
question one has to consider some peculiarities of the general political
situation in Central Asia of the middle of the seventeenth century.
The well-known facts of the Dge lugs pa history prove that its
political predominance in Tibet was achieved through the long-term
struggle with the other Buddhist sects, in particular with Karma pa. Both
sides used military-political support both within the borders of the
country and far beyond. The decline of the Phag mo gru clan, from
which Dge lugs pa received a powerful backing in the sixteenth-
seventeenth centuries, had forced the iatters hierarchs to seek the
patronage of the leaders of various Mongolian tribes. This step had far-
reaching consequences for all of Central Asia. After almost two centuries
of fighting for survival and domination, Dge lugs pa managed to obtain a
wide international recognition. In addition to its political domination in
Central Tibet the Tsong kha pa followers had strong positions in Amdo
as well, where a second center of the YelJow church was being
established, based in the large and influential monasteries such as Sku
'bum, Dgon lung, Gser khog and, later, Bla brang. Furthermore, Dge
lugs pa predominated over almost ail the regions inhabited by Mongols.
Moreover, Manchu emperors not only recognized Dge Jugs pas
domination in Tibet, but also protected and officially patronized the
Yellow Church in all mentioned regions. In this way favorable
conditions In the Empire for the existence and strengthening of the
Yellow Hat tradition were created, which would have had an effect on
the attitude of many of its followers towards the person of the Emperor.
It was during that period of time when the conception of the Qing
Emperor as an emanation of Manjusri became 'very popular among
Mongols and Tibetans. Though this conception ~ ; e ~ m s to hove never been
officially admitted hy the interested
in the integration of the
56 NICOLAY TSYREMPILOV
Tibetan Buddhism. However, most important, apparently, was their role
as the protectors and patrons of the tradition, the monopoly of which
they, as a matter of fact, deprived the Mongols. It is known that they
based their right to interfere with Tibetan internal affairs on that very
I suppose that I am not very wide of the truth in assuming that Dge
lugs pa was considered by most of its followers to be a true and accurate
transmission of Buddha's doctrine, and thus considered its dominance as
a triumph of the religion. Many followers of the Dge lugs pa tradition
thought their sect's interests more important than Tibetan state interests,
which is why they could consider the course pursued by the Fifth Dalai
Lama, of rapprochement to the other Tibetan Buddhist sects, if not as a
betrayal of the Yellow church, then at least as an adverse situation for the
sect. They had to watch the establishment of a kind of state, in which
Dge lugs pa occupied a key position but would share it with the
aristocratic clans and representatives of other Buddhist sects, that is, a
country ruled by a coalition of the yesterday's rivals. This explains the
strained relations between the Fifth Dalai Lama and some other
authoritative Dge lugs pa lamas who resented being obliged to share their
dominating position in Tibet, which had been so difficult to obtain.
The expansion of the Empire brought this opposition to a head. We
have already mentioned that after the unsuccessful attempts to affect
Mongols by means of the Dalai Lama, Qing Emperors had to undertake a
whole complex of measures to weaken the Dalai Lama's spiritual
hegemony in Mongolian lands and tried to establish their direct control
over this influential religious-political institution. They managed to do
this to a certain degree only after the regent's official notice on the Fifth
Dalai Lama's death, fourteen years after it really happened. The
institution of the Dalai Lama was practically invulnerable while Ngag
dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho was alive or at least was considered to be.
The news about his death became a signal for Manchus to move to
realize actively their plans. During the rule of the regent Sangs rgyas
rgya mtsho, the relations between the government and some
representatives of the Dge lugs pa hierarchy were becoming even worse.
The regent consistently adhered to the Fifth Dalai Lama's policy, being
"notoriously pro-Jungar and an ally of Galdan, the Jungar leader from
1676 to 1696"17. It had put him in opposition to a coalition of various
forces: firstly, the Qing Emperor who could not remain indifferent to the
17 Petech  1972: 14.
DGE LUGS PA DIVIDED 57
forming anti-Imperial alliance of the Dalai Lama (in person of the
regent) and the Qing's main rival in Central Asia-the Jungar Khanate;
secondly, Lha bzang Khan who had as an object the restoration of the
former prestige of the Qoshout governor of Tibet, which was established
as a result of the Gushri Khan's conquest, but later lost its original
political weight; thirdly, certain circles of the high Dge lugs pa hierarchy
whose position has been discussed above. The situation was aggravated
by the Sixth Dalai Lama's behavior whose way of life did not correspond
to the position he occupied. The two first opponents of the regent used it
as a pretext for their offensive against the regime established by the
previous Dalai Lama and supported by the regent. The regime did not
meet the interests of those parties. Anyway, both sides sought the support
of the heads of dominating Buddhist traditions. The political position of
an authoritative Dge lugs pa lama of the seventeenth-eighteenth-century
'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa Ngag dbang brtson grus can serve as a strong
argument in favor of the idea, that the Qing Emperor's yearning for the
weakening of the Dalai Lama's authority in Tibet met with support from
some Dge lugs pa opponents to the regime established by Ngag dbang
blo bzang rgya mtsho.
In the period of 1700 on 1707 this Amdo native, one of the brilliant
representatives of the Yellow-Hats' exoteric and esoteric traditions, held
the position of abbot of the Sgo mang faculty, an influential subdivision
of the 'Bras spungs monastery. This position gave him the right to be a
member of the Council of the heads of the subdivisions of the three
greatest monasteries of Dbus, which was called in case of emergency. In
] 707, as it is known from some Tibetan historical sources, that Council
was called to solve the problem of the Sixth Dalai Lama's visit to
Peking. From one of the biographies of' Jam dbyangs bzhad pa we learn
When a Chinese envoy has brought an invitation for sku shabs Tsangs
dbyangs rgya mtsho to visit China, [Lha bzang] Khan gathered the
Council of Lamas and officials of Se ra, 'Bras spungs and Dga' ldan
[monasteries] and the Upper and Lower Faculties of Tantra. It was
suggested [at the Council], that it would be better for [the Dalai Lama]
to stay home. But the Venerable ['Jam dbyangs bzhad pal's words were
as follows: "If the sku shabs wouldn't be sent to China there'll be
nothing good to expect from the Emperor. If he would be sent, [it] will
benefit sku shabs himself, as well as the Doctrine. Then many [lamas]
58 NICOLAY TSYREMPILOV
started accusing [him], saying that [he], the Sgo mang's abbot, dislikes
[the Dalai Lama]."18
This episode, should be considered in the context of 'Jam dbyangs
bzhad pa's other actions during those years: an expression of his loyalty
to Lha bzang whom he considered an embodiment of Tsong kha pa's
bcnediction.l? his recognition of and relations with the Puppet Fifth
Dalai LamaI Ye shes rgya mtsho, his criticism of Tsangs dbyangs rgya
mtsho and his opposition to the regime of the regent Sangs rgyas rgya
mtsho. It is possible that this was the personal opinion of an authoritative
hierarch, but more likely, this standpoint was shared by a number of
monks within the Dge lugs pa community, which became more active
after the fact of the Great Fifth's death was proclaimed.zv
What is the heart of this position? We have already discussed Dge
lugs pa's relationships with the Qing emperors. Needing to clarify his
position, 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa who at that moment represented the
viewpoint of a part of the Dge lugs pa followers, preferred to support the
position of the pro-Qing forces rather than the sovereignty of the Dalai
Lama, having thus made it clear that for him, the sect's interests were
much more important than the interests of the state. 'Jam dbyangs bzhad
pa probably believed that if the Emperor's demands were not satisfied
the situation could pass out of Dge lugs pa's control, which would result
in a final loss of all its achievements. In other words, in a choice between
the Dalai Lama as a national symbol, and the predominance of his own
tradition, 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa chose the latter. This step immediately
caused protests and disorders at the Sgo mang faculty headed by 'Jam
dbyangs bzhad pa and at the 'Bras spungs monastery as a whole, which
were finally suppressed by Qoshouts. The Fifth Dalai Lama's policy did
not find support among many members of the Yellow Hats community,
since they may have believed that their tradition had already stepped
18 JZN: 61v. This episode is also mentioned in Aris 1989: 242.
19 JZN: 58v.
20 This viewpoint was supported by Georges Dreyfus, who writes about 'Jam dby-
angs bzhad pa as "one of the leading Ge-Iuk lamas opposing the Fifth and his third prime
minister (sde srid) Sang-gye Gya-tso." See Dreyfus 1998: 233. We should also note that
some of his disciples were much more radical in their sectarianism. One of them, Blo
bzang phun tshogs of Jungar origin, is known for his initiative to launch repression to-
ward Rnying rna monks during the Jungar invasion 1717-1720. Kapstein 2000: 130.
Seemingly, it is very likely that Blo bzang phun tshogs is responsible for the inclusion of
his master's yig cha (manuals) in the program of Sgo mang faculty in 1716 during Lha
bzang's rule. JZN: 100.
DGE LUGS PA DIVIDED 59
over the borders of the state, having become a phenomenon of
international significance. The further spread of the tradition of Tsong
kha pa's followers, that is, as they believed, of the true doctrine of
Buddha, was directly connected to the further expansion of the Qing
Empire. From this viewpoint, Dge lugs pa sectarians' loyalty to and
support of the Emperor, the main guarantor of the Yellow sect's
predominance, seems more understandable. The following episode
recorded in the biographies of the Peking Qutuqtus Leang skya Rol pa'i
rdo rje and Tu bkwan Chos kyi nyi rna can serve as an evidence of how
greatly Dge lugs pa sectarians feared the prospect of loss of leadership:
The seventeenth prince was named Kengse qinwang and he had great
expertise in religious scriptures as well as a great affection for the Old
school (Rnying rna). Through various intrigues he hoped [to destroy]
the Dge lugs school, so that it would ultimately vanish. Having asked
the Emperor's [permission], he invited to Beijing from Central Tibet
two lamas: [one of] the Red Hat, [the other of] the Black Hat lineages
who were more experienced in the teachings of the Rnying rna pa than
of their own Karma-pa school. The master [Thu'u bkwan] was famed
for performing rituals for the propitiation of Dam-can chos-kyi rgyal
po, and for performing different kinds of exorcism. Anyway, soon one
of the two lamas arrived at Siling, the other-at Sinanfu. At that time in
the dreams of that master [Thu'u-bkwan], [the deity] Dam-can chos-kyi
rgyal po clearly appeared as the sign of the ritual having been
accomplished. When both the lamas reached Beijing, together with the
very powerful prince they could invoke great harm on the Doctrine of
the Mount dGe-ldan-pa [= dGe-Iugs-pa]. At that time only this lama
[Thu'u bkwan] was holding in his hands the life of the dGe-Iugs-pa
teaching. By this action, he made glad the undaunted adherents of the
This episode shows the jealousy, with which Yellow Hat sectarians
treated any, even illusive threat to the dominant position of their
tradition. Probably, the memory of the gradual loss of prestige and
influence by Sa skya monks in the late-Yuan period when Karma pa
hierarchs had practically supplanted them at the court of the Mongolian
Emperors of China was still fresh. As V.L.Uspensky says: "It may be
noticed that Dge lugs pa historiographers of the eighteenth-nineteenth
centuries describing the rivalry between Sa skya pa and Karma pa at the
Yuan court are definitely anti-Karma pa."22 It seems Manchus
21 Uspensky 1997: 9-10.
22 Uspensky 1997: 11.
60 NICOLAY TSYREMPILOV
deliberately counted on this category of Dge lugs pa followers. As was
already mentioned, the political interests of the Qing Empire agreed with
Dge lugs pa sectarians' political logic to a great degree. It is no
coincidence that many representatives of this tradition, including Peking
Court Lamas, came from Amdo. Being located on a cultural and ethnic
crossroad, this historical area was a source of marginal persons with a
low degree of national identity. It was mentioned earlier that, "both
Kangxi and Qianlong favored those men who were able to bring together
diverse cultures; they valued such a resource and were confident it would
serve them well."23 I have already noted that by this time the region of
Amdo had become a stronghold of Dge lugs pa tradition, and two
monasteries of this order, Sku 'bum and Bla brang, were included in the
list of the greatest monasteries of the Yellow Church. However, it is
worth noting that this region also witnessed outbreaks of nationalist
rebels, which involved the local clergy. The anti-Qing revolt of Blo
bzang bstan 'dzin of 1723, in which many Buddhist monks of Sku 'bum,
Dgon lung and other Dge lugs pa monasteries of the Amdo-Kokonor area
were involved, can serve as a good example. In the Leang skya
Qutuqtus>' phenomenon one can see the alliance of the Empire with Dge
lugs pa sectarians. Both sides of this alliance pursued their corresponding
goals, and the fact that these goals agreed made this institution effective.
The large-scaled construction of Buddhist temples and monasteries in
Jehol, Dolonnor and Peking, scaled translation and publishing activity in
Peking, as well as thousands of lamas permanently residing in the
Imperial capital-all were parts of the whole plan to weaken Lhasa's
spiritual monopoly in Central Asia and draw the religious interests of
Mongols to the Qing Imperial court. But, obviously, Dge lugs pa clergy
also sought to benefit from this alliance. I think that there is every reason
to consider the Qing Emperors a tool in hands of the Yellow sect for
protecting its own interests. These conclusions seem to be confirmed by
the following statement of Klaus Sagaster regarding the activity of the
First Leang skya:
Not only Manchus considered Leang skya Qutuqtu a tool for expansion
of their authority but also Qutuqtu himself used the emperor for spread
of his sect. Surely, it is hardly possible to see a certain religious-
political task of Lha sa in it. It was rather an initiative and wisdom of
23 Wang 2000: 162.
24 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa I had a special relations with Leang skya Qutuqtu 1Nga
dbang blo bzang chos ldan, whom he considered one of his major spiritual instructors.
DGE LUGS PA DIVIDED 61
the Qutuqtu who was able to co-ordinate the interests of the church and
the state in a very skilful way for the creation of the Inner Mongolian-
Chinese area of the faith.
Anyone who is familiar with the history of the Peking Leang skya
Qutuqtu institution cannot but notice the fact, that the emperors, in
particular Qianlong, used this institute for reducing anti-Qing tendencies
in Inner Mongolia. The imperial consciousness, which was, probably,
inherent to all representatives of this line as well as to many other Dge
lugs pa clergymen, by necessity excluded the tendency to separatism.
Leang skya Qutuqtus effectively carried out this function in Inner
Mongolia down to first third of the 20th century. In the 1930s, the Forth
Leang skya's opposition to the movement for the autonomy of Inner
Mongolia had even caused antireligious demonstrations by Mongolian
students in Peking.2
Suppression of nationalist tendencies was an
essential task of the empire, and in this, it met with the support of Dge
lugs pa sectarians who could consider the Empire a guarantee of their
tradition's dominant position in the Central Asian Buddhist world.
The purpose of this article, as was determined in its introductory
section, is to draw experts' attention to the problem of Dge lugs pa's
political heterogeneity. Just as in Mongolia, the political concept of the
Yellow church in Tibet did not represent an integral phenomenon but
consisted of variously oriented and even inconsistent tendencies and
ideals. On the basis of some, in my opinion, characteristic and revealing
episodes recorded in the biographies of influential representatives of the
Dge lugs pa hierarchy I have distinguished two basic orientations,
conditionally defining them as the proto-nationalist (anti-Imperial) and
the sectarian. Probably, it may be concluded that the Dge lugs pa
sectarians' interests agreed in general with those of the expanding Qing
Empire. Both sides of this informal alliance put themselves in latent and,
sometimes, open opposition to the regime established by the Fifth Dalai
Lama and had united their efforts for its elimination after the actual death
of Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho had been revealed. By the
beginning of the eighteenth century, the institution of the Dalai Lamas
had become a significant phenomenon in Central Asia mainly through its
special connection with the historical-religious sentiments of Mongols.
25 Sagaster 1960: 170.
26 Jagchid 1980: 103.
62 NICOLAY TSYREMPILOV
Therefore, open attempts to establish Imperial control over the Dalai-
lamate undertaken by Kanxi caused immediate reaction from the
Mongols. Finally, control was established but only after several years of
armed opposition by the Jungar Khanate and the restoration of the
institution through recognition of Bskal bzang rgya mtsho as the seventh
Dalai Lama. It is was symptomatic that the attempt at neutralization of
the Sixth Dalai Lama, undertaken by Emperor Kanxi with the assistance
of the Qoshout governor of Tibet Lha bzang Khan, had met with the
support of 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa I, an apparent leader of the pro-
Empire representatives of the higher Yellow-sect echelon in the
beginning of the eighteenth century. The cooperation of the Qing
emperors with Dge lugs pa sectarianists could be of various kinds.
Probably, this alliance proved most effective in the institute of Peking
Leang skya Qutuqtu. Down to the end of the first third of the 20th
century Leang skya Qutuqtus acted as conductors of the Empire's
interests among Mongols of Inner Mongolia, Kokonor and Amdo.
The interpretation presented in this article demands a greater
number of factual confirmations. The problem is presented here only as a
hypothesis and no more. The author, however, would consider his
modest task complete if the attention of experts is attracted to it. In any
case, whether the conclusions the author has made are correct or not, it is
obvious that resolution of this problem would have considerable practical
value for the study of the complicated processes involved in the
establishment of the Qing Empire.
JZN: Dkon mchog 'jig med dbang po (1728-1791). Mkhas shing grub
pa'i dbang 'phyug kun mkhyen 'jam dbyangs bzhad pa'i rdo rje'i
rnam par thar pa ngo mtshar skal bzang 'jug ngog zhes bya ba.
Ahmad, Z. 1970. Sino-Tibetan Relations in the Seventeenth Century.
Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.
Aris, M. 1989. Hidden Treasures and Secret Lives. London: Kegan Paul.
Crossley, P.K. 1997. The Manchus. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell.
Dreyfus, G. 1998. The Shuk-Den Affair: Origins of Controversy. Journal
ofthe International Association ofBuddhist Studies. 21(2),227-70.
DGE LUGS PA DIVIDED 63
Farquhar, D.M. 1978. Emperor as bodhisattva in the governance of the
Ch'ing Empire. Harvard Journal ofAsiatic Studies 38(1), 5-34.
Goldstein, M.C. 1990. Religious conflict in the traditional state. In L.
Epstein and R.F. Sherburne (eds) Reflections on Tibetan culture.
Essays in Memory of Turrell V Wylie. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen
Guy, R.K. 2002. Who were the Manchus? A Review Essay. Jouranal of
Asian Studies 61(1),154-57.
Ishihama, Y. 1993. The Dissemination of the Belief in the Dalai Lama as
a manifestation of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, Acta Asiatica 64,
Jagchid, S. 1980. The rise and fall of Buddhism in Inner Mongolia. In
A.K. Narain (ed.) Studies in History of Buddhism: papers presented
at the International Conference on the History of Buddhism at the
University of Wisconsin, Madison 1976. Delhi: B.R. Pub. Corp., 97-
Kapstein, M. 2000. The Tibetan assimilation of Buddhism. New York:
Oxford University Press.
Karmay, S.G. 1988. Secret Visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The Gold
Manuscript in the Fournier Collection. London: Serindia
Lattimore, O. 1932. Manchuria: Cradle of Conflict. New York: The
Mote, F.W. 1999. Imperial China 900-1800. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
Petech, L.  1972. China and Tibet in the Early Eighteenth
Century. History of the establishment of Chinese protectorate in
Tibet. 2nd rev. ed. Leiden: Brill.
Sagaster, K. 1960. Nag dban blo bzan c'os ldan (1642-1714), Leben und
Historische bedeutung des 1. (Pekinger) ICan skya khutukhtu:
dargestellt an hand seiner Mongolischen Biographie Subud Erike
und Anderer Quellen. Bonn: Rheinische Friedrich-Wi1he1ms-
Uspensky, V.L. 1997. Prince Yunli (1697-1738). Manchu statesman and
Tibetan Buddhist. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and
Cultures of Asia and Africa.
Wang, X. 2000. The Qing court's Tibet connection: Leang skya Rol pa'i
rdo rje and the Qianlong Emperor. Harvard Journal of Asiatic
Studies 60(1), 125-63.
64 NICOLAY TSYREMPILOV
Wylie, T.V. 1978. Reincarnation: A political innovation in Tibetan
Buddhism. In L.Ligeti (ed.) Proceedings of the Csoma De Karas
Memorial Symposium, Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 579-86.
A TIBETAN BUDDHIST MISSION TO THE EAST:
THE FIFTH DALAI LAMA'S JOURNEY TO BEIJING, 1652-1653
While John Elliot was trying to convert New England's natives and
Harvard was founded in 1635, in part as a college to instruct these native
converts, Jesuits were making inroads in Asia. But more successful than
these Christian missionaries in the new and old worlds, at the same time
Dge lugs pa Tibetan Buddhists spread across Inner Asia and into the
capitals (Mukden and Beijing) of East Asia with surprising success and a
significant display of imperial support. In this essay, I focus on the Fifth
Dalai Lama's journey to Beijing in the mid-seventeenth century as a
window into the missionary impulse in Tibetan society of the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries. To emphasize the missionary nature of the
expansion of Tibetan Buddhism into Inner and East Asia, I periodically
compare the nearly simultaneous European Catholic expansion into Asia
with that of the Dge lugs pa Tibetans.
The initial Tibetan Buddhist missions to the east were in response to
the expansion of Mongol and Manchu power into areas where Tibetan
Buddhists resided. On the basis of this contact with militarily powerful
neighbors, the Central Tibetan Dge lugs pa missions to the east grew out
of a need to seek support for their tradition outside Central Tibet, where
their monasteries and sponsors were beleaguered by the ruling elite who
supported the rival Bka' rgyud pa tradition. In the mid-seventeenth
century, Tibetan Buddhist lamas and the Qing imperial family both
sought to bolster their positions of power by seeking the support of the
other. The Dge lugs pa school of Tibetan Buddhism, under siege by the
ruling family of Tibet until 1642, gained critical support from Mongols
across Inner Asia, from the Turned of the Ordos to the Oirad of Koke-
nor. But the support from these shifting Mongol alliances had not always
proved steady, so when a new power arose to the east, the Dge lugs pa
also sought to reach out to the lurchen khan, who became the Qing
66 GRAY TUTTLE
emperor in this period.' Despite the obvious political importance of these
relations, I argue that the visit of the Fifth Dalai Lama to Beijing must
also be seen in the context of missionary activity, rather than strictly as a
matter of political expediency.
In this effort to extend their religious influence to far-flung courts,
the Dge lugs pa tradition was engaged in mission efforts that developed,
chronologically speaking, in a remarkably parallel fashion with the
Catholic missions that were underway in Asia in the same period.
Initially the Jesuits, by their own accounts, enjoyed great success in
southern China in the first half of the seventeenth century, converting
several tens of thousands in this period. However, Catholic success was
seriously curtailed by the prohibitions placed on their missionaries in the
early eighteenth century. I should also note that there were also
remarkable differences between the Catholic and Tibetan Buddhist
missions. As Joanna Waley-Cohen has so aptly summarized the leading
Catholic mission in China, the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit order) founded
in 1540, it was "a highly militant order with the specific goal of
converting 'infidels' overseas."?
In contrast, the Dge lugs pa Tibetan Buddhists saw their eastern
neighbors as communities that could take a more active and equal role in
contributing to the development of their religious tradition. After
consolidating his power in Central Tibet in the 1640s, the Fifth Dalai
Lama (Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617-1682) recounted the
experiences of his two predecessors in biographical works while
personally seeing to the renewal and significant expansion of the extent
of Dge lugs pa influence to the east. In this effort, he was helped by
many little known lamas, and a few well known ones, who had spread
Tibetan Buddhism throughout Inner Asia and into northern Chinese
imperial strongholds such as Wutaishan and Beijing. Through his
journey to Beijing, the Dalai Lama was able to consolidate this foothold
and reap the substantial material benefits that accompanied such
successful missionary work.
For perspective on the success of this mission, a brief review of
Tibetan Buddhist missionaries in East Asia and Catholic missionaries in
1 Although I will limit myself the to Dge lugs pa missions in Inner Asia and north-
eastern China, the Sa skya were also very involved in this mission field at least until the
1634 defeat of Ligdan Khan by the Manchus brought an end to their powerful sponsor.
For details on these early missions see Heissig 1953; Grupper 1980; Kam 1994.
2 Waley-Cohen 1999: 62-64.
A TIBETAN BUDDHIST MISSION 67
Asia will illustrate the striking contemporary development of these two
traditions' efforts to spread their religion to the east. In contrast to the
Jesuit motives, the Tibetans did not have a centrally organized plan to
make converts, but were rather drawn into the world of the Mongol,
Manchu and Chinese mission fields by these peoples' struggles for
territory and power in Inner Asia.3 Nevertheless, once drawn into these
struggles, the Dge lugs pa consistently sought their advantage by
spreading their religion. To some degree, the Catholics too were merely
riding the coattails of the extension of a struggle for territory and power
in Asia as European states built colonial trade empires. Nevertheless,
converting the "heathen" was an important aspect of European colonial
discourse at this time. For instance, in 1556 the Domincan monk Gaspar
da Cruz was in Canton writing of conversion opportunities in China. The
next year the Jesuits set up a mission at the Moghul court in India.
Within a decade of these developments, but far to the north in Inner Asia,
half a dozen Tibetan Buddhist leaders were on their way to the camp of
Khutughtai Sechen Khung taiji (grand-nephew of the ruling Mongol
hhan) to acquiesce to the promise that if they would submit to him, the
Mongol leader would accept their religion. Other lamas voluntarily
followed this lead over the years and managed to "awaken" Altan Khan
to Tibetan Buddhism by 1571.
At the same time, while the Catholics
had yet to tap the Chinese mission field, a Tibetan lama named Bsod
nams rnam rgyal became an instructor at the imperial Foreign Scripture
Printery at the Ming court in Beijing.>
Aside from these isolated examples, neither the Tibetan Buddhists
nor the Catholics had yet made much headway towards the East Asian
mission field, but this would soon change. In 1578, the most powerful
ruler in Inner Asia, Altan Khan (1555-1581), came to meet Tibetan
Buddhist lamas in the Koke nor (Tib. Mtsho kha/Mtsho sngon, Ch.
Qinghai) region. His meeting with the leading Dge lugs pa hierarch Bsod
nams rgya mtsho (1543-1588) resulted in the exchange of titles which
launched the Dalai Lama incarnation series that was to play such a key
role in the rest of Tibetan history. The next year, when Bsod nams rgya
mtsho (hereafter referred to as the Third Dalai Lama) returned to Tibet,
he sent a lama with Altan Khan named Stong 'khor chos rje Yon tan rgya
3 For an overview of the conversion of the Mongols, see Ahmad 1970: 85-99.
4 Ahmad 1970: 87.
5 Huang Hao 1993: 30.
68 GRAY TUTTLE
mtsho, the first Chahan lama, "as his representative in the Mongols'
The presence of wealthy and prestigious Mongol patrons in the
northeastern was sufficient to draw the Third Dalai Lama to undertake a
second mission from Central Tibet starting in 1583. That same year,
Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) opened the first Jesuit mission in China, on the
island of Macao, where the Portuguese already had a stronghold."
Similarly, the Third Dalai Lama also started by consolidating his
tradition's hold first in territory already under Tibetan sway. Of course,
unlike the European missionary, he was returning to the origins of his
tradition when he went to the birthplace of Tsong kha pa (1357-1419) in
A mdo in 1583. There he "founded a school for the explanation of sacred
texts" at Sku 'bum, an innovation that laid the foundations for Dge lugs
pa training that would generate Dge lugs pa missionaries to northeast
Asia for the next two centuries. In addition, by visiting "Bya k'yung
brag, Ri bo dang tig, mDso mo mkhar, where [Tsong kha pa's disciple,
Shakya Ye shes] Byams c' en c' os rje had dwelt" he helped assure that
these venerable Tibetan Buddhist monasteries would hereafter be
bastions of Dge lugs pa teachiug.f
Having built these firm foundations in Macao and A mdo
respectively, these yet unknowing rival traditions proceeded to extend
their influence toward the central seat of power in East Asia, Beijing. In
1585, Altan Khan's son requested that the Third Dalai Lama bring his
missionary work into the Turned Mongol territory. Eager to respond, the
Dalai Lama arrived at Altan Khan's capital of Koke khota (Tib. Mkhar
sngon, Ch. Guihaucheng) where he founded a translation school near the
Chinese border. The next year, the Dalai Lama extended his visit into the
domain of the Kharchin Mongols, where another school for translation
was established. In 1588, he went even farther northeast to the Khorchin
Mongols, north of the Liao River and east of the Khingan range, to
consecrate a temple at the invitation of their khan.? This activity seems to
have gotten the attention of the Ming court, because in 1588 the Wanli
emperor invited the Third Dalai Lama to court and conferred the title of
the Great Imperial Preceptor who Confers Initiations (Guanding tai
6 Tucci: 48-49; Rockhill 1910: 5. This lama was recognized as an incarnation of
Mafijushri and was known as the first Chahan Nomenhan or the Dongkor Mafijushrf
hutuketu among the Mongols.
7 Ricci 1953.
S Tucci 1949: 49 (citing the Third Dalai Lama's biography).
9 Heissig 1953: 29-32; cf. Tucci 1949: 49; Rockhill 1910: 5-6.
A TIBETAN BUDDHIST MISSION 69
guoshi) on him.I? The lama was planning to accept the invitation to the
capital when illness struck him down, and he died in Mongol territory.
Had the Third Dalai Lama made it to the capital in Beijing, it would have
been the first time since Shakya Ye shes' 1434 visit to Beijing that such a
prominent lama would have been welcomed in China. 1I While the Dalai
Lama was building Tibetan Buddhist institutions in northeast Inner Asia,
Matteo Ricci managed to start the first Jesuit mission in China proper in
At the start of the seventeenth century, both Tibetan Buddhist and
Catholic missions continued to extend their influence closer to the
Chinese capital in Beijing. The death of Altan Khan (d. 1581) and his
son (d. 1587) and the minority of the Fourth Dalai Lama (reborn in 1589
as Altan Khan's nephew) temporarily halted the high level exchanges
between Tibetans and southern Mongols. Meanwhile, Matteo Ricci made
some progress in China. In 1601, he was given permission to live in
Beijing, which he did until his death in 1610. In 1603, the young Mongol
and Fourth Dalai Lama, Bsod nams rgya mtsho (1543-1588) came to
Central Tibet. For the next decade, he and the Dge lugs pa supporters in
Central Tibet tried to build connections between Tibetans and the
Mongols. For instance, shortly after he arrived, the Third Dalai Lama
sent the "re-incarnation of Chamba-gyats'o, who became known among
the Mongols as Maitri Hutuketu" to be his representative in Koke
khota.l? At the same time, the lay patrons of the Dge lugs pa invited
Mongol warriors into Tibet to aid in their struggle against the Karma
family rulers of the western part of Central Tibet.l ' Yet these eastern
Mongols, whether too far away, too weak or simply not committed to the
Dge lugs pa cause, failed to elevate or even very effectively protect the
Dge lugs pa establishment from their rivals. In fact, with the demise of
the Altan Khan and the internal family feuds that followed, political
power shifted away from his family and its concerns became limited to
10 This was the first time in almost a century that the Ming court had conferred
such a title on a Tibetan lama. For details on the 1492 conferral of a similar title on Sangs
rgyas rdo rje, see Huang Hao 1993: 13-14,115.
II Sperling 1983: 146-8; H. Karmay 1975: 73, 79.
12 Rockhill 1910: 6.
13 Ahmad 1970: 100-20, for a Sa skya source on this conflict see Tucci 1949: 54-
14 Elverskog 2003: 36-37. This pattern would be repeated in the Tibetan relations
with the Oirat Mongols of Koke nor, whose internal rivalries after the death of Gtitisi
70 GRAY TUTTLE
This period marked the nadir for the Dge lugs pa, as both at home
and among the southern Mongols their position was weakened. The year
1616 was particularly challenging for the Dge lugs pa, as the Fourth
Dalai Lama died, and their rivals extended their influence from Gtsang
into Dbus.t> In 1625, the Gtsang pa khan did nothing to prevent Catholic
missionaries from moving into far western Tibet. 16 Meanwhile, among
the Mongols, the rightful heir of the Genghisid lineage through Dayan
Khan, Ligdan the Chakhar Khan, had asserted his dominion over the
southern Mongols.!? Like Altan Khan before him, Ligdan Khan also
sought the support and legitimacy of Tibetan Buddhists, but he turned to
Sa skya monks to support him and to translate the Tibetan Buddhist
canon into Mongolian.is Ligdan Khan's dislike of the Dge lugs pa
ultimately turned into an outright attack on these Tibetan Buddhists.I?
But this persecution may ultimately have been a boon to the beleaguered
tradition, as it seems that Mongol Tibetan Buddhists converted by the
Third Dalai Lama to the Dge lugs pa tradition were driven farther afield,
into the domain of the rising power of the Jurchen in northeast Asia.
So while Catholics had reached Tibet and the Jesuit Johann Adam
Schall von Bell would soon reach Beijing, Tibetan lamas showed up at
the Jurchen court of the Jin dynasty (1616 to 1635, when the dynastic
title was changed to Qing). In the spring of 1621 Uluk Darqhan Nangsu
lama established the "first direct contact between Manchus and
Tibetans."20 Tak-sim Kam has desribed Nurghaci's reception of this
lama as "fulfilling the conventional patron-priest (Tb. mchod-yon)
relationship, [because] Nurghaci, as a devotee to the religion, not only
showed deference to him but also offered him a generous largess
including an estate with workers." Further, Kam argued that, contrary to
the usual claims, "Nurghacis patronage of the Lama was not politically
khan "prevented them from taking an immediate or continuous interest in Tibet"
(Richardson 1998: 450).
15 Tucci 1949: 55-56.
16 On this early Jesuit mission to Tibet, see Wessels 1924.
17 Elverskog 2003: 16.
18 Gropper 1980: 109-110. His source is the anonymous seventeenth century Sira
tuquji. For another source, see also 81-83: the Altan kiirdiin mingkhan gegesutii bichig
written by Siregetu Guoshi Dharma in 1739. It must be remembered in this context that
the author of the text is a Dge lugs pa writing in the time of his tradition's triumph in
Mongolia. Nevertheless, this initial contact is mentioned without emphasis and is
followed by a clear reference to a Sa skya monk who was prominent at Ligdan's court.
19Yang 1970: 32-33.
20 Kam 2000: 161-62.
A TIBETAN BUDDHIST MISSION 71
motivated since most of the Mongol groups such as the Uriyangqai,
Ongnighud, Dorbed and Jalayid that came to submit to him were
followers of shamanism, not Tibetan Buddhism."21 Although the lama
died within a few months of his arrival, his stupa (built in 1630 when his
disciple urged Hongtaiji to fulfill his father's promise) revealed that the
missionary impulse of the Dge lugs pa had been fulfilled by the tantric
initiation of the first of the Jurchen khans. The stupa's inscription
recorded that the lama "gave the abisheka or empowerment (mo-ting
shou-chii to the Manchu khan [Nurhaci]."22 Sometime in the 1630s, the
second Chahan lama, Lha mo Blo gros rgya mtsho (1610-1659) was also
in contact with the Jurchens-who changed their ethnonym to the
Manchus in 1636-as he served as their envoy to Tibet before the end of
Thus, in 1639, after the Qing dynasty had been declared from
Mukden but before the Manchus moved south into Beijing, Hongtaiji
sent lama envoys to invite the Fifth Dalai Lama to come teach Buddhism
in his realm. His chief envoy was none other than the second Chahan
Lama Mafijushri of Koke-Khota. Hongtaiji's letter invited the Dalai
Lama to come "in order to propagate the growth of Buddhist Faith and
benefit all living beings." Hongtaiji sent further unrecorded oral
instructions with the lamas, but his concern that the Dharma (fa) not be
suppressed, but rather be transmitted to posterity, must have been a
welcome sentiment to the Dalai Lama.z- After a long period of threats
from various Mongol and Tibetan rulers, the tide was turning for the Dge
lugs pa. From 1635, the Oirad under the leadership of Guusi Khan started
a campaign to defeat the Dge lugs pa's rivals, first in A mdo and Khams,
which was not to end until 1642 when the Karma family in Gtsang was
defeated.I> Thus, the support of another rising power in Inner Asia must
have been encouraging. The details of the embassies exchanged between
Tibet and the Manchu courts (in Mukden and later in Beijing) have been
exhaustively detailed by Z. Ahmad and more recently summarized by E.
21 Kam 2000: 167-68. For a scholar who made the claim that Kam refutes, as well
as fairly compelling evidence for the claim, see Farquhar 1978: 20-21.
22 Kam 2000: 167. It is interesting to note the inscription was only in Manchu and
Chinese, not Tibetan or Mongol, as one would suspect if this stupa had been erected to
attract the support of Tibetan Buddhists.
23 Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 322, n. 21. Like the Fourth Dalai Lama, the
reincarnation of the Third Dalai Lama's envoy to the southern Mongols was reborn
among his hosts, in this case as the son of the TUrned leader, Huoluoji.
24 Ahmad 1970: ] 57.
25 For details, see Ahmad 1970: 110-22.
72 GRAY TUTTLE
Sperling.zs What I wish to emphasize is the motivation articulated in the
While Catholic missionaries were welcomed at the early Qing court
for their talents in making canons to pierce the walled Chinese cities, by
this time the Tibetan Buddhists were no doubt of interest more for their
influence over the Manchu's critical allies, the Mongols. Thus, in 1642
the Manchu emperor heartily welcomed the Dalai and Panchen Lamas'
envoy, the Ilaghughsan Khutughtu, sent in response to the Qing
invitation of 1639. The letter this envoy bore spoke of glorifying the
protector of religion and making donations for the maintenance of the
religious community. The two most powerful Dge lugs pa leaders'
autobiographical works articulate the centrality of the missionary
impulse for this sending this envoy, though their focus is slightly
different. According to the 1661 autobiography of the first Panchen
Lama, Chos kyi rgyal mtshan (1569-1662), the main focus was on
converting the Qing emperor, who, unlike his father, "had not entered
through the door of the Buddha's teaching." According to the 1681
biography of Fifth Dalai Lama, the purpose of the mission was to ask the
king to be a donor (sbyin dag) to Tibetan Buddhists in his territory.s? In
response, at least according to Tibetan sources, the Qing emperor made
the Dge lugs pa envoy his supreme lama and showered him with gifts.
In the Panchen Lama's assessment, the mission was accomplished, as the
"king and his retinue were established in the Teaching, with great
faith."29 On the departure of the envoy in the summer of 1643,
Hongtaiji's brothers, Ajige and Dorgon (who would soon be the Manchu
leader in Beijing, as the regent of the young Shunzhi emperor) escorted
the Ilaghughsan Khutughtu out of the capital and part of his way back to
Lhasa. Furthermore, Hongtaiji exceeded the Dalai Lama's expectations
of becoming a sponsor of Tibetan Buddhism in his own realm by sending
substantial gifts to all the religious leaders of Tibet, with special presents
of silver to the two leading Dge lugs pa lamas and offerings of tea and
silver to the monastic communities. By the time the envoy returned to
26 Ahmad 1970: 157-62. Sperling 2003: 127-28.
27 Ahmad 1970: 160-61. Hongtaiji was referred to simply as the "Jurchen (Tib.
Jur-chi/ Sbyorjidi King" and not by reference to the new ethnonym Manchu, the bodhi-
sattva Mafijushrf or even the title "emperor" in these accounts.
28 Schmidt et al.  1961: 289. This is Schmidt's German translation of the
1662 Erdeni-yin tobci by Saghang Secen.
29 Ahmad 1970: 161, citing the Panchen Lama's autobiography.
A TIBETAN BUDDHIST MISSION 73
Tibet, Dorgon had taken Beijing and Hongtaiji's young son had been
proclaimed the Shunzhi emperor there.w
Hongtaiji's last letter reached Tibet after his death, but its positive
message was repeated several times over the coming decade: "We wish
to show Our great respect for the eminent Sages (gaoxian) among the
Tiebtans, so We are sending envoys with the Ilakuksan Hutuketu to all
alike, regardless of the colour of their robes, whether they be red or
yellow, seeking everywhere for the religion of the Buddha for the
protection of the Empire." The Chahan lama also came along "to explain
orally to you all that We have to say."3! Many embassies were
exchanged over the coming years, with the emperor continuing to offer
invitations to the Dalai Lama and urging other lamas to encourage him to
come to Beijing. In these intervening years, the Fifth Dalai Lama was
writing the biography of the Third Dalai Lama, which he completed in
1646. Revisiting the events of his predecessor may have further inspired
him to retrace his steps and recreate old bonds that may have weakened,
especially with the Ordos and Turned Mongols. The Dalai Lama finally
accepted the Qing imperial invitation in 1649 and set out in 1652.
What were the Dalai Lama's goals on this excursion through Inner
Asia to the capital of China? The political importance of having the
backing of Asia's rising, though still not hegemonic, power must have
played a major role in motivating the Dalai Lama to undertake this
mission at a time when his own rule of Tibet had only recently been
established. Yet, the missionary aspects of this voyage have often been
overlooked, and it is to these that I now tum. For the Fifth Dalai Lama
was not single-mindedly focused on the end goal of the journey, but
instead took time along the way to preach and minister to nobility and
commoner, lay and monastic A mdo Tibetans, Mongours, Mongols, and
Chinese, as well as the occasional Manchu envoy from the court.
Furthermore, he chose to record all of these exchanges in minute detail
for posterity in his autobiography.
On the shores of Koke nor, the Dalai Lama met with local Tibetan
leaders, Manchu and Chinese representatives of the Qing court as well as
the western Ordos Mongol leader, the Jinong, and his relatives who now
resided in the vicinity of the lake. Ina microcosm, this meeting contained
elements of the groups that the Dalai Lama would encounter for the rest
of his journey. Wherever he went, the local Tibetan leadership-whether
30 Ahmad 1970: 159-61.
3! Rockhi II 1910: 12-13. Emphasis added.
74 GRAY TUTTLE
lay headmen or monastic lamas-turned out to welcome him. The
Mongols too were present in large numbers wherever he went. Also of
interest, several eminent Chinese monks working for the Qing emperor
(Gong gi las kas mngon par mtho ba'i Rgya ban) were among the
welcoming party on the shores of Koke nor. From Xining, Qing officials
sent rice and fruit as gifts. At least one of leaders who came from Xining
bearing gifts was not a Tibetan Buddhist; the Dalai Lama asked him,
"What is your god? (Lha gang yin)" and was answered, "Heaven
(gnam)."32 The Manchus, typically not present in great numbers at these
meetings, were represented by the Court for Managing the Frontiers
(Lifanyuan) official Shajidhara.r' This official also seems to have been
or become an adherent of Tibetan Buddhism, as he received the Long-
life Buddha initiation within a week of meeting the Dalai Lama.H
The Mongol faithful represented, by far, the most numerous and
most economically significant of the groups that the Dalai Lama would
meet on his mission to Beijing. In this first instance, some three thousand
Mongols, along with the Jinongs mother, were initiated in a tantric ritual
led by the Dalai Lama. These rituals required the exchange of gifts for
the teachings and led to a tremendous transfer of wealth from the
Mongols to the Dalai Lama. Along with the political and religious
motivations, the ability to attract massive donations were a significant
economic benefit of this journey. In the Koke nor region, a total of 5396
horses, 140 yak, 520 ounces (srang) of gold, 500 ounces of silver, 60
rolls of silk, and other minor gifts were showered on the Dalai Lama,
mostly from the Mongols.i> Mostly from Tibetans within the Great Wall
that separated Koke nor from Xining, the lama received 890 horses, 1500
ounces of gold, and 103 rolls of silk, as well as porcelain, tin and silver
32 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 367; Awang luosangjiacou 1992: 303.
33 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 366; Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 302,
321 n. 18. I rely on Chen's translation here to identify this official as being associated
with the Lifanyuan, as I do not recognize a term in the Tibetan that would clearly reflect
this Qing office. Chen's annotation translates the Veritable Records of the Qing (Qing-
shilu) entry that described this Lifanyuan official being sent on this mission.
34 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 369; Awang luosangjiacou 1992: 304.
35 Yang Ho-chin 1994 contains lists of the gifts the Dalai Lama received en route
to Beijing, although he does not divide the gifts according to regions. I have treated the
Dalai Lama's first meeting with the Lifanyuan official to his crossing the Great Wall as
the Koke nor region, see Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 366-74; Awang lu-
osangjiacou 1992: 302-307.
A TIBETAN BUDDHIST MISSION 75
The Dalai Lama was then able to locally redistribute this wealth
to support the building or renovation of Dge lugs pa institutions. After
selling off some of the livestock, he also sent some of the more portable
wealth back to Tibet, probably the gold and silver or light fabrics or even
wealth on the hoof.r?
What of the donations in other regions? How did they compare to
these first donations? Although the donation of horses was most
substantial in the Koke nor region, as the Dalai Lama moved across
Mongol inhabited regions, he continued to be given precious metals,
horses, and other livestock in sometimes staggering numbers. As a point
of contrast, after crossing into Ningxia he was only given a total of forty
horses and forty camels.rs Then, when he reached the Ordos region the
Mongols there gave him 1,750 horses, 100 camels, and 10,000 sheep.
These Ordos Mongols were also more wealthy, or at least more
generous, in terms of precious metals, giving the Dalai Lama a total of
3,000 ounces of silver.t? The Turned Mongols gifts were more sparing in
terms of livestock or precious metals, but included an abundance of other
gifts: 200 horses, 200 ounces of silver, 10 rolls of silk, and 10,100
unspecified, but possibly manufactured, gifts.w Although it is difficult to
compare horses and sheep to precious metals without pricing information
we currently do not have, the single greatest transfer of wealth seems to
have taken place within the context of the Qing court's reception of the
Dalai Lama. From his arrival at the imperially constructed temple at
Lake Taika through his visit to the capital in Beijing and eventual return
36 Yang Ho-chin 1994: 74-76.This region includes Sku 'bum and Pa' ras monaster-
ies and encompasses some donations from Mongours and Chinese as well. Ngag dbang
blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 366-78; Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 307-310.
37 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 366-74; Awang luosang jiacou 1992:
307. For instance, the fourth Stong 'khor sprul sku Mdo rgyud rgya mtsho (1621-1683)
was directed by the Fifth Dalai Lama to renovate Stong 'khor monastery (now in Huan-
gyuan county). Two new monasteries, Dga' ldan chos 'khor gling and Dam chos gling,
built by the Bla rna btsan po (1613-1665) are mentioned, although this lama was making,
and not receiving donations, see Awang luosangjiacou 1992: 321-22, n. 19-20.
38 Yang Ho-chin ] 994: 76. I am calling Ningxia the region that the Dalai Lama de-
scribed as Manchu territory (Man chu'i sa'i cha gtogs pa) from just past Pa' ras to the
Yellow River (Tib. Rma chu) crossing into the Ordos. Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho
1989: 378-8]; Awang luosangjiacou ]992: 310-12.
39 Yang Ho-chin ]994: 76-79. The Ordos encompasses the area between the two
crossings of the Yellow River. Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 38] -85; Awang
luosang jiacou 1992: 3] 2-15.
40 Yang Ho-chin ]994: 79-80. This region is marked again by crossing the Yellow
River and by the imperially constructed temple at Taika, north of Datong. Ngag dbang
blo bzang rgya mtsho ]989: 385-88; Awang luosangjiacou 1992: 315-] 7.
76 GRAY TUTTLE
to Taika, the Dalai Lama was given 1,200 ounces of gold, 13,200 ounces
of silver, 1,455 rolls of silk, 410 horses and manufactured goods too
numerous to detail. 41 Yet this last bestowal of gifts was largely
redistributed among the adherents of Buddhism, both Tibetan and
otherwise, in and around the capital and in Koke khota as will be
What of the donors who gave to the Dalai Lama? How did their
numbers break down along these regional and ethnic lines? The Mongols
are the easiest to parse, as their presence within more or less ethnically
homogenous communities helps distinguish them from instances of
ethnic mixing, such as occurred in certain monasteries or in Beijing. In
Koke nor, at least four thousand Mongols came to greet the Dalai Lama,
of which three-fourths were initiated and therefore made donations.e- In
the Ordos some twenty thousand Mongols made offerings (four
thousand, five hundred monks and nuns and the rest laity), with about
one-third taking initiations from the Dalai Lama.s' Among the TUrned,
some forty-one hundred Mongols came to see the Dalai Lama and again
some three-quarters were blessed. Only some six hundred officials made
offerings and received initiations.r- The vast majority of the people he
met in and around the capital, some twelve thousand in all, also seemed
to have been Mongols, though it is clear that Tibetans, Manchus and
Chinese were also counted among these.t> If we are to trust the Dalai
Lama's figures, some forty thousand Mongols attended the Dalai Lama's
tour of Inner Asia and the Qing capital. No doubt some rounding off of
numbers occurred; nevertheless, the level of detail included in the diaries
that were used to compose the Dalai Lama's autobiography suggests that
these numbers were fairly accurate.sv These are impressive figures and
indicate the extent of the popularity of Tibetan Buddhism among the
Mongols. In short, the Mongol interest in Tibetan Buddhism may have
been the single most important factor in both the Dalai Lama's decision
41 Yang Ho-chin 1994: 80-85. Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 388-415;
Awang luosangjiacou 1992: 317-43.
42 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 367-69; Awang luosang jiacou 1992:
43 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 381-85; Awang luosang jiacou 1992:
44 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 385-88; Awang luosang jiacou 1992:
45 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 388-415; Awang luosang jiacou 1992:
46 Ahmad 1970: 31.
A TIBETAN BUDDHIST MISSION 77
to undertake this voyage and the Qing emperor's interest in making the
invitation. Inaddition to their potential military power, the Mongols were
the economic and political lynch-pin of the whole story.
Yet they are decidedly not the whole story. The Dalai Lama was
also attentive to the populations of other communities along his route,
most surprisingly the Chinese. For instance, when the Dalai Lama
reached Xining (Tib. Ziling), his autobiography recorded that he freed a
Chinese man incarcerated for theft from the government treasury. His
stated justification for this act was, as Yang Ho-chin summarized it, that
he "felt that the Chinese people cherished silver over their concern for
others."47 His ransom of this man apparently surprised the local people,
but the Dalai Lama may have been remembering the traditions associated
with 'Phags pa bla rna liberating Chinese prisoners from Mongol
punishment. Although the dynamic is not entirely the same, I cannot help
but remark on the continuing role of the release of prisoners as part of
international diplomacy, as Tibetan political prisoners are often released
at the urging of United States presidents, usually upon the visit of top
Chinese leaders to the United States. Yet, aside from this initial
interaction, the Dalai Lama did not become involved in the empire's
domestic matters, as had 'Phags pa bla rna before him.
Instead, the Dalai Lama mostly administered to Chinese Buddhists'
needs just as he did to the Mongols and Tibetans in the communities
through which he passed. The picture that emerges from the Dalai
Lama's autobiography is one of an unprecedented level of integration of
Chinese, Mongols and Tibetans at certain Tibetan Buddhist monastic
locales. For instance, when the Dalai Lama visited (or re-visited, from
his perspective as the reincarnation of the Third Dalai Lama) Sku 'bum
monastery, he taught five thousand Chinese, Tibetans, Mongours, and
Mongols (Tib. Rgya, Bod, Hor, Sog) from the classic Dge lugs pa text,
Tsong kha pa's Great treatise on the stages of the path to enlightenment
(Byang chub lam rim chen mo). Although he did not specifically
designate those who attended this event as a monastic audience, it seems
likely that the choice of this text was influenced by the large number of
educated monks of all these various ethnicities, who were assembled at
this institution of higher learning. Though the Fifth Dalai Lama does not
specifically mention the school started here by the Third Dalai Lama, he
does record that he was invited to again occupy the throne built for his
47 Yang Ho-chin 1994: 108. Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya rntsho 1989: 375; Awang
luosang jiacou 1992: 308.
78 GRAY TUTTLE
predecessor by Altan Khan, and he received offerings on this throne
before preceding with his teaching. 48 In this way, the Fifth Dalai Lama
both linked himself to this earlier mission and articulated an extension of
the mission to the Chinese and Mongour populations as well. This may
well be one of the earliest clear references to Chinese who were not part
of the imperial court attending Tibetan Buddhist events and studying
Tibetan texts with famous lamas.s?
As the Dalai Lama proceeded past Xining, into areas of more mixed
Chinese, Tibetan and Mongour presence he continued to interact with the
local population, which seemed to recognize his prominence and stature.
The Fifth Dalai Lama first visited the reliquary of Bla chen Dgongs pa
rab gsel, the figure associated with the revival of monastic Tibetan
Buddhism after the fall of the empire in the ninth century. This A mdo
monk ordained a group of Tibetans who returned to Central Tibet to
maintain the monastic lineage there, unbroken by the chaos of the fall of
the empire, thanks to the presence of this monk on the Tibetan
borderlands.w In the next town, the Chinese people (Rgya mi) turned out
with banners, parasols, royal ensigns, and musical instruments, and
officials welcomed him with fruit, meat, wine, and so forth. The leader
here, probably a Mongour, had his own monks (dge 'dun rnam, grwa
rigs) who made offerings at the same time as monks from Dgon lung
temple-so important in the next century as the home to the Leang skya
incarnation-made a modest donation. As a reward for the faith
displayed by this multi-ethnic reception, the Dalai Lama blessed this
community and transmitted permission for these people to recite the six
syllable mantra associated, of course, with himself as the embodiment of
48 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 374; Awang luosangjiacou 1992: 308.
49 This would distinguish this event from any associated with the Sa skya pa or
Karma pa lamas who visited the Mongol Yuan or Chinese Ming dynastic courts. I should
also mention a possibly earlier instance that I have not researched in detail, also involving
a Dge lugs pa lama invited to Beijing: in 1415, at Wutaishan, "Shakya Yeshe granted
audiences to large numbers of people, monks and laymen alike and gave teachings,
initiations, and ordinations to many of them . . . . It is also worth mentioning that
Mongols sought him out as well as Chinese." See Sperling 1983: 152.
50 This temple was located in Tsong kha mkar, also know as Ping'an xian, very
near the home of the present Dalai Lama. See Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 323, n. 34-35;
Dorje 1996: 582.
51 This was Sgro tshang, now Ledu, which was presided over by the Sgro tshang
nang so, apparently a Mongour leader: Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 308-09, 324, n. 36;
Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 376. For a description of the rank of nang so,
see Schram 1957: 18.
A TIBETAN BUDDHIST MISSION 79
From this point until the Dalai Lama and his entourage crossed into
Ningxia, they were feted by a similar mix of locals and officials. The
exact ethnicity of local officials is difficult to ascertain, as some had
Chinese sounding names (Lu'u tshan tsang, Yu'u skyi yi) or titles (Bing
ye, Thung ye), which might even have been Mongol or Manchu. In any
case, these officials welcomed him in what he called "Chinese fashion
(Rgya lugs)," and Chinese people played musical instruments on his
approach. In one locale, the Dalai Lama ordained just over one hundred
monastics of various ranks from area monasteries. Again it is unclear
whether these were Chinese or Tibetans, Mongols or Mongours, but the
officials there offered the Dalai Lama Chinese Buddhist-style fake meats
made from wheat gluten and spared the lives of the chickens and pigs
that would otherwise have been used at the feast.V This suggests that a
vegetarian Chinese Buddhist sensibility informed this community, yet
the monks sought ordination at the hands of this Tibetan Iama.v'
Moreover, the Dalai Lama conferred initiatory permission for the
Hayagriva (Tib. Rta mgrin, Ch. Matou mingwang) practice upon these
officials.>' Shortly thereafter, he again taught the six syllable mantra to a
mixed crowd of Tibetans and Chinese and was given substantial
donations by the last Tibetan community he would pass through on his
way to Beijing. This region, known as Pa' ras (Ch. Tianzhu) also marked
the last mass ordination, again of almost one hundred monastics, until the
Dalai Lama reached Beijing.
Beyond this region, the Dalai Lama encountered respectful
treatment from Chinese monks and Buddhists in Ningxia, but he was not
given substantial donations, nor did he give initiations until he reached
the Ordos region, discussed above. Few of the Mongour and Tibetan
52 Yang Ho-chin 1994: 110.
53 Ethnic distinctions were clearly not as rigid as one might think from earlier
Ming prohibitions on Chinese becoming Tibetan Buddhist monks (Da Ming lu, Rites, 2
cited in Naquin 2000: 209). For instance, one lama, the fourth generation Stong 'khor
sprul sku Mdo rgyud rgya mtsho (1621-1683) seems to have reincarnated by entering the
body of a recently deceased nineteen year old Chinese boy, probably through a process
known as transference of consciousness. He was ordained by the first Chu bzang incarna-
tion Rnam rgyal 'dpal 'byor (Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 321-22 n. 19). Like the recog-
nition of Mongol children in the previous generation, or the recognition of western chil-
dren in the present generation, this occurrence would seem to indicate that, at least in this
community, Chinese adherence to Tibetan Buddhism was strong.
54 This was Chuanglang city (Tib. Grong lang mkhar). Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya
mtsho 1989: 376; Awang luosangjiacou 1992: 309; Yang Ho-chin 1994: 110.
55 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 378; Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 310;
Yang Ho-chin 1994: 111.
80 GRAY TUTTLE
lamas from this region that became so important at the Qing court in the
coming generations, such as the Leang skya or Tu'u bkwan incarnation
series, can trace their lineage back to this visit from the Fifth Dalai
Lama; nevertheless, his presence signaled the beginning of the real rise
of the Dge lugs pa to wealth and power in the region. Sponsorship of
Tibetan Buddhist monasteries from the local ruling Mongols and the
imperial court in Beijing no doubt contributed to this growth, but the
Dalai Lama's journey seems to have been the catalyst for this
While the Dalai Lama spared no effort to make an impression on
even the politically marginal regions of A mdo, the ultimate goal of his
mission was the Qing imperial court. Yet, remarkably, the multi-ethnic
community in A mdo was mirrored at the court, and the Dalai Lama's
mission reached out to all these ethnic communities. Well after the Fifth
Dalai Lama's death, his regent Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho (1653-1705)
summarized his time in Beijing as an unmitigated success marked by a
declaration of faith in the Dge lugs pa tradition: "from the Chinese,
Mongolian, and Tibetan priests, both those within the Palace and those
without, and from all those within the encampment, both lay and
spiritual, by all of whom he [the Dalai Lama] caused the dMigs-brTse-
ma (the Creed of the dGe-lugs-pa) to be recited, from each according to
his means, he received about 10,000 ounces of silver (in all). To the
many Chinese, both Buddhist priests and non-Buddhists, he distributed
over 5,000 ounces of silver."56 This creed of the Dge lugs pa, the Dmigs
brtse ma, concludes with a verse in which the recitor submissively makes
a request at the feet of Blo bzang grags pa, better known as Tsong kha
pa. The regent drew this passage almost verbatim from the Dalai Lama's
own autobiography, where it is qualified by being the result of previous
aspirational prayers, indicating the centrality of this event in the
motivation and perception of the Dge lugs pa mission to the Qing court.
The verbal and economic adherence of and exchange with the court's
Chinese, Tibetan and Mongol monks (bande) and the lay and religious
courtiers as well, marked the success of this Tibetan Buddhist mission to
Written evidence for this mission's motivation was not limited to
the Central Tibetan sources, as an imperial temple stele erected the year
the Dalai Lama left for court (1652) recorded much the same motivation
56 This is from the 1698 text the Vaidurya serpo, cited in Ahmad 1970: 182.
57 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 400; Awang luosangjiacou 1992: 333.
A TIBETAN BUDDHIST MISSION 81
from the Qing perspective. A Tibetan Buddhist temple built in the Yuan
dynasty and maintained through the Ming dynasty was repaired in
conjunction with the Dalai Lama's visit. The temple, known in Chinese
as the Protect the Dynasty Temple (Huguosi) was called in Tibetan the
Great Eastern School, Heaps of Good Fortune, the Monastery
Conquering Completely in All Directions (Shar ba'i chos grwa chen po
bkra shis lhun po phyogs thams cad las mam par rgyal ba'i gling). This
Tibetan name could hardly be more blatant in announcing the missionary
venture, but the stele also directly links this mission with the Dge lugs pa
tradition. The temple was repaired "for the dynasty and for the people, to
expand and make nourish Buddhist affairs, [and] to spread Tsong kha
pa's Buddhist teachings."58 Thus, the imperial and Tibetan sources share
the rhetoric that the impulse to spread Dge lugs pa teachings motivated
the events of 1652-1653, which culminated in the Dalai Lama's visit to
The success of the mission at court could also be described in terms
of the number of adherents to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition with whom
the Dalai Lama made contact once he reached imperial territory at Lake
Taika and on into Beijing. He met with and taught some 12,000 people,
mostly Mongols, and initiated some 1,150 monks of various ethnicities.>?
For instance, about three hundred Chinese monk-retreatants (Rgya ban ri
khrod pa) from Wutai shan (Tib. Ri bo rtse lnga) came to see him and
were given a Mafijushri blessing.ev Two Nepalese monks (Bal po bande),
Mongol nobility, (presumably Manchu) ambans, palace literati (Pho
brang gi yig mkhan), fifty bannermen of the Plain Blue Banner under the
leadership of a dge bshes, and monks from the Yellow Temple (Lha
khang ser po drwa pa, built by imperial order as the Dalai Lama's
residence in Beijing) were all given Avalokitesvara initiations by the
Aside from this diverse group of students, the imperial family was
also actively engaged with making offerings and receiving teachings
from the Dalai Lama. Many high ranking Manchu imperial family
58 Huang Hao: 12.
59 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 407-15; Awang luosang jiacou 1992:
60 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 403; Awang luosangjiacou 1992: 334.
61 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 394-98; Awang luosang jiacou 1992:
329-31. According to the Dalai Lama 90,000 ounces of silver was spent building the
temple, and gold leaf was used for the walls, Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989:
394; Awang Iuosang jiacou 1992: 329.
82 GRAY TUTTLE
members attended to the Dalai Lama's needs, made offerings, and in
some cases took initiations. The fifth son of Hongtaiji and the emperor's
elder brother Shisai was the most active of the Manchu imperial family
member who interacted with the Dalai Lama.
For instance, he was sent
in his brother's stead to greet the Dalai Lama outside the Great Wall,
with some 2,000 horsemen and elaborate fanfare. 63 Later, Shisai
requested and received from the Dalai Lama hand-written texts needed in
China (Rgya yul), as well as the Hayagriva, Black Mafijughosa and long
life initiations, and the eight lay vows, which caused the Dalai Lama to
comment on his faithfulness. 64
Probably the most powerful figure in the Qing court at the time of
the Dalai Lama's visit to Beijing was the emperor's uncle and former
regent, Jirgalang (1599-1655), though his power waned as the Shunzhi
emperor declared his rule in the spring of 1652 and exercised more
power throughout 1653.
With three thousand horsemen, he rode out
after Shisai to welcome the Dalai Lama to the imperial domains, and at
the end of the Dalai Lama's stay he escorted him back to the border. 66 Of
course, the Dalai Lama also met with the young emperor three times and
was given rich gifts at these audiences.s? The empress dowager and one
of the Qinwang's older sisters also made offerings to the Dalai Lama.
Finally, the Dalai Lama performed the funeral rituals for a member of the
62 Shisai was also know as the Heshou Chengze Qinwang ("Kind prince of the first
class") in Qing sources and Khe shing ge chin dbang (after the Manchu, gosingga and the
Chinese qinwang) in the Dalai Lama's biography, see Ahmad 1970: 172-73.
63 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 387; Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 317.
64 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 387, 403, 407; Awang luosang jiacou
1992: 334-35, 338.
65 Jirgalang was also known as both the Shu [uncle] Zheng Qingwang (Ahmad
174) and the Fuzheng Qingwang (Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 344, n. 6) in Qing
sources, and the U'i jing chin dbang in the Dalai Lama's biography. He was the nephew
and adopted son of Nurhaci and one of the Shunzhi emperor's regents. For details on
these men, see Liu 1989: 41, 46. In early 1651, the thirteen year old Shunzhi emperor
abolished the regency after Dorgon's death, which launched a period of transition of gov-
ernment as Jiralang tried to return to high position by supporting the emperor. Eventually
the emperor felt threatened by Jiralang's growing strength and tried to assert his own rule
(Hummel 1970: 216). Sometime in 1653 Jirgalang's power was drastically curtailed, as
he was "virtually excluded from the final policy-making decisions, which became the
exclusive domain of the emperor (Liu 1989: 47).
66 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 392,405; Awang luosang jiacou 1992:
67 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 393-94, 397, 404; Awang luosang
jiacou 1992: 318-19, 330, 335.
68 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 404, 396; Awang luosang jiacou 1992:
A TIBETAN BUDDHIST MISSION 83
imperial family, which was accompanied by miraculous occurrences in
the sky (reminiscent of the earlier Karma pa's visit to Nanjing),»?
As before, the Dalai Lama redistributed many of these gifts among
the local population, for the benefit of the Dge lugs pa tradition. As noted
above, he gave away five thousand ounces of silver, as well as other
gifts, to Chinese monks (hwa shang) and many Chinese people of
various sects (chos lugs na tshogs). 70 Shortly thereafter, he gave an A
mdo Tibetan from Sung chu (Ch. Songpan) named Rab byams pa 'Thrin
las material assistance and a text to overcome hindrances to establishing
a temple on Wutaishan (Tib. Ri bo rste lnga)."! Finally, on his way back
home, in the Mongol city of Koke khota (Tib. Mkhar sngon) the Dalai
Lama gave 500 ounces of gold and 200 horses to repair monasteries built
in the time of the Third Dalai Lama and Altan Khan, which were
damaged during the reign of Ligdan Khan.Z? At around the same time,
the Dalai Lama also discussed setting up a fund for hiring workers for
the renovations of the Lhasa monasteries Se ra and 'Bras spungs, so at
least part of these funds were used to benefit Central Tibet, though the
workers may have been hired closer to Beijing.r'' Likewise, the monks
and monasteries in Central Tibet were richly rewarded for "performing
religious services to bless the people in China and to strengthen their
belief in Buddhism."74
On a final note, in the mid-seventeenth century both Tibetan
Buddhists and European Catholics had secured a presence in the Manchu
Qing court and at last actually learned of one another's missionaries at
the capital. Jesuit Father Johann Adam Schall von Bell (Ch. Tang
Rouwang, 1591-1666) was the most important of the Jesuits to have
remained in Beijing as the Ming court fled south and the Qing dynasty
moved into northern China. As noted by Jonathan Spence, "Because he
had a high level of scientific skill, Dorgon appointed him to direct the
Imperial Bureaucracy of Astronomy."75 According to the Dalai Lama's
account, the Manchus were also impressed with what they can only have
understood as his prognosticatory powers over the weather (what we
69 Yang Ho-chin 1994: 131. See Berger 2001: 145-69.
70 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 405; Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 335.
71 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 405; Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 335-
72 Yang Ho-chin 1994: 150-51.
73 Yang Ho-chin 1994: 144.
74 Yang Ho-chin 1994: 152.
75 Spence 1990: 43.
84 GRAY TUTTLE
would now call meteorology). The Dalai Lama mentioned an instance of
this in connection with a banquet held in his honor by the emperor's
brother Shisai, on a winter day for which the Jesuit had made the
prediction (Tib. lung bstan pa) that it would snow heavily, which it did.
The Dalai Lama's text described the prognosticator as "the heterodox
astrologer of India, Thang zhi dbang (Tib. Rgya dkar gyi mu stegs pa'i
rtsis pa Thang zhi dbang)."76 Whether the Dalai Lama and the Jesuit
priest actually met is not clear, but this account from the outskirts of
Beijing marks a fitting point to end my comparison of the Dge lugs pa
Tibetan Buddhist and Jesuit Catholic missions to reach the capital and
court of the greatest empire in Asia.
The Dge lugs pa mission would see great success among the A mdo
and Khams Tibetans, Mongols, Manchus, and possibly among the
Chinese as well (though this is less well documented) over the coming
century and a half, especially under the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors.
Qing imperial support for (and attempts to control) Dge lugs pa Tibetan
Buddhism, in Central Tibet, A mdo, Khams, Mongolia, and localities
such as Wutaishan (Tib. Ri bo rtse Inga) and Jehol led to an
unprecedented expansion of Tibetan Buddhism outside the confines of
the Tibetan cultural region. As the Qing dynasty declined in the
nineteenth century and abdicated in the twentieth, Manchu support for
the Dge lugs pa mission waned and vanished, but this legacy was
eventually picked up by some modem Chinese."? Meanwhile, by the
early eighteenth century, the Catholic mission, already weakened in
China by the Jesuits' association with the conquering Manchus, lost even
the imperial support on which they counted in the seventeenth century.tf
In the end, the comparison of the Tibetan and Jesuit missions in Asia is
best made by noting their shared failure to make much impact on the
76 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 393; Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 328.
Yang Ho-chin 1994; 127, 172, n. 38. Awang luosang jiacou 1992: 344 n. 7 noted that the
Dalai Lama described him as "of India" because did not understand about Europe, but it
should be noted that most of the Jesuits who came to China did come through the Portu-
guese colony in Goa, India, which may account for the description of his origin. Possibly
the Dalai Lama even recognized something about this man and his teachings as being
similar to the other Catholics who were moving into Tibet from India in the decades be-
fore this encounter. For more on Schall von Bell, see Spence 1969.
77 See Tuttle 2005.
78 In fact, Schall von Bell was thrown into prison upon the death of his patron, the
Shunzhi emperor, in 1661, and the Jesuits did not regain imperial support until the
Kangxi emperor abolished the regency that dominated the court after his father's death.
See Spence, 44, 71. For the later period, see Wa1ey-Cohen, 67-69.
A TIBETAN BUDDHIST MISSION 85
largest population in East Asia, the Chinese. Yet for the intervening
centuries of Manchu rule of China, the Dge lugs pa Tibetan Buddhist
mission enjoyed singular success at home and abroad, due in no small
part to the enormous prestige as well as military and financial support
derived from association with the Manchu Qing empire. Much credit for
this support must go to the Fifth Dalai Lama's visit to Beijing, as he
helped establish these relations as a central feature of seventeenth and
eighteenth century Tibetan society.
Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho. 1989. Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya
mtsho 'i rnam thar Lhasa: Bod ljong mi dmangs dpe skrun khang.
Awang luosang jiacou. 1992. Wushi Dalai lama zhuan, trans. Chen
Qingying and Ma Lianlong, Zhongguo bianjiang shi di ziliao
conggan-Xizangjuan. Beijing: Zhongguo Zangxue chubanshe.
Huang Hao. 1993. Zai Beijing de Zangzu wenwu. Beijing: Minzu
Ahmad, Z. 1970. Sino-Tibetan Relations in the Seventeenth Century.
Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.
Berger, P. 2001. Miracles in Nanjing: An imperial record of the Fifth
Karmapa's visit to the Chinese capital. In Cultural Intersections in
Later Chinese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
Dorje, G. 1996. Tibet Handbook: with Bhutan. Chicago: Passport Books.
Elverskog, J. 2003. The Jewel Translucent Sutra: Altan Khan and the
Mongols in the sixteenth century. Leiden: Brill.
Farquhar, D.M. 1978. Emperor as bodhisattva in the governance of the
Ch'ing Empire. Harvard Journal ofAsiatic Studies 38(1), 5-34
Grupper, S. 1980. The Manchu Imperial Cult of the Early Ch'ing
Dynasty: Texts and Studies on the Tantric Sanctuary of Mahakala at
Mukden. Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University.
Heissig, W. 1953. A Mongolian source to the Lamaist suppression of
Shamanism in the seventeenth century. Anthropos 48, 1-28, 493-536.
Hummel, A.W. (ed.) 1970. Eminent Chinese of the Ching period (1644-
1912). Taipei: Ch'eng Wen Publishing; New York: Paragon Book
86 GRAY TUTTLE
Kam, T. 1994. Manchu-Tibetan Relations in the Early Seventeenth
Century: A Reapprisal. Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University.
-. 2000. The dGe-1ugs-pa breakthrough: The Uluk Darxan Nangsu
Lama's mission to the Manchus. Central Asiatic Journal 44(2).
Karmay, H. 1975. Early Sino-Tibetan Art. Warminster: Aris and Phillips
Liu, A. 1989. Two rulers in one reign: Dorgon and Shun-chih 1644-
1660, Faculty of Asian Studies Monographs. Canberra: Australian
Naquin, S. 2000. Peking: Temples and City Life, 1400-1900. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Ricci, M. 1953. China in the Sixteenth Century: The Journals ofMatthew
Ricci: 1583-1610. L.J. Gallagher (trans.) New York: Random House.
Richardson, H. 1998. High Peaks, Pure Earth: Collected writings on
Tibetan history and culture. London: Serindia.
Rockhill, W.W. 1910. The Dalai lamas of Lhasa and their relations with
the Manchu emperors of China, 1644-1908. T'oung Pao 11.
Schmidt, 1.J., Ssanang Ssetsen, and Chungtaidschi.  1961.
Geschichte der Ost-Mongolen und ihres Furstenhauses. The Hague:
Schram, L. 1957. The Monguors of the Kansu-Tibetan border, II,
Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, new ser., v. 47,
Spence, J. 1969. To Change China: Western Advisors in China, 1620-
1960. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
-. 1990.The Searchfor Modern China. New York: Norton.
Sperling, E. 1983. Early Ming Policy Toward Tibet: an examination of
the proposition that the early Ming emperors adopted a 'Divide and
Rule' policy toward Tibet. Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University.
-. 2003. Tibet's foreign relations during the epoch of the Fifth Dalai
Lama. In F. Pommaret (ed.) Lhasa in the seventeenth century: the
capital of the Dalai Lamas, Brill's Tibetan Studies Library 3.
Tucci, G. 1949. Tibetan Painted Scrolls. 2 vols. Roma: Librera dello
Tuttle, G. 2005. Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China.
Columbia: Columbia University Press.
Waley-Cohen, J. 1999. The Sextants of Beijing: Global Currents in
Chinese History. New York: Norton.
A TIBETAN BUDDHIST MISSION 87
Wessels, C. 1924. Early Jesuit travellers in Central Asia 1603-1721. The
Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
Yang, H.C. (tran.) 1970. The Annals ofKoke nor. Bloomington: Indiana
Yang Ho-chin. 1994. China's routes to Tibet during the early Qing
dynasty: a study of travel accounts. Ph.D. dissertation, University of
II. THE REINVENTION OF TRADITION
RECREATING THE RNYING MA SCHOOL:
THE MDO DBANG TRADITION OF SMIN GROL GLING
In September 1691 over three hundred of the most renowned masters of
the Rnying rna school gathered at the newly founded monastery of Smin
grol gling in central Tibet. Sacramental feasts, religious dances, and
elaborate ceremonies were performed over eleven days. All those present
received the initiations and instructions for a comprehensive new ritual
system, one that drew together the various traditions relating to the
Compendium ofIntentions Siura (Dgongs pa 'dus pa'i mdo). This event
marked a turning point in the history of the Rnying rna school. It was the
culmination of the efforts of two charismatic brothers to reshape their
tradition by unifying the scattered local lineages under the roof of large
monastic institutions. Twenty-five years later, these teachers would be
dead, their monastery destroyed in a violent religious persecution. Yet
today the identity of the Rnying rna school is still defined in large part by
the regular observance of the same community rituals first performed
three hundred years ago. This paper looks at how, at the tum of the
eighteenth century, Gter bdag gling pa (1646-1714) and his brother Lo
chen Dharmasri (1654-1717) worked to recreate the Rnying rna school,
and how the Mdo dbang (or "Sutra empowerment") tradition played a
particularly key role in their project.
I. Public ritual as political strategy: The influence ofthe Dalai Lama
The seventeenth century witnessed a flurry of activity in the Mdo dbang
tradition. In particular, two major efforts were undertaken to rework the
entire tradition. The first was by Padma 'phrin las (1641-1717), the
second throne-holder of Rdo rje brag monastery, while the second took
place just across the Gtsang po river from Rdo rje brag, where in 1676
Smin grol gling monastery was founded. Like Rdo rje brag, Smin grol
gling received strong support from the new government of the Fifth
Dalai Lama. Not surprisingly, the two simultaneously burgeoning
92 JAKE DALTON
Rnying rna centers shared much in common, yet there were significant
differences in the approaches of their respective leaders. 'Padma 'phrin
las, who sought to establish his Rdo rje brag monastery over and against
competing Rnying rna pa groups, took a more exclusionary course, made
necessary by the decades of difficulties his lineal forbears had
undergone. But the approach taken by the brothers at Smin grol gling
was a wider one, seeking to unite and redefine the entire Rnying rna
school. Ultimately both monasteries, Rdo rje brag and Smin grol gling,
enjoyed considerable success, and the results of their distinct strategies
can be seen to this day in the contours of the Rnying rna school. Thus
today the Byang gter of Rdo rje brag is an exceptionally strong gter rna
lineage that has remained intact since its fourteenth century inception,
while the Smin grol gling tradition is less associated with anyone
lineage, but rather pervades the ritual fabric of almost every major
Rnying rna monastery. 1
The Smin grol gling brothers implemented their project through two
interlocking strategies: in-depth historical research and the formulation
of new large-scale public rituals, with the former supporting the latter.
Elaborately choreographed festivals were created, to be performed over a
period of days before large public audiences. Smin grol gling became
known for its elaborate dances performed by large numbers of monks,
and for its grand festivals which required the resources that only a large
and wealthy monastery could supply. The popularity and the scale of
these new rituals helped to establish the Smin grol gling tradition at the
center of the Rnying rna school.
Gter bdag gling pa's use of public ritual mirrored the contemporary
activities of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) and his powerful regent,
Sde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho (1653-1705). As Gter bdag gling pa
labored at Smin grol gling, the Dalai Lama was building his new Tibetan
state in Lhasa. Recent scholarship has observed that one of the principal
strategies employed by the Dalai Lama was his institution of annual
1 Rdo rje brag's unique position within the Rnying rna school is further indicated
by the fact that most monasteries today, even when relatively small, are called by their
own names, while the Rdo rje brag branch monasteries are almost invariably referred to
as simply "Rdo rje brag." The same distinction can also be seen in the extant traditions of
Mdo dbang; while the Kah thog and the Smin gling traditions are relatively well known
to each other, the Rdo rje brag empowerment manual, the Rgya mtsho 'jug ngogs by
Padma 'phrin las, dwells in a world apart. Moreover, to my knowledge, Rdo rje brag does
not observe the annual Gathered Great Assembly (tshogs chen 'dus pa) festival that is
common to the other major Rnying rna monasteries.
RECREATING THE RNYING MA SCHOOL 93
festivals and public rituals. Hugh Richardson, in describing the official
festivals performed annually in Lhasa, observed:
The origin of most of the ceremonies lies in the remote past, but they
have been rearranged and elaborated at different times, especially in the
seventeenth century during the rule of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama and
his equally great regent Sangye Gyatso when they were put into what
was very much their latest form with the clear intention of enhancing
the grandeur of the new regime ... and the prestige and stability of the
position of the Dalai Lama and the Gelukpa, Yellow Hat, church.?
The Dalai Lama's use of elaborate state ritual was typical of his
later life, and it was extended significantly by his regent, Sde srid sangs
rgyas rgya mtsho.
Just as the Tibetan nation was united by the Dalai Lama's institution
of new public festivals, so too the Rnying rna school was united by the
new Smin grol gling rituals) The scale of Gter bdag gling pa and Lo
chen Dharrnasri's work was enormous, and although the present paper
focuses on the Mdo dbang's role in their project, many other elements
were also crucial in their own ways and should not be overlooked. That
said, it is clear that the two brothers (and especially Lo chen Dharrnasri)
gave particular attention to the teachings of the Bka' ma, and to the Mdo
dbang especially. Of Dharmasri's eighteen volume Collected Works
(bka' bum), five volumes are devoted to the Sidra.
Moreover, Dharmasri was not just interested in the Sidra generally,
but in its rituals in particular. This was typical of his wider project to
rework the Rnying rna school through its rituals. And while Dharmasri
did address a variety of the Siura:s rituals-including its sddhana, its fire
puja, and so forth-most of his attention went to the Siura's famous
empowerment ceremony. For this reason, Dharmasri''s writings on the
Mdo dbang may provide an illuminating window onto the larger Smin
grol gling project.
2 Richardson 1993: 7.
3 It is important to recognize that the Dalai Lama's influence on Smin grol gling
was reciprocal. The ritual dances, for example, that figured prominently in many of Gter
bdag gling pa's new Rnying rna festivals caught the Dalai Lama's own interest, inspiring
him to introduce similar dances to the Dge lugs school which had always shunned them.
See Kohn 2001: 49-50.
94 JAKE DALTON
II. Excavating the foundations: Smin grol gling's historical research
The Sidra was thus a key piece of the Smin grol gling project to rebuild
the Rnying rna school through its rituals. Before composing his new
ritual manual, Dharmasri embarked on an extended study of the Sidra's
history, excavating the long-buried foundations of this influential
tradition to use as the basis for his new system. In doing so, he stripped
away the layers of Rnying rna pa infighting that had accumulated over
the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, to reach a shared
historical basis upon which all Rnying rna pa could agree.
Dharmasris interest in history exemplifies a tum in the rhetoric of
the Rnying rna school, a shift which continued to unfold over the two
centuries following his lifetime. Smin grol gling accomplished its reform
of the Rnying rna school through a return to the ancient past. This was
one of several important ways in which the Smin grol gling project set a
precedent for the remarkable Rnying rna renaissance that was to unfold
over the following centuries. Gene Smith has pointed to "the antiquarian
and archaeological interest" of late eighteenth century Rnying rna pa
scholars such as 'Jigs med gling pa and Tshe dbang nor bu.s The latter,
Smith writes, "not content simply to repeat what he found in secondary
sources considered authoritative by the Tibetan tradition, ... sought to go
back to the original."5 Such a high valuation of historical research
characterised a number of nineteenth-century Rnying rna pa thinkers, and
this trend can be traced back to what took place at Smin grol gling in the
late seventeenth century.
Dharmasri set forth his vision of the Mdo dbang's history in an in-
depth study entitled the Mdo dbang gi spyi don» The basic ritual
4 Smith 2001: 22.
5 Smith 2001: 20.
6 After the Mun pa 'i go cha by Gnubs chen sangs rgyas ye shes, this is by far the
most useful source for the modern historian of the Sutra tradition. That it is more of a
"history" than a commentary may be confirmed by 'Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang
po, who seems to refer to it under the title of the History ofthe Sutra Empowerment (Mdo
dbang gi chos 'byung-for this reference, see 'Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse 1989: 45). Dan
Martin (1997: 119) has suggested that this title might refer to another Dharrnasri history
of the Sutra empowerment that is distinct from his Mdo dbang gi spyi don. Unfortunately,
I have not been able to find any such text, nor have I seen any other reference to it. It
does not appear in either the standard or new version of Dharmasri's Gsung 'bum, nor in
any of the Bka' rna collections. Thus we should probably conclude that either it is lost or
Mkhyen brtse was referring to Dharmasrf's Mdo dbang gi spyi don, which does include a
substantial section on the lineage lamas (34-127) and does have an historical tone. I sus-
pect the latter may be the case.
RECREATING THE RNYING MA SCHOOL 95
structure of the Mdo dbang is traditionally credited to the ninth century
Indian master, Bde ba gsal mdzad, some of whose writings have recently
resurfaced." Unlike other tantric empowerment rituals which normally
grant initiation into a single ritual system associated with a single
vehicle, the Mdo dbang grants initiation into all of the nine vehicles of
the Rnying rna school. Thus it is an extremely elaborate ceremony,
requiring many days to perform.
At the center of the ceremony stands the root mandala for the
Sutra's tantric system. The so-called Tshog chen 'dus pa (or "Gathered
Great Assembly") mandala is unusual for its having nine stories, each
representing one of the nine vehicles. Thus disciples can be led upwards
through the nine levels of the mandala as far as their abilities warrant, or
even all the way to the top, to the level of Atiyoga. In fact there have
always been two such "root mandalas," each complete with nine levels,
known respectively as the "common" (thun mong) and the "uncommon"
(thun min) root mandalas.
Over the centuries leading up to Dharmasris reformulation of the
tradition, the empowerment ceremony had become increasingly complex
through the addition of numerous so-called "branch mandalas.t'f Here the
disciple would be initiated into separate branch mandalas for each of the
nine vehicles. Thus for the Sravaka empowerments a mandala with
Sakyamuni at the center would be used, for the Yoga tantra
empowerments the famous Vajradhdtu mandala would be used, and so
on. Then for the Mahayoga section of the ceremony, the common Tshog
chen 'dus pa mandala would be used, and for Anuyoga the uncommon
Such was the complex situation inherited by Dharmasri, and his
reaction was to return to the origin. In his writings he goes to great
lengths to recover and carefully define the earliest ritual forms from the
7 A series of short works by the master are found appended to the 'Dus pa chen po
mdo 'i sgrub khrigs bzhin dbang byang lag len (otherwise known as the Glan chog) by the
early fourteenth century master Glan ston bsod nams mgon po. The Glan chog appears in
volumes 61 and 62 of the i lO-volume edition of the Bka' rna rgyas pa shin tu rgyas pa
held by TBRC and the British Glan ston can be roughly dated on the basis of his
meeting with Sgrol rna ba 'bra ston bsam grub rdo rje (1294-1375), a meeting that is
supposed to have taken place around 1318, as can be deduced by combining two passages
on 'Dus pa mdo dbang gi bla ma brgyud pa 'i rnam thar. See Padma 'phrin-las 1972:
263.1 and 266.2.
8 The most significant additions were made in the late fourteenth century manual,
the Rin chen phreng ba by Drnyal ba bde legs, and in the late fifteenth century Sbrang
rtsi 'i chu rgyun by Rmog ston rdo rje dpal hzang po.
96 JAKE DALTON
writings of Bde ba gsal mdzad. By the end of his study he had exposed
and reinforced the historical foundations of the entire ritual system. He
could now be sure that the new tradition he built would stand for
centuries to come, made strong with the authority it received from his
III. Reformatting the ritual for the general public
In terms of the actual ritual format, Dhannasri's overriding concern was
to simplify the ceremony as a whole. Towards this end, he repeatedly
distinguished between two types of potential recipients: the specialist and
the general public. In composing his new manual, Dharmasri clearly had
in mind a public performance before an unrestricted audience. Unlike the
earlier manuals, Dharmasrf's was consciously crafted for a much larger,
public venue, and for this reason many parts of the ceremony had to be
simplified, the overall level lowered to the lowest common denominator.
As his manual proceeds through the ritual towards the higher
initiations, this tendency to simplify becomes increasingly pronounced.
For example, for the initiations into the first six vehicles, Dharmasri
discards all the branch mandalas in favor of the root mandala alone.
Next, the initiations for Mahayoga are granted using the common root
mandala, as usual. But then for the Anuyoga initiations, Dhannasri
explains that the same common root mandala can be used again.
Previously, these Anuyoga initiations required the separate uncommon
root mandala, Now however,
When [the empowerment is] being performed for the masses, the vast
majority of them will be neither ripened [through meditation] nor
educated. Therefore, thinking little harm will come of it, the
construction of the uncommon root mandala of the Tshog chen 'dus
pa... does not really matter. Instead ... [for the Anuyoga initiations]. ..
one can use the same mandala as for the inner [Mahayoga] initiations,
namely the common root mandala."
Thus Dharmasri simplifies the ritual by using only the common
mandala for both sets of initiations, for Mahayoga and Anuyoga. He does
9 Padma 'phrin-las 1972: 243.6-244.1. tshogs sgrub dus dbang gis smin slob mi
mdzad pa shas che bas cung zad gnad chung bar dgongs nasi tshogs chen 'dus pa thun
mong ma yin pa'i rtsa dkyil ... bzhengs ba btang snyoms su mdzad del rtsa dkyil thun
mong ba nang dbang gi dkyil 'khor de nyid du ... bskur ba.
RECREATING THE RNYING MA SCHOOL 97
this, he tells us, because he expected that "the vast majority" of those
receiving the empowerment will not have attained the high level of
realization needed to benefit from the Anuyoga initiations. Most will be
attending just for the blessings, "merely for aspiration or study," he
writes elsewhere, and for this reason one may as well abbreviate the
ritual, even if it means less benefit for the rare expert in the crowd. The
latter possibility prompts Dharmasri, in his section on the final Atiyoga
initiations, to direct the presiding lama to separate out the select few
experts in the crowd and grant them the highest initiations in private,
after the main ceremony is over.
All of these changes to the Mdo dbang's ritual format point to the
same conclusion, that the wider Smin grol gling project sought to
reformulate the Rnying rna school through large-scale public
performances to be staged at major monastic institutions. The new Smin
grol gling Mdo dbang ceremony was no longer intended simply for
initiating a disciple into the Sidra's teachings, but as a community-
building event. The ceremony was now a performance foremost, and in
this sense its emphasis had shifted from the participants to the observers.
How it was perceived as a public spectacle was crucial to its function.
The new Smin gling Mdo dbang system reflected this trend in
another way: Dharmasri further facilitated the grandeur of the
performance by dividing the ritual manual into numerous shorter distinct
texts. Thus a separate text directed the monks on how to construct the
mandala, another described the ritual cards (tsakli) , another the musical
arrangements (rol rno), and so on. By delegating the ritual
responsibilities in this way, Dharmasri made possible a larger
performance that was easier to assemble. The different groups of monks
only had to master their own particular responsibilities, but when
combined, they could create a spectacle of unprecedented grandeur.
Having increased the scale and the splendor of the ceremony,
Dharmasri also had to be careful not to overwhelm his audience. So at
the same time he shortened the ceremony's duration dramatically, so that
only three days were required instead of the usual ten or more. Unlike the
Kah thog empowerment ceremony, for example, which packs in every
detail it can, Dharmasrr's is efficient in its grandeur.
98 JAKE DALTON
IV. Propogating the new tradition
Gter bdag gling pa transmitted the new ritual system on three occasions.
All three were major events, with many important lamas from all over
Tibet in attendance. The first was at the grand festival of 1691 mentioned
at the beginning of this paper. Dharmasri describes the event in the
Once there gathered together we who normally live at Smin-sgrol-
gling-a congregation headed by [Gter bdag gling pa's] supreme son...,
Padma 'gyur med rgya mtsho-together with other realized ones
assembled there only temporarily such as Sprul sku tre'o, Rab 'byam
pa chags pa chos 'phe1, the lamas of Dpal ri gdan sa ba and Spo bo,
three hundred in all. To all of us, in accordance with a [new] system in
which the earlier and later classifications of the root and branch
mandalas, those [systems] of Lha rje 'Gar, of GIang and so forth, were
all brought into a single tradition of ritual practice... [according to that
system,] for eleven days, from the seventh to the eighteenth of
September, 1691, were bestowed the ripened and developed fulfillment
of the complete four rivers of the Compendium [of Intentions] Sutra,
based on a mandala of colored powders, together with the seal of
entrustment, the flanking explanatory instructions, and the related ritual
sequence of the great accomplishment. Thus signs were displayed, and
the welfare of beings was immensely and continuously enacted.I"
Gter bdag gling pa granted the Mdo dbang two other times. Neither
time is described in any detail, but Dharmasrf does list some of the more
imporant lamas who received it. The second time, the ritual was
bestowed to Gter bdag gling pa's relatives and to 'Od mchog sprul sku
[Lee ston ngag dbang kun bzang rang grol], Thang 'brog sprul sku [Kun
bzang legs grub], Bon lung sprul sku and so on, and the last time to [Pad
gling] Gsung sprul ngag dbang kun bzang rdo rje, Yon po sprul sku,
Khams pa sprul sku, Rna bo gdung brgyud, Rong pa rdzogs chen sprul
10 Padma 'phrin-las 1972: 124.4-125.2. sras mchog padma 'sv« med rgya mtshos
thog drangs smin grol gling 'dus tshogs sogs bdag cag gnyug mar gnas pa rnams dang/
te '0 sprul pa 'i sku/ rab 'byams pa chags pa chos 'phel/ dpal ri gdan sa ba/ spo bo bla ma
sogs glo bur lhags pa 'i don gnyer can te khyon 'dus pa sum brgya bskor la/ rtsa ba dang
yan lag gi dkyil 'khor kyi dbye bsdu lha rje 'gar dang glan snga phyi sogs sgrol chen yan
chadphyag len gyi srol gcig tu 'bab pa 'i lugs ltar/ rdul tshon gyi dkyil 'khor la brten pa 'i
'dus pa mdo 'i chu bo bzhi rdzogs gtad rgya gdams ngag bshadpa mtha' brten dang bcas
pa sgrub chen gyi las rim dang 'brei bar lcags lug khums zla 'i tshes bdun nas bco brgyad
kyi bar zhag bcu gcig gi khongs su rdzogs pa smin rgyas su stsal bas mtshon bstan 'gro 'i
don rlabs po che rgyun chags su mdzad.
RECREATING THE RNYING MA SCHOOL 99
sku and so forth) 1 The colophon to Dharmasrr's manual adds still more
names to these, including Mdo khams go 'jo bla rna Rnam grol bzang po,
Dpal bla rna ye shes, and Rdo rje mgon.
It is clear from both the length of these lists and the geographical
spread of the toponyms that Smin grol gling functioned as a font from
which the new Mdo dbang system spread to all comers of Tibet. The
inclusive nature of the Smin-gling Mdo dbang combined with the
charisma of its creators to draw lamas from all the Rnying rna
monasteries, old and new. These events were not simply empowerments;
they were workshops, to which the major Rnying rna pa lamas of the day
came to receive and to learn the latest rituals. By the time of Gter bdag
gling pa's death in 1714, his version of the Mdo dbang tradition had
become the standard throughout the Rnying rna school.
Smin grol gling affected a major change in the Rnying rna school. One
might even argue that the Rnying rna school as we know it today was
created in the late seventeenth century through the efforts of Gter bdag
gling pa and Lo chen Dharmasri. United as never before, the Rnying rna
school enjoyed lavish support from the new Dalai Lama government.
During the lifetimes of the two brothers, numerous major Rnying rna
monasteries in central and eastern Tibet were founded.t? Smin grol gling
changed the face of the Rnying rna school forever, and the trends started
there continued to unfold over the next two centuries. After Smin grol
gling, the Rnying rna pa focused increasingly on their monastic
Three years after Gter bdag gling pa's death, tensions between the
Dzungar Mongols and the Chinese erupted into war. Late in the year of
1717, the Dzungar Mongols invaded central Tibet, bringing with them a
terrible backlash of sectarian violence. Many within the ruling Dge lugs
school had long expressed displeasure at the rising fortunes of the
Rnying rna school, and the Dzungars gave vent to these rumblings with
the zeal of the recently converted. The Dzungar soldiers executed Lo
chen Dharmasri, as well as the new Smin grol gling throne-holder,
Padma 'gyur med rgya mtsho, and Padma 'phrin las. Almost overnight,
11 Padma 'phrin-las 1972: 127.1-3. Bracketed additions are culled from colophon
of the Rdo rje 'i them skas: 566.6-567.1.
12 See Smith 2001: 18-20.
100 JAKE DALTON
decades of work at the new Rnying rna monasteries in central Tibet was
undone, as libraries were burned and temples looted.
Yet none of this could stem the flood of these masters' wider
project. Long before the Dzungar invasion, Gter bdag gling pa had
guaranteed his new rituals' expansion by convening large assemblies of
Rnying rna lamas like the one in September of 1691. The ceremonies he
transmitted at these gatherings formed the ritual backbone of the new
Rnying rna monasteries to the east. The arrival of Smin grol gling's
rituals in eastern Tibet was crucial to the future identity of the Rnying rna
school, for it was there that they really took root, at the large new
monasteries throughout Khams and A mdo.
Bka' ma rgyas pa shin tu rgyas pa. 110-volume edition held by TBRC
and the British Library, no publication information but became
available in 2000.
Dmyal ba bde legs. 2000. Rin chen phreng ba. 'Dus pa chen po mdo 'i
dbang chog rin chen phreng ba. In Bka' ma rgyas pa shin tu rgyas
pa, vol. 63.
Glan ston bsod nams mgon po. 2000. 'Dus pa chen po mdo 'i sgrub
khrigs bzhin dbang byang lag len. In Bka' ma rgyas pa shin tu rgyas
pa, vols. 61-62.
Gnubs chen sangs rgyas ye shes. 1982. Mun pa'i go chao Sangs rgyas
thams cad kyi dgongs pa 'dus pa mdo 'i dka' 'grel mun pa'i go cha
Ide mig gsal byed rnal 'byor nyi mao In Bdud 'joms 'jigs bra1ye shes
rdo rje (ed.) Rnying ma bka' ma rgyas pa. 56 vols. Kalimpong, WB.:
Dubjang Lama, vols. 50-51.
'Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse. 1989. 'Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang
po 'i gsung rtsom gees sgrib. Ch'engtu: Si khron Mi rigs Dpe skrun
Lo chen Dharmasri. 1975a. Rdo rje'i them skas. 'Dus pa chen po mdo 'i
dbang gi cho ga rdo rje'i them skas. In Lo chen gsung 'bum, vol. 11,
-- 1975b. Mdo dbang gi spyi don. 'Dus pa'i mdo dbang spyi don
rgyud lung man ngag gi gnad gsal byed sgron me. In Lo chen gsung
'bum, vol. 12, 1-260.
Lo chen Dharmasri. 1975. Lo chen gsung 'bum. 18 vols. Dehra Dun: D.
G. Khocchen Trulku.
RECREATING THE RNYING MA SCHOOL 101
Padma 'phrin-las, Rdo rje brag rigs 'dzin II. 1972. 'Dus pa mdo dbang gi
bla ma brgyud pa 'i rnam thar. In Bka' ma mdo dbang gi bla ma
brgyud pa 'i rnam thar and Rig 'dzin ngag gi dbang po 'i rnam thar.
Leh: S. W. Tashigangpa, 1-425.
-- 1982. 'Dus pa mdo 'i dbang gi cho ga khrigs su byas pa dkyil 'khor
rgya mtsho 'i 'jug mngogs. In Bdud 'joms 'jigs bral ye shes rdo rje
(ed.) Rnying ma bka' ma rgyas pa. 56 vols. Kalimpong, W.B.:
Dubjang Lama, vols. 41-43.
Rmog ston rdo rje dpal bzang po. 2000. Sbrang rtsi'i chu rgyun. Mdo
dbang khams lugs su grags pa sbrang rtsi'i chu rgyun. In Bka' ma
rgyas pa shin tu rgyas pa, vols. 64-66.
Kohn, R.J. 2001. Lord of the Dance: The Mani Rimdu Festival in Tibet
and Nepal. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Martin, D. 1997. Tibetan Histories: A Bibiography of Tibetan-Language
Historical Works. London: Serindia Publications.
Richardson, H.E. 1993. Ceremonies of the Lhasa Year. London: Serindia
Smith, E.G. 2001. Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the
Himalayan Plateau. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
• A DlV'lmll):;
PURE-LANDS AND OTHER VISIONS IN
SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY TIBET: A GNAMCHOS SADHANA FOR
THE PURE-LAND SUKHA.VAT! REVEALED IN 1658 BY
GNAM CHOS NIl 'GYUR RDO RJE (1645-1667)
1. The Times: Visions ofthe Chos srid
There is no difference at all between this world and nirvana; between
nirvana and this world there is no difference at all. The limit of Nirvana
is the limit of this world.
During the Fifth Dalai Lama's reign, Tibet witnessed a creative
renaissance in the fields of both traditional and visionary Buddhist
scholarship, art, astrology, architecture, medicine, and civil governance.'
The seventeenth century is further characterized by a daring interlocking
between the religious and secular spheres. Their intricate conjoining
forged a new national identity for the Tibetan polity which sought in the
Dalai Lama institution an end to fighting and a political stability that the
bickering nobility had failed to provide The intertwining of Buddhist
doctrine (chos) with a dual state and ecclesiastical sharing of secular
power (srid) has been referred to as chos srid gnyis 'brei. This term
corresponds historically to a versatile system of dual governance (lugs
gnyis) whose roots trace back to Tibet's Imperial Period (7th-9th
centuries). This system which persisted until Tibet's invasion by the
People's Republic of China sought to strike an institutional balance
between aristocratic factions and monastic institutions and between
centralized and decentralized authority.
The 1642 pan-Tibetan victory of the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682)
was not without its share of craftsmanship and bloody opposition. Tibet's
1 Michael 1982; Rhie and Thurman 2000; Pommaret 2003.
104 GEORGIOS HALKIAS
history after the tantric coronation of Gushri Khan as Dharmaraja? (chos
rgyal) in 1637 by the Fifth Dalai Lama was one of protracted and deadly
confrontations between opposing religious schools and their patrons.
Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Tibet's governor from 1679 to 1703, skillfully
weaved historical events with Mahayana lineages, royal lines, and Terton
genealogies in a hagiography he composed for his visionary teacher.I In
so doing, he sanctioned the Dalai Lama's rule-by-incarnation regime on
a metaphysical level by plotting a narrative that both conflated his
spiritual lineage with the cult of the 'returning' Bodhisattva
Avalokitesvara while also sacralizing secular authority by tracing it back,
as in the legends of the ancient kings, to a divine source.
If Buddhist narratives were deployed to grant political legitimacy to
the newly established Dge lugs sovereignty, political astuteness was also
operative in reconfiguring the spiritual domain. The Fifth Dalai Lama
recognized PaJ) chen Blo bzang chos rgyan (1567-1662), his foremost
Dge lugs teacher and seat holder of the Bkra shis lhun po monastery in
Gtsang, as an emanation of Buddha Amitabha. The PaJ) chen's politically
active incarnation-line as the manifestation of Buddha Amitabha, 'chief
Buddha of the Lotus mandala,' rapidly became one of the most important
in the Dge lugs order, second only to the Dalai Lama's own incarnation-
line as Avalokitesvara, the Regent in Amitabha's pure-land." In this way,
2 In his study of Indian esoteric Buddhist traditions, Davidson (2002: I 14)
observes: "The evidence supports a position that is curiously both astonishing and
reassuring: the Mantrayana is simultaneously the most politically involved of Buddhist
forms and the variety of Buddhism most acculturated to the medieval Indian landscape.
Briefly the mature synthesis of esoteric Buddhism...is that which embodies the metaphor
of the practitioner becoming the overlord (rajadhirajay. In this endeavour, the candidate
is coronated and provided with ritual and metaphorical access to all the various systems
that an overlord controls: surrounded by professors of mantra, he performs activities to
ensure the success of his spiritual 'state.'" Ruegg (1997: 866) distinguishes three models
to explain the 'constitutional' relationships between spiritual authority and temporal
power in Tibet: (a) the dyarchic model of Dharmaraja/Cakravartin and Officiant/Spiritual
Preceptor; (b) the model of the Vajrayanist Guru and his neophyte disciple; and (c) the
hierocratic and nirmanic model of the Bodhisattva-King combining in himself both
spiritual and temporal power.
J cf. Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho 1999. The Great Fifth appears prominently in
religious histories both as a visionary mystic and instigator of Tibet as a post-imperial
nation. His secret visions, classified by the Rnying rna as pure-vision termas, also claim
one visual encounter with a female Naga who is said to have inspired the creation of the
Klu khang and its extraordinary Rdzogs chen murals (Baker 2000: 13). The Fifth Dalai
Lama also had visions during the joint performance of magical rites with his teacher Zur
Chos dbyings rang grol (1610-1657) against the Tsang royal forces (Karmay 1998: 9).
4 The Fifth Dalai Lama might have been aware that king Srong btsan sgampo was
honoured by the Tang emperor Gao zong (649-683 C.E.) with the title Bao-wang meaning
PURE-LANDS AND OTHER VISIONS 105
the Dalai Lama may have seen fit to fill the political vacuum in Gtsang
by establishing a powerful Dge lugs satellite whose influence and
support could be called upon to support Dge lugs initiatives.
Structural correspondences between secular management and
Buddhist soteriology are not foreign to Buddhism. Religious readings of
kingship date to the earliest texts of both Indian and Tibetan Buddhisrn."
In the post-dynastic mythohistorical Rgyal rabs gsal ba'i me long
(Sorensen 1994: 97-102) we read a popular national saga that begins
with Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara voicing a compassionate aspiration
prayer (smon lam) to transform the demon-infested country of Tibet into
his field of conversion (zhing khams). Avalokitesvara's plea is heard by
Buddha Amitabha, his spiritual father, who blesses him to incarnate in
Tibet as a celibate monkey. Soon after, he is seduced by an aggressive
demoness. From their intercourse, the mating of spiritual and gross-
physical forms, emerges the race of the legendary Tibetan Buddhist
kings and people.
This narrative co-opted the Indian cult of Avalokitesvara to provide
a Buddhist account for the ancestral origins of the Tibetan people. In the
process, Avalokitesvara became the most revered symbol in the Tibetan
national mythos, one which profoundly impacted the Fifth Dalai Lama's
perception of himself. As Karmay points out in his study of the
Mahakaruna the Lord of the World (Thugs rje chen po 'jig rten dbang
phyug), a ritual cycle that records the Fifth Dalai Lama's secret visions:
Unbelievably complex as it is, in his visions the apparition of the
Bodhisattva in the form of Mahakaruna dominates DL's [Fifth Dalai
'precious king,' an epithet of the king of the West employed in Chinese culture for
Buddha Arnitabha; cf. Beckwith 1987: 25-26. Miller (1961: 199) further speculates: "The
first Dalai Lama who achieved secular control ('The Great Fifth') 'recognized' or
'discovered' that his tutor-and rival-was an incarnated Buddha, rather than a
Bodhisattva. This recognition was a typical Lamaist act, at least inferentially negating the
Panchen Lama's potential claim to secular influence by very respectfully, very properly
elevating him into a strictly spiritual eminence."
5 An informative narrative of early Buddhism and kingship can be found in
Tambiah 1987. A Pali text, the Aggahiiasutta, foretells the"... gradual degradation of
human society. At the lowest point in the process, humans are obliged to elect a Great
Chosen One (Mahasamrnata) who will protect the people and their property and
administer an equitable justice in return for food ... A variety of Buddhist kings,
particularly in Burma and Sri Lanka, trace their descent from Mahasammata" (cf Harris
1999: 3). The proemium of Rgyal rabs gsal ba 'i me long pays homage to royal lineage of
Mang pos bkur ba (Mahasammata), the first Indian king and mythical progenitor of
Sakyamuni (cf. Sorensen 1994: 43, 49, 50, 52).
106 GEORGIOS HALKIAS
Lama] psyche .. .In each instance of appearance of Avalokitesvara in the
form of one of his aspects, the Bodhisattva does not miss making a
gesture or giving guidance to DL in one way or another. These are
always concerned with the welfare of the Tibet and its people. The
phrases such as bod bde thabs, the 'means for bringing happiness to the
Tibetans' ... or bod kyi bstan srid, the 'religio-politics of Tibet' occur
constantly showing preoccupation in DL's mind.. .It was therefore
because of this motivation to restore in a certain sense the former
imperial power and to re-establish Buddhism as a state religion, that
there was a recurrence of personages of the Tibetan Empire in DL's
visions, such as the king Srong btsan sgam po and Padmasamhava.
These personages cannot be dissociated from the personality of the
Bodhisattva in DL's visions. They had the psychic power to confer on
him prophetical instruction on how to deal with the political and
religious affairs at hand as well as with those in the years following the
construction of the Potala Palace. 6
The conjoining of religious motifs-including Vajrayana ritual
practices, Mahayana soteriology and pure-land idealism-and political
motifs of 'national memory' and 'political consciousness' in
seventeenth-century Tibet cannot be reduced to a thinly veiled attempt to
assert secular and political agendas in the guise of religion. On the
contrary, Buddhist scholarship flourished along with the politicisation of
Buddhist ideology. This non-reductive conjoining of sacred and secular
involved a continuous interplay of signs and their significance: in the
religious sphere through the monastic deification of incarnations, and in
the political sphere, through the implementation of a culturally embodied
Buddhist soteriology that had a profound and lasting psychological effect
on its Tibetan leaders and people.
II. The Author: A Symbiosis ofMonastics and Siddhas
The child prodigy Gnam chos Mi 'gyur rdo rje, a Rnying rna siddha-
cum-tenon from the area of Ngom in Khams, was born in 1645, the
Wood Bird year of the eleventh sexagenarian cycle (rab byung). He is
attributed with the compilation of an impressive collection of Tibetan
Buddhist and folk-religion scriptures revealed through a series of
mystical visions. His writings constitute a cycle apocryphal termas
6 Karmay 1998: 27-28.
PURE-LANDS AND OTHER VISIONS 107
known as Gnarn chos (sky-dharma)." Mi 'gyur rdo rje's instructions are
often included within the terma cycle that by and large covers literary
and ethnographic subjects containing: (i) ritual offerings (bsang, chab
gtor, bum gter); (ii) funereal rites (byang chog); (iii) popular
empowerments, such as, long-life (tshe dbang), health (srnan lha dbang),
wealth (nor dbang); (iv) thread rituals and protective amulets (rndos,
srung ba); (v) rites for propitiating protector deities (chos skyong, zhing
skyong, gter srung); demons (btsan, gnod sbyin, bdud); high heaven
spirits (lha); mountain gods (sporn ri, thang lha); nagas (klu) and earth
spirits (sa bdag); (vi) divination and astrology (rde 'u dkar mo, spar kha,
rtsis); (vii) preliminary tantric practices (sngon 'gro); (viii) tantric
practices (rmi lam, 'pho ba, gturn mo, phur ba, gcod) and commentaries
(rgyud 'grel); (ix) pure-land sadhanas izhing kharns sgrub), and hundreds
of meditation practices on peaceful (zhi ba) and wrathful (khro bo)
deities grouped under well-known Vajrayana cycles (chos skor), such as
the Bde rnchog; Gu ru drag po; Ma ning; Sgrol rna; Phag rno; and last,
but not least, (x) philosophical commentaries (khrid) belonging to the
Great Perfection (rdzogs chen) teachings of the Rnying rna school.
Sensitive to their heterodox inception, monastic factions who
wished to assimilate the Gnarn chos texts and put them to ritual use were
eager to classify them according to conventional divisions and situate
them in a historical context.f In addition to the bka' rna (oral) and gter
7 In the inner biography (nang gi rnam thar) of Mi 'gyur rdo rje we read that the
Gnam chos is a distinct class of teachings that have arisen from the aspirations and pure
minds of beings (fol. 10). They are further classified according to their main principle
(ngo bo), definition (nges tshig), cause (rgyu), conditions (rkyen), and divisions (dbye ba)
(fol. 13). Notable are descriptions of events (fols. 15-19) of scriptures that have fallen
from the sky 'gnam mka ' nas glegs bam bab, ' speaking apparitions of lamas, yidams, and
dakinis 'bla ma yi dam mkha' 'gro 'i tshogs zhal gzigs nas des gsung, ' disembodied
sounds 'zhal ma mthong chos kyi sgra, ' emanated letters 'sprul pa 'i yi ge, ' and sky-letters
'gnam yig. ,
For an index of the Gnam chos collection (10 volumes) as preserved by Migot in
the College de France cf. Meisezahl 1981 and 1982. I am grateful to Gene Smith for his
guidance and for making an updated compilation of the Gnam chos cycle that includes
pages missing (Band XXXV) and three additional volumes (11, 12, 13) not included in
the Migot collection indexed by Meisezahl widely available. Volume 1] contains the
inner and secret liberation-stories (rnam thar) of Mi 'gyur rdo rje; volume 12 contains
Rdzogs chen texts; and volume 13, written in dbu med script probably from Sde dge,
contains 18 texts, mostly sddhanas.
S Anticipating a reaction from the more conservative schools, the inner biography
classifies the Bka' gdams glegs bam as Gnam chos (fol. 18). Furthermore, examples are
cited for each class of tantra tkriyd, caryd, yoga, mahdyoga, anuyoga, atiyoga) having
108 GEORGIOS HALKIAS
rna (treasure) traditions of the Rnying rna school, there exists a visionary
lineage of Buddhist teachings (dag snang gter) which cannot be
demonstrated historically to have lndic origins. According to Gyatso
(1997: 96) its source is indigenously Tibetan and in order 'to
accommodate such an origin, the schools active in this movement
developed a three-fold system to classify Buddhist scripture that would
allow for revelation and visionary inspiration. '9
Mi 'gyur rdo rje's numinous experiences were written down with
the support of his teacher and distant relative Karma chags med (1613-
1678), the founder of the Nedo (gnas mdo) monastic lineage and prolific
Bka' brgyud scholar well regarded for his mastery of the old and new
Tantras.l" A number of celebrated literary cycles are attributed to him:
the Rnam dag bde chen zhing gi smon lam (an aspiration prayer to
Sukhavati) and its rich philosophical commentaries that revitalized the
bde ba can gi smon lam genre; the Rdzogs chen gyi khrid sangs rgyas lag
fallen from the sky. It concludes that all tantras are sky-dharma; cf. (fo1. 16): des na
rgyud thams cad gnam chos lags so.
9 "A Pure Vision is an experience in which the visionary meets directly with a
celestial Buddha or teacher of another era who preaches a special sermon. This may
occur in a wordly setting or in one of the Buddhist Pure Lands. Pure Visions are
variously said to occur while the visionary is in the state of meditative absorption
(nyams) , in the dream state (rmi-Iam) , or in the 'reality' (dngos) of the waking state.
Unlike a treasure teaching, a Pure Vision is not said to have been hidden previously.
Rather, there is a presupposition which draws on the tantric idea that any advanced
practitioner with developed 'pure vision' would for that reason experience and participate
in a pure world. Here 'pure' is reminiscent of 'Pure Land,' where Buddhas live and
advanced teachings are given. It should be noted that this distinction between the Pure
Vision and the Discovered Treasure modes of transmission can collapse in usage ... ln
some cases it seems that the rubric of the Discovered Treasure denotes the revealed
material itself, whereas Pure Vision refers to the nature of the experience in which that
material was received." (fo1. 98).
10 Karma chags med, also known as Ragasya, is considered one of the greatest
scholars and tertons of the Bka' brgyud school. More than 45 volumes of works
attributed to him provide useful ethnographic material on Khams and on the Buddhist
teachings and practices of the Rnying rna and Bka' brgyud schools. Dudjom Rinpoche
(1991: 28) mentions an earlier attempt at a synthesis of Bka' brgyud and Rnying rna
writings by the third Karmapa Rang byung rdo rje (1284-1339) who, having received the
'inner-most essence' (snying gi thig Ie) from Rig 'dzin Kumaraja (1266-1343), was the
first to bring together these hitherto separate streams of Mahamudra and Rdzogs chen.
Karma chags med is similarly known for unifying once again these distinct philosophical
lineages and for being a faithful proponent of the Sukhavati cult. His philosophical works
on the union of Mahamudra and Rdzogs chen along with a contemporary commentary by
Gyatrul Rinpoche have been translated into English by B. Alan Wallace, cf. Chagme
1998 and 2000. For a brief history of the Gnas mdo lineage, see the Shes bya kun khyab
mdzod, fols.16, 186, 193; also, Cuevas 2003: 153-57.
PURE-LANDS AND OTHER VISIONS 109
'chang (a synthesis of Mi 'gyur rdo rje's and Ratna gling pa's terma
lineages); and the Thugs rje chen po 'i dmar khrid phyag rdzogs zung
'jung thos ba don ldan , the author's magnum opus on the union of
Mahamudra and Rdzogs chen.
According to Tibetan and Western sourccs.l! Mi 'gyur rdo rje's
spiritual ancestry, like that of many Rnying rna Tertons, is traced back to
the hegemonic Buddhist conversion of the Tibetan Empire (Gyatso 1997:
145-53). The Tertons Ratna gling pa (1403-1479) and Bdud 'dul rdo rje
(l6l5-l672)-the latter of whom Mi 'gyur rdo rje met in Pornetrak
(Khams) at the request of Karma chags med (Gyurme 1991: 816)-had
prophesied that a Terton holding the name Rdo rje and marked by a mole
in his right hand, would come from Khams and be of great benefit to the
propagation of Buddhist teachings in Eastern Tibet. The recognition of
Mi 'gyur rdo rje as the joint emanation of the great translator Pa gor
Vairocana and Shud bu dpal (both disciples of Padmasambhava)
established him early on as a potential holder of Rnying rna reincarnation
lineages (sku rgyud). His immediate Rnying rna predecessor was said to
have been 'Khrul zhig dbang drag rgya mtsho of the Rmog rtsa sprul sku
lineage (circa seventeenth century). Twenty-five subsequent emanations
were predicted to follow his premature death at the age of twenty-three in
1667, none of whom has yet been identified. 12
According to the liberation-narratives written by his disciples, it did
not take long for Mi 'gyur rdo rje's tutor, Karma chags med, to realize
that the five-year old child entrusted to him was unusually bright and
inclined towards reading, writing, poetry, calligraphy, as well as
esotericism, which appears to have been one of his favourite subjects.
Karma chags med recounts that when Mi 'gyur rdo rje reached the
appropriate age and yogic mastery to take a consort, he stopped a lunar
II Information about Gnam chos Mi 'gym rdo rje (not be confused with Yong dge
gter ston Mi 'gym rdo rje, 1628 to 1641?, a student of Karma chags med and important
terton of the Kam tshang Bka ' brgyud lineage), can be found in the following sources: Gu
ru bkra shis 1990: 624-47; Kong sprul blo gros mtha' yas 1997, vol. 32; Jam dbyang
rgyal mtshan 1996: 97; outer rnam thar Gnam chos, vol. 10), inner
rnam thar (Gnam chos, vol. 11), secret rnam thar (Gnam chos, vol. 12); in Karma chags
med's rnam thar (Gsung 'bum, vol. ka and ga). For Western publications, see Stein 1959;
Meisezahl 1981; Schwieger 1978; Tsering 1988.
12 Guru bkra shis (1990: 629) writes that even though Stag sham nus Idan rdo rje
(b. 1655) has been claimed as one of these twenty-five emanations, this is a slight error:
rje 'di fa spruf pa 'i sku nyi shu rtsa fnga 'byung bar gsung ba 'i ya gyaf gcig ni II ngor klu
lding mkhan chen rin chen mi 'gyur rgyaf mtshan yin te II mkhan chen de nyid kyi skye
brgyud dang rnam thar fa dpyad pas shes so II yang mkhan chen de stag sham pa 'i skye
ba yin zer ba ni cung zad nor ro II
110 GEORGI OS HALKIAS
eclipse while practicing the yoga of sexual reversal, that is, holding back
his semen (khams dkar po) and forcing the vital energy to enter into
(tjug) the central channel (dbu ma). 13
After completing a three-year retreat in the hermitage of Rmugs
sangs, the young siddha began to give teachings and empowerments
attracting a multitude of disciples. His fame soon spread across Eastern
Tibet and he became renowned for the power of his blessings and for
ripening the minds of thousands of sentient beings with whom he was
karmically connected.!" Mi 'gyur rdo rje's popularity brought him
repeated invitations from religious leaders and the governors of the
Khams principalities of Chab mdo and Sde dge. His transmission of the
Gnam chos termas was particularly venerated by one of his (and Karma
chags med' s) principal students, Rig 'dzin Kun bzang shes rab (1636-
1698), who consolidated most of the Gnam chos texts into one
compilation and composed commentaries on them that later became an
integral part of the monastic curriculum, religious training, and
metaphysical endorsement for the Dpal yul lineage that he
institutionalized in 1665.
The successful assimilation of siddha scriptures in the monastic fold
revitalized the monastic curriculum with novel and fresh teachings,
allowed for the creation of new monastic lineages, and offered
institutional endorsment to wandering ascetics whose local popularity
with the Tibetan population would warrant a symbiotic relationship
between monks and lay tantric teachers rather than an antagonistic
III. Sukhiivati in Tibet: A Fusion ofSidra, Tantra and Terma
During the monastic expansion of Buddhism in Tibet, landscapes and
their native guardians were culturally and socially co-opted into
mythohistorical narratives and representations drawn from Buddhist
13 Guru bkra shis 1990: 626. Tsering (1988: 49) recounts the same event without
going into any details. I am grateful to Geshe Gelek Jinpa, who while conducting his own
research at the Oriental Institute in Oxford, has been generous with his knowledge during
the writing of this article related to my D.Phil. thesis on Buddhist Paradises and Tantric
Territories: the Gnam chos Propagation of Amitiibha 's Pure-Land in Seventeenth-
14 Guru bkra shis 1990: 625, 628.
I 5 Gnam chos transmissions are also preserved by the Kah thog monastery founded
anew in 1665 by Bdud 'dul rdo rje (1615-72) and by the Karma and 'Bri gung Bka'
brgyud lineages institutionalized during the early part of the twelfth century.
PURE-LANDS AND OTHER VISIONS 111
soteriology and cosmology. Wild landscapes and demons were tamed
('dut ba) and transformed into peaceful pure-lands inhabited by a
proliferation of incarnate Bodhisattvas and guardians of faith (chos
skyong). Buddhist pure-lands imported from India to Tibet readily
became euphemisms for the timeless metaphysical destination of
deceased lamas and accomplished Buddhist practitioners. They were also
deployed to describe physical sites of pilgrimage, sacred mountains,
hidden valleys, and the residence or hermitage of any Tibetan saint.
Of the many pure-lands imported from India into Tibet, Sukhavati
has been the subject of some scholarly attention.I" In Tibet, as in India
and Nepal, there is no evidence of Pure-land sectarian movements having
ever existed, as for example in Japan led by Honen (1133-1212), Shinran
(1173-1262), and Ippen (1239-1289).17 Kapstein (2004: 20) rightly
observes: "It seems sure, however, that to the extent that rebirth in
Sukhavati was emerging as a soteriological goal for Tibetan Buddhists, it
was by no means an exclusive goal or one that was decisively preeminent
in relation to other important Buddhist ends."
The Sukhavati cult in Tibet claims an interesting corpus of
Mahayana and Vajrayana practices. Tibetan pure-land compositions owe
their original inspiration to the Small and Large Sukhiivativyuha Sutras, I
as well as to other Indian Mahayana siaras; such as, the Pratyutpanna-
16 See Karma Kelchog Palmo, et al. 1973; Nakamura 1963; Kajihama 1994, 1996,
2002, 2003; Kapstein 2004; Schwieger 1978; and Skorupski 1994, 2001. Nakamura's
article is the first study of its kind to employ a philological/cultural analysis of the way in
which the Large and Small Sukhdvativyuha-siuras have been translated into Tibetan. He
concludes that several Indic descriptions of Sukhavati did not have Tibetan lexical
equivalents to reflect Indian cultural and landscape-inspired motifs. As a result, the
Tibetans translated several 'literal statements' in the siltras metaphorically, allowing for a
reading of Sukhavati that moved away from the supposed concreteness that its Sanskrit
originals had. This might explain, as Kapstein (2004: 40-42) noted, the ease with which
Sukhavati was assimilated into tantric lore and maintained harmony with the teachings of
the Great Perfection.
17 For Sukhavati related practices in Nepal, see Lewis 2004 and for a history of
Pure-Land in India, Fujita 1996. Numerous studies exist on the development of Pure-
Land Buddhism in East Asia, but this is not the place for them to be examined.
18 These sutras were translated into Tibetan during the reign (755-c.794 CE) of
emperor Khri Song Ide btsan (cf. Ldan kar edited by Lalou 1953). The third most
important sutra to the development and formulation of pure-land doctrine In China and
Japan is the Amitdyurdhydna (Kuan-liang-shou ching), extant also in Ugrian from a
Chinese retranslation. However, since no Sanskrit or Tibetan version of this siura has
been found, it is suspected to have been a Chinese or Central Asian composition; for a
detailed discussion on its authenticity, see Fujita's "Textual Origins of the Kuan-liang-
shou ching" in Buswell 1990: 149-73.
112 GEORGIOS HALKIAS
buddha-salJ1mukhavasthita-samadhi-sutra, which contains the earliest
datable reference to Amitayus and his buddha-field (buddha-ksetra).
Tibet's imperial period saw the rise of a Tibetan genre of pureland
literature devoted exclusively to extolling Buddha Amitabha and his
Western paradise called the De man (bde ba can gi smon lam) .19 Over
fifty samples of this praise-type literature dating from the twelfth to the
twentieth century can be found in the first volume of the Bde smon
phyogs bsgrigs. 20 They include many terma texts by Rnying rna authors,
as well as compositions by Bka' brgyud pa, Sa skya pa, Jo nang pa, Dge
lugs pa, and Ris med pa authors. A preliminary survey of Mahayana
literature on Sukhavati includes aspirational (smon lam) and
commentarial ('grel ba) works such as: (1) the Bde ba can gyi zhing du
skye ba 'dzin pa'i smon lam zhing mchog sgo by Tsong kha pa (1357-
1419); (2) the Bde ba can gyi zhing du thogs pa medpar bgrodpa 'i myur
lam by the First Pan chen bla rna (1567-1662); (3) over twenty Sukhavati
related texts in Karma chags med's and Mi 'gyur rdo rje's collections;
(4) the Bde ba can gyi zhing du bgrod pa 'i myur lam gsal bar byed pa 'i
sgron me by the First Leang skya (1642-1714); 5) the Bde ba can gyi
zhing sbyong ba'i dad pa gsal bar byed pa drang sgron me by Mi pham
rin po che (1864-1912), and 6) the Bde ba can gyi zhing las brtsams pa 'i
gtam dge ba'i 10 tog spel byed dbyar skyes sprin chen gla bo'i sgra
dbyangs by the third Rdo grub chen (1865-1922).21
It is not possible to say exactly when pure-land premises were
integrated into Buddhist esotericism, but Amitabha dharani scriptures
19 During the Tibetan occupation of Dunhuang (781-848) the Tibetan caves
continued the High Tang tradition of depictions of Arnitabha and his celestial paradise
(cf. Whitefield et al 2003: 82). In his translation and study of a Tibetan Dunhuang poem
to Arnitabha, Silk (1993: 12) asserts that there exist several other Dunhuag Tibetan
documents which seem to belong the same genre of text.
20 This two-volume anthology of prayers and commentaries pays tribute to the
Mahayana origins of the Sukhavati cult by including a De man prayer by Nagarjuna (c.
150-250 CE), and sections from the Sukhiivativyiihas, the Ratnakuta, and the
Bhadracaryd-pranidhiinariija. Bon De-man texts and commentaries, although available,
are not included in this compilation.
21 With the exception of Chags med's and Mi 'gyur rdo rje's works, the authors
and texts mentioned above have been studied by Kajihama 2003. Volume Il of the Bde
smon phyogs bsgrigs lists two additional De-man commentaries: Rdza dpal sprul 0 rgyan
'jigs med's (1808-1877) philosophical commentaries on Chags med's and Tsong kha pa's
works, and Bsod nams chos 'grub's (1826-1944) lengthy commentary on Karma chags
med's aspiration prayer, the Bde chen zhing gi smon lam that remains popular at the
present time. For a brief outline on Bsod nams chos 'grub's commentary and its
background, see Kapstein 2004: 37-39.
PURE-LANDS AND OTHER VISIONS 113
appear as early as the third century with the popularity of the
Anantamukha-nirhiira-dhiirmJz-sutra and its extensive commentary by
Jfianagarbha preserved only in Tibetan (lnagaki 1999). It appears that
two semi-independent strands of the Arnitabha cult developed in India.
When their respective practices reached Tibet, one tradition linked
Amitabha with Sukhavati funereal rituals (Skorupski 2001: 156-72),
prayers and commentaries, while the strictly tantric lineages of Amitayus
were mainly utilized in alchemical rites aimed at extending longevity.V
The Tibetan tantric appreciation of Sukhavati may be the product of
terminological conflation between Amitabha's land of bliss (Skt.
Sukhavdti, Tib. Bde ba can) with a Vajrayana emphasis on interior
visualizations that may result in intense physical bliss (mahdsukkha, bde
ba chen). Notable, for example, is the mind-transference technique ('pho
ba) to the pure-land Sukhavati which employs a visualization of
Amitabha above the fontanel cakra identified in Tantric literature as the
mahasukhacakra (bde chen gi 'khor 10).23 Other Vajrayana practices
22 In the Sukhdvativyuha and other Mahayana siltras, Amitayus and Arnitabha are
often used interchangably. The appelation 'Arnitabha' appeared earlier than the
appelation 'Arnitayus,' see Nakamura 1987: 202. Bu ston in his History of Buddhism
makes no reference to the Sukhdvativyiihas, or any pure-land practices, but in his section
on the biography of Nagarjuna (Obermiller 1931: 123) he mentions that the latter
engaged in Arnitayus long-life practices. Walter (1980: 319) refers to two systems of
alchemical practice found in the eighth-century Rnying ma literature: "Let us first look at
the system in Padmaist literature. Our examination reveals that it is almost completely
oriented around the extraction of essences (rams) from the physical elements of the
universe... Padmasambava delivers these teachings as a mediator for, or is to be evoked
as a form of, Arnitayus. There are also several texts which mention the conjuring of eight
immortal magicians which emanate from Amitayus." Skorupski (1995: 210) compares
the appearance of eight bodhisattvas in Karma chags med's Bde chen zhing gi smon lam
with a passage from the Bhaisajyaguru-siura, where likewise the dying are accompanied
by eight bodhisattvas. Blezer (1997: 87-88) considers the possibility that Klu'i rgyal
mtshan (translator of the Large Sukhavativyiiha into Tibetan), with his party of Ska ba
dpal brtsegs and Vimalimitra, might have brought Arnitabha and bar do thos grol
practices while searching for Rdzogs chen manuscripts. He concludes: "Amitabha
definitely occupies a special position, see for instance the mention in the inceptive verse
of the Chos hid bar do 'i gsal 'debs, but on the whole, the Bar do thos grol-texts I am
familiar with do not strike me as so strongly centered on Amitdbha or Sukhdvati, texts on
'pho ba emphatically excepted, of course."
23 There exist a number of 'pho ba techniques in the Tibetan Vajrayana corpus that
are not directly related to Arnitabha; i.e., 'pho ba of the three kayas; the Avalokitesvara
transference instructions; the 'pho ba of the Vajrayogini tantra; and others. See Mullin
1997: 175-76. The fact that we find in a Bka' brgyud compilation of texts attributed to
Padmasambhava (cf. Evans-Wentz  2000: 261-65) a 'pho ba sddhana that utilizes
Arnitayus' long-life rituals but not Sukhavati, suggests that the conflation of Sukhavatl
objectives and Amitayus' long-life rituals in seventeenth-century Bka' brgyud-Rnying
114 GEORGIOS HALKIAS
related to Sukhavati include: Amitayus long-life alchemical rites (tshe
sgrub); dream-yoga instructions (rmi lam rnal 'byor) for beholding
Sukhavati in one's dreams and receiving religious training; cremation
ceremonies (ro sreg) and funereal applications employing an effigy-card
(byang chog); ganapujd offerings to the Sukhavati deities (tshogs
mchod); astrological charts of auspicious days to perform Amitabha
sddhanas (dpe'u ris dus), and rituals for propitiating the Sukhavati
ksetrapalas (zhing skyongjV'
Corresponding to the philosophy of the three-body division of
enlightenment (sku gsum) Karma chags med introduces three readings of
Sukhavati analogous to the three ways of attaining the pure-land:
Dharmakiiya, Sambhogakiiya, and Nirmiinakiiya 'pho ba (Skorupski
2001: 145-46). Dharmakiiya 'pho ba, the ultimate transference, is
effectuated at the very subtle union of mother and child luminosities.
Here Sukhavati serves as an analogy for enlightenment attained after
death. Sambhogakdya 'pho ba corresponds to the subtle perception of the
five certainties (nges pa lnga) by advanced Bodhisattvas, that is, certain
place (Sukhavati), certain teacher (Amitabha), certain retinue
(Avalokitesvara and Vajrapani), certain time (now) and certain teachings
as needed. Nirmanakaya 'pho ba refers to emanations of pure-lands
materialized in order to benefit beings-"
Philosophical reasoning, faith, and mysticism are integral aspects to
the interpretation and representation of Sukhavati in Tibet. Devotional
prayers, philosophical commentaries, internal tantric visualizations and
mystic visions all blend to graft a unique picture of Amitabha's pure-land
and elucidate the varied ways of its understanding and adulation by
Tibetan Buddhists. Just as we notice a scholastic zeal in elucidating
Mahayana doctrine in the form of pure-land commentaries ('grel ba), we
also discern the importance of faith both in the recitation of pure-land
aspirational prayers (bde smon) and in the power of tantric rituals to
rna 'pho ba texts is a later development. In lieu of a noticeable absence of related
practices in India or East Asia we may consider the Sukhavati 'pho ba practice as a
Tibetan tantric innovation.
24 The corresponding texts can be found in Karma chags med's Gsung 'bum (vol.
ga andji); Mi 'gyur rdo rje's Gnam chos (vol. 1) and in the Rtsib ri spar ma (Padma chos
rgyal 'khrul zhig 1978-85, vol. 21).
25 Notable are the developments from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century of
thang ka, some of which are monumental in scale, portraying pure-lands of Buddhas,
Bodhisattvas and popular saints of Tibet, such as, Sukhavati, Tusita, Abhirati, Sambhala,
Potalaka, Glorious-Copper Mountain, Uddiyana Dakini Paradise, etc. (Rhie and Thurman
PURE-LANDS AND OTHER VISIONS 115
effectuate a Sukhavati transfer (tpho ba). When Karma chags med was
asked about the efficacy of Sukhavati teachings, he allegedly replied: a
ma bde ba can du ma 'khyol na / ban rgan chags med skyag pa zos pa
IV. The Text: A Gnam Chos Sadhanajor the Pure-Land Sukhdvati
Realizing the Pure Land of Sukhavati: Empowerment with Oral
Instruciions'l-i-is a siidhana-cum-empowerment (sgrub dang dbang las
chog) revealed to Gnam chos Mi 'gyur rdo rje in a vision he had of
Buddha Amitabha and his retinue. It compresses a number of tantric
technologies for realizing Amitabha's pure-land. It begins (folios 5b-6a)
with an in-front visualization of Amitabha and his retinue arranged as in
a Sukhavati thang ka: the Buddha of Infinite Light ('Od dpag med), ruby
red in colour, is framed in the middle by two standing Bodhisattvas.
These two young-looking Kouroi have come traditionally to represent
the Buddha's strength (Vajrapani) and compassion (Avalokitesvara). For
the purpose of this practice, they are visualized in transparent form along
with the root deity facing one in empty space. Following the self-
generation practice (bskyed rim) into a white Lokesvara born out of a
lotus, the practitioner invites the wisdom beings and recites the mantra of
the deity (folio 6b). The chosen yidam is supplicated (folios 7a-7b) to
grant its blessings (sbyin rlabs) for the realization of the supreme siddhi,
that is, the practitioner's identification at a psycho-physiological level of
experience with the qualities of the enlightened-mind. The siidhana
includes a unique assortment of tantric meditations that could be
practiced independently. These are: dream-yoga (folio 6b), long-life
extension (folio 6b), and mind-transference (folio 7a). These techniques
are introduced succinctly as part of the sddhana's progression and
therefore, presuppose prior familiarity from the side of the practitioner.
At the end of our text we find instructions for consecrating the ritual
instruments utilized in the Sukhavati empowerment (folio 8b-9a). The
pith oral instructions are found in the colophon and recommend:
'meditate on all places as Sukhavati.'
26 Guru bkra shis 1990: 630: "May this old monk Chags med eat shit if his mother
doesn't end up in Sukhavati."
27 The Bde chen zhing sgrub dbang las chogs zhal gdams dang bcas pa is found in
the Gnam chos (vol. I, dza, tshe sgrub).
116 GEORGIOS HALKIAS
Realizing the Pure Land ofSukhavati: Initiation with Oral Instructions
The Siidhana of the Pure-Land of Sukhdvati: from the Mind Treasury of
the Sky-Dharma, the Cycle ofthe Profound Whispered Lineage
1. SELF-GENERATION AS A WHITE LOKESVARA AND IN-FRONT
GENERATION OF AMITABHA WITH RETINUE
 (Recitation of tantric refuge):
Guru deva ddkini hUfJ1
This is the sddhana of Amitabha. There is no requirement for a mandala
or a torma.
Self-manifest as a white bodhisattva on a water-flower lotus.P' In front of
you sits Lord Amitabha in meditative equipoise on a lotus and a moon
seat. His body is red with one face and two arms, holding a begging bowl
and wearing the robes of a monk seated cross-legged. On his right stands
the Lord of the World, white, with one face and four arms
(Avalokitesvara). He is standing on a lotus and a moon seat. His two
palms are joined. In his (other) right hand he holds a rosary and in his
(other) left a lotus. On his left stands the Mahasthamaprapta Vajrapani
holding a bell and standing on a lotus and moon seat. Surrounding them
are Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Sravakas, and countless Arhats.
28 A commentary to this practice by Ayang Rinpoche suggests the visualization of
a four-armed Avalokitesvara.
PURE-LANDS AND OTHER VISIONS 117
2. ACTIVATION OF THE CAKRAS AND INVITATION OF THE WISDOM-
Light-rays emanate from the three syllables (OlJ1 dh hUlJ1) in the three
places (head, throat and heartj-? of the three principle figures (Amitabha,
Avalokitesvara, Vajrapanij-i-through them contemplate that they are
extending an invitation to Sukhavati'"
3. THE RECITATION OF AMITABHA'S MANTRAS
Then recite these mantras as much as possible:
 First, the extensive root mantra: om iih hUlJ1 amidheva iiyuh siddhi
 Then, the medium length root mantra: OlJ1 amidheva hrih.
 Then, the condensed root mantra: OlJ1 dh hrih svdhd.
 Then, an even more condensed mantra: OlJ1 hrih sviihd.
 Alternatively, the condensed root mantra: hrih sviihd.
 Then, enumerate the even more condensed mantra: hrih until it IS
 Then, recite a sufficient number of the mantra: OlJ1 bhriim svdhd.
This is the practice of Amitabha.
29 These three places refer to the three upper rtsa 'khor (cakras) sensitized
simultaneously by word, colour and sound frequency (hu1J1-blue, ah-red, o1J1-white).
According to tantric physiology these cakras correspond to internal body-locations
located roughly at the heart (chos kyi 'khor fo), the throat (fongs spyod kyi 'khor fo), and
the fontanel (bde chen gi 'khor fo). The last one allows exit in the practice of 'pho ba
(transference) and also serves a point of entry for the wisdom-beings (ye shes pa). The
cakra of great bliss tmahdsukhas serves as the main tantric metaphor for the realization of
the pure-land of Sukhavati.
30 This section refers to the visualized Arnitabha, Avalokitesvara and Vajrapani,
known as the pledge-beings (samayasattva, dam tshig pa), inviting the wisdom-beings
(jhdnasattva, ye shes pa), that is, their enlightened-counterparts who are residing in
Sukhavati, to come and merge with them. The symmetrical correspondence between the
'structured-imaginary' (the pledge-beings in the visualization) and the 'expansive-real'
(the wisdom-beings localized in Sukhavati) is established through word, color and sound
visualized as the inseparability of the three emanating outwards as white, red and blue
light-rays. The response of the wisdom-beings is one of empowering the tantric
practitioner whose pledge to attain enlightenment merges and becomes indivisible with
the state of enlightenment represented by the ye shes pa.
31 The term bsgrangs refers to counting or enumerating, and chog pa means
sufficiency, or enough of a pre-specified number of mantra recitation is reached (i.e.,
118 GEORGIOS HALKIAS
(Seal): Samaya gya gya gya. 32
4. THE PRACTICE OF DREAM-YOGA
For the practice of dream-yoga, experience day-time as a dream. At the
throat-centre visualize a red-lotus with four petals on which are arranged
(the syllables) om dh hrih svdha. At the centre of the syllable hrih
appears the syllable om. Then visualize in your heart-centre a red lotus-
flower on top of which is the pure-land Sukhavati.P Imagine it existing
very clearly as if (you are) there. Direct your concentration like this
while falling asleep and in your dreams you will see the pure-land of
Sukhavati. You will also directly behold Avalokitesvara, Amitabha and
(Seal): Samaya gya gya gya.
5. THE VISUALIZATION OF LIFE-EXTENDING AMITAYUS
After that, follow the activities of the long-life siidhana-otherwise, you
do not need to change the visualization. The begging bowl (of Arnitayus)
is filled with (long-life) nectar.>' Think of it dissolving into yourself.
Recite: om brhiim svahii brhum twice, or as much as you wish.
(Seal): Samaya gya gya gya.
6. TRANSFERENCE TO SUKHAvATI
After that, are the stages of powa ('pho ba). Visualize in your heart-
centre a red hrih, with a long visarga. Visualize it with intensity. From
the syllable hrih six light-rays emanate which block the doors of rebirth
for the six kinds of beings, after which visualize the aperture of Brahma
32 These mantras are now sealed by the tantric vows of concealment. The term
rgya may be as much an abbreviation of phyag rgya (mudra) where a particular hand
mudra is expected. as it may be derived from the verb rgya ba and used to indicate
'extent' but also meaning 'area' or 'region.' More generically, if it is affixed after other
words to indicate something which seals something else to keep the contents hidden, as in
a seal on an envelope.
33 The original text renders 'bde chen' (Mahasukha) instead of 'bde can' for
Sukhavati, A possible reason for this conflation has been discussed before.
34 Long-life practices usually involve Arnitabha visualized in the form of
PURE-LANDS AND OTHER VISIONS 119
on the crown of your head open. Next, visualize on the crown of your
head Amitabha, as explained before, with his retinue of two. Meditate
that one's own consciousness, a white drop in the shape of the (syllable)
hrih, is ejected into the heart-centre of Amitabha. Then, without the
slightest doubt, deliver the aspiration to be reborn in Sukhavati.
(Seal): Samaya gya gya gya.
7. SUPPLICATION PRAYERS
Next follows, the stages of the supplication prayer.
 First, is the supplication prayer of accomplishment:
E rna ho. With one-pointed devotion make supplication prayers to the
extraordinary Amitabha, Avalokitesvara, and Vajrapani and the rest of
uncountable Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. (Recite): Bestow upon me the
supreme siddhi, bestow upon me the blessings to accomplish Amitabha's
 Next, is the supplication prayer for the dream-yoga practice:
E rna ho. One-pointedly supplicate the extraordinary Dharmakaya
Amitabha, Avalokitesvara, and Vajrapani. (Recite): After travelling to
Sukhavati in my dreams, bless me to meet Amitabha.
 Next follows the empowerment supplication prayer:
Lama and protector Amitabha, Lord Avalokitesvara and Vajrapani, and
immeasurable Buddhas and Bodhisattvas J make this supplication: confer
upon me the tantric empowerment.
 (Next is the long-life supplication prayer:)
E rna ho to the Perfect Buddha Amitabha, Avalokitesvara, and Vajrapani
and the limitless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. With a mind of devotion, J
prostrate, praise and make supplication prayers. Bestow upon me the
siddhi of (long) life.
 Next is the transference supplication prayer:
E rna ho, to the very extraordinary protector Arnitabha, Mahakarunika,
and Vajrapani. Single-minded I supplicate you, bless me so that I transfer
my mind-stream to the Land of Bliss.
120 GEORGIOS HALKIAS
(Seal): Samaya. Gya gya gya.
8. THE ASPIRATION PRAYER TO SUKHAVATI
Next follows the aspiration prayer.
Recite the following:
E ma ho, splendid Buddha Amitabha of infinite light. To your right is the
Lord of Great Compassion and to your left the Bodhisattva, Lord of
Powerful Means, surrounded by countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. In
the pure-land, known as Sukhavati, there is immeasurable joy and
happiness. May I, after passing away, immediately take rebirth there in
this and in all my future lives. Having been born there may I meet
Amitabha face to face and having recited this aspiration prayer may the
Buddhas of the ten directions bless me to achieve this without obstacles.
(Recite the mantra for accomplishing the aspiration): tadyatha
pahcendriya avabhodhaniiya svdhd.
(Seal): Samaya. Gya gya gya.
9. CONSECRATION RITUAL AND EMPOWERMENT
After that take the initiation. Recite the taking of refuge in the three
jewels and then hold the vase with your hand. The vase is one with the
syllable hum, it is the pure-land Sukhavati of Buddha Arnitabha. By
placing it above the head may you have a vision of the Buddha of Infinite
Light. At this time recite the root mantra as much as you wish. Then hold
the vase (now transformed into the body of Amitabha) and recite like
this. This hum is the Conqueror Amitabha. By placing it on the crown
may you take rebirth in Sukhavati and behold face to face the Buddha of
Infinite Light. 35 Recite the root mantra as many times as you want. Then
35 These visualizations for the consecration of ritual objects and for accomplishing
union of body, speech and mind, are probably meant as instructions for the propitiating
lama. Bentor (1996: 291-92) explains: "Not only is the consecration performed within the
frame of the sadhana, it is, in fact, a special application of the sadhana. Having completed
the generation process (utpatti. bskyed pa), one can apply one's powers to the generation
of a receptacle as a deity (rten bskyed) through a similar method. The main components
at the core of the consecration ritual, common to almost all consecration manuals I have
been able to examine, are as follows: (I) Visualizing the receptacle away (mi dmigs pa),
PURE-LANDS AND OTHER VISIONS 121
pick up the torma. This hUfJ1 is the Buddha of Infinite Light, surrounded
by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. By placing it on the crown may you take
rebirth in Sukhavati and behold Amitabha. Recite again the root mantra
as much as you want. Then take the vajra in your hand. This hUfJ1 is the
protector Amitabha, surrounded by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Place it
on the crown, having attained the empowerment of Amitabha, may you
take birth in Sukhavati. Then recite the root mantra as many times as you
wish. This hUfJ1 is the Protector Arnitabha. Placing it above the crown
may you take rebirth in Sukhavati and meet Amitabha, Recite like this
the root mantra as many times as you like.
(Seal): Samaya. Gya gya gya. Katham guhya.
On the seventh day of Sa ga zla ba in the Gser 'phyang year, when Sprul
sku Mi 'gyur rdo rje was thirteen years of age, in an unfathomable vision
of light the size of a mountain he was graced with Amitabha and his
retinue who instructed him thus: the oral instruction thereafter is to
meditate on all places as being Sukhavati. If this (teaching) spreads to all
sentient migrators, it will be suitable. If it doesn't that is all right as well.
But if it spreads there will be great benefit. One does not need to
meditate on Avalokitesvara. If one does, that is fine. If one were to
perform the long-life rituals, the gathering of the essence of the elements,
etc, in a different way, it is all right. If one doesn't, it is fine as well.
Samaya. Gya gya gya. Furthermore it is said that, in the evening once
again he experienced Buddha Amitabha and his retinue and proclaimed
the oral instructions and the dream yoga supplication prayger.
[fol. 5b] Gnam chos thugs kyi gter ka snyan brgyud zab mo'i skor las
bde chen zhing gi sgrub thabs bzhugs so II Guru deva dakini hiim II 'od
dpag med pa sgrub pa ni II dkil 'khor med cing gtor rna med II me tog
always performed in conjunction with meditation on emptiness (stong pa nyid). (2)
Generation of the receptacle as the dam tshig sems dpa' (samayasattva) of one's yi dam
(rten bskyed). (3) Invitation of the ye shes sems dpa' (jiuinasattva} into the receptacle
(spyan 'dren) and its absorption (bstim) into the dam tshig sems dpa' (dam ye gnyis su
med pa). (4) Transformation of the receptacle back into its conventional appearance of an
image, stiipa, book, etc. (rten bsgyur). (5) Requesting the ye shes sems dpa' to remain in
the receptacle as long as samsara lasts (brtan bzhugs)."
122 GEORGIOS HALKIAS
chu skyes padma'i steng II de nang rang nyid sems dpa' dkar II mdun du
padma zla gdan la II [fo1. 6a] Om II 'od dpag med mgon sku mdog dmar
II zhal gcig phyag gnyis mnyam gzhag steng II ltung bzed 'dzin cing chos
gos gsol II skyil mo krung gis bzhugs pa la II g.yas su 'jig rten dbang
phyug dkar II zhal gcig phyag bzhi thal sbyar dang II g.yas g.yon phreng
ba padma 'dzin II bzhengs ba'i stabs kyi padma zlar bzhugs II g.yon du
phyag rdor mthu chen thob II zhal gcig phyag gnyis sku mdog sngo II
g.yas g.yon rdo rje dril bu 'dzin II bzhengs ba'i stabs kyi padma zlar
bzhugs II sangs rgyas byang chub sems dpa' dang II nyan thos dgra bcom
dpag med bskor II gtso bo gsum gyi gnas gsum gyi II 'bru gsum las ni 'od
'phros pasll bde ba can nas spyan drangs bsamll de nas sngags 'di ci
mang brjod II dang po rtsa sngags rgyas pa ni II OQ1 ah hUQ1 amidheva
ayu? siddhi hUQ1 II de nas rtsa sngags 'bring bo ni 110m amidheva hri II
de nas rtsa sngags bsdus pa ni II om ah hrih svaha II de nas rtsa sngags
[fo1. 6b] yang bsdus ni II OQ1 hrih svaha yang ni rtsa sngags bsdus pa ni II
hrih svaha II yangs bsdus hrih II bsgrangs chog pa yin II OQ1 brhiim svaha
II bzlas pas chog II de yi 'od dpag med pa 'grub II samaya II rgya rgya
rgya II de nas rmi lam bzung ba ni II nyin la rmi lam yin snyam byed II de
nas rang gi mgrin pa ru II padma dmar po 'dba bzhi la II OQ1 ah hrih
svaha II yang bkod II hrih ni lte ba OQ1 shar byas II de nas rang gi snying
kha ru II me tog padma dmar po yi II steng du bde chen zhing khams ni II
shin tu gsal bar yod par bsam II gnyid bar de la dmigs pa gtad II rmi lam
bde chen zhing mthong ngo II spyan 'od phyag gi zhal yang mthong II
samaya rgya rgya rgya II de nas tshe sgrub bya ba ni II gzhan ni dmigs pa
brje mi dgos II ltung bzed tshe yi bdud rtsis bkang II de nas rang la thim
par bsam II OQ1 brhilm svaha brhilm gnyis ni II gang 'dod gcig ni bzla pas
chog II samaya rgya rgya rgya II de nas 'pho ba'i rim pa ni II rang gi
thugs kar hri dmar ni II ring cha tseg [fo1. 7a] OQ1 II drag bcas par bsam II
de las hrih II drug 'phros pa yis II 'gro drug skye ba'i sgo bead nas II spyi
bo'i tshangs bug tar rer bsam II de nas spyi bor 'od dpag med II gong ltar
gtso 'khor gsum po bsgom II de nas rang gi mam shes ni II thig le dkar
po hrlh II yis mtshan II snang mtha'i thugs kar 'phos par bsam II the
tshom cung zad med pa ru II bde chen skye ba'i smon lam btab II samaya
II rgya rgya rgya II de nas gsol 'debs rim pa ni II dang po sgrub pa'i gsol
'debs ni II e rna ho II ngo mtshar glad byung snang ba mtha' yas dang II
thugs rje chen po mthu chen thob la sogs II sangs rgyas byang sems dpag
med thams cad la II rtse gcig gus pa'i sems kyis gsol ba 'debs II bdag la
mchog gi dngos grub thams cad stsol II snang ba mtha' yas 'grub par
byin gyis rlobs II rmi lam bzung pa'i gsol 'debs ni II e rna ho II chos sku
PURE-LANDS AND OTHER VISIONS 123
snang ba mtha' yas ngo mtshar can II [fo1. 7b] spyan ras gzigs dbang
mthu chen thob mams la II bdag gi rtsi gcig yid kyis gsol ba 'debs II rmi
lam yul du bde chen zhing bsprod nas II snang ba mtha' yas mjal bar
byin gyis rlobs II de nas dbang gi gsol 'debs ni II kye bla rna 'od dpag
med mgon dang II spyan ras gzigs dbang mthu chen thob II sangs rgyas
byang sems dpag med la II gsol ba 'debs so dbang bskur stsol II de nas
tsho yi gsol 'debs ni II e rna ho II rdzogs pa'i sangs rgyas snang ba mtha'
yas dang II thugs rje chen po mthu chen thob dang ni II sangs rgyas
byang sems dpag tu med mams la II bdag gi gus pa'i sems kyis phyag
'tshal bstod II gsol ba 'debs so tshe yi dngos grub stsol II de nas 'pho ba'i
gsol 'debs ni II e rna ho II shin tu ngo mtshar 'od dpag med mgon dang II
thugs rje chen po phyag rdor mthu chen thob bdag gi rtsi gcig yid kyis
gsol ba 'debs mam shes bde chen 'pho par [fo1. 8a] O? II byin gyis rlobs
II samaya II rgya rgya rgya II de nas smon lam bya ba ni II 'di skad du ni
brjod par bya II e rna ho II ngo mtshar sangs rgyas snang ba mtha' yas
dang II g.yas su jo bo thugs rje chen po dang g.yon du sems dpa' mthu
chen thob mams pa II sangs rgyas byang sems dpag med 'khor gyis bskor
II bde skyid ngo mtshar dpag tu med pa yi II bde ba can zhes bya ba' i
zhing khams der II bdag ni 'di nas tshe 'phos gyur rna thag II skye ba
gzhan gyi bar mchod pa ru II de ru skyes nas snang mtha'i zhal mthong
shog II de skad bdag gis smon lam btab pa 'di II phyogs bcu'i sangs rgyas
byad sems thams cad kyis II gegs med 'grub par byin gyis brlab tu gsol II
tadyatha paficendriya avabhodhanaya svaha II samaya II rgya rgya rgya II
de nas de yi dbang bskur ni II dkon mchog gsum la bdag skyabs brjod II
de nas bum pa lag tu thogs II hum 'di [fo1. 8b] ni bcom ldan snang mtha'
yas II bde ba can gyi zhing khams yin II khyod kyi mgo la bzhag pa yi II
snang ba mtha' yas zhal mthong shog II 'di ru rtsa sngags gang 'dod
brjod II de nas sku gzugs lag tu thogs II 'di skad du ni brjod pa'o II hum
'di ni beom ldan snang mtha' yas II khyod kyi spyi bor bzhag pa yi II bde
chen skyes nas zhal mthong shog II 'di ru rtsa sngangs gang 'dod brjod II
de nas gtor rna lag tu thogs II hum 'di ni bcom ldan snang mtha' yas II
sangs rgyas byang sems 'khor gyis bskor II khyod kyi spyi bor bzhags pa
yi II bde chen zhing du skyes nas kyang II 'od dpag med kyi zhal mthong
shog II 'dir rtsa sngags gang 'dod brjod II de nas rdo rje lag tu thogs II
hum 'di ni 'od dpag med mgon la II sangs rgyas byang sems 'khor gyis
bskor II khyod kyi spyi bor bzhag pa yi II 'od dpag med mgon dbang
thob nas II bde ba can du skye par shog II 'di ru rtsa sngags gang 'dod
brjod II [fol. 9a] hum 'di ni 'od dpag med mgon te II khyod kyi spyi bor
bzhag pa yi II bde chen zhing du skyes nas kyang II 'od dpag med kyi
124 GEORGIOS HALKIAS
zhal mthong shog II 'di ru rtsa sngangs gang 'dod brjod II gtso bos ji ltar
sogs brjod II samaya II rgya rgya rgya II kha tham guhya II ces pa 'di
sprul sku mi 'gyur rdo rje dgung 10 bcu gsum pa gser 'phyang gi 10 sa ga
zla ba'i tshes bdun nyin 'od dpag med grtso 'khor gsum sku ri bo tsam II
gzi ba brjid dpag tu med pa dngos su zhal gzigs te dngos su gsungs pa'o
II 'di 'i zhal gyi gdams pa ni II yul phyogs thams cad bde chen zhing du
bsgom par byao II 'gro ba sems can thams cad la spel kyang rung II gang
la'ang rna spel kyang rung ste spel na phan yon che II rang thugs rje chen
por bsgom mi dgos II bsgom kyang rung II 'byung ba'i bcud bsdus pa
sogs tshe sgrub gzhan ltar byas kyang rung II rna byas kyang rung II
samaya II rgya rgya rgya II ces pa yang de'i dgong mo slar yang 'od dpag
med 'khor dang bcas pa zhal dngos su gzigs te zhal gdams dang rmi lam
bzung pa'i gsol 'debs gnyis dngos su bka' stsal pa'o II
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THE LIVES AND TIME OF 'JAM DBYANGS BZHAD PA
Commonly, when religious movements are either new or in the
ascendant, their adherents seek to provide a foundation for the authority
they claim, and they strive to legitimize the status of their founder or
other significant figures. Particular strategies will vary from one religious
context to another and from one historical period to another. The
legitimizing strategies used in religions run the gamut. Religious figures
are validated by way of their miraculous ability to heal the sick, through
their yogic prowess enabling them to fly through the air, walk through
walls, or control their physical bodies, through their shamanic visitations
to realms beyond, through their revelation of sacred scriptures or blessed
objects, through claims to a potent allegiance-generating identity, and so
In each case, strategies for establishing legitimacy are developed
that make sense in terms of, and therefore reflect, the values, ontology,
and agenda of that religious context. A certain menu of possibilities, for
example, is made available to particular monotheistic religions by virtue
of their adherence to the notion of a creator god who interacts with his
creation. Shamanic traditions have certain solutions to the legitimizing
problem because their ideology makes possible transit to other levels of
existence. The religions of India have still other possibilities available to
them because of their acceptance of the notion of reincarnation.
One of the most distinctive features of Tibetan culture is the
institution of reincarnating lamas (sprul sku), religious figures who are
regarded as taking rebirth as a lineage of identified personages. The
authority and legitimacy of a particularly potent spiritual teacher is
perpetuated even after death as his, or very rarely her.! identity passes
from one lifetime to another. Although the concept of incarnation, the
idea that living beings cycle through many lifetimes as they progress
toward spiritual release, is suggested as early as the eighth or seventh
1 Female incarnations are not entirely unknown, but they are rare indeed. Tsepon
Shakabpa (1967: 228) mentions the reincarnated Abbess Rdo rje phag mo.
130 DEREK MAHER
century H.C.E. in the Brhadiiranyaka Upanisad.s the notion of
identifiable reincarnations did not emerge in Tibet until Buddhism was
already a mature tradition there.
The fourteenth century was a time of great political turmoil, a fact
that displeased the Mongolians, who were then the dominant political
power in Asia. After a period of unremitting squabbles within the
Tibetan family in which the regency was invested, Tibet's Mongolian
patrons grew tired of the instability and intrigues. Divisions sprang up
among the hierarchs of the Sa skya religious order that held political
power, and the traditional practice of succession through bloodlines
became untenable. Instead, the Mongols invested power in the
incarnating lineage of the Karma pas. Although new and complex
problems eventually emerged in the power centers that formed around
reincarnated lamas, advantages to the practice were quickly realized in
the form of greater social and political stability and continuity. Instead of
having rival siblings contending for power at the death of each patriarch,
authority was transmitted from one charismatic personality to another, a
person whose spiritual credentials alone commanded respect and
obedience.3 Through successive generations, the spiritual pedigree of the
Karma pas, the Dalai Lamas (fa la'i bla rna), the Panchen Lamas (pal}
chen bla rna), and other such reincarnated lamas legitimized them as the
seat of religious and political authority.
In addition to being an agreeable arrangement for the Mongolian
overlords, the institution of reincarnation brought into existence
indigenous Tibetan constituencies that likewise had an interest in
maintaining the stability afforded by it. Often, a reincarnation would
possess substantial material holdings, including monasteries, religious
estates (bla brang), annual remittances from land taxes, control over
land, properties, endowments, and the like. The infrastructure required to
oversee such wealth was itself quite extensive, and customarily, the
attendants of one incarnated person would be responsible for locating,
rearing, educating, and protecting the new reincarnation (yang srid).
Often, the attendants of an important incarnation would wield
considerable power and influence over a period of decades between the
death of one lama and the adulthood of the successor and even thereafter.
In the case of the Dalai Lamas, there was a long period of time (1806-
2 Brhaddranyaka Upanisad, IV.3.37-4.13. See, for example, Radhakrishnan 1953:
3 Wylie 1984.
'JAM DBYANGS BZHAD PA 131
1875) during which four successive Dalai Lamas (ninth through twelfth)
failed to reach the age of rnaturity.t The Regents (rgyal tshab), who ruled
in their place, managed vast fortunes and conducted political affairs as
they wished during the intervening period. For all of these reasons, the
institution of reincarnating lamas was fostered and promoted by various
factions whose interests it served. Throughout most of Tibetan history
since the invention of the institution of reincarnations, these figures or
their representatives have dominated the power structures through all
levels of Tibetan society-nationally, regionally, and locally.
On a regional level, the power structure of a large part of A mdo for
most of the last three centuries was commanded by the reincarnating
lineage of 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa'i rdo rje ngag dbang brtson 'grus
(1648-1722).5 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa was a gifted scholar who
composed erudite and exhaustive texts on many branches of Buddhism,
found fame in Central Tibet as the Abbot of Sgo mang monastery, and
returned to his home region in 1709 to found the most influential
monastic institution in A mdo, Bla brang bkra shis 'khyil monastery.
That institution served as a launching pad for the expansion of Dge lugs
throughout eastern Tibet and the vast areas of Central Asia inhabited by
Mongolians. He portrayed himself as the promoter of Dge lugs pa
orthodoxy in the face of syncretic trends from within the tradition.
Additionally, he was a capable defender of the Dge lugs school that had
been initiated by the Tsong kha pa blo bzang grags pa (1357-1419)
almost three centuries before' Jam dbyangs bzhad pa reached his prime.
The Dge lugs political ascent engineered by the Fifth Dalai Lama in
the middle of the seventeenth century (i.e., during' Jam dbyangs bzhad
pa's youth) resulted in a variety of efforts to privilege Dge lugs religious
institutions, to redirect customary streams of patronage, to subjugate a
range of cultural and religious forms under Dge lugs control or influence,
to marginalize non- Dge lugs religious institutions, and to enact a degree
of orthodoxy in intellectual and spiritual life in regions under the control
of the Dalai Lama.e During his middle age, 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa
4 The Ninth Dalai Lama Lung rtogs rgya mtsho (1806-1815) died of pneumonia.
The Tenth Dalai Lama Tshul khrims rgya mtsho (1816-1837) suffered ill health through-
out his short life. The Eleventh Dalai Lama Mkhas grub rgya mtsho (1838-1855) died of
an unspecified illness. The Twelfth Dalai Lama 'Phrin las rgya mtsho (1856-1875) died
as a teenager, only four days after a solar eclipse.
5 For an extended biographical study of 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, see Maher 2003.
6 As early as 1642, the Fifth Dalai Lama's first Regent (Sde srid), Bsod nams chos
'phe1 personally surveyed the population (presumably in Dbu and Gtsang) and appointed
132 DEREK MAHER
became one of the most articulate defenders of the Dge lugs view. Like
other Dge lugs pa and non-Dge lugs pa exegetes, he sought to construct a
coherent and internally-consistent presentation of his school's
philosophical position. Yet straightforward philosophical argumentation,
at which 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa was particularly skilled," constituted
only one dimension of his and his followers' efforts to legitimize his
vision of Dge lugs orthodoxy. In this paper, I will examine the
biographical strategies that were also employed. These strategies
involved claims relating to reincarnation.
Tsong kha pa formulated a new vision of Buddhism at the beginning of
the fifteenth century, largely in reaction to what he perceived as a decline
in the pure morals of an earlier age. The pious self-perception of his
followers is that Tsong kha pa took birth in Tibet in order to reform
Buddhism by bringing an end to the illicit practices that are said to have
been widespread then. According to some Dge lugs pas, many people
were then engaged in either (1) advanced tantric practices for which they
were philosophically unprepared or (2) entirely non-religious practices
that were wrongly dressed up as religious. According to this narrative,
Tsong kha pa spent his life working to rectify these perceived problems
in Tibetan Buddhism. Not only did he work to fortify ethical behavior
among his followers, but he also made efforts to purify, as he saw it, the
philosophical underpinnings of Buddhism then current. These two efforts
were not unrelated for him.s
The Buddhist scriptures say that when Buddha attained
enlightenment after his long spiritual quest, the key to his new insight
into the workings of the world consisted of an epistemological corrective
to the perception of the world as it is given to our senses. He understood
the dissonance between how things appear to the senses and to the mind
and how they actually exist. The history of Buddhist philosophy is
tax officials. Representatives of the Fifth Dalai Lama undertook a more detailed re-
evaluation of taxes in A mdo and Khams in 1648. See Shakabpa 1976, volume I: 428 and
432-33, respectively. Translation in Maher (forthcoming).
For information on different aspects of the privileging of Dge lugs institutions, see
Dreyfus 2003: 28 and 146; Maher 2003, passim; and Stearns 1999: 62 and 70-71.
7 See for example, Cozort 1998; Hopkins 1981 and 2003; Maher 2003, esp. chapter
5; and Newland 1992.
8 Napper 2001.
'JAM DBYANGS BZHAD PA 133
marked by a series of competing interpretations of how to understand
this critique of reality. In some Buddhist interpretations, the basic
constituents that make up phenomena are reified and privileged as the
most real. At the other extreme, some traditions posit a dramatically
insubstantial ontology in which it is supposed that objects external to the
mind do not exist and that all phenomena are merely posited by mind.
Tsong kha pa felt that his contemporaries were failing to uphold
Buddhist ethics because their critique of reality was too comprehensive.
Once it becomes possible to call into question even the most effervescent
status of existence, he felt, there was no foundation upon which to
ground the standards of conduct he considered essential to Buddhism.
Tantric practice, with its sophisticated use of visualization and the
imagination of phenomena as dissolving into emptiness, only
exaggerated the very trend Tsong kha pa saw as most dangerous. He
wanted to produce a grand synthesis of Buddhism that would rectify
these inter-related problems. His system can be seen as drawing from
three different Indian inspirations: Candrakirti, Dignaga, and Atisha.
First, he echoed the seventh century Candrakirti in positing a
thoroughgoing ontological negation in which all phenomena are said to
lack their own intrinsic nature or their own inherent existence. Second,
despite this seeming rejection of conventional reality, Tsong kha pa
employed the epistemological doctrines of Dignaga and Dharmakirti in
order to affirm what does exist. Those scholars' delineations of the types
of consciousness and their respective objects enabled Tsong kha pa to
discriminate between what Buddha asserted to be incorrect about our
cognitive experience on the one hand and what is reliable even in our
pre-enlightened state of awareness on the other. Finally, Tsong kha pa
patterned his systematic philosophy after the eleventh century scholar
Atisha in several ways. He reemphasized the importance of monasticism.
He paid close attention to the precise prohibitions involved in the several
traditional sets of vows, insisting that his followers did the same. And he
developed a careful schematic structure of the range of religious
practices so that by the time practitioners began the tantric meditations
he regarded as philosophically risky, they had developed a strong
foundation in ethics, and they had a rigorous understanding of what
really does exist in the world. Tsong kha pa felt that this combination of
preparations would immunize meditators from the nihilistic tendencies
he considered to be the source of the moral decline he had perceived in
134 DEREK MAHER
Not only did' Jam dbyangs bzhad pa base his commentaries on the
philosophical priorities and values that flow from Tsong kha pa's
interpretive system, but he and his biographers gave narrative form to
those values in constructing 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's pre-incarnation
lineage ('khrungs rabs). In general, through the construction of such a
lineage, the doctrinal legitimacy and personal charisma of some
particular current figure can be created or fortified by appealing to the
luster of previous personalities. In 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's case, the
fame and prestige of these mythologized historical people from the past
then reflected upon him, enhancing his reputation among the monastery's
patrons and beyond. His already impressive stature was enhanced to the
point that he outshone Tsong kha pa, Tsong kha pa's direct disciples, and
even the exalted Dalai Lamas. This increased status then fortified the
legitimacy of the monastery and 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's successors,
including the very author of the text we will now examine.
The Birth Stories text, written by the second incarnation of 'Jam
dbyangs bzhad pa, Dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po, describes ten
previous incarnations in 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's lineage, reaching as
far back as Buddha's time.? The collective qualities and achievements of
these various figures constitute a catalogue of the spiritual and
intellectual values of the Dge lugs school. We have some highly
accomplished tantric meditators, a tremendously important visionary in
the historical lineage of the Dge lugs pa school, two of the most
respected dialecticians in Indo-Tibetan intellectual history, and other
luminaries vital to the lineage of the tradition. The first figure mentioned
is Vimalakirti, a famous lay patron of the Buddha himself. In an
eponymous siitra, he is said to be possessed of seeringly clever wit with
which he shows up the Buddha's closest disciples, even Mafijugosa, who
in later scriptures is construed as embodying transcendent wisdom.
Buddhapalita, the reputed disciple of Nagarjuna and initiator of the
Prasangika interpretation of the Madhyamika school, was identified as
the next of 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's previous incarnations, thereby
fortifying the latter's philosophical credentials. The prestige of Atisha,
one of Tsong kha pa' s primary inspirations, was assimilated to ' Jam
dbyangs bzhad pa by including one of his primary teachers and one of
his foremost early followers in his pre-incarnation lineage. The teacher
was Jetari, a lesser known light in the Indian Madhyamika school of the
tenth century, who was mainly renowned for his attempt to harmonize
9 Dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po 1971.
'JAM DBYANGS BZHAD PA 135
the seeming contradictions between the Nagarjuna-Buddhapalita-
Candrakirti Madhyamika view on the one hand and the Dignaga-
Dharmakirti epistemology tradition on the other hand, a philosophical
quest that was later to occupy Tsong kha pa so thoroughly.
The first Tibetan identified in 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's incarnation
lineage is Po to ba rin chen gsal (1027-1105). He was renowned as one
of the "Three Cousins" who were instrumental in spreading the influence
of the Bka gdams school in the years after Atishas death.lv He was a
direct disciple of 'Brom ston (1005-1064), Atishas foremost Tibetan
student and the founder of Rwa sgreng monastery, to which 'Jam
dbyangs bzhad pa made a special pilgrimage when he first went to
Central Tibet as a young man. I I Each figure in the lineage contributes to
the Second 'J am dbyangs bzhad pa' s agenda of building up his
predecessor. Below, I will focus briefly on three of his other pre-
incarnations in an effort to highlight how the construction of this lineage
served as a legitimizing strategy.
We have already met the first two people I will be discussing. They are
two of the renowned Indian gurus from whom Tsong kha pa drew
inspiration, Dignaga and Candrakirti. The Second 'Jam dbyangs bzhad
pa reports that Dignaga was a peerless scholar among his
contemporaries. 12 He was born into a royal lineage in South India, and he
excelled at the worldly sciences in his younger years at the court.
Eventually he became learned in both Buddhist and Hindu philosophy,
earning a reputation as one of the finest scholars of epistemology
throughout Indian history. Like Buddhapalita before him, he is noted for
having had a direct vision of the face of Mafijugosa. The latter then
promised to be Dignaga's guide until he attained the higher stages of
spiritual realization. We are told that he subsequently attained a one-
pointed meditative concentration while he was residing in a cave, an
10 Roerich 1949: 73. The other two were Spyan snga ba Tshul 'khrims 'bar and
Phu chung ba Gzhon nu rgya1 mtshan. Roerich (1949: 263-69) gives a different year for
Po to ba's birth, 1031. The dates, 1027-1105, are from Dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po
II 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa'i rdo rje 1994: 10.1
12 Except where noted, the following comes from Dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po
136 DEREK MAHER
achievement that enabled him to compose his incisive treatises on
The ideas of Dignaga and his most significant commentator,
Dharmakirti, were critically important to the Dge lugs systematic
philosophy developed by Tsong kha pa because of their careful
elaboration of valid cognition (pramalJa, tshad ma) and epistemology in
general. Buddhists had already been in dialogue with Nyayas,
Vaisesikas, and other non-Buddhist schools on questions of ontology and
epistemology for more than 600 years by Dignaga's time. The prevailing
non- Buddhist assertion of a real, substantial, and enduring essence in
beings meant that they generally upheld a physicalistic theory of
perception and a strong realism; they asserted that universals are
ultimately real. Dignaga and Dharmakirti developed a systematic
Buddhist reply to the Nyayas, formally articulating a representational
epistemology they take to be paradigmatic of all knowledge acquisition.
For them, both conceptual and perceptual consciousnesses apprehended
their objects by way of a representation, a mentally-constructed
generality iarthasdmdnya, on spyi) and a sensory aspect (akara, rnam
Later Tibetan interpreters of their work elaborated terminological
distinctions to express these insights with clarity. Tsong kha pa found it
helpful to frame his ontological view by using the terms, appearing
object (snang yul) and object of engagement ('jug yul) of a cognition. In
the case of a direct perception tpratyaksa; mngon sum) of, for example, a
pot, these two refer to the same thing, the actual object being perceived,
that is, the pot itself. With respect to a conceptual consciousness
ikalpanii. rtog pa) conceiving of a pot, the object of engagement is the
actual object, the thing being understood, that is, the pot. However, the
appearing object is just the meaning generality of the object, that is, the
generic image of pot.J:' These discriminations helped the Dge lugs pas to
tease apart different facets of cognitive experience so they could
articulate what is mistaken and what is non-mistaken about it. For Tsong
kha pa, it was essential to be able to say that a particular consciousness is
correct with respect to the mere existence of an object, even though it is
simultaneously in error with respect to the final nature of that object.
Only this approach, he felt, would allow him to uphold the Madhyamika
school's critique of reality without falling into the extreme of nihilistic
denial of conventional reality.
13 Dreyfus 1997: 299-304.
'JAM DBYANGS BZHAD PA
Candrakirti (circa 600-650) is the next person listed as a pre-incarnation
of 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, and his status in the Dge lugs interpretive
system cannot be over-emphasized. Candrakirti was born in a place in
south India called Samanta, where he studied all of the sciences during
his youth.!" After becoming a monk, he studied the pivotal texts of
Nagarjuna, The latter wrote a number of treatises critiquing what he saw
as the ontologically reifying maneuvers of his Hindu and Buddhist
interlocutors. Candrakirti wrote commentaries on several of Nagarjuna's
major works, including two massive commentaries on the latter's
masterpiece, the Fundamental Treatise on the Middle Way. 15 Despite the
fact that he must be regarded as a minor figure in Indian intellectual
history-few Indian commentaries were written on his major works-
Candrakirtis interpretation is taken by Tsong kha pa and many other
Tibetans to have been the most authoritative elaboration of Nagarjuna's
Interestingly, in one of these commentaries, Clear Words,
Candrakirti criticizes Dignaga's epistemology, objecting to his
characterization of both valid cognition and perception.t» In his
Compendium Commentary on (Candrakirti's) "Clear Words," 'Jam
dbyangs bzhad pa provides detailed commentary on that very section of
the text. (In an ever more intricate nexus of connection between 'Jam
dbyangs bzhad pa's pre-incarnations, Candrakirti defended
Buddhapalita's Prasangika interpretation from Bhavaviveka's critique
elsewhere in that same chapter.) Another of Candrakirtis primary
presentations on the Prasangika view is his Supplement to (Ndgiirjuna's)
"Fundamental Treatise, "17 which continues to be the most well-known
and most important exposition on what is regarded by many in Tibet as
the highest philosophical system. This source is so critical in the Dge
lugs curriculum that many monks commit the whole of Candrakirti's
Supplement to memory-along with commentarial textbooks of their
own monastery-as preparation for their study of Nagarjuna's
14 Except where noted, the following comes from Dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po
1971: 36.2-40.5 and Khetsun Sangpo 1973: 223-33. Obermiller (1932: 134) identifies his
birthplace as "Samaria."
15Nagarjuna, Prajiianamamulamadhyamakakarika, P5224, Vol. 95.
16 Candrakirti, MZJlamadhyamakavcettiprasannapada, P.5260, Vol. 98. For a de-
tailed review of this section, see Siderits 1981.
17 Candrakirti, Madhyamakiivatara, P5261 and P5262, vol. 98
138 DEREK MAHER
Madhyamika school.tf Both Tsong kha pa and 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa
wrote extensive commentaries on this text.I? clearly demonstrating their
belief in Candrakirti' s surpassing authority in their interpretive lineage.
As the foremost scholar of his time, Candrakirti became the Abbot
of Nalanda monastery in eastern India. We are told that although there
were many great scholars at Nalanda, none of them could beat the non-
Buddhist panditas in debate. Candrakirti, however, was able to triumph
over them through the great force of his intellect. He was not beyond
using yogic powers as well. During one debate, he is credited with
proving to his opponent that appearances are deceptive through the
compelling demonstration of milking a cow depicted in a wall painting.
It is evident that the formulators of 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's pre-
incarnation lineage hoped to portray him as a highly authoritative voice
in the interpretation of the Madhyamika school. There is some question
among Dge lugs pa scholars as to whether Candrakirti or Buddhapalita
should be regarded as the real founder of the Prasangika school. In a
gesture of completeness, then, the formulators of 'Jam dbyangs bzhad
pa's pre-incarnation lineage included both of them. Be that as it may,
there is no question in Tibet that Candrakirti was the preferred interpreter
of that viewpoint. Represented by Dignaga and Candrakirti, then, we
have the two principal doctrines that would animate Tsong kha pa's
presentation of Buddhism, Candrakirti's ontological critique of
phenomena and Dignaga's articulation of the valid means of knowledge.
The final figure we will discuss among 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's pre-
incarnations is Dbu rna pa brtson 'grus seng ge (b. fourteenth century), a
figure of tremendous importance in the life story of Tsong kha pa
Lama Dbu rna pa, as he is commonly known, was a famous
meditator and adept from eastern Tibet who, like the founder of the Dge
lugs school, wandered far and wide across Tibet seeking religious
teachings from a variety of teachers. It was in this context that he met
Tsong kha pa when the two men were still quite young. Lama Dbu rna pa
18 Klein 1994: 10.
19 Tsong kha pa's text, Dbu rna la 'jug pa 'i rgya cher bshadpa dgongs pa rab gsal
(P6143, vol. 154), provides the general meaning (spyi don) of the root text. 'Jam dbyangs
bzhad pa 1973 is a decisive analysis commentary imtha' dpyod).
20 Except where noted, the following comes from Dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po
'JAM DBYANGS BZHAD PA 139
was more of a visionary than a scholar-monk, and he turned out to be the
conduit through which Tsong kha pa received a variety of teachings from
Mafijugosa.z! Lama Dbu rna pa had maintained a strong faith in
Mafijugosa ever since he was very young, and the murmuring sound of
his mantra, "Om a rab a tsa na dhih," could be heard even within Dbu
rna pa' s childhood home.
We are told that when Lama Dbu rna pa heard teachings on the
practice of Mafijugosa, he strove assiduously, experiencing many
appearances of his body and speech, and he was able to manifest a vision
of Maiijugosa at will. For many years, Lama Dbu rna pa lived at Gsang
phu monastery where he worked diligently at his spiritual practice and
his studies. Weare told that many marvelous things, such as the
appearance of deities, arose by virtue of his close relationship with his
tutelary deity. Eventually, he traveled to Dbu for advanced training.
Tsong kha pa was then living in that region, and the two men initially
met through their mutual students. They served as one another's teacher
on different occasions. Soon after meeting, they studied Candrakirti' s
commentaries together. Tsong kha pa would pose questions on the text,
and Lama Dbu rna pa would then transmit the queries to Mafijugosa in
his visions. The responses would be conveyed back to Tsong kha pa
through Lama Dbu rna pa. The two monks studied many different topics
across the breadth of Buddhist philosophy in this fashion. Over time,
Tsong kha pa bestowed various teachings on Lama Dbu rna pa, and the
latter initiated Tsong kha pa into the tantric practice of Mafijugosa. When
they entered into retreat at Dga' ba gdong near Lhasa, Tsong kha pa had
his own direct visions of Mafijugosa, and soon thereafter, Tsong kha pa
was finally able to gain direct realization of emptiness, the final nature of
The inclusion of Lama Dbu rna pa in 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's
lineage is of great significance. First of all, it establishes a powerful link
between 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa and Tsong kha pa. It helps his
biographers impute profound insight to 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa since
only such a wise person could serve as a teacher to the founder of the
Dge lugs school, the man known as the Second Buddha. Additionally, it
enhances 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's standing as an interpreter of Tsong
kha pa's systematic philosophy since it simultaneously portrays him as a
direct disciple of the Master. Moreover, the personal achievements of
21 Roerich 1949: 1048-49.
22 Thurman 1982: 14-17.
140 DEREK MAHER
Lama Dbu rna pa add to 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's credentials, for the
Lama was far more of an adept than a scholar. As a mystically-oriented
meditating adept prone to visions and direct access to transcendent states,
he offers a balance to the more scholastic orientation of many of the
other people in 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's lineage.
The list of characteristics attributable to the ten Indian and Tibetan
scholars and yogis collectively capture just about every quality that is
admirable in Tibetan culture. Two of them are to be admired for their
exceedingly fine mastery of tantra. Lama Dbu rna pa is an intuitive,
yogic figure who transcends the emphasis on reason that predominates
within Dge lugs pa. There is the highly accomplished institutional
hierarch in Legs pa rgyel mtsen (1375-1450), who was the Fourth Throne
Holder of Ganden. There is Po to ba who seems to combine Legs pa's
organizational efficiency with Lama Dbu rna pa's quasi-magical potency.
Then we have a string of philosopher-monks from India, including
Buddhapalita, Dignaga, Candrakirti.e- and Jetari. Finally, there is
Vimalakirti, the clever lay benefactor who exemplifies Mahayana ideals
by combining wisdom with compassionate activism. In addition to
embodying Tibetan values, these people symbolize the intellectual and
historical sources of the Dge lugs pa tradition. The lineage bridges the
divide between the scholar and the ecstatic visionary and brings together
the creative theoreticians of the Madhyamika school and valid cognition
theories so vital to Tsong kha pa and the unique Dge lugs viewpoint.
This lineage illuminates the biography of 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa by
collecting together the transcendent attributes of his predecessors,
reflecting their charisma onto him.
'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's pre-incarnation lineage-first formulated
by Dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po, the subsequent incarnation of 'Jam
dbyangs bzhad pa, but likely inspired in part by the oral tradition
stemming from 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa himself-was intended to
employ these connections as a tribute to his own fine character, to certify
the authenticity of what he taught, and to legitimize his own future
23 For Dge lugs pa, Candrakirti, in addition to being a vital source on exoteric top-
ics, is also credited with providing inspiration and guidance in tantric matters as well.
Contemporary scholars hold that there were two Candrakirtis, the scholar we have been
discussing and a later tantric figure. On the latter, see Davidson 2002: 253-57.
'JAM DBYANGS BZHAD PA 141
incarnations and the institutions that depended upon them. These
maneuvers helped to foster stability on the frontier-a not
inconsequential matter in turbulent eighteenth century eastern Tibet-
and instilled confidence in Bla brang monastery's patrons. To this extent,
the endeavor can only be regarded as a success. Along with the four great
Dge lugs pa monasteries of Dbu gtsang.z- Bla brang monastery was one
of the largest in the world, housing as many as five thousand monks. Its
large size and notable stability over the centuries were maintained partly
through the reverence local supporters felt toward the various
incarnations of 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa; the charisma of the original
figure, conveyed across generations, continued to inspire patronage
among the laity and scholastic excellence among the monks.
Even into the twenty-first century, Bla brang monastery continues to play
an important cultural role in the region.z> Despite great turmoil in 1958
when Tibetans resisted Chinese reforms and again during the Cultural
Revolution (especially between 1966-1968), official Chinese policy now
permits Bla brang to maintain a population of monks who are actively
engaged in traditional studies. More than 6,000 monasteries were
destroyed throughout Tibet during the Chinese suppression; in the
aftermath, Bla brang has bounced back more than most other large
Tibetan monasteries, and it is still one of the most dynamic monasteries
in the region under Chinese rule.2
Meanwhile, the current Sixth' Jam
dbyangs bzhad pa (b. 1948), continues to inspire Tibetans even though
he is not a monk and does not display the great learning of his
predecessors. This is evidenced, for example, by the fact that Sgo mang
24 The "four great Dge lugs pa monasteries of Central Tibet" are Dga' Idan, 'Bras
spungs, and Se ra Monasteries in the Lhasa area, and Bkra shis hlun po monastery in
25 For a detailed account of religious life at Bla brang monastery during recent
years, see the anthropological study by Makley 1999.
26 Makley 1999: 140-41. I have been told there were six or seven hundred monks
at Bla brang in the 1990's. This is far below the level of 3000 monks living there in the
1940's (20-25% of traditional numbers). 'Bras spungs monastery, near Lhasa, has a simi-
lar number of official monks and even more who are unofficial. However, this number is
proportionally much lower than is the case at Bla brang when compared to 'Bras spungs's
traditional population of 7700 or the actual 1959 population of 10,000 (7-10%). Goldstein
142 DEREK MAHER
monastery, which has been re-established in exile in southern India,
prominently features his photograph on fund-raising literature.
In their efforts to legitimize 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, his followers
have not only constructed his lineage of pre-incarnations, but they have
also cast him in a prominent role in at least one future-looking
eschatological prophecy. According to this tradition, in the year 2425, a
great war will erupt from the land of Sambhala during which barbarous
forces will be defeated forever. Thereafter, no other significant religious
traditions will remain. 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, we are told, will be the
chief general of those Buddhist armies.t?
Dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po, and others involved in these
efforts, managed to build up the image of 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa to the
extent that he outshone even Tsong kha pa and his direct disciples. Even
though there is an explicit deference to figures of the past in Tibetan
culture, the legitimizing maneuvers we have explored in this paper
demonstrate how that deference could also be employed to glorify a later
figure. Out of their intense loyalty to 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa and their
fervent desire to legitimize him, his followers elaborated his prestige
until he outshone all others. By appropriating to him the identities of so
many of the pivotal authorities from the past, they, in essence, construed
him as the author of the entire Dge lugs school.
Dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po. 1971. Chos kyi rje kun mkhyen 'jam
dbyangs bzhad pa 'i rdo rje'i rnam par thar pa dod pa dang ldan pa
dag la gtam du bya ba ngo mtshar gangga 'i chu rgyun. In Collected
Works of Dkon-mchog- 'jigs-med-dbang-po, the Second 'Jam-dbans-
bzad-pa of La-bran liKra-sis- 'khyil, vol. 2, 1-73. New Delhi: Nga-
wang Gelek Demo.
'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa'i rdo rje. 1973. Dbu ma la 'jug pa'i mtha' dpyod
lung rigs gter mdzod zab don kun gsal skal bzang 'jug ngogs. In Col-
lected Works of 'Jam-dbans-bzad-pa, vol. 9. Delhi: Ngawang Gelek
-. 1994. Rje btsun 'jam dbyangs bzhad pa 'i rdo rje'i rnam par bka'
rtsom tshigs bead mao In Collected Works of 'Jam dbyangs bzhadpa,
vol. 1. Mundgod: Gomang edition
27 The date of the war is given in Tenzin Gyatso and Hopkins 1989: 65. The
prophecy concerning 'Jam dbyangs bzhad pa's generalship is mentioned in Hopkins
'JAM DBYANGS BZHAD PA 143
Khetsun Sangpo (Mkhas btsun bzang po). 1973. Biographical Dictionary
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Shakabpa (Zhwa sgab pa Dbang phyug Ide Idan). 1976. Bod kyi srid don
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Tsong kha pa. Dbu ma la 'jug pa 'i rgya cher bshad pa dgongs pa rab
gsal. P6143, vol. 154.
Cozort, D. 1998. Unique Tenets of the Middle Way Consequence School.
Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.
Davidson, R. 2002. Indian Esoteric Buddhism: a Social History of the
Tantric Movement. New York: Columbia University Press.
Dreyfus, G. 1997. Recognizing Reality: Dharmakirti's Philosophy and
Its Tibetan Interpretations. Albany: State University of New York.
-. 2003. The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: The Education of a
Tibetan Buddhist Monk. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Goldstein, M.C. 1998. The Revival of Monastic Life in Drepung Mon-
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Hopkins, J. 1981. Meditation on Emptiness. London: Wisdom Publica-
-. 2002. Reflections on Reality: Dynamic Responses to Dzong-ka-pa's
"The Essence of Eloquence, " Part II. Berkeley: University of Cali-
-.2003. Maps ofthe Profound. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications.
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Maher, D. 2003. Knowledge and Authority in Tibetan Middle Way
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Context. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia.
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and the Founding of the dGe lugs Order in Tibet. In G. Newland
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(ed.) Changing Minds: Contributions to the Study of Buddhism and
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Shakabpa, T. 1967. Tibet: A Political History. New Haven, CT: Yale
Steams. C. 1999. The Buddha from Dolpo: A Study of the Life and
Thought of the Tibetan Master Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen. Albany:
State University of New York Press.
Tenzin Gyatso and J. Hopkins. 1989. The Kiilacakra Tantra: Rite of
Initiation for the Stage of Generation. 2nd rev. edition. London:
Thurman, R.A.F. 1982. Life and Teachings of Tsong Khapa. Dharam-
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Wylie, T. 1984. Reincarnation: A Political Innovation in Tibetan
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Memorial Symposium Held at Matrafiired, Hungary, 24-30
September 1976. Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 579-86.
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA BY
MGON PO SKYABS IN THE RGYA NAG CHOS 'BYUNG
For specific reasons linked to the political circumstances of his time, the
Eighteenth-century Mongol scholar Mgon po skyabs (Mong. Gombojab;
Ch. Gongbu zhabu), who was one of the best polyglots of his time, was
asked to write, in Tibetan, a history of Buddhism in China. \ He
completed it in 1736 under the abridged title Rgya nag chos 'byung, This
chronicle is unique in historical literature written in Tibetan, because it is
the only work that is entirely devoted to the history, both religious and
political, of China. However, it could as well have been entitled or
subtitled "The Cryptic History of Tibetan Buddhism in China" because
that really is what Mgon po skyabs intended to write and what he was
asked to do. The instigator of such a special writing, to whom he refers in
his Preface (p. 3) as "the holy supreme guide" ('dren mchog dam pa) was
not the Manchu Emperor Qianlong (1711-99, r.1736-96), as we are first
inclined to believe, but, as indicated in the colophon (263-64), the
"incarnation of Pandi ta Zhi re thu ka shi'u chos rje," or in Mongolian
1 Note: Transliterations of Chinese and Japanese names are listed in the Appendix
with their corresponding characters.
Mgon po skyabs (c. 1690-17507) was native of Ojtimlicin (easternmost part of
Inner Mongolia, near the Shilin ghol region). The Ujumucin Banner, having large grazing
areas and many herds, was the richest of all the Banners of Inner Mongolia according to
the standards of a nomadic society, and therefore its prince was a most influential man (as
described in Hyer and Jagchid: 133). Mgon po skyabs, who was related to the Manchu
Court by marital alliance, was appointed head of the Tibetan school (Xi fan xue) in
Beijing, and was responsible for Tibetan studies and translations of Tibetan and Mongol
texts. He was reputed to have mastered four languages (see Mgon po skyabs 1983: 265:
skad bzhi smra ba 'i dge bsnyen rlung khams ba Mgon po skyabs). L.c. Puckovskij in the
introduction to his edition of the Mongolian history of the Golden Horde, Ganga yin
uruskhal, written in 1725 by Mgon po skyabs, did not include Sanskrit among them (see
Puckovski 1960: 8), while E. Gene Smith did mention it in his introduction to The
Autobiography and Diaries of Si tu Pal) chen (Smith 1968: 8, n. 12). However,
considering the nature of his work and translations, it is more probable that in addition to
Mongolian, his native language, he came to master as well Tibetan, Sanskrit, Chinese and
Manchu. On his work, see De long 1968.
146 GUILAINE MALA
Siretu (variant: Siregetu) Giisi corji, a famous sixteenth-century
translator from Koke qota (Tib. Mkhar sngon, Inner Mongolia).2 Siregetii
Gilsi corji accompanied the Third Dalai Lama during his mission to
Mongolia. He remained in Koke qota for many years, where he
translated many important Buddhist texts into Mongolian. His exact
dates are not known, but his activities as a translator took place between
1587 and 1618. According to the Mongol author, Altan-Orgil, the Third
Dalai Lama invited the Pandit to sit on his throne (Mong. sirege) after
him and to become his representative (hence his title Siregetu), After the
Pandit's death, an incarnation lineage of Siregetu Khutugtu was
established in Koke qota. It is his fifth reincarnation who lived during c.
1713-51 and consequently it is the fifth reincarnation to whom Mgon po
skyabs refers in his chronicle. His discovery was reported to the Chief
Administrative Lama of Koke qota in 1713 and in 1727, the young
Siregetu Khutugtu was introduced to the Emperor Yongzheng, who
ordered him to come and reside outside the city walls of Beijing in order
to study under the guidance of a good lama. In 1734, he was appointed
by imperial order the Chief Administrative Lama of Koke qota (Mong.
jasag un terigiin blam a or jasag da blam a).3 Therefore, as Mgon po
skyabs wrote his Rgya nag chos 'byung in 1736, it appears that Siregetu
Khutugtu made his request soon after coming into office, and his
motivation can be explained as the result of his education in Beijing.
However, their combined initiative was not an isolated act for Mgon po
skyabs sent to Tibet a copy of his chronicle for revision, corrections and
criticism by the great Karma pa scholar Si tu Chos kyi 'byung gnas
(1700-1774).4 Moreover, Kah thog Tshe dbang nor bu (1698-1755), who
was the Si tu's close friend and who converted him to the proscribed
gzhan stong doctrine of the Jo nang pa order, sent in 1747 a letter from
2 The Mongolian word "Siregetu," which is the classical form of "Siretu," is the
equivalent of the Tibetan word khri pa, "throne" (see Mgon po skyabs 1983: 263, 1.8). As
for the Mongolian title Gusi, which renders the Chinese "Guoshi" (State Preceptor), it
does not mean in this case that this Pandit was a State Preceptor, but as the Ulanbator
academician Y. Rinchen (1974: 95) explained, the honorific title Gusi, borrowed from the
Chinese "Guoshi," appeared in Mongolian during the Yuan dynasty and was applied to
well-educated scholars, who had mastered the two classical languages of Sanskrit and
Tibetan. Later, an epithet Tal-a ayalyu-tu 'Two-sounds-possessor,' meaning' Possessor of
sounds of Sanskrit and Tibetan tongues' was added to Gusi.
3 See Altan-Orgil 1981: 98, 100-10 I. I am indebted to Dr. Vladimir L. Uspensky
who kindly communicated these references and information to me. May he find here the
expression of my gratitude for his corrections and suggestions. For further details, see
Uspensky 1985, which I unfortunately could not consult.
4 See Mgon po skyabs 1983, colophon: 266.
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA 147
Lhasa to Mgon po skyabs in Beijing to question some points made in his
chronicle, which obviously excited a great interest among Tibetan
The Rgya nag chos 'byung illustrates the Mongolian supreme
achievement in mastering Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism in its latest
phase, so much so that its author intended to be the spokesman for all
upholders of the dOe lugs pa tradition. Although appearing to be less
renowned than the chapter on China written in 1748 by Sum pa mkhan
po ye shes dpal 'byor (1704-1788) in his Dpag bsam ljon bzang (The
Wish-fulfilling Tree), in reality, Mgon po skyabs' chronicle was the
original source and its influence has been very strong on later Mongol
and Tibetan historians.v In particular, the famous eastern Tibetan
doxographer, Thu'u bkwan Blo bzang chos kyi nyi rna (1737-1802),
made numerous borrowings from it in the chapter on Chinese religions,
which is contained in his Grub mtha' shel gyi me long (The Crystal
Mirror of Doxographies) written in 1801-02.
But at the same time, he
seems to distance himself from some of Mgon po skyabs' interpretations,
whilst referring several times to his mentor, Leang skya Rol pa'i rdo rje
(1717-1786), who was the State Preceptor (Guoshi) at the Imperial
Court, and a close friend and advisor of the Emperor Qianlong.
1. The Contents ofthe Rgya nag chos 'byung
The full title of Mgon po skyabs' chronicle is Rgya nag gi yul du dam
pa'i chos dar tshul gtso bor bshadpa blo gsal kun tu dga' ba'i rna rgyan
(The Delightful Earring of Clear Understanding, which explains
principally how the Holy Dharma spread in the Country of China). On
the back of the last page of the modem Sichuan edition (or Sde dge
edition, Ch'engtu 1983), the title is rendered as Hanqu Fojiao yuanliu ji.
This title is not to be found in Chinese Buddhist dictionaries and no
modem Chinese translation seems to exist or to be available.f
5 This letter is preserved under the title Rgya nag tu gung mgon po skyabs fa dri ba
mdzad pa (Questions asked to the Duke Mgon po skyabs [working] in China) in Tshe
dbang nor bu 1973, vol. I: 723-32 (see Martin 1997: 125; also Smith 1968: 8).
6 See Sum pa Mkhan po 1959: 61-133.
7 See the chapter on Chinese religions in Thu'u bkwan (1989, chap. 3: 391-446),
entitled Ma hd tsi na 'i yul du rig byed dang grub mtha' byung tshul, "History of [Confu-
cian] Learning and [other] Doctrinal Tenets in the Country of Great China." This section
corresponds to chapters ten and eleven of the Lhasa Zhol edition.
8 Martin (1997: I25)-a work that is already a classic in Tibetology-noted that it
was also published under the 'cover title' Sngon gyi gtam me tog gi phreng ba, a title
148 OUILAINE MALA
The Rgya nag ehos 'byung comprises a preface ('go brjod) , three
main chapters (sa bead) and a colophon (mjug byang). To summarize the
content of the three main parts:
 The first chapter is entitled "Spyir rgya nag po 'i yul gyi rten
dang brten pa 'i bkodpa dang 10 rgyus rags rim tsam brjodpa" (3-61). It
is devoted to the cosmological and physical geography of China
(qualified as supports of the country, rten) , and the history of its royal
genealogies (designated as brten pa, the supported or entrusted by the
country) from the time of the kings of the highest antiquity, who are
presented as historical figures, until the end of the Ming dynasty (1368-
It is significant that Mgon po skyabs opens his first chapter by
evoking the creation of the universe, not according to the cosmogony of
the Abhidarmakosa but of the Kiilacakra-tantra, the "Glorious Tantra of
the Wheel of Time," which is qualified as the "King of All Tantras"
(Rgyud thams cad kyi rgyal po dpal dus kyi 'khor 10 'i rgyud). This
Buddhist Tantra of the Highest Yoga Tantra class (Tibetan Tripitaka
Peking edition, vol. 1, no. 4), represents a syncretic knowledge
characterized by the incorporation of many elements from Saivism and
Vaisnavism. 9 It appears to be one of the two authoritative tantras for his
work-the other being the Maiijusri-mula-tantra-s-eaui discreetly
encompasses the whole of his demonstration.
 The second chapter is entitled "dus gang dag la bstan 'dzin gyi
skyes bu su dag byung ba ehe long smos pa" (62-175). It is described as
dealing with the history of Buddhism in China through the succint
biographies of the successive upholders of the Teaching. However, it is
not a straight classical presentation of the history of Chinese Buddhism
from the Zhou dynasty to the Ming dynasty, but rather a synthetic essay
of syncretic inspiration on various Chinese systems of thought, which
although apparently treating in an egalitarian way non-Buddhist and
Buddhist religions, integrates non-Buddhist tenets into the all-
encompassing Mahayanist view.
 The third chapter is entitled "de dag gis rim pa ltar spel ba'i
dngos gzhi ehos kyi ming gi rnam grangs bstan pa" (176-258). It is a
referring firstly to Ne'u Pandita's chronicle of 1283 (see Martin 1997: 46, no. 61 and
130) and evoking a garland of concealed flowers of the past. There also exists a II O-fol.
woodblock print of the Lhasa Zhol edition of 1946 in the R.A. Stein Collection of the
Musee Ouimet in Paris.
9 See Banerjee 1999.
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA 149
descriptive catalogue of the dharma texts which were written or diffused
in succession by these doctrine-holders. Significantly, this last chapter is
mainly the abridged Tibetan translation of the Zhiyuan Fabao kantong
zonglu, a catalogue which was compiled during the Yuan dynasty in
1285-87 by Qing Jixiang, a Chinese monk who worked in Peking with
'Phags pa (Basiba, 1239-80). This catalogue, which is the result of Sino-
Tibetan collaboration, is a comparative catalogue of the Chinese and
Tibetan Tripitakas, in which differences between the two are pointed out.
This catalogue is preserved in Taisho (=T.) vol. 99, no. 25 (in Taibei
edition, 1973, Fabao zongmulu, vol. 2, 179-238). It is indeed this
catalogue, which Thu'u bkwan and Sum pa mkhan po both describe in
their respective section on Buddhism, and it is clear that interest and
fame for it were revived under the Qing dynasty.Iv The preface to this
catalogue was written by Qubilai himself, who states that as the Emperor
Shizu Huangdi, he is also the emanation body of all the buddhas of the
past, manifested to help all sentient beings to reach emancipation. I I This
sentence is an important part of the underlying thread of Mgon po
skyabs' demonstration, as developed below.
II. The main differences between the Rgya nag chos 'byung and the
earlier chapters on China written in Tibetan
(A) The history of China does not begin with the Zhou dynasty but with
Now if we examine, on the one hand, the best known earlier Buddhist
chronicles including a chapter on China, such as the Rgyal rabs gsal ba'i
me long (1328), Deb ther dmar po (1346), Rgya Bod yig tshang (1434),
Deb ther sngon po (1476-78), Deb ther dmar po gsar ma (1538), Chos
'byung mkhas pa 'i dga' ston (1545-65), we can see that they all begin the
history of the royal genealogies of China with "the first emperor of China
named Ci'u" (rendering Zhou). This is because their authors follow a
well-known Chinese tradition based on forged texts which assign the
Buddha's birth to the wood-tiger (jia-yin) year (Tib. shing pho stag 10,
wood-male-tiger year), that is the 24th year of the reign of Zhaowang of
the Western Zhou dynasty, i.e. l029 B.C.E. according to the traditional
10 See Sum pa Mkhan po 1959, III: 132; Thu'u bkwan 1989: 425.
11 See in Taibei edition 1973, Fabao zongmulu vol. 2, no. 25, Preface (Xu) p. 179:
20: Wo Shizu Huangdi. Ji gu Fo shixian zhi yingshen yeo
150 GUILAINE MALA
chronology.l? And that is why the history of China really begins with
this dynasty, which is particularly meaningful for these Buddhist
On the other hand, when we examine later chronicles such as the
Rgya nag chos 'byung, the Dpag bsam ljon bzang, the Grub mtha' shel
gyi me long and other texts derived from these three sources, we find that
their history of China goes back much further in time, to the highest
antiquity, the epoch of the mythical heroes, the founders of civilisation.
These later sources identically begin their history of China with hPhu si
(Fuxi: access to the throne: 2952 B.C.E. according to the traditional
chronology), who is said to be the first king of China and the inventor of
writing and astrology born from the eight trigrams (bagua, Tib. spar
Therefore, it turns out that, among the various chapters on China
which are written in Tibetan, we must distinguish two types of account
of the history of China, the first beginning from the time of the Zhou
dynasty, and the second, from the time of Fuxi. The sources which
belong to the second type of account, like the Rgya nag chos 'byung, not
only have in common the fact that they identically begin the history with
Fuxi, they also deal with other Chinese religions and share the same
syncretic view of the main doctrines prevailing in China, that is
Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, which are named collectively the
"Three Teachings" (Sanjiao, Tib. bstan pa gsum).
(B) A distorted use of a sixth-century egalitarian metaphor: "Buddhism is
similar to the sun, Taoism to the moon, and Confucianism to the stars"
12 This is the case in chronicles such as: (1) the Rgyal rabs gsal ba'i me long
(1328), by Sa skya pa Bla rna dam pa bSod nams rgyal mtshan (1312-75), translated in
Sorensen 1994: 77-84; (2) the Red Annals, Deb ther dmar po, also known as Hu Ian deb
gter/ther (1346), by 'Tshal pa Kun dga' rdo rje, Beijing edition 1981, chapter four: 11-
12; (3) Rgya bod yig tshang (1434), by Dpal 'byor bzang po, Ch'engtu edition 1985: 99,
101; (4) the Blue Annals, Deb thersngonpo (1476-78) by 'Gos 10gzhon nu dpal (1392-
1481), who quoted the Deb dmar, Ch'engtu edition 1987, I: 73-81, translated in Roerich
 1976: 47-57; (5) the New Red Annals, Deb ther dmar po gsar ma (1538), by the
Panchen Bsod nams grags pa, translated in Tucci 1971: 175; (6) the Scholars' Feast,
Chos 'byung mkhas pa'i dga' ston (1545-65) by Dpa' bo gtsug lag phreng ba, Beijing
edition 1986, vol. 2: 1389, etc.
13 It is interesting to point out that according to the Yijing, Fuxi not only invented
writing, he also invented the knotted strings (somewhat evoking the Bon po ju thig).
Moreover, according to the Shanhaijing (ch. 18), Fuxi was one of the celestial kings who
could climb up the standing tree, which links heaven to earth (this tree, mu, is not without
evoking: the dmu cord (dmu thag), up which the first kings of Tibet ascended to heaven.
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA 151
Mgon po skyabs, Sum pa Mkhan po and Thu'u bkwan all compare the
Three Teachings to the "Three Luminaries" (Sanguang), i.e. respectively
Confucianism to the stars, Taoism to the moon and Buddhism to the sun.
Our Mongol and Tibetan authors did not invent this metaphor, they
borrowed it from Li Shiqian (523-88), a Chinese Buddhist layman from
the Sui dynasty, whose argumentation in favour of the egalitarian view of
the three doctrines passes for one of the most ancient in China.
Since the second type of account seems to have originated from the
Rgya nag chos 'byung, which is the earliest of these three texts, the study
of this chronicle is important and reveals the reasons why the later type
of account came into existence. It also reveals that the two common
denominators, the apparent syncretic view of the Three Teachings and
the statement that the first king of China was Fuxi, are linked. It is the
identification of the nature of the sources used by Mgon po skyabs-
Chinese Buddhist sources of apparent syncretic inspiration-which gives
the key for several reasons. Firstly, it is in this kind of literature that we
can find the transmission of Li Shiqian's metaphor in favour of the unity
of the Three Teachings in a number of sources from the seventh century
to the sixteenth.t-'
For example, in the Fozu tongji which was compiled in 1269 by the
monk Zhipan, it is written:
Li Shiqian was a man who had a deep interest in Buddhist learning and
had also mastered the abstruse conversations (xuantans.i> [During one
14 His argumentation is to be found at least in the following sources: (I ) Suishu by
Wei Zheng (580-643) and others, Zhonghua shuju edition, Beijing 1973, 77. 1754:3-4;
(2) Beishi by Li Yanshou (before 601 to after 675 A.D.), Zhonghua shuju edition, Beijing
1974,33.1234:12; (3) Sanjiao pingxin fun, "Treatise [viewing] the Three Teachings with
a Balanced Mind," written by Liu Mi (thirteenth century),T. 2117, A. 781 cI6-17; (4)
Fayun zhiliie, "A Concise Record on the Fate of the Law," part of Fozu tongji or "A
General Record on the Patriarchs of Buddhism" (1269), by Zhipan (actif. 1258-1269), T.
2035,39.360 a 13; 44. 405 b24-25; 54.472 aI6-17; (5) [Lidai biannian] Shishi tongjian,
"Complete Guide (Universal Mirror) Chronicling the Sakya clan through the Ages"
(1270), by Benjue, in Dai Nihon zokuzokyo, vol. 131, 6. 436ro bIO-l1; (6) Fozu !idai
tongzai, "A General Record of the Patriarchs of Buddhism through the Ages' (133J), by
Nianchang (d. 1341), T. 2036, 10.559 b28; (7) [Lichao]Shishi zijian, "Well-documented
Guide (Mirror) by Periods of the Sakya clan" (1336), by Xizhong, in Dai Nihon zokuzo-
kyo, vol. 132, 7.73ro 15; (8) Shishijigu liie, "Outline of the Ancient Records of the Sakya
clan" (1354), by Jue'an, T. 2037,2. 808 b13; (9) Sanjiao huibian yaoliie or "Compen-
dium on the Three Teachings" by Lin Zhaoen (1517-1598), a great syncretist of the Ming
dynasty (1368-1644), in Linzi quanji, XI: 1.1a.
15 The term xuantan or "Mysterious Conversations," a special form of philosophi-
cal converse combining Neo-Taoist ideas with Confucian and Buddhist
152 GUILAINE MALA
of these conversations], there was a guest who asked about the merits
of the Three Teachings. Li Shiqian said: "Buddhism is [similar to] the
sun, Taoism is [similar to] the moon, and Confucianism is [similar to]
the five planets."16 The people of that period regarded this as the best
of arguments (Li Shiqian yahao Foxue jian shan xuantan. You ke wen
sanjiao youlie. Li Shiqian yue. Fa ri yeo Dao yue yeo Ru wuxing yeo Shi
yiwei zhi lun; in T. 2035, 39. 360 a12-14, and 54. 472 a16-17).
After having examined these various sources, it appears that the
author of the Rgya nag chos 'byung did not borrow this comparison
directly from Li Shiqian's biography, which can be found in the official
annals, Suishu (chap. 77) and Beishi (chap. 33), but from later Chinese
Buddhist compilations from the Song and Yuan dynasties. These
Buddhist compilers were forced to adopt a syncretic varnish in defence
of the dharma in order to challenge anti-Buddhist polemics. Having to
compete with Taoism or alternatively with Confucianism, whose
influence could not possibly be denied, some of them used Li Shiqian's
imagery but in a distorted way: they did not put the accent upon the
indispensability of each of the three luminaries, but upon the relative
radiance of the three celestial sources. By doing so, they developed the
argument of the "hierarchy of values" (youlie, lit. "superiority and
inferiority") in the light emitted by the three luminaries, in order to
demonstrate the superiority of Buddhism. This point of view is already to
be found in a great treatise of conciliation of the Three Teachings, which
is preserved in T. 2117, the Sanjiao pingxin lun (Treatise [viewing] the
Three Teachings with a Balanced Mind), which was written by Liu Mi, a
Chinese scholar and a Buddhist layman, who lived on from the Southern
Song dynasty into the Yuan dynasty (around the years 1278-80). It is
also clearly expressed by the Buddhist monk Nianchang (d.1341) in the
Fozu lidai tongzai, where he added a personal comment on Li Shiqian's
argumentation in favour of the harmonization of the Three Teachings
(see T. 2036,10.559 c1-7).
The same process is adopted by Mgon po skyabs when he states in
the Rgya nag chos 'byung (p. 66.13-67.1):
Therefore, the Teaching which truly illuminates the basic nature of
samsara, and the subtlety of the causal conditions and karmic fruit, and
originally used for the Neo- Taoist conversations, but later was also applied to the ab-
struse (xuan) conversations of the Buddhists.
16 The five planets are Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury.
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA 153
the exposition of the three vehicles of the path.l? and the instructions
concerning the great means (thabs, Skt. upiiyav, and the profound oral
instructions (man ngag, Skt. upadesas, and the resultant three kaya-s
(dharmakaya, sambhogakdya, nirmiinakdyai and the five wisdoms.If
and so forth. [This teaching] is only the precious doctrine (gsung rab,
Skt. pravacana) of the Jina. Consequently, as a metaphoric lamp
clarifying the meaning of the real nature of things (gnas lugs), it is the
teaching of the Jina which has the characteristics of the victorious sun,
[and this statement] is based on a verifiable description made by
[Chinese] scholars [according to which] "The Confucian tradition
(Bzhu lugs) is similar to the stars, the Bon tradition (Bon lugs, i.e.
Taoism) is similar to the moon, [and] the Buddhist tradition (Chos lugs)
is similar to the sun."19
Although in the Shishi tongjian and in the Shishi zijian, as well as in
all Buddhist chronicles and treatises mentioned above, the metaphor of
the Sanjiao/Sanguang is always attributed to Li Shiqian, Mgon po
skyabs, in this passage, uses the plural mkhas rnams, "scholars,"
suggesting that other Chinese Buddhists appropriated Li Shiqian's
metaphor and used it as their own. Such is probably the case for we can
find the proof of this appropriation at least in one very important Yuan
source for Mgon po skyabs, the [Zhiyuan] Bianwei lu, a treatise that was
compiled in 1291 by Xiangmai, a monk of the Chan school who took
part in the disputations with the Taoists which ended in 1281 with the
Imperial order to bum all forged Taoist texts. Although Xiangmai, in his
treatise recording the debate on the doubtful authenticity of the Taoist
17 The three vehicles (Skt. triydnai are the Hearer vehicle (Tib. nyan thos kyi theg
pa, Skt. sravakayiinai. the Solitary Realizer vehicle (rang rgyal gyi theg pa, pratyeka-
buddhayanat and the Greater vehicle (theg chen gyi theg pa, mahayana) or Bodhisatt-
18 The five types of wisdom (Tib. ye shes lnga, Skt. paiicajiidnai are: [I] mirror-
like wisdom (me long Ita bu 'i ye shes, darsajiuinai,  wisdom of equality (mnyam nyid
ye shes, samatajiuinai,  wisdom of discrimination (sor rtogs ye shes,
pratyaveksandjiuinas,  wisdom of accomplishment (bya sgrub ye shes,
krtydnusthiinajiidnai, and  wisdom of reality (chos dbyings ye shes, dharmadhdtu-
jnana) (see Tsepak Rigzin, Tibetan-English Dictionary ofBuddhist Terminology, 384).
19 Transcription of this passage: de Ita na yang gzhi 'khor ba 'i ngo bo dang / rgyu
rkyen las 'bras kyi phra zhib dang / lam theg pa gsum gyi rnam bzhag dang / thabs rgya
che ba 'i gdams pa dang / zab mo 'i man ngag dang / 'bras bu sku gsum dang ye shes lnga
la sogs pa ches gsal por bstan pa ni rgyal ba 'i gsung rab rin po che kho na yin pas gnas
lugs kyi don gsal bar byedpa 'i sgron dper / bzhu lugs skar ma Ita bu / bon lugs zla ba Ita
bu / chos lugs nyi ma Ita bu '0 / zhes tshad thub kyi mkhas rnams gleng bar brten rgyal
bstan la rgyal ba nyi ma 'i mtshan yang chags so /
154 GUILAINE MALA
scriptures, aimed to harmonize the Three Teachings, his reconciling
approach with the Taoists is not convincing:
[The Three Teachings] are complementary like the surface and lining
of a garment, reflecting one another like the rays of the sun, the moon,
and the stars, and supporting one another like the three legs of a tripod.
But there is a difference in some degree. The Taoists believe in texts
which are forged. Their aim is to establish a superstructure embracing
past and present and superseding both Confucianism and Buddhism (T.
But is Mgon po skyabs' attitude more convincing when he states (p.
Nowadays, that which has become supreme of the ocean of all
Including the Excellent Teachings of interpretive and definitive
meanings (drang nges don, Skt. neyartha/nitarthay and their branches
[Which was taught] in this country by the Lord [Matijusri] through his
skill in means and compassion,
Is [contained within] the Three [Teachings], Buddhism (Ban), Taoism
(Bon) and Confucianism (Bzhu), which are known to be [respectively]
similar to the sun, the moon and the stars.s!
In the same way, Thu'u bkwan opens his chapter on Chinese
religions, by stating that Taoism and Confucianism were also planned
and spread in China out of compassion by the Jinas, as part of their
activities ('phrin las).22 In the Rgya nag chos 'byung, which is devoted to
the history of China as the special sphere of conversion of Mafijusri,
prime importance is indeed given to Mafijusri, a bodhisattva of the
highest enlightenment attained by combining compassion (karwJii),
means of approach (upiiya) , and wisdom tprajiui), Mafijusri
(Wenshushili, lit. "Sweet [Spiritual] Glory"), also named Manjughosa
(Miaoyin, lit. "Sweet Voice"), is the ultimate idealization of the quality
of wisdom, and as such has become the patron of the Dge lugs pas who
revere him as a Buddha.
20 See Liu Ts'un-yan Berling 1982: 502.
21 Transcription of this passage: yul 'dir rje btsun thabs mkhas thugs rje yis / / legs
gsungs drang nges don dang yan lag beas / / da Ita rig gnas rgya mtsho 'i mehog gyur
gang / / ban bon bzhu gsum nyi zla skar 'drar grags / zhes so /
22 See Thu'u bkwan 1989: 391.
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA 155
III. The Mahayanist concepts ofNirmal)akaya and upaya had been
already exploited and applied to the kings ofantiquity and to the sages of
the past in Chinese Buddhist syncretic literature
Moreover, it is also in this kind of Buddhist literature of apparent
syncretic inspiration that the concept of nirmdnakdya, "transformation
body" (huashen, Tib. sprul pa 'i sku), doubled with and explained by that
of updyakausalya, "skill-in-salvific means" (shan[nengJ fangbian, Tib.
thabs la mkhas pa), was exploited and applied to the kings of the highest
antiquity and to all the sages of the past.
As a result of the various Mahayana speculations about the
Buddha's nature, Chinese Buddhists had made good use of the concept
of transformation body of a buddha who has the power to assume any
form required by the milieu to be converted in order to propagate
teachings adapted to the ability of his listeners. The buddhas deliberately
hold back some of the highest tenets of the doctrine and only disclose a
relative truth to reach the understanding of those who cannot yet
approach the formless True Body idharmakdyai of buddhahood.
Subsequently, from the third century, Chinese Buddhists came quite
logically to regard the Sages of Chinese history and prehistory as
manifestations of the Buddha or as avatdra-s of bodhisattvas,23 This idea
was developed in various later Buddhist apocrypha when the intense
rivalry between Buddhism and Taoism gave rise to a form of mutual
religious borrowing, which can been defined as "defensive syncretism."
In particular, the Buddhists had to take over the Taoist theory of
"Conversion of Barbarians" (huahu), according to which Laozi, after
disappearing in the west, went to India, where he converted the
"Barbarians" into Buddhists. This legendary journey of Laozi is
elaborated in the [Laozi]huahujing (The Scripture of Laozi converting
the Barbarians), an apocryphal text dating from the end of the fourth
century or beginning of the fifth century and which may have circulated
23 This idea was already expressed in the Taizi ruiying benqi jing, one of the earli-
est extant Chinese biographies of the Buddha which was translated in 222-229 C.E. by the
Indo-scythian updsaka Zhi Qian: "When he came to transform himself, he manifested
himself in accordance with [the exigencies of] the times, sometimes as a saintly emperor,
sometimes as the ancestor of the Forest of Literati (Rulin zhi zong), or as the Taoist Na-
tional Teacher (guoshi daoshi); everywhere he manifested his innumerable transforma-
tions." (Ji qi bianhua. Sui shi er xian. Huo wei shengdi. Huo zuo rulin zhi zong.Guoshi
daoshi. Zaisuo xianhua. Buke chengji; see T. 185, A. 473 b 9-11; ZUrcher 1959: 309,
156 GUILAINE MALA
in several versions.e! This famous forged text remained at the centre of
numerous debates between Taoists and Buddhists-the Taoists using it
to prove their superiority over the followers of Buddhism-until the time
of the Yuan dynasty, when the Sa skya Abbot and Imperial Preceptor
'Phags pa (1235-80) put an end to this controversy in China ('Phags pa
recalled this event in the postface written by himself, which is appended
to the [LichaojShishi zijian, a chronicle in twelve chapters covering the
history of Chinese Buddhism since the time of Fuxi to the reign of the
Emperor Shundi (r. 1333-1367) of the Yuan dynasty),25
To refute their Taoist opponents' charge that the Buddha was only a
manifestation of Laozi, Buddhist apologists reversed the arguments and
began, in their tum, to forge sutras to demonstrate that in fact it was
Laozi who was a manifestation of the Buddha or a disciple of a western
saint expressly identified with the Buddha, namely Mahakasyapa, From
the end of the fourth century onward, they developed the theory of
"Three Buddhist Saints" (Sansheng) going to the east in several Buddhist
apocrypha such as the Qingjing faxing jing (Sutra of the Practice of Pure
Dharma), which have not survived but which are quoted in sixth- and
seventh-century Buddhist literature,26 Authors of other Buddhist
apocrypha applied the same method to mythical sovereigns of the most
distant past. Thus another forged work entitled Xumi tujing (Siltra on
Sumeru Mount with Illustrations), as well as the Xumi siyu jing (Surra of
the four Regions of Sumeru Mount), assert that the Bodhisattva
Baoyingsheng (Baoyingsheng Pusa) transformed himself into Fuxi.s?
Moreover, in a Niepanjing (Skt. Nirvana-siurai, it was stated that what
all Chinese classical texts whatsoever really teach is the Buddhadharma
(Fofa), and more than that, that the Three Sovereigns, the Five Emperors,
the Three Kings [i.e. the most ancient Chinese kings], as well as
Confucius, Laozi and Zhou Zhuang were all transformation bodies of
24 On the Laozi huahu jing (T. 2139), see ZUrcher 1959: 37, 280; chapter six:
"'The Conversion of the Barbarians:' the early history of a Buddho- Taoist conflict," 288-
93,320; Ch'en 1972: 50-51,184,422-25.
25 See Dai Nihon zokuziikyo, vol. 132, p. 121 ro.:1-2. On 'Phags pa in China, see
Petech 1983: 183-88. On the Buddho- Taoist debate, see Imaeda 1974.
26 See ZUrcher 1959: 304, 311-17.
27 ZUrcher (1959: 318-19) explained that this cryptic name was a free rendering of
Avalokitesvara (in which the Sanskrit name is read as Avalokitasvara, "survey-sound").
These Buddhist apocrypha link the appearance of Fuxi, as well as that of Nugua, both
bodhisattvas sent by Amitabha, to an Indian Buddhist theory concerning the evolution of
the world at the beginning of a new cosmic period. They subsequently manage to forge a
new syncretic Sino-Indian theory of Buddhist cosmogony.
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA 157
bodhisattvas (pusa huashen). The author of this Chinese translation of
the Nirvana-sutra had finally managed not only to reduce Confucianism
and Taoism to disguised Buddhist teachings, but also to appropriate the
whole of ancient Chinese culture.Pf
This is exactly what Mgon po skyabs is going to do. However, in
the context of the Rgya nag chos 'byung, all sages of the Chinese past are
presented as emanations tnirmdnakdyas of Mafijusri, a bodhisattva of the
tenth bhiimi and the body of wisdom (jnanakaya) of all the buddhas, as
clearly expressed in the Mahjusrindmasamgiti, where he is raised as a
kind of adibuddha, a figure well developed in the all-unifying Lord
How does Mgon po skyabs build up his setting? Benefiting greatly
from the Chinese Buddhists' experience, he, in his tum, makes a skilfull
usage of the methods elaborated by them, but at the same time, he goes
much further by referring to a genuine Buddhist text, which allows him
to "Lamaicise" Chinese Buddhism from its origin.
IV. Dbyig gi snying, (Skt. Hiranyagarbha, Ch. Jintai), the first king of
China according to the Mafijusri-mula-tantra
To demonstrate the Buddhist predestination of China under the special
protection of Mafijusri, Mgon po skyabs breaks totally with the Chinese
traditional accounts by grafting on a Buddhist prophecy from the Arya-
Maiijusri-miila-tantra (Xrya Mafijusri Root Tantraj.t?
(Rgya nag chos 'byung, 8.14-9.16):
28 The same argumentation is to be found in an apologetic treatise which was writ-
ten at the beginning of the Tang dynasty by a Buddhist monk named Minggai (exact
dates unknown), the Jue dui Fu Yi fei Fofa sengshi, refuting once and for all the Taoist
Fu Vi's attempt to do away with Buddhism and the community of Buddhist monks (see
Guang Hongmingji by Daoxuan (596-667), T. 2103,12. 174a-175a; Kubota 1931: 340-
41). Under the reign of the first Tang Emperor, Gaozu, and during the Tang dynasty,
many discussions about the Three Teachings (Sanjiao tanlun) were conducted (See Luo
Xianglin 1963: 159-73, 173-76.). In 621, the Taoist Fu Yi (554-639) presented an anti-
Buddhist memorial in eleven points, the Jiansheng sita sengni yi guoli minshi shiyi tiao,
asking to reduce the number of monasteries and pagodas, monks and nuns in order to
further the interests of the State.
29 See Lamotte 1960. Davidson 1983: 1-6; Ruegg 1964: 89.
30 Although standing midway between the Mahayana siaras and the tantras , the
Sanskrit text, Mahjusri-mula-kalpa, dated to the middle of the eighth century, is pre-
sented in its colophon as a Vaipulyasutra, but having gone through continuous transfor-
mation and growth, by the eleventh century, it had acquired the characteristics of a tantra
and was classified by the Tibetan translators as a kriyatantra (see Matsunaga 1985).
158 GUILAINE MALA
In the Mahjusri-mula-tantra, it is written:
"In the whole of China, relied upon [by all],
[There will be] a king named Dbyig gi snying (Hiranyagarbha)
[He will have] a great territorial division (sde chen)31 and great
And many ministers (lit. instructors),
And a vast number of supporters.
The Barbarians (KIa 10) will bow to him and he will be all-victorious.
He will give prime importance to the Buddhist Doctrine.
[In his country, the power of] the mantra of the bodhisattva (lit.
mahatma) [having the nature of] Kumara [Gzhon nu]
Will be fully accomplished.
The eight-syllable king of spell (rig pa, Skt. vidyiiy?
Which is charged with a great magical power,
Will be renowned as a Great Warrior (dpa' bo che, Skt. mahdvirai.
[China] will be a pilgrimage place of perfection.
There, the minds of immature beings
Will make prayers for the sake of the State.
By the mere thought of this [mantra], anyone will be certain
To become a buddha.
For the sake of the monarchy (mi bdag rgyal thabs) itself,
Its time [of efficacy] will not be short.
The mere thought [of it] will bring
The supreme gift, [the] unsurpassable [siddhi].
If all the sacred precepts are bestowed
[Through this mantra] to Brahma and to all gods,
Needless to say that [they will also be bestowed] to evil and common
And to the human world.
[This King] will live one hundred and fifty years.
He will depart into the region of the gods of great fame
This King of Dharma will gradually
Attain holy enlightenment.
He will swiftly accomplish
In his country, this vidyii [mantra]
Which was entirely expounded by Kumara
No other mantra will ever [bring such accomplishment].
The bodhisattva, the Great Hero
Maiijughosa, [radiating] a great light
And directly perceived, in this pure country
31 Skt. mahiisena, meaning lit."who has a great army" (N. Stchoupak, L. Nitti, L.
Renou, Dietionnaire Sanskrit-Francais, Paris 1980: 559 b).
32 This refers to the mantra of Mafijusri, O1J1 a ra pa ea na dhih. On Arapacana,
which represents the esoteric alphabet of the early Mahayana, see Davidson 1983: 22, n.
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA 159
Is to abide in the form of a young boy.
In this holy buddha-field of accomplishment,
Men will become fully accomplished."33
This Buddhist prophecy concerning the appearance in China of a
universal monarch named Hiranyagarbha (lit."Golden Embryo" or
"Golden Egg"),34 is to be found in the chapter on the prophecies
concerning the kings (Riijavydkarana-parivartas, which is contained in
the chapter 36 of the Tibetan translation of the Mahjusri-mida-tantra
made in the first half of the eleventh century by Sakya blo gros and
Kurnarakalasa (Tibetan Tripitaka Peking edition, vol. 6, no. 162, 260-
4.1-7). But this chapter is diplomatically missing in the Chinese
translation, which was made under the Song dynasty by the Kashmiri
monk Tian Xizai (Skt. Devasanti": ob. 1000).3
This prophecy on the "Chinese" King Hiranyagarbha was well
known in Tibetan literature, having been mentioned by Bu ston in his
Chos 'byung, Dpa' bo gtsug lag phreng ba in his Chos 'byung Mkhas
pa'i dga' stan, and used by the Sde srid Sangs rgyas Rgya mtsho in his
33 Transcription of this passage: 'jam dpal rtsa rgyud las / / rgya yul kun la brten
pa yi / / rgyal po dbyig gi snying zhes bya / / sde chen stobs kyang che ba dang / / slob
dpon rgya che nyid dang ni / / skye bo rtsa lag rab tu mang / / kla klos btud dang rnam
par rgyal / / ston pa 'i bstan pa de gtso byed / / gzhon nu bdag nyid chen po nyid / / de yi
sngags ni rab bsgrubs pa / / mthu ni chen po dang ldan pa'i / / rig pa 'i rgyal po yi ge
brgyad / / dpa' bo che zhes rnam par grags / / phun sum tshogs pa 'i gnas chen yin / / de
yi byis pa 'i blo yis ni / / rgyal sridphyir ni rab smon byas / / gang gis dran pa tsam gyis
ni / / sangs rgyas nyid du nges 'gyur ba / / mi bdag rgyal thabs nyid kyi phyir / / de ni
bskal pa mi nyung 'gyur / / mchog gi sbyin pa bla na med / / bsam pa tsam gyis thob pa
nyid / / tshangs sogs lha rnams thams cad la / / ma Ius lung ni stsol byed na / / lha ngan
phal pa dag dang ni / / mi yi 'jig rten smos ci dgos / /10 ni brgya dang lnga bcur 'tsho / /
grags chen lha yi gnas su 'gro / / chos kyi bdag nyid de mthar gyis / / byang chub dam pa
'thob par 'gyur / / gzhon nus yongs su bshadpa yi / / rig pa 'di ni de yul du / / de ni myur
du 'grub 'gyur gyis / / rig pa gzhan ni nam yang min / / byang chub sems dpa' dpa' bo
che / / 'jam pa 'i dbyangs ni 'od chen po / / mngon sum de yi yul dag na / / byis pa 'i gzugs
kyis bzhugs pa yin / / grub pa 'i zhing mchog dam pa la / / mi ni yongs su sgrub par 'gyur
34 The name Hiranyagarbha is linked to various speculations about the creation of
the universe (see Gonda 1974: 39-54). Later, it became a title of Lha tshangs pa, that is
Brahma (see Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo, 1956a) or any deity associated with the
creation of the world. However, all Indian gods who were assimilated in the Buddhist
pantheon became only mundane gods, secondary devas, or equal to bodhisattvas (see
Ruegg 1964: 83-88, and Regamey 1971). Thus the combined name Brahrna-
Hiranyagarbha (Tshangs pa Dbyig gi snying pa) is to be found in the list of the mundane
gods (liiukika-devas) of the Mahdvyutpatti (edition Sakaki, no. 3115,221).
35 See the Dafangguang pusazang Wenshushili genben yigui jing, which is pre-
served in T. 1191.
160 GUILAINE MALA
Vaidurya dkar po, the three authors having not put into question the
identification of the country named Ci-na in the Sanskrit text with
Therefore, Mgon po skyabs did not innovate, he merely used it as it
was interpreted in the earlier Tibetan translations but he extends the
consequent meaning of it to the maximum by identifying Hiranyagarbha
with the mythical sovereign Fuxi, whom he presents as a historical
V. Royal genealogies: a Buddhicised conception of Chinese rulers
At the beginning of his history of the royal genealogies of China, Mgon
po skyabs (p. 11) explains that the identification of Hiranyagarbha with
Fuxi is quite logical because the latter is said to be the first of the "Three
Sovereigns" (hu 'ang gsum, sanhuang), the "Five Emperors" (dhz lnga,
wudi), and the "Three Kings" (dbang gsum, sanwang), and therefore the
most ancient king of China, and also because Fuxi is said to have had
approximately the same life-span. Mgon po skyabs indicates that as there
are various lists of the sanhuang and wudi, he follows "the statement of
Khung An-kwa" (Khung an kwa'i bzhed pa), because it is the most
widespread tradition (p. 12). This expression designates the preface to
the commentary on the Shujing, that is the Shangshu guwen (The Book
of Historical Documents in Ancient Script), which is traditionally
attributed to Kong Anguo (c.156-c. 74 B.C.E.), a descendant of Confucius,
but which is a forgery dating from the middle of the third century or the
beginning of the fourth ccntury.r? In Chinese history, the introduction of
the Three Sovereigns before the Five Emperors is linked to the evolution
of the theory of Yin- Yang and Five Elements correspondences (Yin- Yang
wuxing shuo), a theory of spatio-temporal correspondences providing a
complete explanation of the universe, which was perfected at the end of
the first century B.C.E. and according to which the Five Elements or
36 On the exploitation by the Chinese authors of the Avatamsaka-siitra literature of
the elaborate confusion between Ci-na (originally designating a region located in the
northwest of India) and Zhina or China, see Lamotte 1960: 3, 54-86. Mgon po skyabs
(1983: 10), in his turn, will exploit the deliberate transfer into China of Mafijusrf's resi-
dence on a Five-Peaked Mount by translating into Tibetan the Chinese version of other
prophecies from the Avatamsaka-sutra.
37 This was demonstrated by Paul Pelliot (1916).
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA 161
phases succeed one another by producing one another.sf Although Mgon
po skyabs follows this tradition, he gives (p. 12) a distorted interpretation
of it to incorporate the Chinese theory within the frame of the Kdlacakra-
tantra by creating a new correspondence matching the Indian Elements.
He had previously managed to transform all Chinese kings into
Dharmarajas from the very beginning of Chinese history firstly by giving
a Buddhicised definition (6-7) of the supreme rulers of the earliest ages
of China, referring for that to ancients texts such as the Ku 'an tsi'i yig
cha (The Writings of Ku'an tsi), designating the Guanzi, an early
politico-philosophical work attributed to Master Guan or Guan Zhong (d.
645 B.C.E.), a famous minister of Duke Huan of Qi (685-643 B.C.E.), one
chief Ba or Hegemon of the Spring and Autumn period.r?
However, the Buddhist slant of the explanations provided by Mgon
po skyabs shows that he does not refer directly to the Guanzi or the
Shangshu guwen, but rather to the commentaries written on them in
Buddhist treatises refuting anti-Buddhist polemics-v and later Chinese
Buddhist compilations, modelled on historical annals, which begin with
Fuxi. These Buddhist compilations of syncretic inspiration, or more
precisely bearing a religious syncretic veneer for a proselytizing purpose,
abound in all sorts of arguments quoted from earlier treatises. In
particular, discussions in accordance with the Guanzi on the potentialities
and the functions of the four different kinds of ancient rulers
(Sovereigns, Emperors, Kings, and Lord Protectors) are to be found in
the Shishiji guliie (see T. 2037, 1.742 b-e).
Moreover, after having related the historical tradition concerning
successively the Three Sovereigns (sanhuang) , the Five Emperors
(wudi) , the Three Kings (sanwang) , and the Five Hegemons or Lord
38 The principle of this quinary cycle is the element wood, which produces fire, fire
produces earth, which produces metal, metal produces water, which again produces
wood. In this system of correspondences, it was held that each dynasty had reigned by
virtue of one of the Five Elements. The conception of the origin of history issued from
this theory which begins with the element wood, is associated with Fuxi. This theory was
expounded for the first time by Liu Xiang (79-8 S.C.E.) and his son Liu Xin (c. 46 S.C.E.-
C.E. 23) according to Ban Gu (32-92), the author of the Qianhanshu (Zhonghua shuju
edition, Beijing 1975,j. 25 B, 1270-1271).
39 In fact, the Guanzi is a composite treatise of politics and economics which con-
sists of disparate essays dating approximatively from the fourth to the second century
S.C.E. See Rickett 1993.
40 See for example the name of Kong Anguo linked to speculations on the spiritual
legacy of the Three Sovereigns and the Five Emperors in the Bianzhenglun (On the Dis-
cussion of the Correct, T. 2110, 2. 502 b) written by the monk Falin (572-640) of the
Tang dynasty, and in Xiangmai's [Zhiyuan] Bianwei lu (T. 2116, 2. 757c 9-10).
162 GUILAINE MALA
Protectors (wuba) of the Chunqiu period (722-481 B.C.E.), Mgon po
skyabs puts an end to all Chinese speculations of the past on ancient
rulers by substituting for them another theory aiming to expound the
Buddhist ideal of statecraft. At the same time, he manages to remain
faithful to Confucius' criterion of excellence by explaining that the good
tradition of Yao and Shun (Yo'u Zhun gyi ring lugs bzang po), the
Confucian models of good rulers, was a guarantee of the longevity of the
State because it bestows love and compassion, apparent blessings and
kindness upon all beings (see 23, 30).
VI. The politico-religious idea ofthe ideal king, the Cakravartin King,
according to the Siitra of Veracious Prophecies (Bden smra lung bstan
(Rgya nag chos 'byung, 31.12-18)
Thus, in the "Sutra of Veracious Prophecies" (Bden smra lung bstan
pa'i mda), it is written: "There are four kinds of kings,  the universal
king (cakravartin-riijai,  the great king (mahii-riija),  the king of
a fortified territory (katta-riija) and  the petty king (miiwjalika-riija).
For the universal kings, treatises are not necessary because all wishes
(bzhed don) come into existence through the power of their own merits.
[But] great kings and others must rely on treatises on the art of ruling
which were written by great r$is.
As Mgon po skyabs indicates in the following chapter of his
chronicle (p. 62), the Den smra lung bstan pa 'i mdo is another name for
the Byang chub sems dpa 'i spyodyul rnam par 'phrul pa bstan pa 'i mdo,
which is the Tibetan translation of the Bodhisattva-gocaropiiya-
visayavikurvdna-nirdesa (Peking edition 813). As he mentions in his
third chapter (199: 18-200.2), there exist two Chinese translations of it.
The first, in three chapters, which was made by Gunabhadra (394-468),
is preserved in T. 271 and has a strong link with the
Mahdbherihdrakaparivarta (Dafagu jing, T. 270), in which advice is
given to kings to become good Dharmarajas, The second, in ten chapters,
41 Transcription of this passage: de yang bden smra lung bstan pa 'i mdo las / rgyal
po rnam pa bzhi ste / 'khor los sgyur ba'i rgyal po dang / rgyal po chen po dang / khams
kyi rgyal po dang / rgyal phran no / de la 'khor los sgyur ba'i rgyal po la ni bstan bcos
mi dgos la bzhed don thams cad rang gi bsod nams kyi mthu las 'byung bas so / rgyal po
chen po la sogs pa rnams ni nges par drang srong chen po dag gis byas pa 'i srid srung
pa 'i bstan bcos la brten dgos / zhes gsungs pa dang ...
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA 163
was made under the Northern Wei dynasty (Bei Wei: 386-534) by
Bodhiruci (T. 272). The passage mentioned above is to be found in the
third chapter, entitled Wanglun pin, of the translation by Bodhiruci (see
T. 272, 3.330 a 23).
Mgon po skyabs could have also chosen another Mahayanist siltra,
such as the Dasacakraksitigarbha-siura (T. 410, 411; Peking 905) to
expound the Buddhist theory of ideal statecraft and organization of
society, but this siitra in particular suits his demonstration better because
it also illustrates Mafijusri's extraordinary powers of adapting teaching to
the capacity of his hearers (upayakausalyay.v:
Mgon po skyabs presents this classification of kings as a gradual
regression of Buddhist achievement, the highest kind of king being the
model of the Indian cakravartin-riija, who rules successfully according
to the Law of the Buddha.O Mgon po skyabs indeed applies this theory
not only to the rulers of the past, but to all Emperors of the history of
China, from the "Shining One," Taihao/Fuxi, to Qianlong, the Manchu
Emperor of his own lifetime. It goes without saying that the Emperors of
the Yuan dynasty as well as those of the Qing dynasty are stressed as
Cakravartin kings (see 56, 59), the latter being also perceived as
bodhisattva Emperors, emanations of Mafijusrl. Being so, they act to
spread wisdom and knowledge of which they are the repository, through
education and welfare.
In his section on the brief history of the Yuan dynasty, a crucial
epoch for Mongol historians, Mgon po skyabs recalled that Qubilai was
nicknamed "Yao-Shun Junior" (Yo 'u Zhun chung ngu) by Chinese
42 It relates the story of the conversion by the Bodhisattva of an influential oppo-
nent of Sakyamuni in the city of Vaisali. For that, Mafijusrf created 500 tirthika-s as his
disciples to infiltrate the circle of followers of a reputed Jainist Master, Mahasatya-
nirgrantha-putra (Dasazhe niqian zi). Pretending to be listening to the latter's heterodox
teaching (waidao) and constantly praising it, Mafijusrf gradually introduced comparisons
with the Buddha's doctrine so that he was finally able to preach openly. As a result, the
Jainist Master himself and all his tirthika followers were converted to Buddhism.
43 In a way, Mgon po skyabs' politico-religious view is closer to that of the Neo-
Confucian Shao Yong (1011-1077), strongly influenced by Buddhism, who presented a
classification of government according to four categories of descending quality:  that
of the Sovereign (huang),  of the Emperor (di),  of the King (wang), and  of the
Lord-Protector or Tyrant (bo or ba), the period of the Three Sovereigns being seen as the
world's golden age: "He who (in his government) employs the principle of non-activity
(wuwei) is a sovereign; who employs kindliness and good faith is an emperor; who em-
ploys justice and correctness is a king; (government) below that of the tyrant is one of
barbarians, and that below the barbarians is one of beasts" (see Fung Yu-lan 1952, vol. 2:
474-75, ch. II, sect. 2, vi; and 710).
164 GUILAINE MALA
people (see Rgya nag chos 'byung, 52). This nickname, being the
composite name of the two Confucian models of virtuous reign, suggests
a continuity with the wisdom of the Chinese rulers of the past and
therefore establishes a bridge between the two Laws (Tib. khrims gnyis,
lugs gnyis), the mundane Law tshijian fa) or temporal law, and the
supramundane Law tchushijian fa) or atemporal and spiritual Law,
which translates the nature of the buddhas. Yet, the combination of the
good laws of the temporal realm and the dharma is precisely what the
"Surra of Veracious Prophecies" (T. 272) really expounds, and that is
also the religio-political ideal of statecraft adopted by Qubilai which the
Qing Emperors in their turn very carefully and genuinely fostered.
In conclusion, we have in this paper an example of the use of a
Tantric prophecy and non- Tantric arguments made by an eighteenth-
century Mongol historian to transform and reinterprete the history of
China in the light of his own Buddhist beliefs. Although clearly inspired
by Chinese Buddhists of the past, Mgon po skyabs successfully manages
to integrate the whole of his demonstration within Indo-Buddhist
doctrinal patterns. His chronicle, filled with numerous prophecies, is a
reflection of his own conception of history, which is the verification and
realization of the Buddha's prophecies. Mgon po skyabs' Rgya nag chos
'byung became and remains the reference par excellence for Mongol
Mgon po skyabs. 1983. Rgya nag chos 'byung. Ch'eng-tu: Si khron mi
rigs dpe skrun khang.
Sum pa Mkhan po. 1959. Dpag bsam ljon bzang. In Lokesh Chandra
(ed.), Dpag bsam-ljon-bzan of Sum-pa-mkhan-po Ye-ses-dpal-hbyor,
Part III: containing a history of Buddhism in China and Mongolia,
preceded by the Re 'u-mig or chronological tables, with a Foreword
by G. Tucci and a preface by L. Petech. Sata-pitaka vol. 8, Bhota-
pitaka vol. 3, New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture.
Thu'u bkwan Blo bzang chos kyi nyi rna. 1989. Thu 'u-bkwan grub
mtha '. Lanzhou: Kan su'u mi rigs dpe skrun khang.
Tshe dbang nor bu, Kah-thog Rig-'dzin. 1973. Selected Writings ofKah-
thog Rig- 'dzin Tshe-dbang-nor-bu. Darjeeling: Kargyud Sungrab
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA 165
Altan-Orgil 1981. Koke qota-yin siim-e keyid (Temples of Koke qota).
Koke qota, obur Mongol-tin arad-un keblel-iin kuriy-e. Inner
Mongolian People's Publishing House.
Banerjee, B. 1999. The Kalacakra School: The Latest Phase of
Buddhism. In N.N. Bhattacharyya and A. Ghosh (eds) Tantric
Buddhism: Centennial Tribute to Dr. Benoytosh Bhattacharyya. New
Delhi: Manohar, 263-267.
Ch' en, K. 1972. Buddhism in China: A Historical Survey. Princeton:
Princeton University Press.
Davidson, R. 1983. The Litany of Names of Mafijusri: Text and
Translation of the Mafijusrinll atnasamgiti. In M. Strickman (ed.)
Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honour of R.A. Stein, vol. I. Paris:
Institut BeIge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises, 1-69.
De long, r.w. 1968. CR de S. Bira, 0 "Zolotoj knige" S. Damdina,
"Studia historica Instituti historiae Academiae scientiarum
reipublicae populi Mongoli," Tomus VI, part I. T'oung Pao 54: 173-
Fung Yu-Ian. 1952. A History of Chinese Philosophy. D. Bodde (trans.)
Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Gonda, J. 1974. Background and Variants of the Hiranyagarbha
Conception. In Studies in Indo-Asian Art and Culture, vol. 3. Sata-
pitaka Series, vol. 209. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian
Hyer P. and S. Jagchid. 1983. A Mongolian Living Buddha: Biography of
the Kanjurwa Khutughtu. Albany: State University of New York.
Imaeda, Y. 1974. Pa-ku-pa 'Phags-pa zo Doshi cho-fukuketsu ni tsuite.
Toyo gakuho 56: 41-48.
Kubota, R. 1931. Shina Judobutsu sankyo shiron. Tokyo.
Lamotte, E. 1960. Mafijusri. T'oung Pao 48: 1-96.
Liu Ts'un-yan and J. Berling. 1982. The 'Three Teachings' in the
Mongol-Yuan Period. In Hok-Iam Chan and W.T. de Bary (eds.)
Yuan Thought: Chinese Thought and Religion Under the Mongols.
New York: Columbia University Press.
Luo Xianglin. 1963. Tangdai wenhua shi. Taibei.
Martin, D. 1997. Tibetan Histories: A Bibiography of Tibetan-Language
Historical Works. London: Serindia Publications.
166 GUILAINE MALA
Matsunaga, Y. 1985. On the Date of the Mafijusrfmulakalpa. In M.
Strickman (ed.) Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honour of R.A. Stein,
vol. 3. Paris: Institut Belge des Hautes Etudes Chinoises, 882-94.
Pelliot, P. 1916. Le Chou king en caracteres ancients et le Chang chou
che wen (planches XX-XXVI). In Memoires concernant L 'Asie
Orientale. Inde, Asie Centrale, ExtrD erne-Orient, vol. II. Paris, 123-
Petech, L. 1983. Tibetan Relations with Sung China and with the
Mongols. In M. Rossabi (ed.) China among Equals: The Middle
Kingdom and its Neighbors, 10th-14th Centuries. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Puckovski, L.C. (ed.) 1960. Ganga yin uruskhal. Moscow.
Regamey, C. 1971. Motifs vichnouites et sivaites dans Ie Kiirandavyuha.
In Etudes tibetaines dediees if la memoire de Marcelle Lalou. Paris:
Rickett, W.A. 1993. Kuan tzu. In M. Loewe (ed.) Early Chinese Texts: A
Bibliographical Guide. Berkeley: University of California Press,
Rinchen, Y. 1974. Sanskrit in Mongolia. In P. Ratnam (ed.) Studies in
Indo-Asian Art and Culture, vol. 3, Sata-pitaka Series: Indo-Asian
Literatures, vol. 209: New Delhi: International Academy of Indian
Roerich, G.  1976. The Blue Annals. Reprint, New Delhi: Motilal
Ruegg, D.S. 1964. Sur les rapports entre le Bouddhisme et Ie 'substrat
religieux' indien et tibetain. Journal Asiatique 252: 77-96.
Smith, E.G. 1968. Introduction. In Lokesh Chandra (ed.) The
Autobiography and Diaries ofSi tu Pan chen. Sata-pitaka Series, vol.
77. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture.
Sorensen, P. K. 1994. Tibetan Buddhist Historiography: The Mirror
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Tucci, G. 1971. Deb ther dmar po gsar ma: Tibetan Chronicles by bSod
nams grags pa, vol. 1. Serie Orientale Roma 24. Rome: Istituto
Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.
Uspensky, V.L. 1985. Gombojab's works. monument of eighteenth-
century Mongolian historiography. Cotchinienia Guna Gombojaba
kak pamiatnik Mongolskoi istoriographii XVIII v. Leningrad.
Zurcher, E. 1959. The Buddhist conquest ofChina. 2 vols. Leiden: Brill.
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA 167
List of Chinese and Japanese names, expressions and quotations arranged
in alphabetical order
Baoyingsheng Pusa JlHiif:.g:«i
Basiba IU!U, var. fg ,E!t fg
Bei Wei :itR
chushijian fa l±11!t rs,)!.
Dafangguang pusazang Wenshushili genben yigui j ing
*:15..:.g: «ii!)(9* gill m
Dai Nihon zokuziikyii *: B (Supplement to the Canon of
Kyoto), Kyoto, 1905-1912.
Dasazhe niqian zi
Fabao zongmulu 5i;.KkI§
Fozu lidai tongzai
Hanqu Fojiao yuanliuji
Imaeda Yoshiro *t IE "Pa-ku-pa 'Phags-pa zo Doshi cho-
fukuketsu ni tsuite" r I'\? 1'\ 'Phags-pa
m: L: J l.,\'r J
168 GUILAINE MALA
Ji qi bianhia. Sui shi er xian. Huo wei shengdi. Huo zuo rulin zhi zong.
Guoshii daoshi. Zaisuo xianhua. Buke chengji
1±PITlJi 1lj 0 l' OJ fi
Jiansheng sita sengni yi guoli minshi shiyi tiao
Jue 'an JlW
Jue dui Fu Yi fei Foja sengshi
Kong Anguo 1L
Kubota Ry60n R Shina Judobutsu sankyo shiron
Li Shiqian yahoa Foxue jian shan xuantan. You ke wen sanjiao youlie. Li
Shiqian yue. Fo ri yeo Dao yue yeo Ru wuxing yeo Shi yiwei zhi fun.
EH:P,o Ji,FI tP,o
[Lichao] Shishi zijian .ali&
[Lidai bianniant Shishi tongjian
Lin Zhaoen ..1gI,
Luo Xianglin ,Tangdai wenhua shi
Minggai B}I a
Sanguang = 7C
A MAHAYANIST REWRITING OF THE HISTORY OF CHINA 169
Sanjiao huibian yaoliie
Sanjiao pingxin lun =
Sanjiao tanlun =
Shangshu guwen ri1iJ ii""i!i" "$I:..
shijian fa t!t rs, 5!
Shishi jigu lite om
Taisho = Taisho Shinshii Daizokyo (Buddhist Canon of
the Taisho Era), Tokyo, 1924-32.
Taizi ruiying benqi jing
Tian Xizai 7C
Wanglun pin .3:.
Wo Shizu Huangdi. Ji gu Fo Shixian zhi yingshen ye
Xumi siyu jing
Yin-Yang wuxing shuo
[Zhiyuan] Bianwei lu
Zhiyuan Fabao kantong zonglu
BDUD 'DUL RDO RJE (1615-1672) AND RNYING MA
ADAPTATIONS TO THE ERA OF THE FIFTH DALAI LAMA
The Rnying rna school was the locus for one of the most striking and
profound cultural transformations that occurred during the era of the
Fifth Dalai Lama. Between the middle of the seventeenth century and the
Dzungar invasions of 1718, the Rnying rna school was marked by the
rise of several large monasteries, the staging of large-scale rituals that
attracted a trans-regional audience of Rnying rna lamas, and the
reawakening of a long dormant tradition of seminary (bshad grwa)
education based on the exegesis of canonical tantras.' This constellation
of three innovations in Rnying rna institutional life
was developed at
Smin grol gling monastery of southern Tibet, founded in 1670 but not
thriving until the tum of the eighteenth century. Smin grol gling's
institutional model of monastic discipline, the ritual arts, and the study of
tantric commentarial literature was emulated in Eastern Tibet and has
I Dalton (2002, esp. chapters four and five) discusses the founding of Smin grol
gling monastery and the creative and laborious work behind the redaction of the liturgies
for these rituals. Dalton (2002: 204) writes that these developments constituted a "reshap-
ing" and "redefinition" of the Rnying rna school. I completely agree, and suggest one
more item to the inventory. Alongside the Rnying rna community-building rituals should
be included seminary studies of Rnying rna canonical tantras and exoteric subjects. The
major early figures in the academic element of the recreation of Rnying rna during the era
of the Fifth Dalai Lama are Lo chen Dharmasri (1654-1717) and 0 rgyan chos kyi grags
pa (b. 1676). Both the ritual and tantric exegetical facets of this reshaping of the school
are based largely in the Rnying rna Bka' ma (canonical tantras and their liturgical and
exegetical corollaries), not the Treasures (gter ma).
2 Kah thog monastery, founded in Khams in 1159 but largely defunct by the rise of
Smin grol gling, also implemented the traditional rules of monastic discipline, and put
into practice a vigorous ritual and study program based on the Bka' mao It was therefore a
likely model for Smin grol gling. One significant difference between the two institutions
is that the religious ethos at Kah thog was characterized by an ambivalence towards
Treasures, whereas Smin grol gling monastery was founded by a Treasure revealer and
promoted a liturgy that embraced both the Bka' ma and the Treasures. Smin grol gling's
great synthesis of the two is encapsulated in their 'Dod jo bum bzang (cf. Gter bdag gling
172 JAN RONIS
characterized much of the Rnying rna tradition until the present.3
However, during the early decades of the Fifth Dalai Lama's reign,
adapting to and exploiting the new social order was by no means an
intuitive or painless process for Rnying rna lamas. The biographical and
historical materials from and about the 1640s and 50s, in fact, narrate
many episodes in which dynamic Rnying rna lamas misread the new
circumstances and missed opportunities for adaptation to the changed
political and religious situations. This essay is a case study of one
individual in such turbulent episodes, focusing on a controversial Rnying
rna figure, gter ston Bdud 'dul rdo rje (1615-1672; his dates correspond
closely with the Fifth Dalai Lama's, 1617-1682).
In this work of microhistory I will highlight the incidents from
Bdud 'dul's life story that illuminate broader dynamics of Rnying rna
institutional life during this pivotal age, with an emphasis on his
reactions to the rapidly evolving circumstances and the missteps and
oversights that occurred along the way.! I intend for this study to
compliment the essays in this volume that focus on the great intellectual
and institutional developments of the mature period of the era of the Fifth
Dalai Lama. My main source materials are Bdud 'dul's official
Biography, written by one of his direct disciples; the Fifth Dalai Lama's
Autobiography, edited and published soon after his passing; and the Gu
bkra chos 'byung, an early nineteenth-century Rnying rna history. This
line of research entails extracting Bdud 'dul from the saintly 'hidden
valleys' of hagiographical representations and focusing on the more
'worldly' aspects of his life as lived in dramatically new religious and
political arenas. I doing so I may represent him as less than a saint, but
certainly much more sympathetically than some of his Tibetan detractors
have. As Carl Bielefeldt (1985: 47) says about his critical portrayal of
Zen master Dagen, "whether or not, once [his life is analyzed according
to secular social history], we shall see him as less of a man for it, we
shall at least begin to see him as a man."
3 Smin grol gling's influence on the Rnying rna monasteries in Khams did not be-
come fully expressed until the nineteenth century, but that in the meantime they were
indebted to Smin grol gling in many ways.
4 However, I will strive to avoid overdetermining Bdud 'dul as an emblematic type,
and acknowledge his idiosyncracies as such.
I. Bdud 'dul Rdo rje's early years
Bdud 'dul Rdo rje was born in 1615 (shing yos)5 in Dngul phu, very near
the capital of Sde dge. In his youth he was ordained as a novice monk
and given the ordination name Kun dga' bsod nams chos 'phags.» His
preceptor was the 'great perfected one' (grub chen) of Sde dge, and
member of the thirty-seventh generation of the Sde dge royal family,
Kun dga' rgya mtsho.? His recognition as a 'perfected one' is evidenced
by the fact that he officiated over all stages of the renovation and
consecration of the Sde dge state monastery Lhun grub steng in the
middle of the seventeenth century. 8 His charismatic and visionary
qualities were likely attractive to Bdud 'dul, who seems to have emulated
them later in life. Kun dga' rgya mtsho's brother was 'Byams pa phun
tshogs (d. 1667), the founder of Lhun grub steng monastery.? At some
point during his early days at Lhun grub steng, Bdud 'dul rdo rje met
with a Rnying rna lama from Kah thog monastery. Bdud 'dul then left
Lhun grub steng to follow him to the vibrant and nearby Rmug sangs
religious center (dgon pa) for Rnying rna training. to This lama's name is
5 Dudjom Rinpoche (1991: 813) and the Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo (1993:
3263) say that he was born in shing yos (1615), whereas Kun bzangs padma blo ldan
(1997: 12.3); Gu ru bkra shis (1990: 566), and 'Jam dbyangs rgyal mtshan (1996: 86) are
in agreement that he was born in me yos (1627). There is a consensus among the texts,
though, about how old he was when he died and the year he died, e.g., age 58 in chu byi
(1672). This affords us with a basis from which to select between the two different dates
offered for his birth. The date of shing yos (1615), found in the former two sources, is
clearly the most reasonable option.
6 Kun bzangs padma blo Idan 1997: 12.5-13.1.
7 Kun dga' rgya mtsho was an ecumenical lama and studied under several eminent
Sa skya and Rnying rna lamas. The Sde dge rgyal rabs (in Kolmas 1968: 90-91) gives the
following list of "tutors" (yongs 'dzin): Sa skya masters 'Jam dbyangs bsod nams dbang
po (1559-1621), Rtse gdong gi bdag chen Kun dga' bsod nams Ihun grub, Sgar chen
Mthu stobs dbang phyug, E warn pa shar chen 'Byams pa kun dga' bkra shis (1558-
1603), and Spyan snga kun dga' don grub; and Rnying rna masters Rig 'dzin 'Ja tshon
snying po (1585-1656), Byang pa Bkra shis stobs rgyal (ca. 1550-1603), 'Khrul zhig
Dbang drag rgya mtsho (Mi 'gyur rdo rje was said to be his reincarnation), and others.
8 Sde dge dgon chen: 22-23. Lhun grub steng was initially founded in the fifteenth
century by Thang stong rgyal po (ca. 1361-1485). For its first two centuries of existence
the institution is best described as a temple rather than monastery.
9 One of the foundational principles of this state monastery was that the abbacy
was to be held by the senior son of the king (Kolmas 1968: 34).
10 Rmug sangs (variously labeled a dgon pa, ri khrod, and sgrub gnas) is located
near Opal yul monastery in cultural Sde dge. It was a hub of Rnying rna and Bka' brgyud
visionary movements in the seventeenth centuries. The most renowned lamas associated
with the center during this time were Karma chags med (1613-1678), Gnam chos Mi
174 JAN RONIS
variously written as Gu ru seng ha, Bya btang Tra ya sing ha, 'Dren pa
dkon mchog rgyal mtshan, A rdo dkon mchog seng ge, and 'Dren pa
Dkon mchog seng ge.
In his early twenties Bdud 'dul traveled to Dbus and Gtsang, taking
the southerly route through Kong po. In Kong po he studied rdzogs chen
with Grub thob Gter ston Bkra shis tshe brten of Lcags sde.t? After an
unstated amount of time Bdud 'dul continued his travels, going as far
west as Sa skya before turning back.t ' He returned to Kong po, and in
Bang ri met the Bka' brgyud-friendly Treasure (gter rna) revealer 'la'
tshon snying po (1585-1656).14 This famous treasure revealer ordered
him to go to Spo bo
heavily forested area of southeast Tibet, and
long a stronghold of treasure activity-to await a prophecy regarding his
destined Treasure revelations. Bdud 'dul's Treasure discovery career
commenced a few years later when he was twenty-eight years-old, and
continued in one form or another until his death at age fifty-eight.
His corpus of textual Treasures is comprised of four major cycles.tv
While meditating at G.yu mtsho rin chen brag in Spo bo at age 28 (app.
1642), Bdud 'dul obtained the registry (kha byang) for his first treasure
cycle, the Dam chos dgongs pa yongs 'dus. The actual excavation of the
Dam chos dgongs pa yongs 'dus cycle took place one or two years later,
also in Spo bo, and involved the participation of his first consort Lha
gcig Padma skyid and attendant 0 rgyan rgya mtsho. Soon after, Bdud
'dul revealed his second Treasure cycle, the Dam chos sprul sku snying
thig, As will be illustrated later in the paper, it proved to be very
controversial later in his life.i? The Dam chos sprul sku snying thig was
'gyur rdo rje (1645-1667), and Kun bzang shes rab (1636-1698). The latter went on to
found Dpal yul monastery in 1665.
11 Sources for these names are, respectively: Kun bzangs padma blo Idan 1997:
13.2,13.4; Gu ru bkra shis 1990: 567; 'Jam dbyangs rgyal mtshan 1996: 83, 86.
12 Kun bzangs padma blo Idan 1997: 13.4. 'Jam dbyangs rgyal mtshan (1996: 87)
calls him Nyang po Bkra shis tshe brten.
13 Kun bzangs padma blo Idan 1997: 13.6-14.1.
14 Gu ru bkra shis (1990: 518) notes that Bkra shis Tshe brten and' Ja' tshon sny-
ing po were treasure masters (chos bdag) of each other's Treasures. 'Ja' tshon snying po,
of course, was also a teacher of Bdud 'dul's first teacher, Kun dga' rgya mtsho.
15 The standard spelling of this toponym is Spo bo, yet a widely used variant of the
name is Spu boo Spu bo is the name of a local zhi bdag (0 rgyan 1986: 1-2). Bdud 'dul's
Biography consistently uses this variant spelling.
16 My source for the next two paragraphs is Bdud 'dul's Biography, esp. the chap-
ter on his Treasure revelation (Kun bzangs padma blo Idan 1997: 21.6-47.4).
17 It was also highly regarded in some later Rnying rna circles and several titles
from it were included in the Rin chen gter mdzod.
BDUD 'DUL RDO RJE 175
found in Tsha ba sgro brag, in the highlands south of Drag g.yab between
the Mekong and Salween Rivers (Rdza chu and Ngom chu, respectively).
On this expedition Bdud 'dul was accompanied by "seven or eight"
disciples. Among them was his new consort, Dpon mo Bsod nams skyid
las. She too was the daughter of a local chief, and they had three children
together (two sons and a daughter). Only a portion of the Dam chos
dgongs pa yongs 'dus was transcribed immediately after its discovery.
The rest of it was committed to writing only later, and at the behest of a
monk visiting them from Dbus.lf
The third of Bdud 'dul's four major cycles of textual Treasures is
the Zab don gsang ba snying thig. He discovered it in Spu ri dwags
rdzong phug, which would appear to be somewhat to the west of Spo boo
The fourth and final major cycle of Treasures that Bdud 'dul rdo rje
discovered during his very productive thirties was excavated in Spu ri
shel gyi yang sgrom. It is called the Tshe yang phur gsum and is focused
on the triad on Amitayus, Heruka, and Vajrakila. The author of the
Biography writes that the Fifth Dalai Lama was notified that he was the
Treasure master (chos bdag) of this cyclc.!? The Fifth Dalai Lama was
apparently interested in this prospect and implored Bdud 'dul to
transcribe the Treasure. The Tshe yang phur gsum was transcribed seven
years later. It is unclear when during these intervening seven years the
Fifth Dalai Lama was contacted about his appointment as the Treasure
Revealer, nor the context of how such contact took place. We will return
later in the paper to the Dalai Lama's own account of his reception of the
Treasures and his evaluation of Bdud 'dul rdo rje.
By the time of his fourth series of Treasures, Bdud 'dul's fame had
spread to his home region of Sde dge. Sometime in his late thirties he
was honored with an invitation to Sde dge from his old teacher, Kun dga'
rgya mtsho, and the monastic hierarch Byams pa phun tshogs.w In 1656,
at the age of forty-two, Bdud 'dul made a triumphant return to Khams,
traveling far and wide around Sde dge. In terms of his participation in the
broader pan-Tibetan religious world, the move to Sde dge was certainly
the greatest professional advancement so far for Bdud 'dul. His presence
in Sde dge was interpreted by the court as fulfilling a prophecy to benefit
the religious and secular spheres of that society.>' The government even
18 Kun bzangs padma blo Idan 1997: 27.1-27.2.
19 Kun bzangs padma blo Idan 1997: 30.4-30.5.
20 Kun bzangs padma blo Idan 1997: ] 5.6-16.2.
21 Gu ru bkra shis 1990: 567.
176 JAN RONIS
sponsored the construction of a temple bearing his name-Bdud 'dul lha
khang-in which rituals were to be performed by Bdud 'dul for the
benefit and protection of the state.
The Sde dge court's embrace of Bdud 'dul harkens back to the
activities surrounding Thang stong rgyal po (ca. 1361-1485) during his
eventful tenure at the Sde dge court in the middle of the fifteenth century.
Thang stong played a crucial role in the migration of the capital to its
present location and the founding of a state temple in Sde dge (Kolmas
1968: 31-32, 88-89). This period of a close partnership between king and
Treasure revealer was the last period of intense growth and regional
power for Sde dge prior to the mid-seventeenth century. It is my
conjecture that the royal powers in Sde dge initially saw Bdud 'dul as a
new Thang stong-like figure with whom they wanted to join forces in
realizing a political and cultural renaissance within the kingdom. This
must be the time period Cuevas (2003: 187) was referring to when he
described Bdud 'dul "a lama of impressive stature in eastern Tibet."23
However, shortly after this high point Bdud 'dul would become persona
non grata in Sde dge.
II. Hostile Welcome in Sde dge
The political situations in Sde dge encountered by these two powerful
Treasure revealers share a similar trajectory of regional strength and
expansionistic agendas. Unfortunately for Bdud 'dul, though, the local
religious culture had changed significantly by his time. Whereas Thang
stongfounded Lhun grub steng temple, Bdud 'dul had to negotiate power
and prestige with Lhun grub steng's newly established monastic
administration and population. During Thang stong's time Sde dge
22 Gu ru bkra shis 1990: 567.
23 Even after the breakdown in Sde dge, Bdud 'dul did remain an "imposing fig-
ure" among Rnying rna lamas in eastern Tibet. Evidence for this is found in the four-
teenth chapter of Mi 'gyur rdo rje's Outer Biography, composed by Karma chags med
(1984: 325.2-355.2). This chapter is a polemical piece that attempts to verify that Mi
'gyur rdo rje is an authentic Treasure revealer. After leaving Sde dge Bdud 'dul came to
the Nang chen and spent time as a teacher of Mi 'gyur rdo rje, living in close proximity to
him. Although Bdud 'dul's tutelage was important to Mi 'gyur rdo rje while he was try-
ing to establish himself as a great Treasure revealer, there was an unintended conse-
quence to their relationship. Because Bdud 'dul was already considered a great Treasure
revealer, his presence near Mi 'gyur rdo rje acted to preclude Mi 'gyur rdo rje's status as
such. Mi 'gyur rdo rje also encountered other objections to his status as a sprul sku and
Treasure revealer, which the chapter also proceeds to counter.
BDUD 'DUL RDO RJE 177
operated out of a Buddhist model of government in which power and
legitimacy derived from the king's relationship to a (frequently non-
monastic) charismatic saint such as a Treasure revealer. In contrast,
during Bdud 'dul's time the royal family shifted it's model of
government to one in which legitimacy and virtue accrued to the ruler
largely through being a major donor to the monastic community.
Granted, Treasure revealers and monks do not embody essentially
opposed modalities of ethics and rituals. To be sure, these two types of
religious specialists were brought together in complimentary ways after
Bdud 'dul's stay in Sde dge. Some degree of competition seems to be
inevitable between them, however. Treasure revealers desiring to
collaborate with the civil and religious administration would have to find
diplomatic and creative ways to fit in to the power structures.
The changes in Buddhist models of governance employed in Sde
dge reflect, and are outgrowths of, changes in the political organization
of the kingdom during the same time period. While Bdud 'dul was
occupied with his vocation as a Treasure discoverer in Southeastern
Tibet and other parts of Khams in the l640-50s, Sde dge had been the
beneficiary of the same international forces that brought the Fifth Dalai
Lama to power in Lhasa. In the prelude to the Dalai Lama's own
irrevocable ascendancy in 1642, the Gushri Khan's (b. 1582) army
actively pursued military targets in Khams. Sde dge seems to have been
singled out from among its neighbors by Gushri Khan to be one of the
main regional powers in eastern Tibet. Stein summarizes these
developments as follows (1972: 82-83), in 1637 Gushri Khan "first
crushed the principality of Beri, in Kham [actually, Dkar mdzas], and
then came to the aid of Derge, which was by now enlarging itself at the
expense of Ling [in the north]."
The increased complexity of Sde dge's geo-politics and
international relations necessitated a restructuring of the government.
Prior to Kun dga' rgya mtsho and Byams pa phun tshogs' generation (the
thirty-sixth in the Sde dge royal line), the king was master of both the
civil administration and the state temple (Kolmas 1968: 34). The
dramatic growth of Sde dge resulting from Gushri Khan's military
support on the eve of the era of the Fifth Dalai Lama led to a planned
bifurcation of the government into secular and religious spheres, with the
former controlled by the king and the latter centered at Lhun grub steng
and controlled by a male of the royal family (Kolmas 1968: 34).
Although even the head monastic authorities of Sde dge wanted Bdud
178 JAN RONIS
'dul to come to the kingdom and found a temple, clearly something more
than just a temple was needed. To adapt a Chinese proverb
situation at hand, a small kingdom can be expanded through the spiritual
support generated by a temple run by a magnetic lama, but once enlarged
the kingdom cannot be governed by such. Without innovating the
traditional forms he was familiar with in Spo bo, Bdud 'dul was destined
to run into strong competition and resistance. As has already been
alluded to, Bdud 'dul did encounter serious problems at the court from
the monks and their supporters.
Soon after arriving in Sde dge, Bdud 'dul had a major falling out
with the authorities and he left the region, never to return. This occurred
within two or three years of his 1656 arrival.z> Gu ru bkra shis (1990:
752) gives the fullest picture of the breakdown. In a section on Kah thog
monastery he writes: "The connections between the Sde dge sa dbang
chen po [U rgyan bkra shis?] and Rig 'dzin Bdud 'dul Rdo rje were
derailed by the perverted rituals and (libelous) reports to authorities by
many ill-intentioned people such as lama Sangs rgyas dpal bzang."26 The
text goes on to mention that this "regretful" tum of events occurred
during the abbacy of Kun dga' phun tshogs, the first abbot of Lhun grub
steng (752). Elsewhere the same text states, "There was a prophesy that
said if the connections between the great king of Sde dge and the
Treasure revealer (Bdud 'dul rdo rje) go well, the majority of Khams will
24 The proverb says, "Empires can be won on horseback but cannot be governed
25 None of the sources say how long Bdud 'dul stayed in Sde dge. An approximate
length of time can be determined, though, by correlating the date of arrival as attested to
in his Biography with mention of his meetings with Mi 'gyur Rdo rje in the latter's Outer
Biography (Karma chags med 1983). As mentioned above, Bdud 'dul arrived in Sde dge
in 1656. This was approximately 15 years after the Sde dge royal family had been given
the military support of Gushri Khan (at the request of the Great Fifth) to expand its do-
minion in the area. I propose that the problems between him and his Sakya enemies were
acute within 2 years of his arrival in 1656 and that he must have left the area by 1659 at
the latest, but probably in 1658. Bdud 'dul and Mi 'gyur rdo rje became very close in
Nangchen and it is clear that they spent more than a few months together. Mi 'gyur rdo
rje went into a three-year retreat with Karma Chags-med in 1660, and it is thus safe to
assume that Bdud 'dulleft Sde dge at least a year before then.
26 Gu ru bkra shis 1990, 752: de yang sde dge sa dbang chen pol rig 'dzin bdud
'dul rdo rje gnyis/ bla ma sangs rgyas dpal bzang sogs mi bsrun pa 'i blo can mang po
zhig gis log sgrub dang snyan phra la brten rten 'brei gzhan dbang du gyur pa. There is a
lama Sangs rgyas dpal bzang among the 39th generation of the Sde dge royal family, but
he had probably not even been born while Bdud 'dul was in Sde dge. Nonetheless, the
lama Sangs rgyas dpal bzang mentioned in this passage was obviously of some stature in
the state church.
BDUD 'DUL RDO RIE 179
come under the control of Sde dge. Yet because the connections were
derailed, the great king's religious policies suffered slightly."27 So
thoroughly was Bdud 'dul vilified, in fact, that he was written out of the
Sde dge rgyal rabs, the early nineteenth-century state-sponsored royal
genealogy.28 This text passes over Bdud 'dul's generation, going directly
from 'Ja' tshon snying po to Klong gsal snying po (1625-1692); in other
words, from Bdud 'dul's teacher to his disciple (Kolmas 1968: 91).
What was the basis for this conflict between the two parties, Bdud
'dul and the Sde dge state church? I contend that this happened in large
measure because he failed to make himself institutionally relevant, which
left him open to attack from the monks. Given that he had been living in
much smaller communities (based in Spo bo) for the preceding decades,
perhaps a lack of political refinement and diplomatic skill on Bdud 'dul' s
part contributed to his rapid downfall. Nevertheless personal
idiosyncrasies were not the sole cause for the friction between him and
the monks and their supporters in Sde dge. Rather, Bdud 'dul, the
consummate lay tantrist with numerous wives and children, had the
unenviable job of trying to work as a team with a new monastery that
was busy solidifying its role in government and society. As was
suggested above, Sde dge had outgrown the old model of governance in
which a lama similar to Bdud 'dul was the chief ritualist for the court.
The onus was thus on Bdud 'dul to adapt to the changed circumstances
by innovating a new type of institution that could better address the
needs of the government. In other words, his lha khang was no longer a
sufficient basis for assisting the "great king's religious policies" (sa
dbang chen po 'i bstan jus). If Bdud 'dul was to fully realize this
prophesy then something more was demanded of him. It would seem
then, that Bdud 'dul did not adapt quickly enough and therefore, being
more numerous and closely connected to the court, as well as more
consonant with the broader religio-political paradigm ushered in by the
Fifth Dalai Lama and favored by the Mongolians, the monks gained the
upper hand and drove Bdud 'dul out of Sde dge.
27 Gu ru bkra shis 1990, 568: sde dge sa dbang chen po dang gter chen 'di gnyis
rten 'brei legs lam du gyur na mdo smad phal cher sde dge'i mnga' »s tu 'du ba'i lung
bstan yod kyang/ rten 'brei gzhan dbang du gyur pas sa dbang chen po 'i bstan jus la
cung zad gnod.
28 This text was composed by Byams pa kun dga' sangs rgyas bstan pa (b. 1786) of
the forty-third generation of the Sde dge royal family. This text is edited and introduced
in Kolmas 1968.
180 JAN RONIS
Support for my claim that Bdud 'dul faced significant sectarian-
driven resistance in Sde dge can be found in the historical accounts about
the relationship between Bdud 'dul's main student and subsequent abbots
of Lhun grub steng. Klong gsal snying po was Bdud 'dul's most famous
disciple and a Treasure revealer in his own right. Gu ru bkra shis (1990:
752-53) reports that the Lhun grub steng abbot Sangs rgyas bstan pa
(brother of Kun dga' phun tshogs) sent high-level envoys (bang mi sku
tshab sags) to Klong gsal snying po to apologize for Bdud 'dul's
mistreatment in Sde dge and to invite Klong gsal to come and continue
the work of his (presumably now deceased) master. An indignant Klong
gsal initially refused. After some time Klong gsal was instructed by
dakinis to go and thereby accepted an appointment as the king's chaplain
idbu'i mchod gnas), which he carried out without incident. Monastic vs.
Treasure revealer, or Rnying rna vs. Sa skya, conflicts at the Sde dge
court did continue to occasionally flare up in subsequent times. The
debacle with Bdud 'dul was not, therefore, an isolated event and a pattern
of monastic vs. Treasure revealer hostility can be perceived for much of
subsequent Sde dge cultural history. The most notorious of later conflicts
was the murderous "open civil rebellion" of the late eighteenth century
that erupted in response to the regent's lavish patronage of 'Jigs-med
gling-pa (1730-98; Smith 2001: 25).
Klong gsal also went to Kah thog monastery, but unlike Bdud 'dul
he spent a sustained period of time rebuilding it with state funds.s? At its
founding in the middle of the twelfth century Kah thog "Yas a disciplined
monastery and maintained a thriving study program for approximately
three centuries, yet had fallen into serious disrepair by the seventeenth
century. Klong gsal perceived an opportunity at Kah thog and was able
to help the monastery be reborn into a lay community centered on his
Treasures. De dge was pleased with the revival of this cultural and
economic institution, Klong gsal benefited from having a prestigious
home for his tradition, and sentient beings were served. If Bdud 'dul had
done something similar then he would not have run into serious trouble
in Sde dge, even if he did have some personality issues. The sponsorship
of large, new Rnying rna dgon pa by the court actually continued
unabated through the end of the seventeenth century. About the same
time as Klong gsal's tenure at Kah thog, Dpal yul was built (1665) in the
next valley over, then Rdzogs chen dgon pa in 1685. These three
monasteries became vital to the broader monasticisation of Rnying rna
29 'Jam dbyangs rgyal mtshan 1996: 89.
BDUD 'DUL RDO RJE 181
traditions over the next two centuries in central and Eastern Tibet. One
wonders if Bdud 'dul simply failed to see that his paltry renovation
efforts at Kah thog could have been, with more effort, on the vanguard of
an emerging trend in Sde dge religious culture.
111. Prophesies and Miscalculations Regarding the Fifth Dalai Lama
The previous problem was bound up with institutional issues, especially
innovation and sectarian competition. The problem to be covered in this
section is also about a problem faced by lamas that were active on the
cusp of the Dalai Lama's ascension to power and the social changes that
ensued from it. It is about the initial reactions to his ascension and how
to reconcile with him if you had previously opposed his regime, as Bdud
'dul had. Coincidentally, or not, Bdud 'dul's Treasure discovery career
began within months of the Fifth Dalai Lama's ascendancy (i.e., his
twenty-eighth year in approximately 1642). The tension and liminal
quality of the time may even have contributed to Bdud 'dul's visionary
experiences. What is certain, though, is that in his early Treasures Bdud
'dul made critical comments about the Fifth Dalai Lama's regime and
mourned the Karma pa's dcfeat.w
Prophesies purportedly spoken by Padmasambhava in the eighth
century were the medium through which Bdud 'dul voiced his
denunciation of current events)! Bdud 'dul may have felt emboldened to
criticize the Dalai Lama because he did not think that his new regime
would endure. After six or seven years, though, Bdud 'dul had a change
of heart about the new government-perhaps because he realized that
they were going to maintain their grasp on power-and desired to work
together with the new regime. Rather than merely desisting from
criticizing the Dalai Lama in all of his later Treasures, Bdud 'dul instead
made a blatant about face on the matter and began to praise the Dalai
Lama and denigrate the Karma pa. The Dalai Lama became aware of this
30 Bdud 'dul usually had good relations with Bka' brgyud lamas. His teacher 'Ja'
tshon snying po was a tantric preceptor of the tenth Karma pa. After leaving Sde dge
Bdud 'dul became close with Karma chags med, who was closely connected with the
Karma Bka' brgyud school.
31 Treasure cycles usually include a title, narrated by Padmasambhava, that de-
scribes in graphic detail natural and military catastrophies that will beset Tibet in the
future, and which the Treasures will respond to. Janet Gyatso (1998: 151) writes, "The
Treasure prophesies often describe the wars and political upheavals of such moments [of
revelation], their traumas somehow to be alleviated by the new religious practices intro-
duced by the Treasure scripture."
182 JAN RONIS
duplicity and his public condemnations of Bdud 'dul all but closed the
doors of the central Tibetan centers of power to Bdud 'dul.
In an entry dated to the year 1658
(sa khyi) the Great Fifth notes in
his Autobiography that, at an earlier date, the De mo hu thog thu sent
Bdud 'dul' s second Treasure cycle, Dam chos sprul sku snying thig, to
De mo' s nephew Dbon po)3 It would seem that this transaction was an
act of intelligence gathering about 'the resistance.' De mo asked the
Dalai Lama whether its origins were legitimate or not (khungs btsun mi
btsun) and he responded that these treasures "are nothing to get very
excited about" (ha cang gi ya mtshan rgyu mi 'dug). The Dalai Lama
was curious about passages in the prophecies (lung bstan) section of this
Treasure cycle that seemed to sympathize with several of the Dalai
Lama's archrivals and criticize the Dge lugs pas. In his autobiography he
cites directly from the Sprul sku snying thig's Lung bstan 'od kyi drwa
A Treasure master (chos bdag) of the ultra secret root will appear as
follows: ...(at a time when) the commitments have degenerated to their
lowest point, the nine classes (of demons) will create conditions such
that the one with the famous name Karma wanders the nation. May this
protector of the Land of Snows be appointed (with the throne)! "34
Neither was it lost on the Fifth Dalai Lama that the prophecies also
eulogize two other adversaries of his, Sa skya Bdag chen Mthu stobs
Dbang phyug (b. 1588) and 'Brug pa gdung brgyud Ngag dbang mam
rgyal (1594-1651). The Great Fifth also cites from a prophecy of Bdud
'dul's that condemns Tsong kha pa.3
Subsequent to seeing these early Treasure texts of Bdud 'dul's,
Bdud 'dul himself sent the Dalai Lama a copy of his Tshe yang phur
gsum, notifying the Dalai Lama that he was its Treasure master. The
prophesies section of this cycle reflect Bdud 'dul' s reversal of opinion
32 This is likely the year that Bdud 'dulleft Sde dge.
33 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 514.
34 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 514: lung bstan gyi 'od grar/ yang
gsang rtsa ba'i chos bdag 'di ltar 'byung: mchog dbyangs rnam sprul gangs can mtsho:
'dzam gling lha mi kun gyi rgyan gyur pa: dam nyams mthil phyin sde dgus rkyen byas
nas: ming snyan karma'i mtshan can rgyal khams myul: gangs can mgon po de la gtad
rgya gyis. The version of this passage found in Bdud 'dul rdo rje's Lung bstan 'od gyi
drwa ba (Bdud 'dul rdo rje, vol. 3: 350.5-351.2) is nearly identical.
35 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 520.6-521.1. Again, the text is almost
verbatim with the original passage in Bdud 'dul's Lung bstan 'od gyi drwa ba (Bdud 'dul
rdo rje, vol. 3: 330.4-330.6).
BDUD 'DUL RDO RJE 183
about the Fifth Dalai Lama. In now lauding the Dalai Lama and turning
his back on the Karma pas, Bdud 'dul was apparently trying to ingratiate
himself to the new ruler of Tibet and his court. The Dalai Lama was a
discerning judge of character and an astute textual scholar, and these
inconsistencies were not lost on him. The Dalai Lama thus dismissively
mentions that Bdud 'dul claims him to be the treasure master of this
cycle,36 without even an explicit rejection of the notion.t? He closes the
section on Bdud 'dul by saying, "Because of the contradictions I became
convinced from the depths of my heart he is a hypocritical fabricator of
This episode contains an element of tragic irony. The Dalai Lama
did reconcile with the Karma pa camp sometime between 1653 and
1658)9 Bdud 'dul's Biography says that the Tshe yang phur gsum was
transcribed when Bdud 'dul was approximately 38 years old, in about
1653. At this time Bdud 'dul was apparently still unaware that the Dalai
Lama was interested in a settlement with the Karma pa. One wonders if
waiting a few years would have tempered the "hypocritical" tone of the
prophesies Bdud 'dul composed for the Dalai Lama's consumption. In
periods of rapid political and social change it is extremely difficult to
anticipate what is coming next and to accurately perceive the
implications of emerging trends.
36 Kun bzangs padma blo ldan 1997: 30.4-30.5.
37 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 515.
38 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 1989: 515: zog po gter rdzus mkhan du nges
shes gting nas 'drongs teo This humiliating portrayal of Bdud 'dul was now part of the
public record (published in the 1690s), and some Rnying rna historians actually acknowl-
edged the controversy. Gu ru bkra shis (1990: 569) says "rten 'brei 'ga' zhig gi bab las
phebs par ma shar bas kun mkhyen Inga pa rin po che thugs cung zad ma rangs pa'i
gsung sgros rnam thar du yod. " He then goes on to downplay the problem by saying that
some dignitaries in Central Tibet still wished to be in contact with Bdud 'dul. [n his Nor
bu'i do shal, Kun bzang nges don klong yangs (1976: 300.2-300.4) also acknowledges
the problem, but is more apologetic. The author at first downplays the issue by merely
saying that there were "various inconclusive anecdotes" (ngag rgyun ma nges sna tshogs)
about Bdud 'dul, but then goes on to give the volume letter of the Dalai Lama's Autobi-
ography in which this episode is covered. Understandably, 'Jam mgon Kong sprul's Gter
ston brgya rtsa paints Bdud 'dul in a very inspiring light and completely ignores the
39 The reconciliation was brokered by Tshur phu's Rgyal tshab rin po che. Because
the Karma pa was deep in the frontier territories of Yunnan at the time, the actual meet-
ing between the Karma pa and the Fifth Dalai Lama did not occur until 1674 (Richardson
1998: ch. 50).
184 JAN RONIS
IV Bdud 'dul's Latter Years and Conclusion
What became of the lamas who did not adapt to the new social and
cultural matrices that emerged out of the mid-century political changes in
Kham and Central Tibet? In Bdud 'dul' s case, after being shut out of Sde
dge and Lhasa he returned to his old haunts, to the mandala in which he
learned his trade and was best suited; namely, small-scale political
entities in rural and wilderness areas. He thus lived out the rest of his life
in southeastern Tibet, primarily Spo bo and Padma bkod (in Kong po). In
this stage of his vocation he dramatically reduced his discovery of textual
treasures, but redoubled efforts at opening hidden valleys.w
The most well known of the hidden valleys Bdud 'dul worked in
was Padma bkod. Franz-Karl Erhard writes, "The seventeenth century
was ... the particular period in which the sacred site of Gnas Padma-bkod
was systematically visited by treasure discoverers of the Rnying-rna-pa
school." But why was this a time of such intensive activity? Based on
what we have seen of the vicissitudes of Bdud 'dul's life, it can be
concluded that at least some of the lamas that were exploring and
inhabiting hidden valleys in Southern and Southeastern Tibet in the
seventeenth century were there as exiles. They were not spiritual
refugees fleeing the incursion of politics into their communities, but
religious leaders who had tried to get ahead in regional centers of power
and were unsuccessful.
In many ways Bdud 'dul rdo rje is quite a sympathetic character.
The lost opportunities in Sde dge and Lhasa-the result of both historical
accident and political naIvete-limited his horizons and did not allow
him to fully express his ambitions and creativity. He died early, at age
fifty-eight, in contravention of a well known prophesy that he was to go
to Smar khams and live until age eighty-three. There likely were many
other lamas that also had a difficult time adjusting to the new social and
religious circumstances in Kham and Central Tibet that ensued from the
40 In this stage of his life Bdud 'dul did continue to discover Treasure texts. After
his return to Spo bo, though, the Biography reports that his son acted as his surrogate
revealer (spyan tshah). This task involved taking the "yel1ow scrolls" (shag ser) discov-
ered by his father and developing them into texts ready for liturgical use by Bdud 'dul's
spiritual community. The Biography (Kun bzangs padma blo Idan 1997: 34.5, 36.6) indi-
cates that Rgyal sras acted in this manner on more than one occasion. Some "yel1ow
scrolls," though, never were transcribed, and stil1 others were assigned to Rgyal sras but
their transcription was stil1outstanding even after Bdud 'dul's death (Kun bzangs padma
blo Idan 1997: 37.4, 50.5).
BDUD 'DUL RDO RJE 185
Great Fifth's rise to power. As I have shown above, the problems they
faced were increased sectarian conflict in which 'old-fashioned' Rnying
rna Treasure revealers are caught off guard and slow to adapt, as well as
suffering long-term banishment from the Dalai Lama's court for offenses
committed very early on in his rise to power. More research remains to
be pursued on the early years of this epochal age of Tibetan politics,
society, and religion. One of the most pressing gaps in our knowledge
about this time period concerns the political and ideological dynamics
involved in the explosive growth in Khams of large Rnying rna dgon
pa-some of which were monastic, others lay dominated-in the last
third of the seventeenth century.
Bdud 'dul rdo rje, Spo bo gter ston (1615-1672). 1997. Collected
revelations and writings of Spo bo Gter ston Bdud 'dul rdo rje of
Kab thog. 12 vol.
Kun bzangs padma blo ldan, Stags ras pa (seventeenth century). Rig
'dzin grub pa'i dbang phyug bdud 'dul rdo rje'i rnam thar gter
'byung mdor bsdus pa dad pa 'i mchod stong. In Bdud 'dul rdo rje
1997, vol 10, 1-54.
Gter bdag gling pa (1646-1714) et al. 1972. Sgrub thabs 'dod 'jo bum
bzan : a collection ofNyingmapa sadhanas. New Delhi: B. Jamyang
Gu ru bkra shis (eighteenth century.). 1990. Bstan pa'i snying po gsang
chen snga 'gyur nges don zab mo chos kyi byung ba gsal bar byed
pa'i legs bshad mkhas pa dga' byed ngo mtshar gtam gyi rol mtsho.
Beijing: krung go'i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang.
'Jam dbyangs rgyal mtshan (1929-2001). 1996. Rgyal ba Kah thog pa 'i
10 rgyus mdor bsdus. Ch'engtu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang.
Karma chags med (1613-1678). 1983. Mi 'gyur rdo rje'i rnam thar (Full
title: Sprul sku mi 'gyur rdo rje 'i phyi 'i rnam thar kun khyab snyan
pa'i 'brug sgra) In Collection des tresors / reveles par Gnam-chos
Mi- 'gyur-rdo-rje. 13 vol. Bylakuppe, Mysore, India: Perna Norbu
Kun bzang nges don klong yangs. 1976. Bod du byung ba 'i gsang sngags
snga 'gyur gyi bstan 'dzin skyes mchog rim byon gyi rnam thar nor
bu 'i do shal: a concise history of the Nyingmapa tradition of Tibetan
Buddhism. Dalhousie: Damchos Sangpo
186 JAN RONIS
Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, Fifth Dalai Lama. (1617-1682). 1989.
Za hor gyi ban de Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 'i 'di snan
'khrul ba'i rol rtsed rtogs brjod kyi tshul du bkod pa du ku la'i gos
bza. 3 vol. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang.
o rgyan et al. 1986. Spo bo'i 10 rgyus [=Spo bo rdzong 10 rgyus cha legs
sgrig tsho chung gis bsgrigs.] Lhasa: Bod-ljongs mi-dmangs dpe-
Sde dge rgyal rabs [=Dpal sa skyong sde dge chos kyi rgyal po riim byon
gyi rnam thar dge legs nor bu 'i phreng ba 'dod dgu rab 'phel]. In
Bielefeldt, C. 1985. Recarving the Dragon: History and Dogma in the
Study of Dagen. In W. La Fleur (ed.) Dagen Studies. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, 21-53.
Cuevas, B.J. 2003. The Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
New York: Oxford University Press.
Dalton, J.P. 2002. The Uses of the Dgongs pa 'dus pa'i mdo in the
Development of the Rnying-ma School of Tibetan Buddhism. Ph.D.
dissertation, University of Michigan.
Dudjom Rinpoche and J. Y. Dorje (eds) 1991. The Nyingma School of
Tibetan Buddhism, Volume One. G. Dorje with M. Kapstein (trans.)
Boston: Wisdom Publications.
Gyatso, J. 1998. Apparitions ofthe Self: The Secret Autobiographies ofa
Tibetan Visionary. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kolmas, J. 1968. A Genealogy of the Kings of Derge: Sde-dge'i Rgyal-
rabs. Tibetan text edited with historical introduction. Prague:
Publishing House of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences.
Richardson, H. 1998. High Peaks, Pure Earth: Collected Writings on
Tibetan History and Culture. M. Aris (ed.) London: Serindia
Smith, E.G. 2001. Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the
Himalayan Plateau. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
Stein, R.A. 1972. Tibetan Civilization. Stanford, CA: Stanford University
RITUAL, FESTIVAL AND AUTHORITY UNDER
THE FIFTH DALAI LAMA
Kurtis R. Schaeffer
On April 14th of 1695 the desiccated body of the Fifth Dalai Lama was
removed from the wooden box in which it had been placed twelve years
earlier on April 8th 1682, the day after his death.! Wrapped in silk and
cotton, packed with cinnamon, saffron, camphor, and salts, his body had
mummified since during these years. It was now time to install it in the
sixty- foot tall golden reliquary housed within the recently completed Red
Palace of the Potala.2 Known as the Single Ornament of the World, the
stilpa was to form an essential part of both ritual and political life within
the Potala, around Lhasa, and throughout Tibet. At least this is what
Sangye Gyatso worked toward when he began a major series of writings
dedicated to ensuring the Fifth Dalai Lama and his remains just such a
Sangye Gyatso (1653-1705), the fifth and most important regent of
the Tibetan government founded in 1642 under the Fifth Dalai Lama,
was a prolific writer during his twenty-four years as ruler. He was
perhaps the most influential writer on secular arts and sciences that Tibet
produced up to the seventeenth century, and most likely since. From his
early 1681 work on governance to his 1703 history of medicine, he
touched on subjects as varied as language arts, building techniques, the
politics of ritual, funeral rites, astrological and calendrical theories,
methods of healing, and rules for court servants.
It has been suggested that in all of these areas Sangye Gyatso sought
to assert control in various areas of public religious and intellectual life.
Two of Sangye Gyatso's writings from the mid-1690s serve well as entry
points to the larger project of assessing his role in and contribution to the
1 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Mchod, p. 247.9. Sangs rgya rgya mtsho, Drin ... bzhi pa,
ff. 160b-161a; Ahmad 1998: 275; Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Pur, foJ. 16a.2. For a recent
sketch of the Fifth Dalai Lama's life and works, see Schaeffer 2005. For a more detailed
study of the Fifth Dalai Lama's remains, see Schaeffer forthcoming.
2 See Meyer 1987 and Chayet 2003 for general surveys of the Potala's
188 KURTIS R. SCHAEFFER
development of Tibetan and Buddhist culture after the founding of the
Ganden Government in 1642. In Tales for the New Year Sangye Gyatso
argues that the New Year is an appropriate time to commemorate the
Dalai Lama. In the Lhasa Circumambulation Survey, he prescribes fixed
routes for circumambulating the Fifth Dalai Lama's stupa, the Potala,
and even Lhasa itself. I would like to propose that, while the stated
purpose of the the Lhasa Survey may have been to establish new
pilgrimage routes, the primary effect of this and other related writings
was to establish the legitimate authority of the Ganden Government's
rule over Tibet. The principle means employed in these writings to do
this were the memorialization of the Fifth Dalai Lama and the re-
formation of classical Buddhist traditions of practice and myth in a new
Tibetan context. The principle object symbolizing this authority was no
less than the Fifth Dalai Lama's reliquary.
Sangye Gyatso's literary activities between 1693 and 1701 were
almost entirely concerned with the Fifth Dalai Lama's life, his death, and
his legacy. It is truly impressive just how much writing the regent
devoted to to extolling the greatness of his master, the Ganden
Government, and the Gandenpa School. In all he devoted more than
seven thousand pages to extolling the Fifth Dalai Lama from a variety of
perspectives.3 Sangye Gyatso's writing efforts during these few years
were not random, but almost certainly connected with the 1695
installation of the Fifth Dalai Lama's remains in the great stupa, the
completion of the Potala's Red Palace in which the stiipa was housed,
and the enthronement of the Sixth Dalai Lama in 1697.
1. Sangye Gyatso 's Tales for the New Year
Sangye Gyatso wrote Tales for the New Year, a minor part of this large
body of work, at the request of two close contemporaries in the Potala
court who wanted teachings glorifying the Fifth Dalai Lama.s He
3 See the Appendix for a discussion of Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho's writings about the
Fifth Dalai Lama.
4 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Rgyal, fol. 46a. See also Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho,
Drin ... drug pa, fol. 204a.6. The colophon states that this work was composed in 1694.
Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Rgyal, fol. 46b: phan pa 'i ched nag po 'gro shes su bkod pa 'i
tshig nyung la 'bel gtam smra ba'i don gyi Ide mig 'di ni / gzhung lugs mgrin lam 'degs
par ngag skyon du mas gnang bar gyur na 'ang / sor rtser len pa'i spobs pa gzengs su
mtho ba sa (int. omitted) ra (int. omitted}? ming can gyis rab nyi'i dngos po 'i 10 (1694)
dbyu gu zla ba'i dmar cha'i bzang po gsum pa nyi ma me bzhi'i 'grub sbyor nas nyin
phyed gsum du grub par sam shog ci rigs par sug bris su bgyis pa sho las du 'bebs mi
RITUAL, FESTIVAL, AND AUTHORITY 189
organizes his presentation of his master within the common rubric of the
five perfections: 1. place, 2. teacher, 3. retinue, 4. time, and 5. teaching.'
These teachings on the five perfections are all characterized as "tales"
conducive to liberation to be contemplated at the New Year. Such tales
were performed by Sangye Gyatso's associates at New Year's festivals
in the Potala throughout the 1690s, and it is possible that Sangye
Gyatso's work was a sort of handbook for such performances.«
In an entertaining bit of commentarial flourish, Sangye Gyatso
begins with perhaps the most recognizable phrase in Buddhist literature,
"Thus at one time did I hear this speech." He breaks this phrase, which
(ideally at least) begins all sutras and tantras, into five components, each
corresponding to one of the five excellences. "This speech" ('di skad) is
the excellent teaching, "I" or "by me" (bdag gis) is the excellent retinue,
"heard" (thos pa) refers to the excellent teacher, and "one time" (dus
gcig) is of course the excellent time. Finally, the locative particle "at"
(na) connotes the excellent place.?
In the case of the Fifth Dalai Lama the five perfections, and by
extension the first words of every sutra, refer to the following: The
perfect place is the Pota1a palace, and in particular the Dalai Lama's
stupa within the Potala. This place Sangye Gyatso likens to the site of the
Buddha's enlightenment, Vajrasana, which it has in fact surpassed as the
greatest Buddhist land since the Turks brought an end to the tradition in
India. The perfect teacher is the Fifth Dalai Lama himself, who has been
prophesied in countless treasure texts as the embodiment of
Avalokitesvara. Because of his close connection with the Fifth Dalai
Lama, Sangye Gyatso also includes himself in the category of perfect
teacher. He assures the reader that, like the Fifth Dalai Lama, the young
regent was also prophesied to be the ruler of Tibet in treasure texts, a
notion, incidentally, which goes back at least to 1679, when the Fifth
Dalai Lama referred to just such a prophecy in his public decree
phaf cher cha dkar ba pad ma bsod nams kyis bgyis pa sar ba jag a ta II II There are,
however, reasons to suspect that it was completed after this.
5 Phun sum tshogs pa fnga. There is no topical outline in the text, as is the case
with many of Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho's writings. The structure of the work is as follows:
Opening verses Ib-2b.2; Introduction 2b.2-8a.5; I. Perfect Place (gnas) 8a.5-21b.l ; 2.
Teacher (ston pa) 21b.I-34a.2; 3. Assembly (zhu ba po 'am 'khor) 34a.2-35b.6; 4. Time
(dus) 35b.6-40a.4; 5. Teaching (chos) 40a.4-45a.6; Concluding verses 45a.6-b.5;
Colophon 45b.5-46a (incomplete: missing 46b).
6 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Drin ... fnga pa, fo1. 313b.6; Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho,
Drin ... drugpa, ff. Ib.4, 41a.3; 76a.3; 204b.4, etc.
7 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Rgyaf, fo1. 8a.
190 KURTIS R. SCHAEFFER
appointing Sangye Gyatso as regent. 8 The perfect retinue is Gushri Khan
(1582-1655), the "dharma king" under whom all ranks of government
were said to be happy. Finally, the perfect teachings are of course the
collected written works of the Fifth Dalai Lama and Sangye Gyatso, as
well as the public teachings and ceremonies held by the Dalai Lama,
including his twenty-two yearly performances as master of the Great
The perfect time is the era of the Fifth Dalai Lama, and in particular
the Wood-hog year (1695) in which his remains were placed in the
Single Ornament Stupa. Here Sangye Gyatso discusses the various
traditions of establishing the start of the New Year.? According to a
series of elaborate calculations only mentioned in the present work but
developed in other works, the advent of the new year at the beginning of
the lunar calendar coincides with certain principal events in the life of the
Buddha as well as both Tsongkhapa and the Fifth Dalai Lama. It is
therefore an auspicious occasion on which to celebrate the reign of the
Ganden Government through festivals around the Potala.iv In more
practical terms, Sangye Gyatso notes that since people are already
assembled around Lhasa for New Year it is a convenient occasion to
gather people together at the Potala.U He concludes the work with a
series of quotes illustrating the unbroken tradition of New Year
celebrations among the Gandenpa hierarchs.
II. The Lhasa Circumambulation Survey
Like Tales for the New Year, the Lhasa Circumambulation Survey of
1697-the second work under consideration here-was also composed at
the request of a specific audience, in this case three people who were
either guests or members of the Potala court, including the caretaker of
the Fifth Dalai Lama's stupa.t? The central purpose of the work was to
8 See Richardson 1998: 445.
9 Anonymous, Bod, entry 240 (6]), lists seven different dates upon which the New
Year is said to begin.
10 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Rgyal, fol. 43b.
II Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Rgyal, fol. 40a.
12 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Mchod sdong 'dzam gling rgyan gcig gtso bor, fol.
110a-b: mchod sdong chen po 'i dkon gnyer sgo mangs rab 'byams pa ngag dbang dar
rgyas / smad rams blo bzang sbyin pa gnyis dang / stod lung rgya legs pa rta mgrin
dbang phyug [11Ob] gis 'bad pa chen pos skor tshad dgos tshul gyi bskul ma byung bas I
Sgo mang Rab 'byams pa Ngag dbang dar rgyas and Smad rams Bl0 bzang sbyin pa are
both mentioned at Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Kha skong, v. 3, fol. 229b3. See Sangs rgyas
RITUAL, FESTIVAL, AND AUTHORITY 191
fix select circumambulation routes in Lhasa. This Sangye Gyatso
accomplishes in about five pages toward the end of the work. For fully
one hundred pages before this, however, he mounts a case for the
supreme importance of the Fifth Dalai Lama's stiipa. Just as the
Buddha's seat of enlightenment lay at the center of the cardinal
directions in India, so does the Single Ornament Stiipa lie at the center of
Tibet. As in Tales of the New Year, Sangye Gyatso employs a set of
themes under which to extol the greatness of the stupa. In the Lhasa
Circumambulation Survey, however, he creates his own set of thirteen
excellent qualities, including location, time, craftsmen, construction
materials, reliquary contents, consecration ceremonies, and patronage.t?
In contrast to the five perfections, Sangye Gyatso explicitely states that
this larger scheme, while based upon scriptural authorities, was his own
creation-an unusual claim in an otherwise conservative literary
tradition. 14 These thirteen excellent qualities in fact form the basis of his
catalog of the Single Ornament Stiipa, where each topic is extensively
In the later part of the Lhasa Circumambulation Survey the benefits
of circumambulating both temples and cities are spelled out in the full
range of authoritative sources, from sutras to tantras to recent treasure
texts. Sangye Gyatso cites the travel guide of Atisa, to note but one
example, in which Atisa claims that he obtained spiritual boons by
circumambulating the great cities of India, and that from
circumambulating the temple of Khasarpani he was cured of
elephantiasis. I 5
The actual work of surveying circumambulation routes was
conducted by five people.ts who must have provided Sangye Gyatso
with the data to compile the survey. The survey presents exact
rgya mtsho, Kha skong, v. 3, fo1. 273vA, for a Rgya yag pa Rta mgrin dbang phyug. See
also Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Drin ...drug pa, fo1. 327b.5.
13 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Rgyal: 1. gnas, 37a.3-40bA; 2. bsam pa, 40bA-41a.3;
3. dus, 41a.3-41b.6; 4. bzo bo, 41b.6-42b.1; 5. bkod,  42b.1-43a.5; 6. rten gyi ngo
bo, 43a.5-47b.2; 7. rgyu, 47b.2-48a.6; 8. gees pa 'i yan lag eho ga, 48a.6-49a.2; 9. rab
gnas, 49a.2-49bA; 10. mehodpa, 49bA-59a.2; 11. yon bdag, 59a.3-61 bA; 12. 'phrin las,
61bA-62b.2; 13. phan yon, 62b.2.
14 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Mehod sdong 'dzam gling rgyan geig gtsug, p. 1063.
15 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Mehod sdong 'dzam gling rgyan gcig gtso bor, f.
16 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Rgyal f. 100a: Cha dkar ba Padma bsod nams; Lha sa
ba Opal 'byor rgya mtsho; Rgya gsar sgang Okon mchog; Lcags grad pa Bsod nams rab
brtan; Zhol gzhi ka ba Padma tshe brtan.
192 KURTIS R. SCHAEFFER
measurements for walking routes around a number of places in Lhasa,
beginning with the Potala, which had only recently achieved the shape
known today with the addition of the Red Palace. 17 According to Sangye
Gyatso there was no special tradition of walking around the Red Hill
upon which the Potala now stood. The new route, he advocated, was to
run from the western Zhol gate through the stupa at the entrance of
Lhasa, and continue clockwise around Red Hill and the Potala to eastern
Zhol gate. A single circuit around the hill was surveyed at 1032 arm
spans, or approximately one mile, though this may be a bit longer during
the rainy season when muddy.If
Next Sangye Gyatso prescribes circuits in the chapel housing the
Dalai Lama's stupa as well as in adjacent chapels in the Red Palace. The
principle circumambulation route is, of course, around the Fifth Dalai
Lama's stupa itself. Four chapels on the ground floor of the Red Palace
are provided with circuit measurements: the Trungrab Lhakhang with its
statue of Shakyamuni, the Lamrim Lhakhang and its central image of
Tsongkhapa, the Rigdzin Lhakhang housing a statue of Padmasambhava,
and the Dalai Lama's chapel as a whole.l?
From the Potala he moves to the central part of Lhasa and prescribes
circuit measurements for several temples, including Ramocheand the
Jokhang. Lastly, Sangye Gyatso addresses the total length of the
Lingkhor circuit around Lhasa, including Ramoche, Meru, Zhide
Tratsang, Marpori, and Chakpori, which he claims comes to a total
17 The full skor tshad occurs at Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Rgyal, ff. IOOa.I-1 03a.l.
A number of skor tshad works were composed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,
particularly in Amdo, Khams, and Mongolia. Dharmabhadra, Dkar, pp. 524.6-526.4,
contains a general discussion of skor tshad. His three-fold presentation follows a general
pattern found in many skor tshad texts: "There are three specific points regarding the the
circumambulation of holy receptacles: the measurement of what is to be
circumambulated, instruction on how to circumambulate, and the benefits of having
circumambulated" [Dharmabhadra, Dkar, pp. 524.6-525.2: da ni de Ita bu'i rten khyad
par can rnams la bskor bar bya la la gsum / bskor ba bya ba'i tshad / skor ba byed tshul
gyi man ngag (I) bskor (525) ba byas pa 'i phan yon ni 1]. Very often the skor tshad is
combined with a 10 rgyus (sometimes dkar chag) or brief history of the place under
discussion. See also Dkon mchog bstan pa'i sgron me, Gsung; Blo bzang bskal bzang
rgya mtsho, Bde; Bstan pa rab rgyas, Se, pp. 222-229, and Lhun grub chos 'phel, Rwa,
pp. 179-184, esp. 179.15-183.1 0 which follows Bstan pa rab rgyas, Se; Rol pa'i rdo rje,
Tsan (Note that the translation of skor tshad in this title as "authentic" in Berger 2003:
227, n. 80 should be ammended to "circumambulation survey").
18Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Rgyal, fol, 100a.
19Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Rgyal, fol. 100b.
RITUAL, FESTIVAL, AND AUTHORITY 193
length of 4523 arm spans, or roughly four-to-five miles. In all, he
provides measurements for almost twenty different circuits.z?
III. Sangye Gyatso and the Invention ofTradition
What can we make of these two instances of writing-one concerned
with time, the other concerned with place, yet both overwhelmingly
concerned with the Fifth Dalai Lama? At the beginning of this essay I
suggested that the majority of Sangye Gyatso's writings in the mid-1690s
represent various efforts to argue for the supreme and just rule of the
Ganden Govemment.s! The actual processes by which this may have
been achieved have yet to be theorized or studied in a historical fashion
to any great degree. Nevertheless, the two works considered here offer
minor but revealing evidence of this effort, presenting two different
arguments for the central place of the Fifth Dalai Lama's stiipa in late
seventeenth century Tibetan religious and political life. According to
Sangye Gyatso, the festivities of the New Year celebrate not only the
Dalai Lama but also the beneficent rule of the Ganden Government,
under which Tibet will experience plentiful harvests, protection from
disease, and good relations with demons and deities.z-' The stupa was no
less than the single ornament of the world, the principle point around
20 The precise relational meaning of the principle terms in Sangs rgyas rgya
mtsho's measurements, ri skor and mtha' skor, has eluded my understanding. The term
mtha' skor, "circumfrence," seems straightforward and is used in most, if not all of the
skor tshad texts composed after Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho's time. However, he employs the
term ri skor-which one might expect to mean "circumambulating a mountain"-in a
technical sense when he provides measurements. His measurements of the 'Dzam gling
rgyan gcig itself provides a typical example: gser gdung rin po che 'dzam gling rgyan
gcig thog zo lnga pa 'i sa 'dzin mtha' skor la gzhal bya gong bzhin gyi mtho brgya dang
bzhi bcu sor bzhir 'bum ther 'sr» bar ri skor chig stong bdun brgya / [Sangs rgyas rgya
mtsho, Mchod sdong 'dzam gling rgyan gcig gtso bor, fol. 1OOb.I]. I have not found this
use of ri skor in any of the other skor tshad texts I have perused. This and many other
issues of interpretation are compounded by the fact that the single witness of the Lha sa
skor tshad to which I have access is plagued with numerous orthographic errors. I hope to
return to this issue at a later date. Another instance of the two terms occurs at Sangs rgyas
rgya mtsho, Thams, pp. 60-61: de nas rong dogs nyams dang lam skya shar yodpa zhig
la sku zhabs rin po che sku 'gan sbyar gos ther gser ma de zlum khyer gyis mnabs chibs
la chibs te phebs par ri mtha' skor sogs ljon shing gi rigs kyang yod snyam pa khang pa
bgogs nyams can rdo skas shar du gtad pa zhig gi nang mi tshang des spyan  'dren
zhus khul gyi rdo skas la phyag 'then ban gzugs bongs che ba gos dmar gyi lding slog
gyon pa smug 'dzi ri ba zhig gis byas!
21 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Rgyal, fol. 44b.
22 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Rgyal, fol. 44b.
194 KURTIS R. SCHAEFFER
which the major rites of the Potala would be arranged, a second
As the center of a developing set of ceremonial rites, the Dalai
Lama's stupa also symbolized a hierarchic relationship developing
between the Gandenpa School and other schools. For while the Ganden
Government converted monasteries throughout central and western Tibet
Sangye Gyatso had the relics of past masters brought to the Potala to be
placed in the Single Ornament Stiipa. Just as philosophical positions are
arranged hierarchically in a treatise on tenets, the relics of other school's
masters, including those taken from such places as Rinpung, were
subsumed within the greater structure of the Dalai Lama' stilpa, both
physically and symbolically.23
One rhetorical method routinely used by Sangye Gyatso to argue for
the preeminence of the Gandenpa has to do the relationship between the
past and the present, or between tradition and innovation. In both of these
works Sangye Gyatso considered himself to be initiating new customs, as
he tells us on several occasions. Yet he also took great pains to link these
new examples of religious activity with classically dictated ritual forms.
Indeed, quotations from sutras and other canonical works form up to half
of any given work by Sangye Gyatso. The Dalai Lama died just like the
Buddha, Sangye Gyatso tells us, and yet everything from the way in
which the Dalai Lama's remains were preserved to the rituals of
commemoration were clearly and self-consciously contemporary
innovations that needed to be persuasively argued for.
In this tension between visions of a timeless order and the realia of
local contingency we see a good example of what historian Eric
Hobsbawm has termed "invented tradition," or "a set of practices,
normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or
symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of
behavior by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the
past."24 In these two works we see Sangye Gyatso explicitly combining
established traditions claiming venerable authority with new rites and
ceremonies. Both here and elsewhere Sangye Gyatso is eager to show
that the New Year's festivities are part of an unbroken ancient
tradition.s> In the Lhasa Circumambulation Survey he presents a brief
23 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Mchod sdong 'dzam gling rgyan gcig gtsug, p. 581.
24 Hobsbawm 1992: 1.
25 See the recurring mention at Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Drin ...drug pa, ff. 1b.5,
RITUAL, FESTIVAL, AND AUTHORITY 195
history of festivals in Tibet, providing scriptural citations attesting to the
proper Buddhist character of festivals as well as a justification of
monastic participation in such activities,26 Associating such solemn
ceremonial rites as the mourning of the Dalai Lama and the more
boisterous seasonal festivities of the New Year also entailed reconciling
apparent contradictions between such phenomena as popular music and
dance with monastic decorum.s? Elsewhere he goes to great lengths to
show that the Fifth Dalai Lama's remains were cared for in just the same
manner as those of the Buddha--despite the obvious point that in the
standard hagiographies the Buddha was cremated, while the Dalai Lama
was mummified. Yet in the very act of drawing these connections
between tradition and innovation he reveals how necessary it was to
actively maintain such calendrical and memorial rites and through
persuasive writings and the establishment of new ceremonies. The effect
of such histories-be they of festivals, the New Year, or the death of the
Buddha--was precisely to authorize his own innovations centering on
The invention of tradition in Sangye Gyatso's writings most likely
continues a project begun by the Fifth Dalai Lama,28 The two works
briefly considered here share much in common with the Fifth Dalai
Lama's own Guidelines for the Great Prayer Festival ofLhasa, the first
section of which is a history of the festival's development.v? Indeed, the
same rhetoric can be seen in writings from the earliest years of the Dalai
Lama's rule in the 1640s, for even then his life was cast in terms of its
continuity with major events of both the Buddha's life story and the
Tibetan imperial past. Writing in 1646, an early biographer of the Fifth
Dalai Lama states that the foundation for the Potala was first laid on the
Buddha's birth and death day in 1645. During this auspicious event the
Dalai Lama's patron, Gushri Khan, beheld a great temple in the sky over
26 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Mchod sdong 'dzam gling rgyan gcig gtso bor, fo!. 50a.
27 Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Mchod sdong 'dzam gling rgyan gcig gtso bor, fo!. 51a.
28 This process certainly goes back to the imperial period, as Kapstein 2000:
chapters 1-4 has shown. Kapstein's suggestion that "when it is conversion of a nation that
is at issue, the gradual transformation of cosmological frameworks, of ritual, intellectual,
and bureaucratic practices, and of the historical and mythic narratives through which the
national identity is constituted are among the key themes to which we must attend"
[Kapstein 2000: 65], is certainly applicable to the present example, even if we are not
speaking strictly of conversion in the case of the Fifth Dalai Lama.
29 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, Lha.
196 KURTIS R. SCHAEFFER
the area, a vision that was in tum verified by the prophetic words of that
most famous king of dharma, Songtsen Gampo.t?
Little did this biographer know that fifty years later the Dalai
Lama's remains would inhabit the center of a massive fortress of dharma,
or that the identification of the Dalai Lama with both the bodhisattva of
compassion and the Buddha himself would find its greatest elaboration in
the writings of the Dalai Lama's successor to power. In his 1698 history
of the Gandenpa school we thus find Sangye Gyatso describing the
central government of Tibet as "the integration of religious and secular
ways and the magnificent root of all benefit and joy for every being.." He
goes on to make an explicit connection between government and
bodhisattva by applying a passage from Santideva's Guide to the
Bodhisattva's Way of Life to the Ganden Government itself: "The only
cure for the suffering of beings, the source of all pleasure." Just as
Sangye Gyatso sought to systematize administrative roles within the
Ganden Government in his early work of 1681, so did he seek to create
systems of ritual in Lhasa in the service of government, systems
moreover sanctioned by the greatest authorities of Indian Buddhist
literature. By the end of the 1690s the Ganden Government as heralded
in Sangye Gyatso' s writings had become no less than the enlightened
caretaker of Tibet, benefactor of the arts and sciences, powered,
empowered, and authorized by the golden stiipa containing the
mummified body of the Fifth Dalai Lama at its center.
Appendix: Writings of Sangye Gyatso
The collected writings of Sangye Gyatso were printed at the printing
house below the Potala, and the blocks were kept at Drepung monastery
until they were destroyed in 1949. Most of these works were printed at
the Ganden Puntsokling (Dga' ldan phun tshogs gling) Printery in Zhol
under the Potala (See Anonymous, Gangs, 181-84). We now have
approximately ninety percent of his writings. Nevertheless, a number of
Sangye Gyatso's works relevant to the present project are currently
unavailable in published form or in the collection of E. Gene Smith at the
Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC).
Missing works include: homage prayers to his previous lives
('Khrungs rabs rnam thar gsol 'debs kyi 'grel pa mu tig chun po, ff. 79);
the guide to the Great Offering Ceremony (Tshogs mchod bca' sgrigs, ff.
30 'Jam dbyangs dbang rgyal rdo rje, Rgyal, fol. 125b.
RITUAL, FESTIVAL, AND AUTHORITY 197
99 [Most likely composed in 1693; see Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho,
Drin ...drug pa, f. 136a.3]); a Prajfiaparamita commentary (Sher mdo 'i
'gres rkang 'jam mgon tsong kha pa'i dgongs rgyan, ff. 71), and
(perhaps most importantly for this study) a book of guidelines for the
education of the Sixth Dalai Lama. The account of the Fifth Dalai
Lama's transference of consciousness to the Sixth Dalai Lama (Lnga pa
drug par 'phos pa'i gtam rna ba'i bcud len, ff. 110), is available in
several public collections, including the University of Washington.
Several comments can be made about the chronology of Sangye
Gyatso's works. In 1693 he wrote a commentary on verses detailing the
previous lives of the Fifth Dalai Lama (Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho,
Drin ...drug pa, f. 132a; Anonymous, Gangs.). It was most likely in 1693
that he composed the Regulations for the Great Offering Ceremony, a
guidebook for the annual commemoration of the Fifth Dalai Lama
instituted by Sangye Gyatso himself 1694 and performed into the
twentieth century during the later part of the second Tibetan month. See
the 99 folio work listed in Bka, , p. 626: tshogs mchod chen ma'i bca'
sgrig mchod sbyin mi zad la dgu bcu go dgu I. See also Lange (1976).
See Tsepak Rigzin 1993,21-22.
In the early part of 1695 he completed his brief biography of the
Dalai Lama (Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Drin ...drug pa, f. 208b.3). In 1695
he also wrote his Tales for the New Year, as well as an account of the
Fifth Dalai Lama's transference of consciousness to the sixth (Sangs
rgyas rgya mtsho, Drin ...drug pa, f. 339a; but compare Sangs rgyas rgya
mtsho, Thams, 323-24).
In 1696 he completed the massive account of building the Dalai
Lama's stiipa as well as the three-volume continuation of the Dalai
Lama's autobiography. In 1697 he composed a short work on the Fifth
Dalai Lama's remains, in which he argued that preserving the body of
the Dalai Lama whole within a stupa was warranted by classical
Buddhist tradition despite the fact that the Buddha's body was cremated
(Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Pur). In this year he also composed the Lhasa
Circumambulation Survey. He also began the Sngon 'gro lha'i rnga chen
in 1697, a work that E. Gene Smith describes as "guidelines for how the
Dalai Lama should be educated (personal communication 10/21/02) (See
Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Thams, 364.). In 1698 he completed the Yellow
Beryl, his history of the Gandenpa School, on which he had worked for
198 KURTIS R. SCHAEFFER
Finally in 1701 we find him finishing one of his last works, the
biography of the Sixth Dalai Lama, a work that is better seen as a
continuation of the biographical writings on the Fifth Dalai Lama. The
dating of all these works requires further detailing; the following is a
rough chronology of writings (totaling some 3640 printed folios)
composed by Sangye Gyatso from 1693 to 1701 pertaining to the Fifth
1693: Verse and commentary on the previous lives of the Fifth Dalai
Lama. 79 folios. 'Khrungs rabs rnam thar gsol 'debs kyi 'grel pa mu
tig chun po. Unavailable.
1693: Regulations for the annual Great Offering Ceremony to the Fifth
Dalai Lama. 99 folios. Mchod sbyin nam mkha' mdzod kyi rgyun
btsugs pa'i tshogs mchod bca' bsgrigs 'byung khungs mdo rgyud
shar ri nas drangs pa 'i byang chen nyi ma 'i dkyil 'khor. Unavailable.
1694: Tales for the New Year. 46 folios. Rgyal khab chen po 'i dga' ston
gyi dus dam pa'i chos las brtsams pa'i 'bel gtam gyi Ide mig skal
bzang mgrin rgyan rna bar kun dga' ster ba 'i bdud rtsi.
1695: Verse-biography of the Dalai Lama. 194 folios. Drin can rtsa ba'i
bla ma ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 'i thun mong phyi 'i mdzad
pa rnam thar don bsdus gyur pa dbyangs can 'phang 'gro 'i rgyud
las drangs pa rab snyan gzhan gsos kyi glu. Blockprint available at
1695: Account of the Fifth Dalai Lama's transference of consciousness
to the Sixth. 110 folios. Pad dkar 'dzin pa ngur smrig gar rol lnga
pa sdom brtson rgyal po 'i tshul 'chang ba drug par 'phos pa 'i gtam
rna ba'i bcud len yid kyi kun dga. ' Available at University of
1696: Account of building and installation the Dalai Lama's stilpa. 767
folios. Mchod sdong 'dzam gling rgyan gcig rten gtsug lag khang
dang bcas pa'i dkar chag thar gling rgya mtshor bgrod pa 'i rdu
rdzings byin rlabs kyi bang mdzod.
1696: Lhasa Circumambulation Survey. 111 folios. Mchod sdong 'dzam
gling rgyan gcig gtso bor gyur pa 'i lha sa ra mo che rigs gsum bla ri
dang bcas pa spyi bye brag gi skor tshad byang chen bgrod pa 'i
1696: Three-volume continuation of the Dalai Lama's autobiography.
1081 folios. Drin can rtsa ba'i bla ma ngag dbang blo bzang rgya
mtsho 'i thun mong phyi 'i rnam thar du k,u la 'i gos bzang glegs bam
RITUAL, FESTIVAL, AND AUTHORITY 199
gsum pa'i 'phros bzhi ba; glegs bam bzhi pa'i 'phros lnga pa; glegs
bam lnga pa'i 'phros drug pa.
1697: Account of the Fifth Dalai Lama's remains. 19 folios. Pur tshwa
me 'dzin ma'i dkar chag dad pa'i sa bon gyis bskyed pa'i byin rlabs
ro bda. ' Blockprint available at TBRC.
1697: Guidelines for the education of the Sixth Dalai Lama. 201 folios.
'Gro kun dad pa'i zhing sar bden don chos char 'bebs pa'i sngon
'gro 'i gtam lha'i rnga chen. Unavailable.
1698: Yellow Beryl history of the Gandenpa school. 419 folios. Dpal
mnyam med ri bo dga' ldan pa'i bstan pa zhwa ser cod pan 'chang
ba'i ring lugs chos thams cad kyi rtsa ba gsal bar byed pa baidurya
ser po 'i me long.
1701: Biography of the Sixth Dalai Lama. 514 folios. Thams cad mkhyen
pa drug pa blo bzang rin chen tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsha'i thun
mong phyi'i rnam par thar pa du kuu la'i 'phro 'thud rab gsal gser
gyi snye ma glegs bam dang po.
Dkon mchog bstan pa'i sgron me (1762-1823). Gsung thor bu las rten
gsum dkar chag dang skor tshad kyi rim pa phyogs bkodpa. pp. 162-
191, v. 10, in: The Collected works of Gun-than Dkon-mchog-bstan-
pa'i sgron-me. New Delhi: Ngawang GelekDemo, 1972-1979.
Ngag dbang blo bzang, Klang rdol Bla rna (1719-1794). Bka' gdams pa
dang dge lugs pa'i bla ma rags rim gyi gsum 'bum dkar chag. Klong
rdol ngag dbang blo bzang gi gsum 'bum. Bod ljongs bod yig dpe
mying dpe skrun khang, Lhasa. 1991. vol. 2,495-638.
Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, Dalai Lama V (1617-1682). Lha ldan
smon lam chen mo 'i gral 'dzin bca yig. Bod kyi snga rabs khrims
srol yig cha bdams bsgrigs. Bod ljongs spyi tshogs tshan rig khang gi
bod yig dpe mying dpe skrun khang, Lhasa. 1989. Gangs can rig
mdzod 7. 324-345.
'Jam dbyangs dbang rgyal rdo rje, Smon 'gro ba (seventeenth c.). Rgyal
dbang thams cad mkhyen pa ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 'i
mtshan thos pa'i yid la bdud rtsir byed pa'i rnam thar mthong ba
don ldan mchog tu dga' ba'i sgra dbyangs sarga gsum pa. Cultural
Palace of Nationalities, Beijing, no. 00255. 126 folios.
Bstan pa rab rgyas, Khri chen (1759-1815). Se ra theg chen gling gi
rgyab ri'i che brjod gnas yig dang / rwa sgreng sbyang chos yer pa
200 KURTIS R. SCHAEFFER
sogs kyi skor tshad. Bod kyi gnas yig bdams bsgrigs. Bod ljongs bod
yig dpe mying dpe skrun khang, Lhasa. 1995.219-236.
Dharmabhadra, Dngul chu (1772-1851). Dkar chag dang skor tshad kyi
rim pa phyogs gcig tu bsgrigs pa. Collected works (gsun 'bum) of
Dnul-chu Dharmabhadra. Tibet House, New Delhi 1973-1981. v. 4,
Blo bzang bskal bzang rgya mtsho, Ta'a la'i bla rna 7 (1708-1757). Bde
bar gshegs pa 'i sku gsung thugs rten sogs kyi skor tshad kyi rim pa
phyogs bsdebs byang chen rgya mtshor bgrod pa 'i shing rta. In The
Collected Works (Gsun 'bum) of the Seventh Dalai Lama Blo-bzan-
bksal-bzan-rgya-mtsho, Dodrup Sangye, Gangtok. 1976. vol. 3, 163-
Rol pa'i rdo rje, Leang skya (1717-1786). Tsan danjo bo 'i 10 rgyus skor
tshad phan yon mdor bsdus rin po che'i 'phreng ba. Gsung 'bum,
vol. 7, ff. 10.
Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Sde srid (1653-1705). Rgyal khab chen po'i
dga' ston gyi dus dam pa'i chos las brtsams pa'i 'bel gtam gyi Ide
mig skal bzang mgrin rgyan rna bar kun dga' ster ba'i bdud rtsi. ff.
46. comp. 1694. Incomplete manuscript copy kept at TBRC, New
York [W8821]. Nepal National Archives (NNA), L30/32-L3111, ff.
__. Mchod sdong 'dzam gling rgyan gcig rten gtsug lag khang dang
bcas pa'i dkar chag thar gling rgya mtshor bgrod ba'i gru rdzings
byin rlabs kyi bang mdzod. Bod ljongs mi rigs dpe skrung khang,
__. Mchod sdong 'dzam gling rgyan gcig gtso bor gyur pa 'i lha sa ra
mo che rigs gsum bla ri dang bcas pa spyi bye brag gi skor tshad
byang chen bgrodpa 'i myur lam. ff. 111. Copy at TBRC.
__. Thams cad mkhyen pa drug ba blo bzang rin chen tshangs
dbyangs rgya mtsho 'i thun mong phyi 'i rnam par thar pa du ku la'i
'phro 'thud rab gsal gser gyi snye ma. Tshe ring phun tshogs, Ed.
Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, Lha sa. 1989.
__. Drin can rtsa ba'i bla ma ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 'i
thun mong phyi 'i rnam thar du k,u la'i gos bzang glegs bam gsum
pa'i 'phros bzhi ba. ff. 360. Zhol blockprint at TBRC.
__. Drin can rtsa ba'i bla ma ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 'i
thun mong phyi'i rnam thar du k,u la'i gos bzang glegs bam bzhi
pa'i 'phros lnga pa. ff. 338. Zhol blockprint at TBRC.
RITUAL, FESTIVAL, AND AUTHORITY 201
__. Drin can rtsa ba'i bla ma ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho 'i
thun mong phyi 'i rnam thar du k,u la'i gos bzang glegs bam lnga
pa'i 'phros drug pa. ff. 383. Zhol blockprint at TBRC.
__. Dpal mnyam med ri bo dga' ldan pa 'i bstan pa zhwa ser codpan
'chang ba'i ring lugs chos thams cad kyi rtsa ba gsal bar byed pa 'i
bai urya ser po 'i me long. Krung go bod kyi shes rigs dpe skrun
khKhg, Beijing. 1989.
__. Pur tshwa me 'dzin ma'i dkar chag dad pa 'i sa bon gyis bskyed
pa 'i byin rlabs ro bda. 'ff. 19. Copy at TBRC.
Lhun grub chos 'phel. Rwa sgreng dgon pa 'i dkar chag. Si khron mi rigs
dpe skrun khang, Chengdu. 1994.
Anyonymous. Gangs can gyi ljongs su bka' dang bstan bcos sogs kyi
glegs bam spar gzhi ji ltar yod pa rnams nas dkar chag spar thog
phyogs tsam du bkod pa phan bde 'i pad tshal 'byed pa 'i nyin byed.
Three Dkar Chag's. Ngawang Gelek Demo, New Delhi. 1970. 169-
Anonymous. Bod rgya skar rtsis rig pa 'i tshig mdzod. Si khron mi rigs
dpe skrun khang, Chengdu. 1987.
Anonymous. Zhwa ser bstan pa 'i sgron me rje tsong kha pa chen pos
gtsos skyes chen dam pa rim byon gi gsum 'bum dkar chag phyogs
gcig tu bsgrigs pa 'i dri med zla shel gtsang ma 'i me long. Bod ljongs
mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, Lha sa. 1990. pp. 261-264.
Ahmad, Z. 1998. Sans-rGyas rGya-mTSHo: Life of the Fifth Dalai
Lama, Volume IV, Part 1. New Delhi: International Academy of
Berger, P. 2003. Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political
Authority in Qing China. Honolulu: University ofHawai'i Press.
Chayet, A. 2003. The Potala, Symbol of the Power of the Dalai Lamas.
In Francoise Pommaret, (ed.), Lhasa in the Seventeenth Century: The
Capitol ofthe Dalai Lamas. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 39-52.
Hobsbawm, E. 1992. Introduction: Inventing Traditions. In Eric
Hobsbawm and Terrence Ranger (eds.) The Invention of Tradition.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1-14.
Ishihama, Y. 1993. On the Dissemination of the Belief in the Dalai Lama
as a Manifestation of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Acta Asiatica
202 KURTIS R. SCHAEFFER
Kapstein, M. T. 2000. The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism:
Conversion, Contestation, and Memory. New York: Oxford
Lange, K. 1976. Die Werke des Regenten Sans rgyas rgya me '0 (1653-
1705): Eine philologisch-historische Studie zum tibetischsprachigen
Schriftum. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag.
Meyer, F. 1987. The Pota1a Palace of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa.
Orientations 18(7): 14-33.
Richardson, H. 1998. The Fifth Dalai Lama's Decree Appointing Sangs-
rgyas-rgya-mtsho as Regent. In M. Aris (ed.) High Peaks, Pure
Earth: Collected Writings on Tibetan History and Culture. London:
Serindia Publications, London, 440-461.
Schaeffer, K. R. 2005. The Fifth Dalai Lama Ngawang Lopsang Gyatso.
In Martin Brauen (ed.) The Dalai Lamas: A Visual History. Chicago:
Serindia Publications, 65-91, 280-281.
Schaeffer, K. R. forthcoming. Salt and the Sovereignty of the Dalai
Lama, circa 1697. In Jinhua Chen (ed.) festschrift in honor of Koichi
Tsepak R. 1993. Festivals of Tibet. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan
Works and Archives.
BANDE SKYA MIN SER MIN:
TSHANGS DBYANGS RGYA MTSHO'S COMPLEX, CONFUSED
AND CONFUSING RELATIONSHIP WITH
SDE SRID SANGS RGYAS RGYA MTSHO AS PORTRAYED IN
THE TSHANGS DBYANGS RGYA MTSHO'I MGUL GLU
It is hard to know quite where to start. Whilst we know that the Sixth
Dalai Lama existed-at least between 1683 and 1706-and whilst we
have a temple guide which is almost certainly his work, the text for
which he is most famous, the Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho 'i mgul glu,
may not be by him at all, or it may-more likely-be a hotchpotch of
poems from his pen and from the pens of those who would be his
But we have to start somewhere. And since we cannot be certain
about the provenance of any of these poems, let us forget for a moment
about historical truth. In its stead, we can look upon Tshangs dbyangs
rgya mtsho as the myth which he has, subsequent to either or both of his
bodily deaths, become, and in which his power lies. After all, he left no
teachings, he left no prayers, he left no commentaries: his legacy is the
interpenetration of the linear and the lateral-of history and
mythopoesis: this is the moment at which the signified and the
signifier-the physical form and the narrative-become one in the
consciousness of the society through which he passed; again and again,
he returns in a different (in this case, poetic) form, a manifestation
through which perception is turned towards (or maybe into) the
metaphysical and, thus, we experience not only the emotions-of love,
of rejection, of dejection, of treachery, of being overwhelmed by
responsibility, by the touch of life itself-which he himself felt but also
we feel their resonance within ourselves.
So these are his teachings, perhaps, for us. And, although I don't
here want to concentrate upon his religious and spiritual position, the
towering and hopelessly, frustratingly complex figure of the regent is
nonetheless centerstage, so it behoves us to acknowledge the
204 SIMON WICKHAM-SMITH
multidimensional position which both the Dalai Lama and his regent held
in the religio-political world of Central Asia at the tum of the
It could be said, of course, that it is precisely the multidimensional
nature of this relationship which lies at the heart of the mgul glu. At least
one commentator, the Chinese scholar Xiao Diyan, has seen the entire
text as an exposition of the political triangle played out between Tshangs
dbyangs rgya mtsho, Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho and the Lhazang Qan and,
although his interpretation seems occasionally to be somewhat contrived,
it's nonetheless clear that the text does indeed illustrate not only Tsang
dbyang rgya mtsho's emotional response to, but also his profound and
profoundly cynical understanding of, his political position.
Throughout the mgul glu, both people and animals are portrayed as
being untrustworthy, fickle, likely to spill the beans and tell that which
should not be told. Throughout his life, Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho was
treated as a political pawn, a person to be manoevered through and
around situations rather than one who might take these situations and
affect them himself. His relationship with Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho
hovered always on the knife-edge of apposite action: how much did he
feel himself able to confide in the regent, the person who had raised him,
who had taught him so much, but who seemed so reluctant to withdraw
and allow him his rightful position as head of state? And it is clearly
political, rather than spiritual, power with which the regent is concerned:
after all, it was he who had found Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho in Mon,
it was he who had identified the child as the rebirth of the Great Fifth, his
own beloved patron, lama and spiritual friend-there is no way in which
the regent could doubt, either within his heart or within the hierarchy, the
validity of the Dalai Lama's religious status or spiritual power.
Before looking at the poems, we should first consider precisely what
it is we are doing. For, just as there is no clear indication in the mgul glu
of a single author, there are no clear pointers to aid identification of any
other characters. As with any literary detective work, all we can do is
guess at the author's meaning through contextualised analysis. And of
course, contextualised analysis for one person might be vague conjecture
for another. In this context, though, we do know quite a bit about the
Regent's personality and writings, from which we can elicit certain
We can broadly divide the Regent's sphere of influence into its
public and private aspects, although the two would undoubtedly have
BAN DE SKYA MIN SER MIN 205
interlaced at certain points. To read the poems in this way might also
help us to focus on the fact that they were probably written for Tshangs
dbyangs rgya rntshos personal pleasure as much as for public
consumption, with all its concomitant sociopolitical implications.
The way in which Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho conducted his life left
him open to mockery. The title of this paper-bande skya min ser min-
refers directly to his inability to decide whether he was layman or monk;
in the mgul glu, the couplet of which this is the first line refers to such a
person as an enemy of the Buddha's teaching. This may be a serious
accusation or it may be simply an affectionate prod in the ribs, but
nonetheless it points out the Regent's arrogance, indecisiveness and
This particular verse also points to the strength of the regent's
power. The first couplet tells of the cloud, yellow outside and black
within, as being a source for frost and hail. The three or four poems in
this grouping tell about natural phenomena with dramatic effects: the
rock and wind (the Qan and the Regent perhaps) attack the vulture's
plumage, while the stallion is carelessly let loose upon slippery ground-
all three poems suggest Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho ' s frustration at the
manipulative hands of the Regent. Indeed, the melting surface (kha zhu)
clearly indicates the uncertainty of water, the way in which it distorts and
transforms the appearance of things.
Just as the natural world is used as an analog for the Regent's
negative qualities, it's also used to illustrate his positive qualities. One of
the most poignant poems in the mgul glu is one which can be interpreted
both with public and private import. If, with Xiao Diyan, we understand
the Regent as represented by the thousand-petalled hollyhock, then it's
possible to read this poem as a request for protection, that the young
Dalai Lama, the turquiose bee, be taken into the temple amidst the
This is particularly interesting because it illustrates perhaps how
Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho perceives himself in relation to his regent.
He either feels himself to be truly inferior, or else simply so in the eyes
of society: nonetheless, the fact that the beautiful turquoise bee feels the
need to hide within the long blossoming hollyhock suggests maybe that
the intellectual and social brilliance of the regent is both overwhelming
and, occasionally, very useful to the young lama. There is similar
evidence of the poet's shyness elsewhere in the text (for instance when
he catches sight of a girl's brilliant smile at a party) and I tend to feel that
206 SIMON WICKHAM-SMITH
he is presenting us with a slightly devious self-portrait-as someone who
wants protection from himself or from the power which he wields. After
all, again and again he comments on the power struggle between himself
and the Regent and between the Qan and the Regent, but he never really
acknowledges the fact that he is the Dalai Lama: from what we know of
his wilful nature, this strikes me as rather a false humility-particularly
when we read the poem in which he confidently describes himself as
both rig 'dzin and' chal po, Knowledge Holder and Letcher.
Already we are beginning to see another aspect, far deeper and more
complex, to this relationship. In political terms, Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho
had effectively run Tibet since the Great Fifth died in 1682. One would
imagine that, throughout his childhood and early adolescence, Tshangs
dbyangs rgya mtsho would have looked to the older man, not only for
spiritual teaching and emotional succour but also to show the way in
which he should conduct himself as Dalai Lama. It appears, from the
Regent's own account of the child's upbringing, that an attempt was
made to replicate the intellectual hothouse in which he himself had been
schooled by his teacher, the Great Fifth, and one would assume that the
idea of an unbroken lineage would have spurred the older man to put a
considerable amount of pressure-not always benign-upon the
younger. We can only wonder at how, as he grew to manhood, the Dalai
Lama might have come to perceive his mentor: it seems most likely to
me that he would have seen his Regent as that most irritating of people,
someone he could neither live with nor without. And I would guess that
the Regent would have recognised these confusing and powerful
emotions and used them to his own advantage.
For this reason, it should come as no surprise that Sangs rgyas rgya
mtsho encouraged the relationship between his daughter and the Dalai
Lama-a relationship which presumably either developed or became
known following Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtshos disrobing in early 1702.
Through his daughter, he perhaps hoped to control the young man's
wilfulness and thereby bring some peace to the state as much as to
This brings us to a term which is significant throughout the mgul
glu. Chung 'dris refers to a person whom one has known since childhood
and it seems unlikely that a girl other than the Regent's daughter would
fit such a role: in the secretive, monastic setting in which Tsang-
sdbyangs rgya mtsho had been raised, it would surely have been odd for
another, random girl to have spent much time with this closeted monk.
BAN DE SKYA MIN SER MIN 207
So what are we to make of the poem in which prayer-flags are tied
to a willow for the poet's sweetheart, his chung 'dris byams pa? Maybe
the willow is the poet, the guardian of the willow the Regent. So the
poet's request that the guardian shouldn't throw stones at the tree is very
telling. Was the Regent in fact so determined to prejudice the
relationship that he would damage it with such force, or is Tshangs
dbyangs rgya mtsho misreading the situation? It could be, of course, that
the Regent perceived that the situation warranted a circumspection which
the lama was too unsubtle to grant, that it was still considered
inappropriate for the Dalai Lama to behave like the layman he in fact
was: this would suggest that, by throwing stones, by creating problems in
the relationship, things might be hushed up.
If this is so, we're again seeing a pragmatic side to the Regent
which a cursory reading of the poems might not reveal. This is the man,
after all, who managed to conceal the Great Fifth's death for fifteen
years, bribing and cajoling a hapless monk from the Rnam rgyal grwa
tshang into impersonating the dead ruler and convincing all those who
needed convincing that the Dalai Lama was in fact in an enclosed retreat.
It is not then beyond possibility that, far from doing deliberate damage to
Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho' s relationship, the Regent was in fact trying
to cover all his bases, to protect the relationship, to protect the authority
of the Dalai Lama and to protect, maybe most of all, himself from
To read all the poems in which Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho is accused
of being fickle and untrustworthy as a misunderstanding of a fallible man
doing his best in a difficult situation, though, brings to my mind the
parental line, "I'm only doing it for your own good." At worst, it's
emotionally abusive, at best it's disrespectful and condescending; but, of
course, the problem is that the parent frequently believes that he or she is
in fact doing the best for the child and I get the impression, both that this
is the case with the Regent and that Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho
recognises this to be the case.
Many of the poems in the mgul glu can be read along these lines. I
agree with Per Sorensen's suggestion that the Regent can be read both as
the Dharmapala Rdo rje grags ldan and the enemy of the Dharma against
whom the Dharmapala is invoked. When the poet says to the
Dharmapala, "if you possess magical power" (mthu dang nus pa yod na),
his lack of conviction is palpable and the Regent's ultimate vulnerability
is laid open to criticism. Maybe it is this very vulnerability which makes
208 SIMON WICKHAM-SMITH
Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho an (unwitting) enemy of the Buddha's teaching,
it's potentially a very powerful indictment of the Dalai Lama's entire
political and personal situation and a scathing attack on the person of the
Regent. But, if we do choose to read the poem as being more than a
prayer to Rdo rje grags ldan, an identification of the Dharmapala with the
Regent means that the Dalai Lama is using-maybe out of genuine
respect as much as convention-honorific language to address him. And
this honorific language-bzhugs, skyong, sgroI-conveys not only
respect but also the implication of transcendence, as though the Regent's
position, and therefore his actions, were somehow taking place outside
So maybe this poem reveals a deeper understanding of the Regent's
behavior than might at first seem possible. Elsewhere, after all, we might
care to read him as a peacock, as a lover, as the sun (to the Qan's moon)
and as an eternal friend. Moreover, given the deep affection which
Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho and he evidently had for one another, it is
unsurprising that, in certain specific circumstances, his tone of address
rises into the spiritually charged honorific.
As we focus down upon the one-to-one emotional rawness of the
relationship between these two men, we need to remember that the
position in which they found themselves was not easily escapable. The
image of the knotted snake presents us with a knot and with its self-
effected unknotting, suggesting that a relationship (and here the market-
girl, the tshong 'dus bu mo, is linked with the Regent) can only properly
be resolved from within. The three words spoken by the poet and the girl
here indicate a firm declaration of love and of course this love might well
be other than romantic: the implication is that nothing can come between
the two people, that they are destined to work out their relationship in
their own way. And for people who can't live with, or without, the other,
this resolution is a painful and traumatic process.
The image of lovers as a parallel for the relationship between the
Regent and the poet-lama is clearly highly potent. Lovers have an
intimacy which covers the gamut of emotion, from anger and hatred to
the closest and most private love. And, of course, the topos of romantic
love conceals a certain amount of power play and infantilism: so many
classic love-songs use the word "baby" (and I for one have translated the
word byams pa in this way from time to time), we most of us refer to our
partners (at least when unmarried) as girl- or boyfriend and we often hear
how someone has 'stolen' someone else's lover.
BAN DE SKYA MIN SER MIN 209
It is possible throughout the mgul glu to equate the lover-the
byams pa and the chung- dris-with Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho although it
should again be pointed out that this could refer to the Regent's daughter
and, through her, to the Regent himself. That the lover is frequently
described as fickle and inconsistent should come as no surprise, since the
principal character trait of Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho appears to have been
an inability as much to decide a path for himself as it to decide upon a
mistress. In one poem, the lover is described as gtan grogs, an eternal
friend: this is a frequent term of affection for a spouse, a particularly
poignant image perhaps for this infuriating man to whom Tshangs
dbyangs rgya mtsho owed so much and from whose grasp he could never
be truly free. If we read the turquoise placed in the poet's hair as the poet
himself, we can see that whereas Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho is simply
a figurehead, kept silent and impotent out of the way, the Regent is free
to act with impunity-brazen and unfaithful in the words of the text,
khrel dang ngo tsha med-and to do just as he wants.
We see a similar idea played out in another poem. The lover is lying
on the poet's bed, her alluring body tender and soft: he asks her whether
she's come to weave a web of lies and thus steal the young man's most
valuable treasure. This is significant considering the position of the Dalai
Lama-is this treasure the political power which Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho
desires to such an extent that he is willing to spin deceit throughout the
higher echelons of Lhasa society? Or maybe this is a reference to the
attempted assassination of the Dalai Lama's closest friend and confidant,
Thar rgyas nas, which cost the lama the ability fully to trust the Regent
Finally in this section, we should make mention of the literary
theme which appears in a number of the poems, namely the references to
Tshe ring dbang dus' contemporary verse drama Chos rgyal nor bzang,
based on thejataka story Sudhana.
Although we can never be completely certain, it seems clear to me
that Tsang-sdbyangs rgya mtsho reads himself as the hunter Spang legs
'dzin pa, while Nor bzang himself represents the Regent. That the
goddess caught by the hunter but subsequently acquired by the prince
should be called Yid 'phrog lha mo, the Mind-Stealing Goddess, is a
stroke of ironic genius in the hands of the poet. After all, as Per
Sorensen, points out, we can see this character as representing the dual
power embodied in the sprul sku of the Dalai Lama but wrested (or,
rather, withheld) from him by the Regent. But this is a mind-stealing
210 SIMON WICKHAM-SMITH
goddess, it deprives one of one's mind: the obsession which can
accompany romantic (and, let's face it, erotic) love has a parallel in the
obsession for temporal power-a binary which found it's natural
expression in the person of Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho.
But we could equally read the stolen mind as that of Tshangs
dbyangs rgya mtsho. It wouldn't be unreasonable to see the portrayal of
the Regent (and the Qan) in the mgul glu as evidence of his obsession
with fulfilling his perceived destiny at the head of the Tibetan people; the
fact that the Regent did refuse to give up the reins of power means
simply that the Dalai Lama never practically took over government-
nonetheless, he clearly had the support of his people and had
considerable religious status in his society, so it could equally be claimed
that he was the one who lost his mind to the goddess of power. This is an
unusual reading, but one which I think restores balance to the situation-
he was clearly quite bitter towards the Regent for many things but it
seems adversely to have affected the mental and emotional balance of
In conclusion, then, we can see that there is nothing in the text of
the Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho 'i mgul glu that makes definitive
reference to Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho. Indeed, the fact that we can't be
sure whether this is the work of the Sixth Dalai Lama means that all
analysis has to be highly speculative and open to complete dismissal.
For this reason, however, the text is a blank slate. Xiao Diyan's
rather tortured attempt to squeeze pretty much every poem into the
triangular box of Regent, Qan and Lama proves how it is possible to read
the poems as a commentary on any aspect of the political, religious,
intellectual or societal situation at the tum of the seventeenth century.
I, no more than anyone else, can be certain neither of this text's
provenance nor of its import. My choice is to suspend judgment and play
with the possibilities. If we accept, for the moment, that this is the work
of Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho, it would be unlikely that he would
choose not to comment, in one way or another, on the situation which
informed his life and his emotions. Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho was as close
to him, if not closer, than his own family and gave him probably as much
grief, if not more, than any member of our own families do. In Tibetan
poetry, the nature of the gzhas form is to comment on the world without
and within; the etymology of the word gzhas is almost certainly
connected with bzhad pa, the main verb concerned with smiling,
laughing or amusement in general-so we can see, not only how such
BAN DE SKYA MIN SER MIN 211
texts could point the finger of fun at temporal power but equally how
they can tum the finger back on the poet himself.
The suggestions I have made regarding the Regent's place in the
mgul glu indicate to me the extent of ambiguity which characterised his
relationship with the Dalai Lama. A meddlesome-though highly sexed
and highly sexy-lover; the wind and rain which grinds down rocks and
deprives birds of their plumage; the eponymous noble hero of a popular
verse drama who uses his power to steal an alluring goddess from her
lover: all these and more give us a confusing, and thus tantalising,
glimpse of the politics and emotions at work in the newly-built Potala
between the Dalai Lama's enthronement in 1697 and the death of the
Regent in 1703.
It seems fair to allow Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho the final word. When
reading the mgul glu it's possible to misrepresent this flawed but brilliant
character, to think of him simply as a wannabe monastic with a roving
eye, as a political manipulator to rival Niccolo Macchiavelli. But he
clearly had genuine love for Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho and I'll close
with his description of his meeting with the Dalai Lama at Mnye thang
just before the enthronement of 1697: "Those who were holding onto his
mount said later that when Rinpoche caught sight of me, he smiled
through tear-soaked eyes. He looked shining and elegant, sitting there
upon his horse and, having not seen him for some time, I became
overcome with emotion and the tears coursed uncontrollably down my
Aris, M. 1989. Hidden Treasures and Secret Lives. London: Kegan Paul
Sorensen, P. K. 1990. Divinity Secularized: An Inquiry into the Nature
and Form of the Songs Ascribed to the Sixth Dalai Lama. Wiener
Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde, vol. 25. Vienna:
Arbeitkreis fur Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien Universitat
Benjamin Bogin, Ph.D. (2005), University of Michigan, is currently a
Mellon Postoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. His
Ph.D. dissertation is entitled The Life of Yol mo Bstan 'dzin nor bu: A
critical edition, translation, and study of the memoirs of a seventeenth-
century Tibetan Buddhist lama. He is presently engaged in research on
the artistic, literary, and ritual traditions surrounding the Tibetan Bud-
dhist pure land known as the Glorious Copper-Colored Mountain.
Bryan J. Cuevas, Ph.D. (2000) in History of Religions and Tibetan Stud-
ies, University of Virginia, is Associate Professor of Buddhist and Ti-
betan Studies at Florida State University. He is the author of The Hidden
History ofthe Tibetan Book ofthe Dead (Oxford UP, 2003) and co-editor
of The Buddhist Dead: Practices, Discourses, Representations (Kuroda
Institute/University of Hawai'i Press, 2007)
Jacob P. Dalton, Ph.D. (2002), University of Michigan, teaches in the
Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. He is currently
working on several book length projects, including Liberating Demons:
Violence in the Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism, a book exploring the
theme of tantric violence and sacrifice in early Tibetan myth, ritual and
history, and A Ritual History of Tantric Buddhism, on the early develop-
ment of tantric ritual in India as seen through the lens of the Dunhuang
Georgios T. Halkias, D.Phil. (2006) in Himalayan Buddhism and Tibetan
Studies, University of Oxford, is a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson
College. Current research interests include: East and Central Asian Re-
ligions, comparative philosophy of religion, and Vajrayana Buddhism.
Marina A. Illich, Ph.D. (2006) in History of Religion and Indo-Tibetan
Studies, Columbia University, is a scholar-in-residence at the Helen Gra-
ham Park Foundation in Miami Shores, Florida, where she is archiving a
collection of Indo-Tibetan materials.
Derek F. Maher, Ph.D. (2003) in History of Religions and Tibetan Stud-
ies, University of Virginia, is Assistant Professor of Buddhist Studies and
Co-Director of Religious Studies at East Carolina University. He is cur-
rently completing his annotated translation of Tsepon Shakabpa's One
Hundred Thousand Moons: An Advanced Political History of Tibet.
Guilaine Mala is now completing a D.Phil thesis entitled "Perception of
Chinese Religions in Eighteenth-century Tibet: A Study of Thu'u-
bkwan's 'Grub-mtha' shel-gyi me-long' and Related Tibetan Works",
University of Oxford, Faculty of Oriental Studies.
Trent Pomplun, Ph.D. (2002) in Theology and Culture, University of
Virginia, is Assistant Professor of Early Modem Theology at Loyola
College in Maryland. He is currently at work on a manuscript on Ippolito
Desideri, the Jesuit missionary and adventurer who lived in Tibet during
the early eighteenth century.
Jann Ronis is a graduate student in History of Religion and Tibetan Stud-
ies at the University of Virginia. His dissertation research is on the sev-
enteenth and eighteenth-century history of Sde dge. He also works with
the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library and at present is the co-
manager of its Monasteries Project.
Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Ph.D. (2000), Harvard University, is Associate Pro-
fessor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Vir-
ginia. He is the author of Himalayan Hermitess: The Life of a Tibetan
Buddhist Nun (Oxford UP, 2004) and Dreaming the Great Brahmin: Ti-
betan Traditions ofthe Buddhist Poet-Saint Saraha (Oxford UP, 2005).
Nikolay Tsyrempilov, PhD. (2001) in History and Tibetan studies, Saint
Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies of Russian Acad-
emy of Sciences, is Research Fellow of the Institute of Tibetan, Mongo-
lian and Buddhist Studies (IMBTS) of Siberian Branch of Russian Acad-
emy of Sciences (Ulan-Ude city, Republic of Buryatia, Russian
Federation) and Curator of Tibetan and Mongolian Collections of the
IMBTS. He is the compiler of Annotated catalogue of the collection of
Mongolian manuscripts and xylographs of the Institute of Mongolian,
Tibetan and Buddhist studies of Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of
Sciences (Tohoku University Press, Sendai, 2004).
Gray Tuttle, Ph.D. (2002) in Inner Asian and Altaic Studies, Harvard
University, is Leila Hadley Luce Assistant Professor of Modem Tibetan-
Studies in the East Asian Languages Cultures Department, Columbia
University. He is author of Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern
China (Columbia UP, 2005).
Simon Wickham-Smith researches the life and poetry of the Sixth Dalai
Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso.
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