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The Tibet Journal

A publication for the study of Tibet

Lobsang Shastri

Yeshi Dhondup



Vol. XXXIV, No. 3 & 4 / Vol. XXXV, No.1 & 2

Autumn & Winter 2009/ Spring & Summer 2010
Special Issue

in memory of Gyatsho Tshering, founder and erstwhile Director of LTWA


Proceedings of
the International Seminar on Tibetan and Himalayan Studies
Held at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives
Dharamsala September 2009
on the Occasion of the Thank you India Year

edited by Roberto Vitali

List of Contents
Editorial ..........................................................................................


Philosophy and Practice

Helmut Tauscher
Remarks on Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and
his Madhyamaka Treatises ..............................................................

Sonam Tsering Ngulphu

Rab gnas: Shift in Religious and Soteriological Significance
in Tibetan Tradition ...................................................................


Amy Heller
Two Early Tibetan Ritual Diagrams for Cakra Meditations ..............


Religious History
Henk Blezer
Greatly Perfected, in Space and Time:
Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung ............


Roberto Vitali
In the Presence of the Diamond Throne: Tibetans at rDo rje gdan
(Last Quarter of the 12th Century to Year 1300) ................................


Jose Cabezon
The Life and Lives of Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub ................


David Templeman
South of the Border: Tranthas Perceptions of India .......................


Agata Bareja-Starzynska
The Mongolian Incarnation of Jo nang pa Trantha Kun dga snying po:
ndr Gegeen Zanabazar Blo bzang bstan pai rgyal mtshan ............. 243
History of Material Culture





Elliot Sperling
Some Preliminary Remarks on Influx of New World Silver into Tibet
during Chinas Silver Century (1550-1650) .....................................


Secular History
Peter Schwieger
Significance of Ming Titles Conferred upon the Phag mo gru Rulers:
A Reevaluation of Chinese-Tibetan Relation during the Ming Dynasty ...
John Bray
Krishnakanta Basu, Rammohan Ray and Early 19th Century British
Contacts with Bhutan and Tibet ..................................................
Jampa Samten
Notes on the Thirteenth Dalai Lamas
Confidential Letter to the Tsar of Russia .......................................




Cultural Geography
Bettina Zeisler
East of the Moon and West of the Sun? Approaches to a Land with
Many Names, North of Ancient India and South of Khotan ..................


Laxman S. Thakur
Sculptural Production during the bstan pa phyi dar and its Stylistic
Nomenclature: Some Examples from Khu nu of Rong Chung .........


Matthew Akester
The Rediscovery of dNgos grub sdings,
Notes on the Fate of Some Vajrayana Relics of Indian Origin
Preserved in Two Ancient Temples in the Lower sTod lung Valley .....


Franz-Karl Ehrhard
A Hidden Land at the Border of Ol-kha and Dvags-po ............... 493
Ethno-Anthropology and Linguistics
Katia Buffetrille
May the New Emerge from the Ancient! May the Ancient Serve the Present!
The Gesar Festival of Rma chen (A mdo 2002) ........................................ 523
Andrea Loseries
Wind Horse, Love Play and Wisdom Playing and Gambling:
A Phenomenon of Tibetan Culture ...............................................


Sangye Tandar Naga

Some Reflections on the Mysterious Nature of Tibetan Language ......... 561
Sonam B. Wangyal
The Walung-ngas: A Disappearing Tibetan Tribe .................................


Earth ox 2009 has been a year of introspection for the diaspora Tibetans
after a hectic 2008. Although a fifty year anniversary is not counted in
traditional Tibet, the fact that half a century has elapsed since fleeing their
land to exile has had a profound mental and emotional impact upon the
Tibetans and everyone who sides with them. Its significance has been felt
to the extent that several activities during the earth ox year were conceived
with a wish to pause and think once again where life for the Tibetans on
both sides of the border stands now.
It does not come as a surprise then that the Library of Tibetan Works
and Archives (Gangchen Kyishong), the most eminent Tibetan cultural
institution in the diaspora, decided, under the dynamic directorhip of Geshe
Lhakdor, to hold an International Seminar of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies,
a rare event in its history. This activity was conceived in order to thank
India for the Noble Lands hospitality to the Tibetans in exile.
With this move the Library somewhat meant to reaffirm its role of
augustalthough unofficialalma mater for a staggering number of scholars,
especially those who are now senior. The Library houses the best collection
of Tibetan literature in the free world. Despite its remote location in the
Himalayan hills and the fashionable availability of online documents, whereby
the noble ordeal of striving hard to get the chance to access a rare or distant
text has given way to cultural consumerism, the Library exercises even now
an irresistible attraction for those who treasure the wisdom of the ancient
written page. Scholars come to learn because they come to read.
In the history of the publication of documents that have become available for
research, the diaspora has had a seminal role in laying down the foundations of
modern Tibetan studies, with the LTWA having a major part in this. Credit for the
publication of a great number of fundamentals of the ancient Tibetan literature
during several previous decades goes to the Tibetans in exile. Even those living
under the Chinese have, in many instances, reprinted this crucial, ancient material.
They have made other sources accessible to the world of scholars, but the studies
are still based on the foundations laid by the diaspora. I see many of the present
day publications by Tibetan scholars, both in exile and occupied Tibet, as atypical
secondary sources inasmuch as, like the Western scholars, they base their output
upon the essential literary works published by the diaspora.
It is beautiful that, at least in the name of a common interest in culture
and its literary expressions, the wall of oppression that separates Tibetan
brothers and sisters has been smashed. There is still wide scope for the
diffusion of many textual rarities, veritable cultural milestones, crucial for

opening up and deepening the knowledge of Tibetan culture. It is my hope
that the the LTWA will continue to exercise its historical role as central
driving force to further the studies of the written knowledge of Tibet.
I was asked to convene the seminar quite latetwo months before
the date fixed for it. I took the place of the original convener who could
not work on its organisation. I thought I had to steer the seminar towards
a more monographic and topical theme (High Asia and the Noble Land)
in line with the 2009 concept of Thank you India, but obviously I felt it
was too late to change its subject. I nonetheless realised that the broad
theme of the seminar fit well into the sense of introspection which was
brought by the fiftieth anniversary of the Lhasa Revolt. In line with the
aspiration for freedom of the Tibetans, I thought the seminar should be,
before anything else, an expression of free thinking and a token of Tibetan
indebtness to their Indian friends for their hospitality and help in preserving
their individuality. This mkhas pai dga ston was organised with these
concepts in mind. My main aim was to communicate to the presenters a
sense of openess without constrictions and to provide an opportunity to sit
around the same table for several days to exchange knowledge and
viewpoints. I wished that, within the time limitation of a three day gathering,
the small group of participants would feel they could present their work
without the temporal and conceptual constraints of a wider congress.
I have tried to transfer the same attitude to the preparation of the
proceedings. We all together agreed when the contributions were bound
to be submitted and, although several scholars, as it normally happens,
were late with sending their paper, they submitted their work within a
reasonable lapse of time, so that I was spared from pressurising them.
Again in line with the approach of encouraging personal freedom, I left
carte blanche in terms of the length and style of the articles. The readers
will see that there are some long pieces, beyond what is considered a classical
length for contributions to proceedings, which remind meto paraphrase
the bSam yas council of the 8 th centuryof the views formulated by the
proponents of the gradualist way, and others whose contributions are quite
short, so that they fall into the category of contributions by cig char ba-s.
Some articles are utterly original, others reflect, in the best tradition of
congresses, research that will appear in fully-fledged form in the forthcoming
scholarly output of some participants. Please note that authors
idiosyncrasiessuch as the the way footnotes, bibiography, spellings or
italics are conceivedhave not been standardized to respect their style.

In the course of the seminar my thoughts went in particular to Gyatsho
Tshering, the founder and erstwhile Director of the Library of Tibetan
Works and Archives, who passed away two months before the gathering.
He founded the Library to be a place of learning for Tibetan, Indian and
foreign scholars from everywhere in the world and I think he would have
been pleased to observe the seminar. He was ideally with us. My personal
sentiment is to dedicate these proceedings to his memory.
With these lines I wish to express my appreciation to Geshe Lhakdor,
the LTWA Director, and Ngawang Yeshi, the LTWA General Secretary,
for their backing while I was putting together the seminar. A special thank
you goes to Tenzin Lhawang, the LTWA Computer Officer, who has helped
in many ways in the course of the preparations. Without his continuous
support I would have gone nowhere.
I am also grateful to the task force chosen to work with me in the last
steps of the preparations: Tenzin Gyaltsen, Norzom Tsering, Tsering Dhondup,
Namgay Phuntshog and Chemi Wangmo. I am equally obliged to Karma Kedhup
who opened the LTWA Visual and Audio Archives for me to choose rarities for
the entertainment of the scholars, and to Palmo Tsering for archival research.
Indraprastha Press as well as Yeshi Dhondup, Managing Editor of
Tibet Journal, and Tenzin Lhawang should be commended for undertaking
the arduous task of preparing the layout of this volume.
I ask forgiveness to the reader for my ungracious manner of making
family matters public, but I also wish to thank my wife, Bianca Visconti,
who was precious in lots of ways during every stage of the work.
Finally I am indebted to the participants in the seminar, friends of the
Library. They came from nearby and all over the globe at very short notice
to make their support and love for this institution felt. They again proved
their dedication to the Library by sending in the contributions published in
this volume. Thanks for their care and knowledge.

Dharamsala June 2010

Remarks on Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge

and his Madhyamaka Treatises
Helmut Tauscher

In 1995 Leonard van der Kuijp made a photocopy of a manuscript of

Phya pa1 Chos kyi seng ges dBu ma shar gsum kyi stong thun available
in the West. It was the first text by Phya pa ever seen outside of Tibet, and
quite a sensation within Tibetan studies; an edition of this text was published
in 1999.2 Meanwhile a number of texts by Phya pa though most probably
not his complete oeuvre have been discovered in the Fifth Dalai Lamas
library at Drepung, and facsimile editions thereof are available in the bKa
gdams gsung bum, volumes 6-9, published in 2006. In recent years, this
fact led to an increasing interest in Phya pas works among both Tibetan
and western scholars.
Nevertheless, no major study on Phya pas Madhyamaka interpretation
has been published yet;3 to the best of my knowledge, the excellent work by
Kevin Vose, Resurrecting Candrakrti. Disputes in the Tibetan Creation
of Prsagika,4 although it does not deal with Phya pa exclusively, is up to
now the only scholarly work that discusses and analyses greater parts of
the Shar gsum; it does, however, not take into consideration Phya pas
other treatises. Earlier publications dealing with or touching upon Phya pa5
concentrate on his contribution to Tibetan logic and epistemology, which
was known from quotations and references by other authors, in particular
by Shkya mchog ldan (14281507), and also more recent works6 focus on
this topic. One short article (in Japanese) deals with Phya pas interpretation
of the Ratnagotravibhga.7 Several scholars, however, are recently working
on Phya pas Madhyamaka or have presented papers at conferences on

Alternative spellings of this name are Phywa pa and Cha pa.

See TAUSCHER 1999b, 2003.
VOSE 2009.
See e.g. KUIJP 1978, 1983; JACKSON 1987; TILLEMANS 1989; ONODA 1986, 1992;
6 See several chapters in Hugon 2008a, Hugon 2008b, 2009 and forthcoming a, b,
c; STOLTZ 2007and forthcoming.
7 KANO 2003.

Helmut Tauscher

this topic, e.g., Pascale Hugon, Ritsu Akahane, James Blumenthal, Jongbok
Yi, and Dorji Wangchuk. Others are touching upon Phya pa in papers dealing
with early bKa gdams pa, like Thomas Doctor, Kevin Vose, or Kazuo Kano.8
Still, the studies of his Madhyamaka treatises have not yet advanced to
a degree that would allow for a comprehensive survey of his Madhyamaka
position. Therefore this paper presents still, one decade after the first
publication of the Shar gsum only preliminary remarks. It does not touch
upon subtle philosophical issues and problems, and it is restricted to basic
topics and general observations in connection with the Shar gsum stong
thun and the bDen gnyis grel ba, a commentary to Jnagarbhas
Satyadvaya-vibhaga (SDV). It also raises the questions however,
without claiming to provide answers why Phya pa as an Mdhyamika has
been practically forgotten by the tradition itself, and whether the critique
voiced against Phya pa by later dGe lugs pa authors is justified. Based on
the two texts mentioned, it also shows Phya pas (direct or indirect) impact
on later in particular dGe lugs pa Madhyamaka exegesis.
Although Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge (1109-1169) was arguably one of
the leading scholar of his time, only a little biographical data9 is known apart
from the years of his birth and death.

In the fields of his particular expertise, i.e. Madhyamaka and Prama,

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge was a disciple of rGya dmar pa Byang chub
grags; Padma dkar po even states that he was best of rGya dmar pas
students.10 Thus he represents via Khyung Rin chen grags pa and
rGya dmar pa the third generation in the transmission lineage of rNgog
Blo ldan shes rab (1059-1109) who is considered as the founder of the
Svtatrika tradition in Tibet.11
At the age of twenty he acted as a tutor of important hierarchs like
the First Karma pa, Dus gsum mkhyen pa, and Phag mo gru pa at
gSang phu sNeu thog, for several centuries the center of monastic

For 18 years he presided at gSang phu sNeu thog as abbot. Byams

pa kun dga byung gnas in his gSang phu gdan rabs even relates a
35year period of abbotship.12 However, as Phya pa passed away at

This information I owe to Pascale Hugon, personal communication.

See KUIJP 1978: 355.
Padma chos byung, 190b.
See TAUSCHER 1995, n.4.
See ONODA 1989: 205f.

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises

the age of 60, this would mean that he was appointed abbot at the age
of 25, which seems rather unlikely.

Among his disciples we find renowned scholars and teachers like

the eight mighty lions (seng chen): gTsang nag pa brTson grus
seng ge, Dan bag pa sMra bai seng ge, Bru sha bSod nams seng ge,
rMa bya rTsod pai seng ge (= rMa bya Byang chub brtson grus),
rTsags dBang phyug seng ge (a teacher of Sa skya Paita), Myang
bran Chos kyi seng ge, lDan ma dKon mchog seng ge and gNyal pa
Yon tan seng ge,
the four Jo sras: Khon Jo sras rtse mo, rNgog Jo sras ra mo, Khu Jo
sras ne tso and gNyos Jo sras dpal le, the four wise ones (shes rab
can): Gar dBang grub, Kong po Jag chung, Lho pa sGog zan and Bar
pu pa,
the three who attained spiritual realisation (grub thob): Dus
gsum mkhyen pa dPal chos kyi grags pa, Phag mo gru pa and
gSal sto sho sgom, and bSod nams rtse mo, the second Sa skya
pa hierarch.
Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge was renowned as a great philosopher and
scholar, in particular he was and still is well known for his achievements
in logic and for his contributions to the development of bsdus grwa.
However, he is never mentioned as a particular great and kind-hearted
religious leader.
All of Phya pas works had been missing for several centuries. They were
unknown not only to western scholarly research, but also to the Tibetan
Buddhist tradition. When listing the works ascribed to Phya pa, already
Gos lotsva gZhon nu dpal (1392-1481) in his Deb ther sngon po admits
that some of them he had not seen personally, but only heard about. He lists
the following works: Commentaries on the Five Treatises of Maitreya,
Pramavinicaya, Satyadvaya-vibhaga, Madhyamaklakra,
Madhyamakloka, Bodhicryvatra, and other texts, as well as the
respective abridged summaries (bsdus pa), Tshad mai Yid kyi mun sel
with commentary, Yid kyi mun sel without commentary, a long and a short
summary of the Madhyamaka system (dBu ma bsdus pa che chung), and,
unseen by Gos lotsva, a Phyi nang gi grub mtha bsdus pa and a Shes
bya gzhi lngai bshad pa. 13
In addition, Shkya mchog ldan (1428-1507) mentions a commentary on
the Prama-vrttika among Phya pas works.14 However, although Phya
13 Blue Annals: 332f.
14 Tshad mai byung tshul: 12.

Helmut Tauscher

pa apparently knew the Prama-vrttika,15 it remains doubtful whether

he really did write a commentary on it.16
Nevertheless, Shkya mchog ldan seems to be the last Tibetan master
who probably knew and read Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge; he quotes a
passage of some 3.5 folios from the Shar gsum stong thun and refutes it
in detail.17 Of course, Phya pas works must have been extant during the
17th century, as their manuscripts were discovered in the Fifth Dalai Lamas
library, but there is no evidence as to whether or not they were actually
read and studied.
By the 19 th century they were apparently known only from hearsay,
i.e., from references like the one in the Deb ther sgon po. A khu Rin
po che Shes rab rgya mtsho (1803-1875) includes Phya pas works in
h i s T h o y i g , 18 w h i c h L o k e s h C h a n d r a c a l l s a n a u t o c h t h o n
bibliography of books which were already rare or of extraordinary
value in the Tibetan world. 19 However, one cannot avoid the
impression that missing texts, desiderata, are equally included. The
texts listed are with only minor deviations the same that already
Gos lotsva had mentioned:
In the section of stages of the path, purification of the mind, etc. (lam
rim blo sbyong sogs kyi skor): a commentary on the Bodhicryvatra;
in the Madhyamaka section: commentaries on the
Satyadvayavibhaga, Madhyamakloka, Madhyamaklakra
and Uttaratantra; a long and a short summary of Madhyamaka
(dBu ma bsdus pa che chung);
in the Prajpramit section: a Prajpramit commentary (phar
phyin ikka);
in the section of logic and epistemology (rnam grel gyi skor): a
commentary on the Pramavinicaya, a Tshad mai bsdus pa Yid
kyi mun sel together with an auto-commentary, a Tshad bsdus Yid kyi
mun sel alone (rkyang pa), and a Shes bya gzhi lngai bshad pa;
in the siddhnta section: a Phyi nang gi grub mthai rnam bzhag
bsdus pa. 20


One verse is quoted in Shar gsum; see Tauscher 1999, n. 91.

Cf. Kuijp 1978: 357.
Lung rigs rgya mtsho rgya mtsho 14: 518,5522,6; 522,6-533,2.
dPe rgyun dkon pa ga zhig gi tho yig. Don gnyer yid kyi kunda bzhad pai
zla od bum gyi snye ma. See Lokesh Chandra 1963: 637ff.
19 Lokesh Chandra 1963: 629.
20 Op. cit.: 637-677, Nos. 11076, 11317-11321, 11473, 11803-11806, 11910.

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises

In the bKa gdams gsung bum (vol. 6: 185 vol. 9: 598) not all the
texts are included which are listed above; on the other hand, a number of
works are contained which are not mentioned in later sources:21
1. dBu ma bden gnyis kyi grel ba / dBu ma bden pa gnyis rnam par
bshad pa yi ge nyung ngus gzhung gsal bar byed pa.
2. ---/ dBu ma bden pa gnyis kyi don bsdus pa.
3. dBu ma snang bai grel ba / dBu ma snang bai gzhung gi don
rigs pai tshul dang myi gal zhing blo chung bas kyang bde blag
du rtogs pa byis pai jug ngos su sbyar ba.
4. dBu ma rgyan gyi grel ba / dBu ma rgyan gyi grel pa rgya cher
bshad pa.
5. dBu mai de kho na nyid bsdus pa / dBu ma de kho na nyid kyi
snying po.
The alternative and apparently more popular title dBu ma shar
gsum gyi stong thun is given on the title page. Most probably this
treatise represents the longer version of the dBu ma bsdus pa che
chung mentioned by Gos lotsva and A khu Rinpoche; the shorter
version, which is not extant, might have been a summary (bsdus
don / don bsdus pa), consisting in a structural outline (sa bcad) of
the same text.
6. sPyod jug bsdus don / Byang chub sems dpai spyod pa la jug
pai don bsdus pa.
7. --- / bSlab pa kun las btus pai don bsdus pa; a fragment of 13 lines.
8. Theg pa chen po rgyud bla mai bsdus (pai) don.
9. Theg pa chen po rgyud bla mai bstan bcos (kyi tshig dang don
gyi) rgya cher bsnyad pa phra bai don gsal ba.
10. Theg chen mdo sde rgyan gyi legs bshad yang rgyan nyi od gsal
ba / mDo sde rgyan gyi bshad pa.
11. Theg (pa) chen (po) mdo sde rgyan gyi lus rnam bshag.
12. Tshad ma rnam par nges pai bsdus don.
13. Tshad ma rnam par nges pai grel ba / Tshad ma rnam par g e s
pai grel bshad yi ge dang rigs pai gnad la jug pai shes rab
kyi od zer.
14. Tshad ma yid kyi mun sel.
15. bDe bar gshegs pa dang phyi rol pai gzhung rnam par byed pa.
21 The titles are quoted in the form in which they appear in the catalogue (dkar
chag) of the bKa gdams gsung bum and the volume-dkar chag. Alternative
titles given in the colophons are separated from the first entry by an oblique.
In cases where the difference between dkar chag and colophon consist in
merely a few additional syllables, these are given between brackets.

Helmut Tauscher
16. So thar mdoi grel ba.
17. Od ldan zhes bya bai mikk tshig don rab gsal (ba).
18. dGe tshul rnams kyi bslab pai rim pa ston pai rnam bshad /
Thams cad yod par smra bai dge tshul rnams kyi bslab pai rim
pa ston pai rnam par bshad pa.

Taking into consideration that Phya pa chos kyi seng ge is renowned

mainly for his achievments in the field of logic and epistemology, there
are strikingly few works on this topic. In fact, there are only two texts
extant: one independant treatise, the Yid kyi mun sel, and one commentary
on Dharmakrtis Pramavinicaya, the Tshad ma rnam par nges pai
grel ba. A third one, the Shes bya gzhi lngai bshad pa, is apparently
known only from hearsay; the Yid kyi mun sel without auto-commentary
and the Tshad ma rnam par nges pai bsdus don have most probably
not to be counted as separate works. I am only pointing out this fact,
without any attempt to interpeting it, as this, at the present stage, would
mean mere speculation.
As a Mdhyamika, Phya pa chos kyi seng ge is generally considered to
be a strict Svtantrika. However, when using the terms Prsagika and
Svtantrika, usually one thinks of this distinction as Tsong kha pa and the
dGe lugs pa school make it, who put great emphasis on this issue and its
ontological and epistemological implication. During Phya pas lifetime, it
only started to develop, and it was restricted to the methodological question
whether a prasaga or svatantra type of reasoning should be used to prove
non-substantiality. The ontological and epistemological implications22 were
not yet thought of, and even the definitions of prasaga and svatantra were
not the same as in later centuries.23 At the present stage of research, it is not
clear at all whether Phya pa is actually to be classified as a Svtantrika even
according to the dGe lugs pa interpretation of the term; this question still has
to be clarified in detailed analysis.
Whatever the results of this analysis will be, in general terms, Gos
lotsva states that Phya pa wrote many refutations of the works of the
crya Candrakrti,24 and a similar statement is made also by Shkya mchog
ldan.25 The exegetical tradition that Phya pa follows is clear already from
the titles of the works. His only independent Madhyamaka treatise, the dBu
ma de kho na nyid kyi snying po or dBu ma shar gsum gyi stong thun,

Cf. TAUSCHER 1995: 122f.

On this topic, see TAUSCHER 2003.
Blue Annals: 334.
dBu mai byung tshul: 234,6: ... Zla bai bstan bcos kyi tshig don gnyis ka la
dgag pai rnam grangs shin tu mang po yod pai bstan bcas mdzad.

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises

the Summary of the crucial points 26 (in the teachings) of the three
(Svtantrika) Madhyamaka (masters) from the East (dbu ma [rang rgyud
pa] shar gsum), follows the tradition of Jnagarbha, ntarakita and
Kamalala. In another explanation, the expression dbu ma shar gsum refers
to the main works of these masters, i.e. the Satyadvayavibhaga,
Madhyamaklakra, and Madhyamakloka.27 Exactly on these texts
Phya pa composed his Madhyamaka commentaries. These Indian masters
are known to strongly emphasise the strict method of independent syllogism
(svtantrnumna) in accordance with the tradition of Dignga and
Dharmakrti within Madhyamaka argumentation. Phya pa equals, or even
exceeds, them in this respect.
Accordingly, the greater part of his main Madhyamaka treatise, the Shar
gsum stong thun, is dedicated to demonstrating the importance of reasoning
by means of an independent syllogism (svatantra) and to explaining this
syllogism. The overal structure of this text seems to be influenced by
Jnagarbhas Satyadvayavibhaga; it consists of three main sections:
Ascertainment of the objects of cognition (shes bya nges bar bya ba),
Mahyna practice, and buddhabhmi.
The first one, covering some 85% of the entire text, is a discussion
of the two realities (bden pa gnyis). It consists of two parts:
Distinction (dbye ba) and Definition/ characteristics (mtshan nyid)
of the two realities.
The greatest part of this latter section on mtshan id is dedicated to the
Negation of true(ly established) entities (yang dag pai dngos po dgag
pa), consisting of a Refutation of the object of negation being negated by
prasaga (dgag bya thal gyur gyis gog pa sun dbyung ba) and a
presentation How an [independent] syllogism negates discursive
development (rjes dpag gis spros pa gog pai tshul).
The first of these sub-sections comprises as main topics an Exposition
of the opponents [i.e. the Prsagikas] system (gzhan kyi lugs dgod
pa), discussions why It is not correct not to accept the use of svatantra
(rang rgyud kyi sbyor ba khas mi len pa mi thad pa) and why A
prasaga is unable to negate a realistic position (thal gyur gyis dngos
por smra ba gog mi nus pa), and a short presentation of Phya pas own
system (rang gi lugs rnam par gzhag pa).
The second sub-section presents mainly a detailed discussion of the
independent syllogism suited to proving all-pervading emptiness,
26 On the term stong thun, meaning summary of the crucial points, cf. the
explanation of Tshig mdzod chen mo: gnad don stong phrag du ma thun thun
du bsdus pa ste spyi don; vgl. YOSHIMIZU 1996: 7.
27 See TAUSCHER 1999b: n. 2 and 3.

Helmut Tauscher

structured according to its individual parts: dharmin, sdhya, hetu,

adharmat and vypti.
In general, one of the favourite topics of Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge
apparently it could almost be called an obsession is the classification of
prasaga and the svatantra implied by them (rang rgyud phangs pa), the
respective prasagavparyaya of the Indian prama tradition. As related
by Shkya mchog ldan, he classifies the prasaga into 18 types, five of
which do not imply a svatantra as a contra-position, three of which imply
a svatantra of own type (rang rigs), and ten a svatantra of heterogeneous
type (gzhan rigs). This classification is taken over by Sa skya Paita
Kun dga rgyal mtshan (1182-1251) in a slightly extended form, which is
handed down by Shkya mchog ldan and Go ram pa bSod nams seng ge
(1429-1489). 28
In both the Shar gsum stong thun and the bDen gnyis grel ba, Phya pa
refers to this classification in the context of discussing the relation of the two
realities, based on the passage of the Sadhinirmocanastra which teaches
four unacceptable consequences though technically speaking not in the
form of prasaga implied by each of the alternatives in the position that
the characteristic of the conditioned and the characteristic of the ultimate
are non-different or different (du byed kyi mtshan nyid dang | don dam
pai mtshan nyid tha dad pa ma yin paam | tha dad pa zhes zer ba). 29
Phya pa reformulates the consequences stated in the stra in the form of a
prasaga , and he gives the respective implied svatantra or
prasagaviparyaya in each case.
In most of the cases Shar gsum stong thun and in bDen gnyis grel
ba agree, but in two cases there is a significant divergence.
Under the assumption that the conditioned and the absolute are different
(in nature), it follows:
1) Suchness (tathat) would not negate the proliferation (prapaca)
of appearing phenomena.
Shar gsum stong thun does not state the type of the prasaga:
Consequently, someone who understands emptiness does not eliminate the
imputation (samropa) of an (ultimately) real nature on appearing
phenomena, because he does not understand their nature. In analogy to the
second consequence, it can be taken as a prasaga (with the logical reason)
of non-perception of the pervading property (khyab byed mi dmigs pa,
28 See ONODA 1986: 81f. and 1992 85f.
29 SNS 3. 3-5. For a discussion of the respective passage in the Shar gsum thong
thun see TAUSCHER 2003: 213-218.

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises

It implies a svatantra with the logical reason of essential property (rang

bzhin, svabhva): He (who understands emptiness) understands their
substance [by understanding emptiness], because he removes imputation
[of an ultimately real nature] on appearing phenomena through [its] removal
by the experience establishing imputation [of an ultimately real nature] as
being removed.30
Basically the same prasaga is formulated slightly differently in bDen
gnyis grel ba, but classified as a prasaga with (the logical reason) of
perception of what is pervaded by the incompatible (gal bas khyab
pa dmigs pa, viruddhavyptopalabdhi): The understanding of the absolute
as emptiness would not devaluate the imputation of the conventional being
of (ultimately) real nature, because something different from the conventional
is understood.
It implies a svatantra with the logical reason of [perception of] what
is incompatible with the pervading property (khyab byed gal ba
[dmigs pa], vypakaviruddha-[upalabdhi]): Because [by understanding
the absolute] the imputation [of an ultimately real nature] on the conventional
is devaluated, [understanding the absolute] is not understanding something
different from the conventional.31
2) Emptiness would not be suited to being suchness (de bzhin nyid).
Here, Shar gsum stong thun names a prasaga (with the logical
reason) of non-perception of the pervading property (khyab byed mi
dmigs pai thal ba) and, again, gives the implied svatantra with the logical
reason of essential property (rang bzhin gyi rtags):
Because emptiness did not consist in the nature of appearing
p h e n o m e n a , i t w o u l d n o t b e t h e t r u e p r o p e r t y ( c h o s n y i d) o f
appearing phenomena.
Because [imputation of an ultimately real nature] is removed by establishing
[emptiness] as true property [of appearing phenomena] through inference;

30 Shar gsum stong thun: 6,2-7: stong nyid jal ba po des snang ba la bden
pai dngos poi sgro dogs mi gcod par thal te snang bai bdag nyid mi jal
bai phyir ... sgro dogs sel bar grub pai myong bas bsal bas snang ba la
sgro dogs sel bas dei rdzas jal lo.
31 bDen gnyis grel ba: 195,1 (plus insertion in the margin): don dam pa stong
pa nyid du jal ba des kun rdzob pa di dngos por yod pai sgro dogs la myi
gnod par gyur te | kun rdzob kyi bden pa las gzhan jal bai phyir kun
rdzob la sgro dogs la gnod pas kun rdzob las gzhan jal ma yin. For the type
of prasaga and implied svatantra, and its origins in Indian Buddhist
philosophy, see KAJIYAMA 1998: 133 and 83.


Helmut Tauscher

therefore, as it is the true property, [emptiness] is the nature of appearing

bDen gnyis grel ba, too, gives the same set of a prasaga with (the
logical reason) of perception of what is pervaded by the incompatible
(gal bas khyab pa dmigs pa) and an implied svatantra with the logical
reason of [perception of] what is incompatible with the pervading
property (khyab byed gal ba [dmigs pa]) as in the previous case. Again,
apart from the different classification, there is no obvious essential difference
from Shar gsum stong thun:
Consequently, freedom from proliferation would not be the true property
of the conventional, because these two are mutually exclusive.
Because [mutal exclusion] is invalidated by ascertaining through inference
that [freedom from proliferation] is the true property [of the conventional],
(these two) are not mutually exclusive.33
The type of prasaga and implied svatantra mentioned by Shar gsum
stong thun in these two cases correspond to the fourth (according to Shkya
mchog ldan, No 13 in Go ram pas list) of Sa skya Paitas prasagas
implying an heterogeneous svtantra (rang rigs phen pa). The type
given in bDen gnyis grel ba appears, slightly modified, only in Go ram
pas accout (No 12: gal bai khyab bya dmigs pa khyab byed dang
gal ba de dmigs pa). In Shkya mchog ldans list, we find two pairs that
could possibly be referred to:
No 5: prasaga with the logical reason of perception of what is pervaded
by something incompatible with the essential property (rang bzhin
dang gal bai khyab bya dmigs pa, svabhvaviruddhavyptopalabdhi)
implied svatantra with the logical reason of perception of the essential
property being incompatible with the pervading property (khyab byed
dang gal bai rang bzhin dmigs pa, *vypakaviruddhasvabhvopalabdhi),
No 13: prasaga with the logical reason of perception of the essential
property being incompatible with the pervading property (khyab byed
dang gal bai rang bzhin dmigs pa, *vypakaviruddhasvabhvopalabdhi)
implied svatantra with the logical reason of perception of what
is pervaded by something incompatible with the essential

32 Shar gsum stong thun: 6,10-13: stong pa nyid snang bai ngo bor mi gnas
pas snang bai chos nyid ma yin par gyur te ... rjes dpag gis chos nyid du
grub pas bsal bas chos nyid yin pas snang bai ngo bo yin no.
33 bDen gnyis grel ba: 195, insertion in the margin, 2: spros bral kun rdzob
pai chos nyid ma yin par thal te | de gnyis phan tshun spangs pai phyir
... chos nyid du rjes dpag gis nges pas gnod pas chos nyid yin pas phan
tshun spang ma yin.

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises


p r o p e r t y ( r a n g bzhin dang gal bai khyab bya dmigs pa,

svabhvaviruddhavyptopalabdhi). 34
According to the formulation, No 5 might be closer to bDen gnyis grel
ba than No 13, but both of them are listed by Go ram pa separately (Nos 3
and 9), so that an identification of bDen gnyis grel ba with either of them
does not seem to be justified. 35 Specialists in the field of logic and
epistemology will have to decide this question.
3) For appearing phenomena the mere negation of a real thing would
not be suited to being the essential property (svabhva).
This consequence poses some problems. The text of Shar gsum stong
thun appears to be incomplete in the manuscript edited in Tauscher 1999a
as well as in the bKa gdams gsung bum, which represents a different
manuscript. The latter, however, provides a variant reading, in the light of
which my previous attempts to hypothetically reconstruct the original
message of the text36 do not apply any more.
The prasaga can now be read as: This mere negation of person
(pudgala) and entity (dharma) for the conditioned would not be suchness,
because [suchness] is different from the conditioned. 37 However, the
problem remains that it is called a prasaga refuting an affirmed
pervasion with the logical reason ascertained by valid cognition (khyab
pa khas blangs pa rtags tshad mas nges pai sun byin pai thal ba).
Could this be a paraphrase of the technical term non-perception of the
pervading property (khyab byed mi dmigs pa)? In this case, the addition
ascertained by valid cognition would be a general rather than a distinctive
description of the logical reason, similar to the expression conventionally
proving (tha snyad sgrub pa) in the same context.38 The implied svatantra,
which is missing here, would have to operate with the logical reason of
essential property, just as above.
It would also agree with bDen gnyis grel ba, where a prasaga of nonperception of the pervading property is given. The type of implied svatantra
34 The translation of the terms follows largely Kajiyama 1998: 84. Shkya mchog
ldan lists three more types of prasaga which bDen gnyis grel ba could
theoretically refer to (Nos 9, 10, 15). However, they include the categories
of cause and effect, which do not apply in the context of the relation between
the absolute and the conventional; thus, they are not taken into account here.
35 Cf. Tauscher 2003: 218.
36 See TAUSCHER 2003: 215.
37 Shar gsum stong thun: 6,15f.: du byed la gang zag dang chos khegs pa tsam
de de bzhin nyid ma yin par gyur te du byed las gzhan yin* pai phyir.
* 6,16 ma yin; ma is deleded in bKa gdams gsung bum: 7. 22,2.
38 Cf. TAUSCHER 2003: 214, n. 32.


Helmut Tauscher

is not mentioned, but, again, it should be one with the logical reason of
essential property.39
4) The gnosis of the Buddha would be defiled and pure at the same time.
In this case Shar gsum stong thun and bDen gnyis grel ba agree on a
different type of prasaga,40 i.e. the one with the logical reason of essential
property, implying a svatantra of non-perception of the pervading
property (No 2 of Sa skya Paitas list, No 14 of Go ram pa):
Defilement and purification would occur simultaneously in one mental
continuum, because it embraces a real thing as well as perceives emptiness.
Defilement and purification do not occur simultaneously for the Buddha,
because this is invalidated by authoritative scripture; therefore the
conditioned and emptiness are not seen separately.41
bDen gnyis grel ba formulates a very similar prasaga and implied svatantra.42
With regard to the unacceptable consequences of the assumption that
the absolute and the conventional are not different (with regard to the
characteristic distinction [ldog pa, vyv tti]), Shar gsum stong thun and
bDen gnyis grel ba agree in all four cases.
For consequence 1) Emptiness would be suited to being cognized by
direct perception of ordinary beings, and 2) Emptiness would be a support
(lambana) for the obstructions (varaa), they both give a prasaga
with the logical reason of the essential property (rang bzhin, svabhva)
which implies a svatantra with the logical reason of non-perception of the
pervading property (khyab byed mi dmigs pa, vypaknupalabdhi). 43
For consequence 3) Also physical (rpin) and non-physical
phenomena would be without divisions, because they are non-different
from emptiness with regard to the characteristic distinction, and 4) It
would not be necessary to seek emptiness in a way other than through
39 bDen gnyis grel ba: 195,2-4.
40 Shar gsum stong thun states explicitly only the type of the implied svatantra.
41 Shar gsum stong thun: 7,3-8: ... kun nas nyon mongs pa dang rnam byang
rgyud cig la dus cig du ldan par gyur te | bden pai dngos por yang zhen la
stong pa nyid kyang mthong bai phyir ro || lung gis gnod pas sangs rgyas
la kun nas nyon mongs dang rnam byang dus cig tu myed pas du byed dang
stong pa nyid so sor gzigs pa myed.
42 bDen gnyis grel ba: 195,4f.: spros bral legs par gzigs pas rnam byang
duang gyur la | kun rdzob spros bral gyis dben pai spros bcas gzigs
pas kun nas nyon mongs suang gyur bas | kun nas nyon mongs dang
rnam byang dus cig duang gyur
dus cig tu myed par lung nas bshad pas de gnyis phan tshun spangs par ma gzigs.
43 No 2 in in Sa skya Paitas list of prasagas implying a heterogeneous
svatantra, as related by Shkya mchog ldan. Shar gsum stong thun: 12,1-8;

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises


seeing and hearing, viz. through contemplative endeavor, because it is nondifferent from appearing phenomena with regard to the characteristic
distinction, both texts state a prasaga with the logical reason of the
perception of what is pervaded by the incompatible (gal bas khyab
pa dmigs pa, viruddhavyptopalabdhi), and an implied svatantra with the
logical reason of perception of what is incompatible with the pervading
property (khyab byed gal ba dmigs pa, vypakaviruddhopalabdhi).44
The diverging classification of the prasaga for the consequences 1) and
2) of the position that the absolute and the conventional are different in nature
could reflect a development in Phya pas prasaga classification nothing is
known about the relative chronology of his works. However, it could also
represent an error of the actual author of either text, presumably of the
bDen gnyis grel ba. The colophons of both the bDen gnyis grel ba and its
bsDus don say: composed by the logician monk Chos kyi seng ge (rig(s)
par smra bai dge slong Chos kyi seng ges sbyar pa). Nevertheless, there is
some evidence that evokes the impression that one of the texts or both are
lecture-notes taken by some pupils rather than Phya pas own writing; of
course, there is no proof for this admittedly rather personal and speculative
assumption. If it is correct, it would by no means be a unique situation;
several examples are known within the Tibetan tradition, where the explanations
of a master were actually written down by a student, and nevertheless the text
is transmitted under the authorship of the master. In general, one can conclude
nothing from this fact. Here, however, it might have some significance.
The specific classification of the prasaga can serve as one evidence for
this assumption, but only if it is viewed in combination with others, e.g., the
reference to this classification in a context, where it is obviously out of place.
Within the commentary on SDV 6, the section Refuting the application of
(the term paramrthasatya) to a conceptual basis of characteristics, i.e. an affirming
bDen gnyis grel ba: 195,7-196,2.The specification khyab byed mi dmigs pa for
the implied svatantra of the first consequence is missing in bDen gnyis grel
ba: 196,1. In the discussion of the second consequence, the text of Shar gsum
stong thun is corrupt in TAUSCHER 1999a: 12,6-8 as well as in the bKa gdams
gsung bum vol. 7: 26,3f.: yang stong pa nyid snang ba dang ldog pa tha mi
dad pas sgrib pai dmigs par gyur zhes pa{i} [rang bzhin gyi] thal ba dang
sgrib pai dmigs pa ma yin pas snang ba dang ldog pa tha mi dad ma yin zhes
pa{i/nag rang bzhin gyi thal bas} khyab byed mi dmigs pai rang rgyud
phen pao || {} to be deleted, [] to be amended; cf. TAUSCHER 2003: n. 40.
44 Shar gsum stong thun: 12,9-15; bDen gnyis grel ba:196,2-4 (reads khyab
byed gal ba instead of khyab byed gal ba dmigs pa). For the type of
pransaga and implied svatantra, see above and n.31..


Helmut Tauscher

negation (de mtshan gzhi snang bcas ma yin dgag la jug pa dgag pa)45 has a
sub-division: Proof of pak
adharmat (phyogs chos sgrub pa). Within that, we
find a sub-section Proof by logical argumentation in the case of a different
understanding of the meaning of the scriptural authority (lung gi don gzhan du
rtog pa la rigs pas bsgrub pa). Scriptural authority, in this case, refers to a
quotation from the Dharmasagtistra: Not seeing anything/something particular
is seeing reality (ga yang mthong med pa ni de kho na mthong bao), and the
discussion is exactly on the question whether ga yang should be understood as
anything (i.e. everything whatsoever) or something particular. In fact it is a
discussion on the Yogcra concept of self-perception (rang rig, svasamvedana).46
This section, in turn, has a very short sub-section entitled The prasaga
implying [a svatantra] proving pakcadharmat in the (syllogism mentioned
before) (dei phyogs chos sgrub byed phen pai thal ba). It consists
of nothing but the identification of the passage in SDVV commented on,
and the name the particular type of prasaga and implied svatantra:
To the objection that (cognition) is not established without the
projection of aspects, it is replied: If one assumes that it [perceives] its
own picture [SDVV 157,29f.]. Because of the projection of aspects
it follows that the object of experience and the experiencing subject are of
different substance is a prasaga with the logical reason of essential
property. Because they are not of different substance, there is no place
for a projection of aspects is a svatantra (with the logical reason) of nonperception of the pervading property. 47
This is definitely not the topic here, and the sa bcad heading is equally
misplaced in the given context as dealing with the prasaga classification
45 bDen gnyis grel ba: 202,5-213,8.
46 This discussion poses a general problem. Like Jnagarbha, also Phya pa
opposes the Yogcra position, which interprets ga yang as referring to
parakaliptasvabhva only, and understands it in the strict sense of
everything whatsoever. On the other hand, he dedicates much space in his
Shar gsum stong thun to refuting the position that the absolute reality is
not an object of cognition (don dam bden pa shes bya ma yin) (18,7-22,17),
and he strictly defines the objects of cognition as the basis for distinction
(dbye gzhi) of the two realities (1,17-2,2; see also below). At the present
stage, I am unable to offer a solution for this seeming contradiction.
47 bDen gnyis grel ba: 204,1f.: (gnyis pa ni) rnam pa ma gtad par ma grub
po zhe na rang snang par khas len na [SDVV 157,29f.] zhes gsungs te |
rnam pa gtad pai phyir myong bya myong byed rdzas tha dad par thal
zhes rang bzhin gyi rtags kyi thal ba yin la | rdzas tha dad myed pas rnam
pa gtad sa myed ces pa khyab byed mi dmyigs pai rang rgyud yin no.

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises


in general. Of course, this judgement is based on a personal impression,

and the specific approach to the question might not be particularely
scholarly, but it suggests itself to imagine the concrete classroom
situation: Phya pa, in the course of discussing the given topic, points out
that here, again, it is the case of a prasaga of this and that kind (which
they might have talked about the previous day), and the student, knowing
the masters obsession, notes down exactly this as the crucial point.
Fortunately, the bDen gnyis bsdus don provides an opportunity to
scrutinize suspicions with regard to the overall structure of the bDen
gnyis grel ba. The bsDus don is nothing but the structural outline
(sa bcad) of the SDV(V) according to the interpretation of Phya pa
Chos kyi seng ge, or rather, to Phya pas explanations of of this text.
As the example below will demonstrate, it is by no means sure that it
is also the structural outline of that bDen gnyis grel ba wich is extant
among Phya pas writings. To a large degree, it agrees with the sa
bcad of the bDen gnyis grel ba, but there are also considerable
divergences: sub-divisions mentioned in one text, but not in the other,
and diverting titles of the sections, etc. Unfortunately, one of the more
essential divergences occurs exactly at this particular section
commenting on verse 6 of the SDV; it provides no help at all with the
question whether the sa bcad section dei phyogs chos sgrub byed
phen pai thal ba is authentic.
The Grel ba does not mention any division for the chapter Proof
by logical argumentation in the case of a different understanding of the
meaning of the scriptural authority (lung gi don gzhan du rtog pa la
rigs pas bsgrub pa) as such. It starts with stating the Yogcra position,
that ga yang mthong ba med pa means not seeing parakalpita
indicated as [bstan pa] in the chart below , and it structures only its
refutation, which consists of three parts: The opponents position
(gzhan lugs), Its refutation (de sun dbyung pa) and The own
position (rang lugs).


Helmut Tauscher

Abbreviated sa bcad of the chapter lung gi don gzhan du rtog pa la rigs

pas bsgrub pa in the bDen gnyis bsdus don and bDen gnyis grel ba
(Figures in round brackets after the section-titles denote the number of subsections mentioned in the text; amendments to the text are given in square brackets;
figures in separated columns indicate the verses from SDV used as pratka
(pratkas from SDVV are not mentioned); the entry none denotes that no pratka
is given for the respective section, neither from SDV nor from SDVV.)

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises


This third section consists of the two main parts mentioned in the bsDus
don as the two divisions of the entire chapter: Refutation of seeing
paratantra and parini
panna (gzhan dbang dang yongs grub gzigs
pa dgag pa) (ad SDV 6a-c), and Refutation of [the assumption] that
paratantra belongs to the absolute (gzhan dbang don dam nyid la dgag pa)
(ad SDV 6d).
That means that the initial part containing the presentation and refutation
of the opponents position in the Grel ba is included in the first main section
of the bsDus don, represented by the first sub-section, Dispute (rgol
ba). This correspondence between Dispute in bsDus don and Its
refutation (de sun byin pa) and Opponents position (gzhan gyi lugs)
in Grel ba is attested by the use of the same pratkas of SDV(V) in
both texts.
The section Proof of pervasion (khyab pa bsgrub pa, 312.23 in Grel
ba, 132.3 in bsDus don) is not subdivided in Grel ba. However, according
to the pratkas quoted, together with the first sub-section of the following
Its refutation (de sun dbyung ba, 312.24), it covers the same passages
of SDVV as bsDus don 132.31 to 132.332.
All these details show that the two sa bcad do agree basically, but are
considerably divergent with regard to the detailed structure of the text/
lecture. For this fact, two possible explanations are self-suggesting.
a) They do not refer to the same lecture. In this case it can be ruled out
that both of them are based on an actual text composed by Phya pa; one
or both of them represent lecture notes by students taken on the occasion
of two different lectures of Phya pa on the same topic. b) They do refer to
the same lecture, but due to the fact that Phya pas explanations on this
section are quite sophisticated and given from various points of view,
coming back to the same passages (+ pratkas) several times, his students
arrived at different opinions on the actual strucure of the lecture. A third
theoretically possible alternative need not be taken into consideration: the
two texts are based on different lectures, and confusion about the structure
occurs in addition.
Apart from that, the sa bcad of the bDen gnyis grel ba show features
that would not again in a personal and unscholarly judgment be expected
with an analytical mind like Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge: The sections de sun
byin pa ([B]) and de sun dbyung ba ([B] 2) denote exactly the same part
of the discussion, and also ... de dgag pa ([B] 133) serves largely the same
purpose. This is at least clumsy.
However, inconsistencies within a sa bcad are to be found elsewhere,
too, and they do not necessarily represent an evidence against Phya pas
direct authorship of the text. In the Shar gsum stong thun, e.g., the sections


Helmut Tauscher

112.4 Presentation of the own system (rang gi lugs rnam par gzhag pa),
112.5 Avoiding the (unacceptable) consequence taught in the autoritative
scriptures in this (context) (de la lung nas gsungs pai thal pa spang ba),
and 112.6 Avoiding the mistake, that the position of the two realities identical
in nature (implies) an absolute(ly real) nature (bden pa gnyis dngos po
gcig pai phyogs la don dam pai dngos po grub par thal bai skyon spang
ba ) are, in fact, sub-divisions of 112.3 Negation of (the position that the
two realities) are non-different with regard to the characteristic distinction
(ldog pa ta dad myed pd dgag pa), rather than sections on the same
level. Of course, the respective doubts could be extended to the Shar
gsum stong thun as well, but the evidence is certaily not significant enough
to justify this.
All the summaries (bsdus don) contained in the bKa gdams gsung bum
under the authorship of Phya pa show an interesting peculiarity, the recursive sa
bcad. On several occasions, in particular within longer enumerations of divisions,
sub and sub-sub-divisions, the titles of the subordinate sections are listed in a
rather unique manner before the superior one. E.g., in the hypothetical case of
a section consisting of four sub-sections, the second of which, in turn, contains
three further divisions, and the third of two, a sa bcad in normal style would
read: x la bzhi | (1) dang | (2) dang | (3) dang | (4) | gnyis pa la
gsum | (21) dang | (22) dang | (23) | gsum pa la gnyis | (31) dang
| (32) |. Here, however, immediately after the announcement of four subsections of the particular chapter, a list of nine headings would follow: x la bzhi |
(1) dang | (21) dang | (22) dang | (23) kyis/pas | (2) dang | (31)
dang | (32) kyis/pas | (3) dang | (4) |.48
This particular style of sa bcad writing appears in the bDen gynis
bsdus don as well as in the rNam nges bsdus don, the sPyod jug bsdus
don, the small fragment of the bSlab btus bsdus don and also in the rGyud
bla mai bsdus don, but it is not known at least not to me in any other
text of the Tibetan exegetical tradition. Unless we want to assume that all
these bsdus don texts were written down by the same student I wonder
who that might have been of Phya pas, who had developed his own
individual style of writing sa bcad, the recursive sa bcad has to be seen
as reflecting a caprice of Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge himself.
As for Phya pas oeuvre in general, for centuries all of his works have
been considered lost; only in the last fifteen years they keep re-appearing,
and the question arises, why this might have been so? To the best of my
knowledge, there was no politically motivated ban of his works, as was the
case with the writings of some Sa skya authors like sTag tshang lotsva
etc., or treatises that propagated the gzhan stong theory. Irrelevance, too,
48 This system is described in detail in HUGON 2009: 52ff.

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises


can hardly have been the reason. Phya pas influence on the development of
the Tibetan, in particular the dGe lugs pa, Prama and bsdus grwa traditions
is well attested and has been studied by various scholars; but his Prama
works shared the fate of his other writings. Similarly, Phya pa seems to have
influenced also the development of Tibetan Madhyamaka exegesis. The
question remains, why was his work forgotten by the local tradition? As
stated initially, the present paper does not claim to answer this question.
Ronald Davidson, however, provides an answer: Because of his contrarious
[!] disposition, Chapas ideas were cited later by Sakya Paita as the preeminent expression of Tibetan doctrinal innovation, which was the kiss of
death for Chapas proposals.49 A note to this passage refers to two chapters
in JACKSON 1987, but they do not contain any statement by Sa skya Paita
that could be interpereted in this way. Instead, there is a quotation of Shkya
mchog ldans Rigs gter rnam bshad, which reads: That reasoning of Phya pa
ignores all the excellent expositions in the basic treatises and merely puts
together with great zeal what had not been expounded.50
Regardless of whether Sa skya Paita or Shkya mchog ldan evaluated
Phya pa in this way, it certainly did not mean the kiss of death for his
proposals. Accusations of that kind were rather frequent at that time, and a
very similar statement Shkya mchog ldan make also about Tsong kha pa:
The rin po che Blo bzang made his own analyses with the argumentations
of a logician, and as a support he quoted many passages from authoritative
scriptures, which he arranged [according to his intentions], although they did
not fit; so he established many tenets with regard to Madhyamaka and Yogcra,
Stra and Tantra, that were previously unknown.51
Accordingly, possibly in a direct response to this accusation of Shkya
mchog ldans, when praising the achievements of Tsong kha pa, lCang skya
Rol pai rdo rje (1717-1780) says: Thus, this venerable one [Tsong-khapa] was never tainted by the fault of oversimplification and fabrication;
he went back to the thought of each of the founding scholars and adepts
and, in addition, he went back to the word of the Conqueror.52
49 DAVIDSON 2005: 280.
50 Rigs gter rnam bshad: 473,5: gang yang phya pai rigs pa ni || || de yis
gzhung nas legs bchad nas || kun la yid rton med byas nas || ma bshad nan
gyis sbyor bar zad ||; text and translation of JACKSON 1987: vol 1, 170f. + n. 20.
51 Shkya rnam thar 341,6-342,2: rin po che Blo bzang pas khong rang gi rtog
gei rigs pas rnam par dpyad cing |rgyab rten du mi grig bzhin du bsgrig pai
lung mang po drangs nas dbu sems dang | mdo sngags kyi grub pai mtha sngon
chad ma grags pai rnam grangs ches shin du mang po dag jog par mdzad do.
52 mDzes rgyan 303,19-304,4: des na rje btsun di nyid kyis bla chos dang
rang bzoi nyes pas nam yang ma gos par rang rang gi srol byed pa poi


Helmut Tauscher

Unlike contemporary western universities, where innovation is a magic

word which opens many doors to fundings, among others , middle age
Tibetan Buddhist tradition did not appreciate this idea at all. Exegesis had to
be an explanation of the Buddhas word and in harmony with the expositions
of the teachers of the old days, in particular with the Indian masters.
Nevertheless, the great minds of all times were naturally innovative.
It is not by chance that here Tsong kha pa is chosen as an example. He
and Phya pa seem to be contrary in their views, the former being a declared
Prsagika, the latter an inveterate Svtantrika. However, most probably
they are very much alike in many ways. Of course, there are many
divergences, e.g., with regard to explaining the Buddhas perception of the
conventional,53 but also agreements on basic questions. Besides, both of
them were apparently in opposition to the mainstream interpretations of
their times, and both of them were innovative.
Apparently, the dGe lugs pa tradition does not share the opinion that
there might be similarities between Phya pa and Tsong kha pa in their
Madhyamaka interpretations. Generally, Phya pa is viewed as somebody
who represents wrong positions, although he is respected for his achievments
on the path of reasoning.
However, concrete references to Phya pas Madhyamaka position are
primarily to be found within the writings of Shkya mchog ldan. 54 He also
quotes and refutes two chapters of Shar gsum stong thun, which discuss
why it is not justified not to accept an independent proof and refute the
validity of a prasaga in refuting a realistic position. 55
In dGe lugs pa literature Tsong kha pa (1357-1409) and mKhas grub rje
dGe legs dpal bzang (1385-1438) refer to Phya pa; later authors mention his
name only in identifying opponents (kha cig) in Tsong kha pas writings.
Usually they all do so in rather vague formulations like somebody like
( la sogs pa; lta bu). The following survey does not claim completeness.

Tsong kha pa: Phya pa chos kyi seng ge and other Tibetan scholars
also said that a svatantra was inappropriate in the case of a [nonexistent] subject imputed by non-Buddhists.56


pa grub rnams kyi dgongs pa la gtugs shing de yang rgyal bai bka dang
legs par gtugs te ; translation of LOPEZ 1987: 269.
See VOSE 2009: 57.
See, e.g., JACKSON 1987: Vol. 1, 170.
See above, n. 17.
dBu ma rgyan gyi zin bris: 77b5f.: Cha pa la sogs pa bod kyi mkhas pa rnams
kyis kyang | gzhan gyis btags pai chos can la rang rgyud mi rung bar chad
do ||; text and translation of TILLEMANS 1984: 383 and 365.

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises


mKhas grub rje states that somebody like Phya pa takes unreal (bden med)
as established in reality (bden grub), because he does not distinguish between
fit to withstand investigation by logical analysis which investigates
the absolute (de kho na nyid dpyod pai rigs pas dpyad bzod) and established
by logical argumentation (rigs pas grub pa). The same misunderstanding, he
says, is also the reason for rNgog lotsvas position that absolute reality is
not an object of cognition (don dam bden pa shes bya ma yin).57
Jams dbyangs bshad pai rdo rje Ngag dbang brtson grus (1648
1721) more or less repeats mKhas grub rjes statement.58
When discussing various unacceptable identifications of the basis of
distinction (dbye gzhi) of the two realities, Jams dbyangs bshad pa mentions
objects that are not imputed (sgro ma brtags pai yul). He does not give
a name here, but he might refer to Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge (see below).
A ky yongs dzin (1740-1827) mentions Phya pa as a representative
of a definition of the object of negation (dgag bya) which is too wide,
which leads to taking conventional reality (sav tisatya) as inexistent.59
Gung thang dKon mchog bstan pai sgron me (1762-1823) and
Blo gros rgya mtsho (1851-1930 ?), commenting on verse 7 of Tso
kha pas rTen brel bstod pa legs bad si po, identify those who
untiringly adhered to the path of reasoning (rigs lam), but could not
understand the essence of Madhyamaka with Phya pa etc.60
Tsong kha pas reference to Phya pa would certainly not represent a
major issue of controversy, and, in fact, his evaluation of Phya pa does not
appears not to be clearly and fundamentally negative; with his predecessors,
it is definitely the case. However, their accusations become increasingly
vague, the later the authors are, and very strong doubt arises as to whether
they really knew Phya pa. The suspicion seems to be justified that they
merely repeated standard opinions that were never questioned.
57 sTong thun chen mo 145,3f.: de kho na nyid dpyod pai rigs pas dpyad bzod
dang rigs pas grub pa gnyis ma phye pai dbang gis sngon dus kyi mkhen
porNgog lo lta bu yang don dam bden pa shes bya ma yin par bzhed pa dang
| Cha pa lta bu yang bden med bden grub tu smra ba la sogs pai nor pa chen
pa rnams byung ba yin no. See CABEZN 1992: 143.
58 mChan bzhi: 283,5; cf. TAUSCHER 1995: 165.
59 Lam rim brda bkrol 167,6ff.; see TAUSCHER 1995: 166f.
60 rTen brel bstod pa legs bad si po: v. 7: gzhung lugs mang thos rigs pai lam
du yang | | ngal ba med [corr. : mang] bsten mngon par rtogs pa yi || yon tan tshogs
kyis mi dman du mas kyang | | bad kyang rtogs par ma gyur gnas de ni
||Drang nges yang snying 421,2f.: ... rigs lam la ngal ba mang du bsten pa Phya pa chos
seng sogs sang chen brgyad du grags pa dang ; cf. Drang nges dka grel 7,2f.


Helmut Tauscher

What does Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge himself say on these points?
Ts o n g k h a p a s r e m a r k t h a t P h y a w o u l d h o l d a s v a t a n t r a a s
inappropriate in the case of a [non-existent] subject imputed by nonBuddhists can certainly not be verified. In his Shar gsum stong thun
he takes great pains to demonstrate exactly the opposite. One chapter
is entitled Refutation of (the position) that the object of negation
[which is substantiality propagated by realistic systems] is negated by
a prasaga (dgag bya thal gyur gyis gog pa sun dbyung ba) 61 . The
position that a svatantra is in-appropriate for doing so is dealt with in
the sub-section Formulation of the opponents system (gzhan gyi
lugs dgod pa) 62 within that chapter. He even states that a prasaga is
utterly incapable of refuting the object of negation (dgag bya gtan
dgag mi nus pa) 63 .
However, the chapter title Inadmissibility/impossibility of refuting
the realists by prasaga (thal gyur gyis dngos por smra ba gog
pa mi thad/nus pa), 64 Shkya mchog ldan quotes with an amendment
... by prasaga alone (thal gyur rkyang pas ). 65 This would
indicate an agreement with Kamalalas position as it is pointed out by
Tsong kha pa in his dBu ma rgyan gyi zin bris, viz. that both methods
have to be applied. 66
One passage in the bDen gnyis grel ba points to the same direction.
In the course of discussing the second consequence mentioned in SNS to
result from the assumption that the conventional and the absolute are different
in nature, it reads: The mutual exclusion (of the conventional and the
absolute) is invalidated by the prasaga and the thereby implied
svatantra ( thal ba dang | de la rang rgyud phangs pas phan
tshun spangs pa la gnod do).
On the other hand, in the context of the first consequence, within the
same two lines of the manuscript, apparently the svatantra (alone?) refutes
the faulty view: The svatantra implied by the prasaga implicitly
negates the difference (of the absolute) from the conventional ( thal
bas rang rgyud phangs pas kun rdzob las gzhan yin pa shugs la
khegs ste). 67


Shar gsum stong thun: 58,7-77,20.

Op.cit.: 58,9-64,15 (61,4-62,14).
Op.cit.: 70,4.
Op.cit.: 70,1-72,15.
Lung rigs rgya mtsho:14, 519,7.
dBu ma rgyan gyi zin bris: 78b1ff. see TILLEMANS 1984: 384 and 367.
See above and n. 31 and 33.

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises


In the context of this paper it would lead too far to discuss in detail
Phya pas understanding of concepts like fit to withstand investigation
by logical analysis which investigates the absolute (de kho na nyid
dpyod pai rigs pas dpyad bzod) and established by logical
argumentation (rigs pas grub pa), and his exact definition of the object
of negation. However, no justification for the respective evaluations by
mKhas grub rje and A ky yongs dzin is evident in Phya pas writings.
For the time being, let us return to the question of Phya pas
innovations. Regardless of whether or not Davidsons judgment quoted
above (see above, n. 49) is to the point, to some extent Phya pa is
certainly innovative, just as Tsong kha pa is. Of course, they both do not
propagate the same Madhyamaka exegesis, but they are certainly very
close with regard to basic ideas, and they both stress the same or similar
topics and problems.
In his very basic approach, Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge is not innovative
at all. One would rather call him conservative in maintaining the exegetical
tradition of Jnagarbha, ntarakita and Kamalala, and strictly rejecting
the works and the tradition of Candrakrti, which were only recently
introduced to Tibet.
His combining Madhyamaka and Prama methods and ideas, too, is
nothing new. He might exceed his predecessors in this respect, but
basically he continues the tradition of the Indian masters mentioned above,
and of rNgog lotsva.
At the present stage, his innovations can be seen on two levels, a) structural
and b) doctrinal.
a) The overall structure of the discussion of the two realities (bden pa
gnyis) that Phya pa set out in his Shar gsum stong thun became the model
for all later Tibetan in particular dGe lugs pa treatises on this topic:
Distinction of the 2 realities (bden pa gnyis kyi dbye ba)
Basis of distinction (dbye bai gzhi)
Mode of distinction (dbye bai don), i.e., the discussion of the
four possible kinds of difference between the two realities. In this context,
Phya pa bases his discussion of whether the two realities are the same
or different in nature or with regard to their to the characteristic
distinction (ldog pa, vyv tti) on SNS 3,3-5, and this stra passage
became the locus classicus for this kind of discussion in later centuries,
up to the present time.
Ascertainment of the number of realities (grangs nges pa)
Meaning of the terms (ming gi don)
Characteristics of the two realities (bden pa gnyis kyi mtshan nyid).
b) As already stated, a detailed analysis of Phya pas doctrinal position
and, accordingly, an evaluation of his doctrinal innovations are not yet


Helmut Tauscher

possible. Thus, this paper will concentrate only on very basic concepts.
They might appear to be merely formal issues, but each of these topics
deals with an essential aspect of a complex ontological system, implies all
the other topics, and focuses on the same doctrinal essence; each of them
could serve as a complete description of the system.
1) Absolute reality (don dam bden pa, paramrthasatya) is an object of
cognition (shes bya). It is not clear whether this position is to be counted as
an innovation, but it certainly is in strict opposition to rNgog lotsva and
probably other contemporaries of Phya pa. This topic touches a major
ontological issue, as it counts the absolute among the existing things, and
does not only interpret it as a particular way of viewing reality. This question
is of major importance also in Tsong kha pas writings.68
2) Identification of the object of negation (dgag bya): In Tsong kha pas
exegesis, this expression turned from a general and neutral term (that which is
to be negated, prati
edhya) into a technical term, denoting everything that is
opposed to absolute reality and the cognition thereof. It has to be properly
identified in order to arrive at a correct understanding of emptiness (nyat).69
In Phya pas usage of the term, we find first traces of this development.
3) Basis of distinction (dbye gzhi) of the two realities: Apparently,
Phya pa was the first one to introduce this category into Madhyamaka
exegesis. Again, it is a crucial ontological issue, and, although this point
has already been mentiond under the structural innovations of Phya pa,
it is of doctrinal relevance.
Later discuss in a more or less detailed way what could be taken, and
actually is taken, as a basis of distinguishing the two realities. It is not clear
in all cases whos position is actually referred to:70

appearance as such (snang ba tsam) ascribed to rNgog lotsva

by Jam dbyangs bzhad pa71
the nature of (all entities) from matter to omniscience (gzugs nas
rnam mkhyen bar gyi ngo bo)
objects that are not imputed (sgro ma brtags pai yul) Phya pa (?)
objects of cognition that are not investigated and analysed (ma
brtags ma dpyad pai shes bya), mere entities that are
differentiated by means of different sorts of cognition
cognition as such (blo tsam) Sa skya Paita, Go ram pa
reality/truth as such (bden pa tsam)

See TAUSCHER 1995: 326-341.

Op.cit.: 73-177.
See TAUSCHER 1995: 181ff.
dBu jug mtha dpyod: 514,1ff.

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises


dependently originated things as such (rten brel tsam)

objects of cognition as such (shes bya tsam) ascribed to some
(masters) of the old days (snga rabs pa ga zhig) by Rong
ston Shes bya kun rig (1357-1449), and to Pa tshab Nyi ma grags
(*1055) by Go ram pa to; Tsong kha pa
If Jam dbyangs bzhad pa and Go ram pa are right in ascribing such
position to rNgog lotsva and, respectively, to Pa tshab Nyi ma grags, it is,
of course, not justified to credit Phya pa with the introduction of the dbye
bzhi debate into Madhyamaka exegesis. However, it is doubtful whether
these two older masters really did operate with these categories; the
respective statements might be correct in essence, but not in detail.72
Among these positions, only the one of Phya pa (if he is really referred
to in this case) and of Tsong kha pa operate with ontological categories; all
the others are mainly epistemological. Tsong kha pas position has to be
stressed in particular. In his exegesis this is an important point, because, in
his view, the two satyas should cover everything existent, i.e., all objects of
cognition. This is the basis for taking both satyas as conventually existent
(tha sad du yod pa), i.e. as ontological and not as epistemological
categories, with all its implications. This fact becomes clear, e.g., from kya
mchog ldans critique on the interpretation of the basis of distinction as the
objects of cognition as such. It argues that object of cognition (shes
bya) and existent (yod pa) have the same range of meaning, whereas
conventional reality (sav tisatya) is not necessarily existent.73
Again, we have to ask the question: what does Phya pa really say on
that topic? For him, the basis of distinction is the basis of definition as
such (mtshan gzhi tsam), i.e., the the object of cognition (shes bya) or the
object of valid cognition (tshad mai gzhal bya), or, in other words, that which
is charcterized as an object of cognition. In the Shar gsum stong thun he says:
It is suitable to take as the realm of mind (bloi yul) that nature
(of things) which is constituted after abolishing its opposite by valid
cognition; therefore, the ultimate and the conventional reality have
to be distinguished, after taking the mere basis of definition (i.e.
that) which is signified as object of cognition, as the basis.
Further, as the characteristic distinction (ldog pa, vyv tti) of an
object of valid cognition (tshad mai gzhal bya) is an implying
negation, it is only conventional reality; nevertheless it is suiting as
the basis of distinction of the two realities, because the basis of
72 Cf. TAUSCHER 1995: n. 374.
73 Lung rigs rgya mtsho: 15. 3,6ff.; see TAUSCHER 1990: 42f.


Helmut Tauscher
definition which is an object of valid cognition pervades all nonimplying and implying negations.74

In the introduction to this passage he even uses the same reason that
Tsong kha pa gives for taking objects of cognition as such (shes bya tsam)
as the basis of distinction, however, in a slightly different context:
As no base of the objects of cognition does exceed the two realities,
the meaning of the two realities shall be ascertained correctly by logical
Similarly, in the bDen gnyis grel ba, the basis of distinction is defined
as an object of cognition, i.e., a basis of definition which is suiting as a
support for the conventional designation definiendum (mtshon bya) or
object of cognition (shes bya) ( mtshon bya shes byai tha snyad
rten du rung bai mtshan gzhi shes bya). 76
Objects that are not imputed (sgro ma brtags pai yul) are not
mentioned. Of course, taking into consideration Phya pas definition as it is
related by Shkya mchog ldan: (Valid cognition) is pervaded by being a
non-erroneous mode of cognition and by being able to eliminate (erroneous)
imputation77 this is implied, but that does not put it into contradiction with
Tsong kha pas position.
Jam dbyangs bshad pa is not of this opinion. He argues that in this case
also mirage and magical appearance would not fall under imputed by
defective sense faculties. 78 According to dGe lugs pa position they are
conventional reality, however, only in their aspect of the appearing object
(snang yul), not as a conceptual object (zhen yul); as such they would
be non-existent. Taking this differentiation into consideration, by Phya pas
condition for valid cognition, i.e. the ability to eliminate imputation, only
the appearing object would be excluded from being imputed by defective
sense-faculties; the conceptual object would be excluded from being an object
74 Shar gsum stong thun: 1,17ff.: tshad mas gal zla bsal nas rnam par gzhag pai ngo
bo bloi yul du byar rung bas shes byar mtshon pai mtshan gzhi tsam gzhir byas
nas don dam pai bden pa dang kun rdzob kyi bden pa gnyis su dbyeo ||
deang tshad mai gzhal byai ldog pa ni ma yin dgag yin pas kun rdzob kyi bden
pa kho na yin yang tshad mai gzhal byai mtshan gzhi ni med dgag dang ma yin
dgag mtha dag gi khyab byed yin pas bden gnyis kyi dbye bai gzhir thad do.
75 Op.cit.: 1,12f.: shes byai sa thams cad bden pa gnyis las ma das pas bden
gnyis kyi don phyin ci ma log par rigs pas nges par bya ba ste.
76 bDen gnyis grel ba: 194,5f.
77 See KUIJP 1983, 7778.
78 See TAUSCHER 1995: 116, 247ff.

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises


of valid cognition and, thereby, from being classified as basis of distinction. That
means, Phya pa would be in total harmony with Tsong kha pa, if he would argue
in that way; however, he does not. In Svtantrika manner, he distinguishes between
correct and wrong conventional reality. So, formally, Jam dbyangs bshad pas
critique is correct: with Phya pas definition of the basis of distinction being valid,
mirage etc., indeed, should not depend on imputation by defective sense faculties.
Either Phya pa uses the term imputation in a narrower sense than the
dGe lugs pa tradition does, or we have here a case of real inconsistency, a
shortcoming of a not yet fully developed system.
4) The difference between the two realities. The relation between the
two realities could be:

Different things (dngos po tha dad pa) with a distinct functional

efficiency each, like pot and cloth,
the difference of negated identity (gcig pa bkag pai tha dad pa),
which means that the one does not have the same nature (bdag nyid) as the
other, even though they have no distinct functional efficiencies, like real
and unreal,
identity in nature and difference with regard to the distinguishing
characteristics (ngo bog cig la ldog pa tha dad pa),
pseudo-difference (tha dad lta bu), as it is the case with synonyms.79
The first and the last alternative are merely theoretical and need not be
discussed in detail.
The difference of negated identity poses a problem, as it sounds like a
tautology, and the actual meaning of the term is still unclear.80 It implies the
difference of two things, one of which is unreal, and it means that they are
undeterminable as being the same or different (de nyid dang gzhan du
brjod du med pa, tattvnyatvbhym anirvacanya). This explanation is
given by Dal po pa She rab rgyal mtshan (1292-1361),81 and he might also be
the opponent who uses this definition as an argument.82
Although Phya pa propagates this kind of relation in the context of the
three kya of the Buddha,83 he strictly opposes it with regard to the two
realities and Phya pa refutes at length.84 His main arguments are that under
the condition that emptiness and the conventional reality were not identical
in nature:
79 Shar gsum stong thun: 2,3ff. Tsong kha pa, discussing the same topic in the
Lam rim chung ba (300b1ff.) mentions only the first three alternatives.
80 Cf. TAUSCHER 1995: 188ff.
81 bKa bsdu v. 12-14b (366,6-367,2).
82 Shar gsum stong thun : 3,18.
83 Op.cit.: 145,14f.
84 Op.cit.: 2,15-9,17.


Helmut Tauscher

nyat [as a synonym of ultimate reality] and conventional reality

would not be of identical nature (stong pa id dang kun rdzob ngo bo
gcig ma yin pa). That would mean that things are established as ultimately
real, because they were essentially different from their emptiness and
there was no connection between these two.
An emptiness that was of the same nature as the appearing things could
not be their ultimate reality (ngo bo gcig pai stong pa id don dam pai
bden pa ma yin pa). In this case, the realisation of ultimate reality would
not be opposed to the concept of and the clinging to ultimately real things;
liberation would be impossible, or ultimate reality would not exist at all.
Tsong kha pa, too, discusses this kind of difference in some detail.
However, he does not actually refute it, but accepts it as the position of
some masters of the old days (snga rabs pa).
With regard to their own position, however, Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and
Tsong kha agree: the two realities are identical in nature, but different with
regard to the characteristic distinction (ngo bo gcig la ldog pa tha dad pa).
Phya pa and most of the later dGe lugs pa authors though not Tsong kha pa
base the respective discussion on the four unacceptable consequences taught in
SNS 3, 3-5 for the assuption that the ultimate and the conventional are nondifferent and for the assumption that they are different. These consequences have
already been dealt with (see above pp. 6-10) and need not be repeated here. It
has, however, to be noted that SNS speaks only of a position that the characteristic
of the conditioned and the characteristic of the ultimate are non-different or different
(du byed kyi mtshan nyid dang | don dam pai mtshan nyid tha dad pa ma yin
paam | tha dad pa zhes zer ba). Phya pa and the dGe lugs pa authors interpret
non-different as non-different with regard to the characteristic distinction (ldog
pa tha dad med pa) and different as different in nature (ngo bo tha dad).
The passage of SNS, however, leaves room for various interpretations.
In later centuries it was used as a scriptural evidence for other positions as
well, like the difference of negated identity (gcig pa bkag pai tha dad)
between the two realities, or the two realities being identical or different in
no way whatsoever (gcig tha dad gang yang ma yin pa).85
These few examples might suffice to show that Phya pa did have some
impact on the Tibetan Madhyamaka exegese; much more research work is needed
to fully understand it. But why has he been neglect for centuries? Is it possible
that the Mdhyamika Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge was ignored by the later tradition
merely because of his bad reputation as a strict Svtantrika (even if this reputation
might not be fully justified)? Most probably, this question will never be answered.

85 Cf., e.g., TAUSCHER 1995: 191.

Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge and his Madhyamaka Treatises


A ky yongs dzin, Byang chub lam gyi rim pa chen mo las byung bai
brda bkrol nyer mkho bsdus pa. Lama Guru Deva (ed.), The Collected
Works of A-kya Yos dzin, New Delhi 1971. Vol.1, 78-175
Blo gros rgya mtsho, Drang ba dang nges pai don rnam par byed pai
bstan bcos legs bshad snying pai dka grel Rin chen sgron me.
Kesang Thabkhes (ed.), A pedagogical presentation of Rje Tsokha-pas Legs bad si po by Mkhan-po Blo gros-rgya-mtsho of
Bkra-is-khyil. Ed., Delhi 1982
Blue Annals see ROERICH 1949
dBu jug mtha dpyod see Jam dbyangs bzhad pai rdo rje, dBu ma la
jug pai mtha dpyod Lung rigs gter mdzod zab don kun gsal skal
bzang jug ngos
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Deb ther sngon po

see R OERICH 1949

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gnyis kyi don bsdus pa
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don rnam par byed pai bstan bcos legs bshad snying pai dka grel
Rin chen sgron me


Helmut Tauscher

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see ECKEL 1987

see ECKEL 1987

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Rab gnas: Shift in Religious and

Soteriological Significance
in Tibetan Tradition
Sonam Tsering Ngulphu

Our study on the topic of Rab gnas naturally prods us to look into the
historical and teleological background to Buddhist consecration in general
and its application within the Tibetan tradition.
From a Buddhist perspective, Rab gnas or consecration is a complex
assortment and interplay of rituals intended to bring about a mystical
transformation of an object dart into a powerful source of blessings.
Are such transformations objective? Or are they subjective? Do
consecration rituals based on devotional faith alone bring about an actual
psycho-physical transformation on the object; or is it a mere cultic expression
built upon falsely conjured ideas? Are semiotic representations innate in
consecrated objects waiting only to be unraveled by someone truly devout;
or is it an exquisite liturgical yarn spun by the well-versed liturgists? Do
images and stupas serve as a physical base for a Buddha that is ritualistically
called upon to return? Or are these merely an assimilation of the pre-Buddhist
post-funerary practice, where gathering and worshipping of ashes and bodily
remains, and even mummifying the whole or part of the body, whereby
members reconcile with the loss of a beloved one, who has left once and
forever? Is it meant to be a psychological tool to emulate presence of an
absence itself, as studied by modern scholars.
More than providing a comprehensive solution or a finite answer, our
study on the topic only elicits more such questions.
Yet, in all Buddhist communities, consecration forms an important part
of their religious life, for it is one of the few practices that bring one to a
greater proximity with the Buddha and his semiotic representations that
strongly govern their religious and spiritual life. For many, it is the
consecration practice that differentiates a sutra gracing a family altar and
the one sitting way below the height of our waistline in an antique store
waiting for a prospective taker.


Sonam Tsering Ngulphu

Etymology and its Applied Meaning

Pratih, the Sanskrit original for Tibetan word Rab gnas, is composed of
two root componentspra, an emphatic adverbial or adjectival prefix
meaning well, and tihd, meaning to stand, remain or abide, thus
together pratih means to stand, remain or abide or consecration or
dedication (of a monument or of an idol or of a temple) (Sir Monier Williams,
671). Supratih, a widely used synonym of pratih hardly makes any
difference despite the double emphatic prefixes su and pra, as both are
commonly rendered as Rab gnas or Rab tu gnas pa in Tibetan. Acharya
Krishna defines pratih as prakanandi-pratih, which translates
to mchog tu gnas pas rab gnas zhes byao, meaning Partishta is thus
called, because it exists in an excellent way, both in terms of time and
manner of transformation (Rab gnas kyi cho gai tshul, NYA f.280b).
However, ridden off its Tantric baggage and the later Anglican etymological
connotations surrounding its English equivalent consecration, the term
Rab gnas or pratih originally, literally and simply means to abide well
or abide for long.
As concerning the textual classification, Rab gnas, as a genre, is mostly
categorized in the section of Vidhi (cho ga) or liturgy. Yet it equally qualifies
for Rgyud (Tantra) or Rgyud grel (Tantric commentary) given its contents,
including the opening expression of homage mostly extended to Buddha
Vajradhara or other Tantric deities. Later commentators, however, have
sometimes blurred the issue of classification by paying homage to Buddhas
and Bodhisattvas, which according to early conventions of textual
classification based on early Tibetan translation norms places the texts within
the Mdo sde (Strapitaka, Collections of Sutras).

Of Sutra and Tantra

In the most relevant of Mahayana Sutras on the study of Buddhas
Mahaparinirvana and the cult of images and stupas such as Lalitavistra,
Vi m a l a k r t i - n i rd e a , L a  k v a t a r a , S a d d h a d h a r m a p u
r i k a ,
Samdhinirmocana, and Mahparinirv a-nma-mahyana-stra, the
expression Rab tu gnas pa, and rarely Rab gnas, applies to a whole range
of Sanskrit words tsha, pratsha, supratsha, samsthta, vastita, susthita,
all equally meaning to sustain, abide, or remain, and none implying
consecration as we understand from the Tantric or even the Theravada
perspective. Such allusions are also made by Tibetan masters including the
First Dalai Lama Gedun Drub (1391-1474/5), who mentions that Paramita
literatures make no mentioning of consecration in spite of the emphases laid
on the creation and worshipping of images for sake of merits (Gedun Drub,

Rab gnas in Tibetan Tradition


Dpal gsang ba dus pai rab gnas kyi cho ga mdor bsdus, f.2). In a much
similar tone, the First Panchen Lama Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen (15701662) hints on the absence of anything having to do with consecration in
Dul ba lung, despite all its exhortations in making and worshipping of images
(Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen, Rab gnas dge legs rgya mtshoi char bebs,
Unlike the Theravada Buddhism, for Tibetan Buddhist tradition, given
its incorporation of the entire gamut of Indian Buddhist Tantric rituals and
practices, the rituals of consecration, which employ Tantric means of
accomplishment (Sadhana) and formulaic spell (mantra), easily fall into
the system of Tantra. For Tibetan Buddhism, a strictly Mahayana affiliate,
consecration rituals followed today were mostly drawn from Tantra, supplied
with many dispensable components from the Sutra as well. No early Tibetan
masters prescribe consecration according to non-Sutra in all its exclusivity,
as is followed in the Theravada tradition. Presence of two unique
characteristics of Tantra help determine consecration as a strictly Tantric
ritual in Tibetan Buddhism. Firstly, the inseparable experience of bliss and
emptiness (bde stong dbyer med) through the mergence of wisdom and
skillful means (thabs shes zung brel). And secondly, the Deity Yoga (lhai
rnal byor), a form of Yogic meditation where ones body is visualized in the
aspects of the Form Buddha (Dalai Lama 1985, 27) and generates Buddhalike attitudes, in particular the divine pride (lhai nga rgyal).
In keeping with Tantrayana classifications, Tibetan masters have devised
consecrations of four typesAction (kriya), Performance (crya), Yoga
(yoga) and Highest Yoga (anuttara-yoga), a division mostly made from the
point of view of their field of emphasis, whether to external, internal or
yogic practices, and the levels of deities invoked as the central figure during

Rab gnas in the Early Days

Two important yet overlooked events from the life of the Buddha might
shed some light on the role and significance of imagery and symbolic
representation in filling the absence of the Buddha, and gaining a better
understanding of the subsequent spread of consecration rituals.
The first concerns the legendary creation of the earliest Buddha image
by King Udayana, as recounted in the Chinese version of Anguttara-nikya
(3rd cent. CE), which also finds a parallel Theravada narrative in the Kosalabima-vanana (c. 13th cent. CE) that ascribes the creation of the first Buddha
image to King Pasenadi of Koshala. According to the former, followed by
Tibetan Buddhists, when Buddha departed for the Heaven of the Thirtythree Gods (Trayatrimsa-devabhmi) to impart teachings to his biological


Sonam Tsering Ngulphu

mother Mahamaya as a token of gratitude, King Udayana expresses panic

over Buddhas imminent absence. To ease King Udayanas vehement
obsession to the Buddha, the latter commissions the creation of his own image.
The second event concerns the episode surrounding the Buddhas
preparation for Mahaparinirvana and the post-funerary distribution of relics.
Buddha consents to the building of reliquary stupa for his followers to worship
ensuring that whoever lays wreaths or puts sweet perfumes and colors
there with a devout heart, will reap benefit and happiness for a long time
(Maurice Walshe, 264). Though the Buddha initially advised that his remains
be enshrined in a Stupa that is rightful for a fully enlightened being, an
Arhat, a disciple of the Buddha or a Universal Monarch (Maurice Walshe,
264), he finally makes his preference for a funeral and the posthumous
installation of stupa rightfully deserved for a Universal Monarch.
References of Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BCE) making obeisance to
the Stupa of the eonic Buddha Kanakamuni have been found in early Indian
and Sri Lankan historical writings (Strong, p.14). It however compels us to
think whether these references to early stupa allude to any forms of
consecration or to an Indic religious tradition that predates and serves as a
model for the cult of the stupa and images, and of consecration in particular.
The extensive liturgies on consecration rites found in the Mahayana Tantric
literature and the widespread of consecration practices followed in the
Theravada tradition reminds us of the prominent role consecration have
played from a relatively early period.
In Tibet, consecrations were held to have been conducted as early as
7th century during the time of King Songtsen Gampo (617-650). For
example, early historians and hagiographers mention of Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas appearing from amidst the sky, whereby both Trulnang and
Ramoche temples were said to have been consecrated, both miraculously
and simultaneously, in circa 645. (Sakyapa Sonam Gyaltsen, 183-185). The
same century witnessed the coming of the statues of Akshobhaya and
Maitreya, consecrated by Buddha Shakyamuni and Buddha Kashyapa, and
later a statue of Jowo Shakymuni, consecrated by Buddha Shakyamuni,
both brought as bridal gifts by princesses Bhrikuti Devi and Wencheng
Gongzhu respectively (Sakyapa Sonam Gyaltsen, 145).
Historical accounts on the consecration of Samye, probably in circa
775-779, provides a detailed picture, mostly of the pre- and post-consecration
phases and nothing on the nature of consecration per se or the rites then
performed. Post-consecration festivities observed for 12 long years receives
more detailed description as to what song each influential member of the
cleric and royalty sung at the gatherings (Ba Selnang, 57, Sakyapa Sonam
Gyaltsen, 242-247). Even the Fifth Dalai Lama, a great scholar and ritualist
himself, hardly looks into the form of rituals practiced in those early days.

Rab gnas in Tibetan Tradition


The consecration of Samye by Guru Padmasambhava (Terton Ogyen

Lingpa, KHA, 195) or by Acharya Shantarakshita (Ba Selnang, 58), or else
together (Troru Tsenam, 23) and the lighting of Samye during the consecration
of a stupa at Byams pa gling, whereupon the stupa acquired the name Chten
Woebar finds mentioning in several texts (e.g. Terton Ogyen Lingpa, KHA,
223). In both the above cases, more descriptions relates to post-consecration
festivities than the consecration itself (Terton Ogyen Lingpa, KHA, 227).
Buddhist consecration was first known to Tibet through the translation
of Tantric scriptures and liturgical works of Indian masters, all made possible
through the collaboration of at least one Indian Pandita and one Tibetan
translator, the earliest including Vajrapni and Maben Choebar (Dpal khor
lo sdom pai rab gnas); Krishna Pandita and Goe Khugpa Lhatse (Rab
gnas kyi cho gai tshul); Kanakavarman and Patsab Nyima Drakpa (Rab
gnas kyi cho ga mdor bsdus pa); Kashmir Pandita Jana-vajra, Dro Sherab
Drakpa (Rab tu gnas pa mdor bsdus pai rgyud) and a few others.
The ritual exegeses and manuals studied in Tibetan Buddhism can all be
traced to either these early Tantric scriptures or the later liturgical works
by Indian masters, most prominent and earliest being Sadhuputra,
Abhayakara a.k.a. Abhayadatta, Bhanucandra, [Su]Candraprabha, Krishna,
Mahasiddha Sagara, Shantigarbha [a contemporary of Goe Khugpa Lhatse]
and Prajavalita.

On Absence and Presence

From a general perspective, fundamental questions concerning the
effectiveness of representations and the unsure outcome of consecration
ritual in Buddhism rest on the notion of absence and presence in relation
to its founder the Buddha Shakyamuni, and their ontological veracity. Much
has been discussed on the issue of whether images of Buddha are
characterized by the absence of the historical and the eonic Buddhas or
the presence of a force either of indexical, numinous or corporeal nature.
Discussion so far is not on whether Buddhist images, like images of any
religious traditions, bear an indexical reference to the life and deeds of a
referred being. It rather rests on question of whether indexical or referential
value alone is what a devout Buddhist looks for when worshipping an image
of the Buddha. Texts and daily experiences have taught us how all Buddhists
despite their geographical remoteness expect something beyond mere
references to exist within their object of worship, especially those created
in the supposed conventional form and appearance of the Buddha and later
consecrated by a qualified priest. Conversely, the question of whether
something exists beyond the indexical sphere largely rests on how Buddhists
understand and interpret this highly popular ritual of consecration.


Sonam Tsering Ngulphu

The question on the absence or presence of the Buddha, in general,

sheds light on a broader fundamental difference in the philosophical
viewpoints of the Theravada and the Mahayana traditions, and also poses
questions to the Tibetan liturgists in particular. From the Theravada
perspective, an enlightened being does not remain in this world once he
enters Parinirvana, while Mahayana believes in multifarious forms of Buddha,
not to mention Tibetans and their predilection for Sprul skus, who aside
from those that merely prove a psycho-physical connection to their
predecessor are all said to have their origin in enlightened Buddhas. A single
Sambhogakaya Buddha in the Pure Land is held to manifest infinite Buddhas
perpetually to assist beings in the alleviation of suffering. The hermeneutical
differences thus suggest different ways of treating the issue of absence
and presence based on the fundamental difference in viewpoint concerning
a Buddhas post-Nirvanic state.
All early Indian Buddhist scholars unequivocally agree that Shakyamuni
left this world in 5th cen. BCE, thereby heralding the period of absence of
the Buddha. This period of absence of the Buddha coincides with the
beginning of the period of presence of the Buddha in a different form.
According to the Theravada tradition, this presence is seen in a statue or a
stupa in the form of blessings transferred from a relic of the Buddha, or
image, or a source that can be traced back to the historical Buddha
Shakyamuni, all by means of consecration. For Mahayana tradition, however,
the presence is marked by the transformation of a statue, a stupa or even a
tree into an enlightened Buddha (Gdugs la sogs pa rab tu gnas pa dang
rnying pa byin pai cho ga, 260b) through meditation, and hence
considered no lesser than the real Buddha.
Among modern Buddhist scholars, Richard Gombrich holds that Theravada
Buddhists, especially in Sri Lanka, know cognitively that Buddha is not
present in images yet affectively presume it to be existent therein (Gombrich,
1971). Any devout Tantric practitioner may read this as reflecting Gombrichs
preconceived notion of Buddhas absence in Stupas or the limitation of our
ordinary cognitive senses in detecting changes taking place on an unnatural,
non-corporeal and non-substantial level. However, there are references to a
consecrated images as being mere reflections of the Buddhas Emanated
Body, yet to be looked upon as the Emanated Buddha himself in this aeon
of degeneration (Rab tu gnas pai cho ga rab gnas kyi rgyal po, KU,
187v). Nonetheless, this do not lay Tantrayana, particular the Tibetan way of
consecration, immune from the Theravada critiques.
There are yet other scholars, such as Kinnard, who believe the Buddha
image as more than mere idols, for its potential in drawing the gaze of a believer
into a new and unforeseen ontological dimension (Kinnard, 1999:34-42), though
the state and nature of said ontological dimension remains as evasive. Similar

Rab gnas in Tibetan Tradition


views are found in Tibetan Buddhist community, where a great majority of

Tibetan monastics and lay people do not consider themselves capable of
apprehending the exact nature of that which is embodied in a receptacle
after consecration, they do possess some intuition that there is something
sacred present there. (Cabezon and Geshe Thubten Tendar, 138) Donald
Swearer observes that though modern Buddhologists such as Eckel, Trainor
and Kinnard do not definitively clarify the meaning of the claim that the
Buddha is present in relics, images and other material signs, none interprets
presence in a literal, physical sense (Swearer, 2004: 113).
For Tibetan Buddhists, the issue of presence and absence does not rest
with the question of the presence of indexical or referential value in an
object, but rather rests on the question of whether or not deities in a nonrevelatory and non-physical form exist in the representational object. This
further rests on the issue of whether the Wisdom Being (ye shes pa,
jnasattva), earlier caused to merge with the Commitment Being (dam
tshig pa, samyasattva), is escorted back to their place through a farewell
ritual (gshegs su gsol ba) at the end of the consecration.

What Constitutes Consecration

Consecration in Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism does not stand as a single
distinctive ritual entity, but a complex matrix of many independent rituals of
both dispensable and indispensable nature.
Consecration exists in various forms and renditions, with different
enumerations and classifications, ranging from 20 or more distinct rituals
(Taranatha, Rab gnas kyi cho ga gro phan rgyas byed, 616) to the five
essential rites (Bentor 1996, 291-2). In this brief study of consecration in
Tibetan Buddhist tradition, I have outlined five mandatory rites, slightly
different from the enumeration of the earlier scholars, yet partly drawn
from their close and sincere study on the subject. The five mandatory rites
are entirely unrelated to the Theravada consecration, which mainly composed
of four distinct salient features: Recollection of the life and deeds of the Buddha,
Reenactment of the events surrounding Buddhas enlightenment, teachings and
demise; Transmitting of blessings through a chain of statues beginning with the
one consecrated by Buddha himself, and Opening the eyes of the statues.
The five mandatory rites in Mahayana consecration are: Sadhana
involving visualization of the Commitment Being and invocation of the
Wisdom Being; mergence of the visualized image and the invoked image;
[Visualization of the receptacle as Commitment Being;] mergence of
visualized image and the invoked image/Entry of a visualized being into the
receptacle; and sealing the mergence and/or escorting the visualized being
back to its original place in heaven.


Sonam Tsering Ngulphu

The others are ancillary components that may either fall into two
categoriesthe essentials and the electives, with their length depending on
the elaborateness of the ritual ceremony.
The components, according to their sequence of occurrence during
consecration, are:

Preliminary Stages (Sngon groi rim pa)

conducting an astrology calculation to set a suitable date for consecration.
INITIATORY RETREAT (BSNYEN PA): A pre-requisite for Rab gnas is that it can
be undertaken without any formal supplication from either a student or patron.
This include the practice of reciting mantras of the principal deity for certain
number of times, the least being 108, or until one sees either internal or
external mystical signs.
SITE PURIFICATION (GNAS YONGS SU SBYONG PA/SA CHOG): An extensive sitecleansing ritual involving appeasing the Earth goddesses and other local
guardians, which when conducted on an elaborate scale, is marked by Sa
gar (site-seeking ritual dance).
C REATION OF M ANDALA (D KYIL KHOR CHO GA ): Creating Mandala in the
form of sand, strings, and paintings, or through mental visualization. It
also involves subsequent blessing of the Mandala. Duration of the ritual
depends on the rendition of the liturgy and types of deity or deities
associated with the Mandala.
O FFERING OF R ITUAL CAKE / RANSOM (G TOR MA ): An offering entreating
malignant spirits to leave the ritual site peacefully by partaking a ritual cake,
or face the dire consequence of having their heads split into a hundred tit bits.
HOMA-RITES (S BYIN SREG): A fire ritual ranging anywhere from burning a
handful of white mustard on pyre set upon three stones to observing an
elaborate fire ritual marked by its four variant factorspeacefulness, increase,
power and force. The fire ritual and the ritual cake offerings do not follow a
strict order of occurrence.
PRELIMINARY OFFERINGS (MCHOD PA): An extension of this practice can as
much include the elaborate ways of making offerings as outlined in the Prayer
of the Exalted Samantabhadra (rya-bhadracary-pranidhna-rja)
together with other ritual ingredients prescribed for the involved deity or deities.
GRAND FEAST (TSHOGS KHOR): Mostly observed in elaborate consecrations,
grand ritual feasts are meant to appease the Dakas and Dakinis, and seek their
assistance in the accumulation of merit and purification of negative Karma.
BLESSING OF VASE (BUM PA SGRUB PA): Unless when condensed rituals are
preferred, this involves blessing vases filled with cleansing herbs and
ingredients, and setting it overnight for ablution at the next dawn. This stage

Rab gnas in Tibetan Tradition


involves visualization of four or ten wrathful deities for the sake of purifying
the water in the vase through a detailed thread ritual, incantation of vase
mantra, the 100-syllable Vajradhara Mantra and visualization. Rituals such
as Ushnisha-vijaya vase ritual can be relatively extensive.
PURIFICATION OF MIND (DAG SBYANG): Meditation on emptiness, to prepare
oneself for the self-visualization, which is built one the basis of ones insight
into the empty nature pervading all phenomena.
SELF-VISUALIZATION (BDAG BSKYED): Self-visualization, an essential feature
of Tantra, seeks to simulate the physical, verbal and mental states of the
Buddha. Each self-visualization begins a powerful cultivation of Bodhicitta
or a state of mind aspiring for enlightenment to serve others, and
understanding of unyata, the lack of an inherent ontological form of
existence in phenomena. This is follwed by an intricate interplay of syllables,
sounds and deities that help construct the field of visualization and make it
complete. It involves assigning major roles to the five Buddhas of the major
lineages and the accompanying deities.
generally follows the preliminaries such as setting ritual objects, cleansing
the site, visualizing oneself as a deity and blessing the vase. It involves an
extended phase of meditation aimed at purifying ones body, speech and
mind and preparing a proper base for the creation of the Commitment Being.
ABLUTION (KHRUS GSOL): This ritual includes bathing the objects in scented
water and later massaging it with pure massage oils and lotions, either directly
or on their reflection on a mirror (Rab tu gnas pa mdor bsdus pai rgyud,
148r). The ablution practice is held to wash away all stains of non-virtues
and negativities such as moral transgressions, anger, laziness, mental
distraction and wrong understanding through real and contrived water of
discipline (la), patience (knti), effort (vrya), meditative stabilization
(samdhi) and wisdom (praja) respectively.

Actual Stages (Dngos gzhii rim pa)

the visualizations at earlier stages, this stage involve extensive creation of
both the contrived abode and the deities, which are both mentally created
through the power of ones spiritual commitments (Samaya), and hence
called the Commitment Being. This Commitment Being later serves as a
receptacle for the Wisdom Being, which is visualized as coming from above.
INVOKING THE WISDOM BEING (YE SHES DGUG PA): Having created a splendid
and extensive Mandala filled with all its magnificent features and inhabited by
the deities of a particular Tantric tradition followed for the consecration, one
visualizes a replica of the same descending from amidst the limitless space.


Sonam Tsering Ngulphu

The Wisdom Being eventually joins with the Commitment Being and become
one and inseparable in nature and entity, like water poured into water. Through
the mergence of the Wisdom Being, the Commitment Being is alleged to be
infused with divine energy, thereby enhancing its power and efficacy in the
later stages of the consecration.
TANTRIC INITIATION (DBANG): This phase involves carrying out various forms
of Vase Initiation such as water, crown, Vajra, bell, name, and secret
initiations, associated with the five principal BuddhasAkshobhaya,
Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, Amogasiddhi and Vairocana. This stage
constitutes a chain of initiations conducted to restore the supramundane
status and power of the Buddhas, spiritual consorts, Bodhisattvas, goddesses,
wrathful deities and others celestial beings visualized inside the Mandala.
Ritual masters have considered the creation of the Commitment Body,
the creation and mergence of the Wisdom Being and the initiation to constitute
the actual consecration. In other words, the transformation of
representational objects for consecration or infusion of power in them takes
places during these three stages. (Taranatha, Rab gnas kyi cho ga gro
phan rgyas byed, 640)
ACTUAL OFFERINGS (MCHOD PA): After a series of initiations, the monks
conducting the consecration, arranges another set of offerings including the
dress and other exquisite accessories. This involves reflecting on the physical
and mental attributes of the deities and offering the dresses according to
the color of the deities and their seed syllables. In its extensive version, a
special homa-rite is conducted at this point. In many rituals, this part mostly
follows the Spyan dbye (eye-opening ritual).
OPENING OF THE EYES (SPYAN DBYE): This stage involves either removing of
blindfold or beeswax that earlier covered the eyes of the statue, or sometimes
a head-shroud that cover the entire face itself. In other cases, this event is
marked by applying of collyrium on the eyelashes (Rab gnas kyi cho gai
tshul, 282r). The lifting of the blindfold, in Tibetan rituals, is considered a
sign of opening the five unique eyes of the Buddha (spyan lnga).
In many traditions, the lifting of the blindfold or head shroud, like the
final jigsaw piece, enables one to grasp a complete picture of consecrated
image for the first time. From this point onwards, the image becomes the
person and the story of Shakyamuni Buddha (Swearer, 2004: 109) with
sheer absence paving way to an absolute presence. Tantric scriptures
further add other ancillary forms of openings, such as the opening of the
auditory, olfactory and gustatory sense-organs. (Rab tu gnas pai cho
ga rab gnas kyi rgyal po, 186r); and in other cases the opening of the
eyes is followed by offering of toothbrush, haircomb, and so forth, much
in the manner of enacting the partaking of food, rinsing your mouth, combing
hair and so on.

Rab gnas in Tibetan Tradition


OFFERING OF SPECIAL FOODS (MNGA BUL): This stage includes offering of

special offerings, the most prominent being the offering of a rice gruel in
Theravada tradition, which however is not seen in the Mahayana rituals. At
this point, the position of the consecrated objects may change or remain
intact depending on the types of rituals conducted.
SUPPLICATION (GSOL BTAB): Here the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are called
upon to dwell in the images in perpetuum, if the consecration ritual were
not followed by a farewell ritual (gshegs su gsol ba). Praying that the
august gathering of Buddhas and deities assume the forms of the
representational bases of the enlightened body speech and mind and after
having abided firmly in these bases, to continue to remain as benefactor,
protector, and support. In elaborate or extensive consecration ceremonies,
this may include a day-long ceremony for longevity (brtan bzhugs).
LONG-LIFE CEREMONY (BRTAN BZHUGS ): This includes chanting of prayers
and supplicating the Buddha to remain for as long as the representational
base is not destroyed by either, earth or fire or water or wind.

Concluding Stages (Rjes kyi rim pa)

Expression of apology for any
shortcomings on the part of the priest encountered during the course of the
ritual. Given that most Tibetan consecration rituals are devoted to Vajrasattva,
as may be reflected from the expression of homage in the beginning of the
liturgical writings, this ritual of confession employs meditational-incantations
of Vajrasattva (Rdo rje sems pai sgom bzlas) or in the least recitation of
the 100-syllable Vajrasattva (yig brgya).








Appeasement to the directional guardians; and offering of Gtor mas as

offerings unlike the earlier part that involves mild exorcism. A follow-up to
the earlier ritual, this an excessively blow-up version of a farewell banquet
and also serves as the moment that marks the signing of a covenant with the
Dharma Protectors in ensuring constant protection to consecrated
representational bases.
FAREWELL RITUAL (GSHEGS SU GSOL BA): Dissolution of the visualized deities;
and praying for swift return to protect the receptacle until the Samsaras end.
a instructional or how-to manuals regarding worshipping of the image, this
portion sets things clear on who enjoys the rights to offerings made for the
consecration, such as the master of the ritual rather than the sculptor or the
monks attending the ceremony. (Rab tu gnas pa mdor bsdus pai rgyud,
150r; Ngaggi Wangchug, 246r)


Sonam Tsering Ngulphu

GENERATING AUSPICIOUSNESS (BKRA SHIS): Praying to the representation of

the Buddha, his teachings and his spiritual community for auspiciousness in
the form of wealth and happiness of the twelve major events highlighting the
greatness of Buddhas life. This is sometimes conducted immediately before
the opening of the eyes (Rab tu gnas pai cho ga rab gnas kyi rgyal po,
185r), after the ablution (Dpal khor lo sdom pai rab gnas, 156v), or to
create a conducive atmosphere for the visualization of Dam tshig sems dpa
and Ye shes sems dpa (Rab gnas kyi cho gai tshul, 281r). Tibetan priest
mostly recite the same prayer, beginning with the line Phun sum tshogs pa
mnga ba gser gyi ri bo dra, drawn from Tantras (Dpal khor lo sdom
pai rab gnas, 156r).
SUBSEQUENT DISSOLUTION (RJES BSDU): Once the celestial gods, heavenly
deities, and Dharma protectors are seen off and the prayer of auspiciousness
draws to an end, the monks prepare for the dissolution of the Mandalas,
which serve as the foundational basis for a series of extensive visualizations,
initiations and incantations. The rites for dissolution of Mandalas are as
extensive as the rituals conducted during the initial phases of Mandala
construction, which includes ritual for ground-breaking ceremony, seeking
approval of local deities, laying of foundation, and so forth.
HOMA-RITES (S BYIN SREG): The sequence of consecration rituals finally
concludes with homa-rite, a fire ritual that entails a series of visualization
and supplication of blessings through burning sacred ingredients. From within
the four types of homa-ritesof pacifying (zhi ba), enriching (rgyas pa),
magnetizing (dbang) and subjugating (drag po)consecration rituals at this
point engage the homa-rites of enriching alone.

Ritual Determinatives
Various views are expressed regarding the point or climax of the actual
consecration. While some express the chanting of Dz-hu ba -ho,
marking the mergence of the Commitment Being and the Wisdom Being,
others consider initiation, a means of empowering the base, as determining
the point of actual consecration. Yet for some the mergence together with
the initiation forms the actual stages of consecration, and the all other rituals
are merely deemed complementary (Taranatha, Rab gnas kyi cho ga gro
phan rgyas byed, 640). Some consider reciting of the Mantra of Essence
of Dependent-arising, beginning with the lines Ye dharma hetu
prabhva, and others look at the chanting of the line Om-supratiavajraye-svha immediately following the Long-life prayers as the ritual
determinative. Similarly, for the Theravada tradition, the eye-opening ritual
may be crucial, but it is just one of the supplemental phases to the actual
consecration. While for some a consecration is deemed complete after the

Rab gnas in Tibetan Tradition


invoked images of deities are well placed within the structure, for other
completion is marked by a farewell ritual that escorts deities back to their
heavenly abode (Rab tu gnas pa mdor bsdus pai cho ga, TA149a).

Shifts and Changes in Tibetan Buddhism

Soteriological value: historical versus ahistorical
Theravada consecration ceremony is, to a great extent, a ritual for
blessing the statues of the Buddha through mimetic reenactment of events
from the life of the Buddha (Swearer, 2004:79) such as the Sujatas offering
of sweetened milk-dish after his six-year penance, the night on the eve of
enlightenment, the actual enlightenment, and the place of enlightenment
through offering of a milk-dish, covering the eyes of the statues with
beeswax, subsequently clearing the beeswax, and constructing the space
of enlightenment (bodhimada) respectively. The Theravada tradition also
employs the ritual of transferring blessings from a statue or water that serves
as a carrier of blessings of the Buddha himself. Such reenactments of the
historical events of the Buddha Shakyamuni hardly find emphasis in Tibetan
Mahayana rites, where most lines capture the mystical and ahistorical events
surrounding the Buddhas. Moreover, Buddhas visualized in the Mahayana
consecration are mostly the five principal Buddhas, who are associated
with Tantrayana.

Fundamental rules versus exceptions

Regardless of the Buddhist refuge-taking precepts discouraging
discrimination of the images on the basis of their make, shape and so forth,
a great degree of uninhibited tendency to discriminate for a greater spiritual
purpose is ubiquitously found all over Tibet. It is disrespectful for Buddhists
that people dealing in statues and religious artifacts have a few images
gracing a heavily designed altar, while dozens of similar images lie in the
basement or storehouses with other merchandise. Such acts either accrue
to the violation of the basic refuge-taking precept, which determines your
admission or exclusion from the Buddhist community, or to the sincere
abidance to the Tantric dictum that worshipping an unconsecrated image
incurs violation of Tantric commitments, loss of Mantric power, and failure
to relish the fruits of fire rituals (Rab tu gnas pa mdor bsdus pai rgyud,
146v, also Buton Rinchen Drub, Dus khor rab gnas, 4). Buton writes
how an unconsecrated image is like a corpse, unworthy of our worship
that can lead to untoward happenings. Not consecrating a finished image is
held to produce similar negative effects (Buton Rinchen Drub, loc cit., 3).


Sonam Tsering Ngulphu

Unwritten versus written rules

In refutation to the critiques against Je Tsongkhapas consecration of
Jowo Shakyamuni, which involved changing the form of the Emanated
Buddha (sprul sku, nirmakya) into a Buddha of Perfect Resources (longs
sku, sambhogakya) by offering the 13 lay attires and ornaments and fixing
the nails on the statue to secure these ornaments, Lobsang Thinlay Namgyal,
one of Tsongkhapas disciples, lists all the charges levied against his master
by leading Tibetan Lamas such as the Seventh Karmapa Chodrak Gyamtso
and Terton Pema Lingpa. They include a cubit and finger-span plummeting
of both the Sun and the Moon towards earth; striking of lightning, thunderbolt, meteorites and static shocks; appearance of the ominous shooting star;
eclipses of the Sun and Moon; stirring of the world by earthquakes and
typhoons; sporadic eruption of venomous scorpions from the ground; tilting
of the horizon; and sporadic spread of internal strife (Lobsang Trinlay
Namgyel, 344). Such matters of uncertainty, even amongst renowned
practitioners, stem from the realm of unwritten rules.

Spiritual degeneration versus extension into temporality

Consecration in Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism takes one further from
todays study of anthropomorphization, as not only enlightened beings are
deified in forms of humans, but also as stupas, temples, canopies, trees,
wells or lakes (Gdugs la sogs rab gnas, 260), which according to the
Buddhist presentation of enlightened bodies qualify as Bzoi sprul sku, the
emanation in form of arts.
This custom has extended to the consecration of ones house, earlier
performed under the pretext of having Rab gnas of the shrine or image
within. This practice today has become futher diluted. This has not only
extended to the practice of consecrating commercial buildings and shops,
but also to monastic and personal properties including vehicles, computers
etc. Despite harsh criticism, such practices are presented as an extension
of the receptacles of Buddhas body, which in the Sutras have not been
confined to stupas and statues alone but but to pillars, trees, wells, springs,
ponds, stations, and archways as well.
Rab gnas has thus come a long way to becoming an essential ritual that
transforms not only representations, but also irreverent and sometimes
profane substances into sacred objects of worship. For many Tibetan
ritualists, the question whether a vehicle qualifies for consecration opens
an entirely new scope for discussion. Such incidents may reflect the overextension of Byin bebs, one of the many ritual components of consecration.

Rab gnas in Tibetan Tradition


Forced mapping of Tantra

Furthermore, a few Tibetan masters have developed a new scheme
equating the creation and dissolution of the field of visualizations in the
consecration ritual to the generation (skye rim) and completion stages of
(rdzogs rim) the Tantra. It is clear that the stages of the consecration, given
its ambiguity surrounding its order and composition, share no correspondence
with Tantric phasal division of generation and completion stages, since the
two stages of visualization and dissolution are not divided on the basis of
the subtle winds entering, abiding and dissolving within the central psychic
channel and the resultant experience of bliss through gaining an insightful
wisdom seeing ultimate nature of all phenomena. This naturally arises from
the view that in Tantra all things are correlated.

Sizes and renditions

Consecration as a ritual hardly withstands any finite definition given
the ambiguity surrounding the question on what constitutes consecration.
While on the one hand, creating a legible impression of the Mantra of
the Essence of Dependent-arising (Prattyasamutpda-hrdayamantra) 1 on a representational object of worship suffices, while on
the other a consecration may continue for three days or more, exclusive
of the preparatory rites, and still render it incomplete or sullied for
technical reasons.
While on the one hand, Tibetan rituals boast to have produced
abridged rituals such as Horseback Consecration (Rab gnas rta thog
ma), a ritual compact enough to be conducted from a horseback, most
recommend at least two days, excluding the seven or more days required
for blessing the stuffing (Ngawang Lobsang Choeden, f.112), where the
evening of the first night marks the blessing of the precious vase and
the next dawn the conferment of Tantric initiation, much in the sense of
enacting the conferring of Abhishekh and ablution on Buddha Shakyamuni
by Devi Tilottamma.
While, for some, one-day consecration is an observance of all rites
conducted in the more elaborate three-day rituals, for others, it is a ritual
that involves omitting the preliminaries and abridging both the actual and
the concluding rite (Rab gnas kyi cho gai tshul, f.282r). However, today
an instant ritual includes a brief consecration prayer from one of the Tantric

1 Ye dharm hetu prabhav / hetu tem tathgatah hyavadat/ tem ca yo

nirodha / eva vd mahramaah /


Sonam Tsering Ngulphu

scriptures 2 , the mantra of dependent-arising and a prayers of

auspiciousness 3, leaving all the intricate and complex rituals to those
preferring an extensive ritual.

Ordained v/s well trained

While texts mention that anyone trained in the ten ritual practices and
possessing the characteristics of a spiritual master can preside over a
consecration ritual (Rab tu gnas pa mdor bsdus pai rgyud, TA, 146b,
Rab tu gnas pai cho ga rab gnas kyi rgyal po, KU, 182b), other Tantric
literature strictly calls for ordained to oversee the rituals, even forbidding
non-ordained from conducting consecration in the presence of ordained
members of the Sangha (Dus khor rtsa rgyud). This issue, alluding to
consecration of early temples by non-ordained members, has been raised
by Tibetan masters including the First Panchen Lama (Lobsang Choekyi
Gyaltsen, f.2). The same concern may also apply to non-ordained, who
preside over grand consecrations, creating controversy over the hierarchical
status between Sprul skus and ordained monks, the latter regarded as
unparelled in the Buddhist Sangha.

Times and timings

The Tanric literature warns of consecration not being auspicious all the
time (Rab tu gnas pa mdor bsdus pai rgyud, 146b) and thereby suggests
auspicious dates such as the sixth lunar month and so forth. However,
Tibetan ritualists following Vibhutichandras Bde mchog dkyil khor maintain
that any day is good (Bu ston, Dus khor rab gnas, 3). However, Bu ston
2 Ji ltar sangs rgyas thams cad ni de nyid du ni bzhugs par rigs (Rab tu gnas pa
mdor bsdus pai rgyud, f.147r-v); Ji ltar sangs rgyas thams cad kyis de nyid du
ni bzhugs par rigs /(Rab tu gnas pai cho ga rab gnas kyi rgyal po, KU, f.184r-v);
Ji ltar sangs rgyas thams cad kyi me tog la sogs di bzhes shig / (Rab gnas kyi
cho ga, PU f.244v); or Rdzogs sangs rgyas kun dga ldan dang me tog la sogs
di rnams bzhes / (Rab gnas kyi cho ga mdor bsdus, f.270v).
3 Phun sum tshogs pa mnga ba gser gyi ri bo dra / jig rten gsum gyi mgon po dri ma
gsum spangs pa / sangs rgyas pad ma rgyas pa dab drai spyan mnga ba / de ni
jig rten dge bai bkra shis dang poo / de yis nye bar bstan pai mchog rab mi g.yo
ba / jig rten gsum na grags shing lha dang mis mchod pa / chos kyi dam pa skye
sgu rnams la gzhi byed pa / de ni jig rten dge bai bkra shis gnyis pao / dge dun
dam pa chos ldan thos pai bkra shis phyug / mi dang lha dang lha ma yin gyi
mchod pai gnas / tshogs kyi mchog rab ngo tsha shes dang dpal gyi gzhi/ de ni jig
rten dge bai bkra shis gsum pao /

Rab gnas in Tibetan Tradition


mentions that only those wielding power to counter adverse forces or perceive
things with an eye of wisdom seeing ultimate reality should dare to override the rule
concerning times and timings. (Bu ston, Dus khor rab gnas, 3)
As for the number of consecrations that can be conducted on a particular
religious object, books on Tibetan history mentions Guru Padmasambhava,
wearing robes ornamented with many precious stones, performing seven
times the wondrous consecration ceremony of the shrine of Samye and its
surrounding buildings and revealing himself as a manifestation-being (Sakyapa
Sonam Gyaltsen, 242-247). Yet another text mentions Acharya
Shantarakshita consecrating Samye eight times (Ba Selnang, 57). Though
early Indian texts mentions re-consecration only after a reparation or
renovation of an image or temple (Gdugs la sogs pa rab tu gnas pa dang
rnying pa byon pai cho ga, 260r-261v), Tibetan masters have
recommended re-consecration for the sake re-sacralizing the image
(Jamyang Zhadpa, Khrul spong nyin mor byed pai snying po, 112).
The need for conducting one consecration each for every single image
in a temple (Rab gnas kyi cho gai tshul, 280r) as against collective
consecration poses yet another issue of contention in Tibetan Buddhism.

Not much is disputed about the presence of historical or indexical value in a
consecrated or even an unconsecrated image, as both equally serve as reference
to the historical Buddha Shakyamuni or an event in his life. This image may also
serve as an object for undertaking the practices of meditative recollection (Rjes
dran). However, the question on the degree of soteriological value in an object
rests on whether or not an invoked Wisdom Being dwells in a consecrated object.
Though all Indian masters including Sadhuputra, Abhayakara, Bhanucandra,
Sucandraprabha, Krishna, Mahasiddha Sagara, Prajnavalita, and the later ones
agree on the invocation of the Wisdom Being and extending offerings (Buton
Rinchen Drub, Dus khor, 12), they however fall under different categories from
the point of view of whether a Wisdom Being invoked during the initial visualization
is caused to merge with the Commitment Being or the receptacle itself. They fall
under two groups from the point of what enters, whether numinous, physical or
other. Tibetan masters also fall under two groups. Tibetan ritualists such as
Taranatha, Drogon Choegyal Phagpa, Sakyapa Ngawang Lodoe Nyingpo and
others follow Sadhuputra and Shraddhakara in accordance with Tantric texts
(Rab tu gnas pai cho ga rab gnas kyi rgyal po) and see the deities off to their
place, while masters including the First Dalai Lama follow Bhanucandra,
Sucandraprabha, Advayavajra, Vagishvara, and Krishna in striking the mergence
of the Wisdom Being into the representational base with supplication to remain in
the base ad infinitum, or at least for as long as the base remains.


Sonam Tsering Ngulphu

In general, shift in consecration practice in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition

sheds light on a broader fundamental difference in the philosophical
viewpoints of the Theravada and the Mahayana traditions, and within their
respective sub-schools. It may reflect an unwelcomed extension of religion
into temporality, dilution of scriptural proposition, alteration of liturgical
manuals, use of religious rituals as commodity etc. within the Buddhist
tradition. In brief, the shift uncovers the undisclosed tension between a
need for unity versus diversity.

Advayavajra, Dpal khor lo sdom pai rab gnas (r-cakrasa vrapratiha), Trans. Acharya Vajrapani and Lo tsa ba Rma ban chos
bar, Toh.1487, Vol.ZHA, ff.154b-159a
Ba Selnang, Sba bzhed ces bya ba las sba gsal snang gi bzhed pa, Ed.
by Mgon po rgyal mtshan. Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1982. p.57
Bentor, Yael. Consecration of Images and Stupas in Indo-Tibetan Tantric
Buddhism. Edited by Johannes Bronkhorst. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996, 415pp.
. The Horseback Consecration Ritual, Religions of Tibet in Practices.
Edited by Donald S. Lopez. Princeton University Press, 1997
. Literature on Consecration (Rab gnas), Tibetan Literature:
Studies in Genre, Edited by Lhundup Sopa, Jos Ignacio Cabezn,
and Roger Reid Jackson, Snow Lion, 1996
Terton Ogyen Lingpa, Bka thang sde lnga, Paro: Ngodrub, 1976
Buton Rinchen Drub, Dpal dus kyi khor loi rab tu gnas pai cho ga
bkra shis dpal bar, CA, 12ff.
Cabezn, Jos Ignacio and Geshe Thubten Tendar, The Tangka According to
Tradition, White Lotus: An Introduction to Tibetan Culture, Edited by
Carole Elchert, ed. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1990. pp. 133-138
Dowman, Keith. The Sacred Life of Tibet, Thorsons: London, 1997, 324pp.
Dpal khor lo sdom pai rab gnas (ri-cakrasa vara-spratih),
Trans. Pandita Vajrapani and Lo tswa ba Rma ban chos bar, Bka
gyur, Vol. ZHA, ff.154v-159r
Dus kyi khor loi rab tu gnas pai cho ga (Klacakra-spratihvidhi). Toh.1453, Vol.117 (PHA), Rgyud, ff.25b-29b
Gedun Drub, First Dalai Lama. Dpal gsang ba dus pai sgo nas rab tu
gnas par byed pai cho ga mdor bsdus, 2ff.

Rab gnas in Tibetan Tradition


Gdugs la sogs pa rab tu gnas pa dang rnying pa byon pai cho ga

(Chattrdipratihjrodbhva-vidhi). Toh.1646, Vol.155 (ZI),
Rgyud, ff.260a-261b
Gombrich, Richard F. Precept and Practice: Traditional Buddhism in the
Rural Highland of Ceylon. Oxford: Clarendon. 1971
Gyatso, Janet. Healing Burns with Fire: The Facilitations of Experience in
Tibetan Buddhism in Journal of the American Academy of
Religion 67(1), 1999, pp.113-147
Jamyang Zhadpa. Gzungs jug khrul spong nyin mor byed pai snying
po, Collected works of Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, New Delhi, 1974,
Vol. I, pp.486-509
Khakhyab Dorje, The Fifteenth Karmapa. Bla ma dgongs pa dus pai rab
gnas kyi cho ga bkra shis brtsegs pa nyin gcig mai don zin
mdor bsdus, Paro: Lama Ngodrub, 1981 (reprint). pp.245-257
Kinnard, Jacob. N. Imaging Wisdom: Seeing and Knowing in the Art of
Indian Buddhism. London: Curzon. 1999
Lobsang Trinlay Namgyel, Khyab bdag rje btzun bla ma dam pa thub dbang
rdo rje chad dang ngo bo dbyer ma mchis pa jam mgon chos kyi
rgyal po tzong kha pa chen poi rnam par thar ba thub bstan mdzes
pai rgyan gcig ngo mtsar nor bui phreng ba (= Tson gkha pai
rnam thar thub stan mdzes pai rgyan gcig nor bui phreng ba), 635ff.
Lobsang Choekyi Gyaltsen, First Pa chen Bla ma. Rab tu gnas pai cho
ga lag len du dril ba dge legs rgya mtshoi char bebs (= Rab
gnas dge legs char bebs), Collected Works of PaG chen Blo bzang
chos kyi rgyal mtshan. Vol.NGA, Rab gnas, pp.813-894
Martin, Dan. Tibskrit Philology, Ed. by Alexander Cherniak, Version: March
10, 2006 (Made available as a digitally transmitted document for
students and scholars of Tibetan and Buddhist through their kindness).
Vagishvara, Rab gnas kyi cho ga, Trans. Pandita Don yod rdo rje and
Khams ba Lo tswa ba Ba ri, Bstan gyur, PU, ff.244r-246r
Ngawang Lobsang Choedhen, Gzungs gzhug dang gnod sbyin khor lo
sogs rab gnas bya tsul phun tsogs char bebs zhes bya ba. ff.155-112
Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, The Fifth Dalai Lama. Gangs can yul gyi sa la spyod
pai mtho ris kyi rgyal blon gtso bor brjod pai bod kyi deb ther rdzogs
ldan gzhon nui dga ston dpyid kyi rgyal moi glu dbyangs (=Rdzogs
ldan gzhon nui dga ston; also Dpyid kyi rgyal moi glu dbyangs).


Sonam Tsering Ngulphu

Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1988. Also see Zahiruddin Ahmad, A History
of Tibet by the Fifth Dalai Lama of Tibet, Bloomington, Indiana
University 1995)

Ngawang Lodoe Nyingpo Zhanphan Thaye. Rab gnas dpal byor rgya mtsho
mar grags pai lag len dang ngag don gyi rim pa mtho ris legs
byas kyi rdzing ring zhes bya ba, Rgyud sde Kun btus, ed. Jam
dbyang Blo gter dbang po, Vol.HA, Delhi, 1971. pp.480-576
Phags pa bzang po spyod pai smon lam gyi rgyal po (rya-bhadracryapranidhna-rja). Toh.1095. Derge Kanjur, Vol.WAM, ff.262-266.
Also see H. Idzumi, The Hymn on the Life and Vows of
Samantabhadra, with the Sanskrit Text, Bhadracarpraidhna,
Eastern Buddhist, Vol.IV (April 1930), pp.226-247.
Rab gnas kyi cho ga (Pratiha-vidhi). Toh.3131, Rgyud, Vol.PU, ff.244-246
Rab gnas kyi cho gai tshul zhes bya ba (Pratia-vidhi-nma). Bka gyur,
Toh.1257 Vol NYA ff.280-282
Rab tu gnas pa mdor bsdus pai rgyud (Supratia-tantra-sa graha).
Tr. Acharya Janavajra and Lo tsa ba Bro Dge slong Shes rab grags
pa. Toh.3662, Vol.85 (TA), Rgyud, ff.146v-150r
Rab tu gnas pai cho ga rab gnas kyi rgyal po (Supratia-vidhi-pratiarjanma), Toh: 3672, Vol.KU, Rgyud, ff.188a
Rnal byor gyi rgyud kyi rab tu gnas pai cho ga rab gnas kyi rgyal po zhes
bya ba (Yoga-tantra-supratia-vidhi-pratiarja-nma), Toh.2528,
Rgyud, Vol.KU, ff.182b-188a
Sakyapa Sonam Gyaltsen, The Clear Mirror: A Traditional Account of
Tibets Golden Age, Trans. McComas Taylor and Lama Choedak
Yuthok, Snow Lion Publications: New York, 1996
Sherpa Tulku and Michael Perrot, The Ritual of Consecration. The Tibet
Journal, Vol.10, No.2. 1985. pp.34-45
, A Manual of Ritual Fire Offerings. Dharamsala, Library of Tibetan
Works & Archives, 1987
Shraddhasambhava Verma, Rab gnas kyi cho ga mdor bsdus pa zhes
bya ba (Pratihavidhi-sa epta). (in verse) Trans. Acharya
Kanakavarma and Lo tswa ba Pa tshab Nyi ma grags. Toh.2646,
Bka gyur, Rgyud, Vol.JU, ff.270a-272b

Rab gnas in Tibetan Tradition


Sonam Tsemo, Sakyapa. Bzang po yongs bzung gi rab gnas kyi Tika, Bsod
nams rtse moi gsung bum, Vol.GA, ff.220-226
Sparham, Gareth. Consecration of Images and Stupas in Indo-Tibetan Tantric
Buddhism by Yael Bentor. (
sparham.htm accessed on 24 August 2009)
Strong, John S. Relics of the Buddha. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Swearer, Donald K. Becoming the Buddha: The Ritual of Image Consecration
in Thailand. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2004
. Hypostasizing the Buddha: Buddha Image Consecration in Northern
Thailand, History of Religions: Image and Ritual in Buddhism.
Vol.34, No. 3, 1995. pp. 263-280.
Taranatha. Rab gnas kyi cho ga gro phan rgyas byed, Collected Works
of Taranatah from blocks preserved at Rtag brtan phun tshogs gling.
Toh.556, Vol.13, 23 ff (pp.613-658). Also available at
(Accessed on March 27, 2008)
. Rab gnas kyi cho ga gro phan rgyas byed kyi lhan thabs,
Collected Works of Taranatah from blocks preserved at Rtag brtan
phun tshogs gling. Toh.557, Vol.13, 16ff. Also available at (Accessed on March 27, 2008)
Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama. The Kalachakra Tantra: Rite of
Initiation. Trans and ed. by Jeffrey Hopkins, London: Wisdom
Publications. 1985, 512pp
Troru Tsenam. Gangs ljongs rgyal bstan yongs rdzogs kyi phyi mo snga
gyur rnying mai lugs kyi lta sgom spyod gsum gyi rnam gzhag mdo
tsam brjod pa tshes pai zla b zhes bya ba, in Gangs can rig brgyai sgo
byed lde mig ces bya ba Series, Vol.12. Mi rigs dpe skrun khang,
van der Kuijp, Leonard W. J. Notes Apropos of the Transmission of the
Sarva-durgati-parodhana-tantra in Tibet, Studien zur Indologie
und Iranistik 16/17 (1992), pp.109-125.
An Early Tibetan View of the Soteriology of Buddhist Epistemology,
Journal of Indian Philosophy 15 (1987), pp.57-70.
Walshe, Maurice (trans.).The Great Passing (Mahparinirv a-stra),
Thus Have I Heard: The Long Discourses of the Buddha (Digha
Nikya). Boston: Wisdom Publication. 1995

Two Early Tibetan Ritual Diagrams

for Cakra Meditations
Amy Heller

In the context of the seminar organized by the Library of Tibetan Works

and Archives in recognition of Indias generosity in the 20th century, may
this research be viewed as a gesture of homage to the countless Indian
artists and paitas who travelled to the Land of Snows in the dawn of the
previous millennium and the profound impact of their work on Tibetan
civilisation. This article proposes to bring to the attention of tibetologists
two drawings which have recently been published in relation to the history
of Kashmiri painting by Pratapaditya Pal, curator emeritus of Asian Art at
the Norton Simon Foundation. 1 When first studied, the art-historical
significance of these drawings was emphasized in relation to works of art
attributed to the school of Kashmiri artists in western Tibet ca 1000-1100.
As the content of the historical and ritual inscriptions in Tibetan and Sanskrit
was not discussed in detail, here we propose to present these inscriptions in
their context and attempt their analysis. Stemming from ancient Indian
systems of yoga, these two drawings illustrate the Abhidharmic universe,
represented in symbols and as cakras of the human body in an anatomical
chart of an anthropomorphic cosmic being; they are painted on the recto
and verso of a single sheet of paper with accompanying ritual indications in
Tibetan and mantra in Sanskrit. These diagrams reflect the introduction to
Tibet of these Indic materials, their adaptation and translation while a brief
and enigmatic historical inscription appears to indicate their transmission
within the royal family of the kingdoms of, intriguingly naming
Zhi ba od. The sheet of paper has been subject to radio-carbon analysis
yielding a firm date of 11th century; this early date appears to be corroborated
by the style of the painting which relates to early schools of Kashmiri style
art in western Tibet and by archaic orthography present in the inscriptions.
1 Pal, Pratapaditya. The Arts of Kashmir, Asia Society and 5 Continents Editions,
New York and Milano, 2007, 105-106, illustrated as figure 116, Cosmic
Vajravarahi Dakini, eleventh century, paper, painting on both sides, 80 x 30 cm. Mr
and Mrs. Chino Roncoroni. The diagram of the anthropomorphic deity has the
facial characteristics typical of the Kashmiri school of art in Tibet, with broad
almond-shaped eyes, tiny nose, a rose-bud mouth, while the knees are rendered
in a particular stiff mode, the knee-cap perfectly spherical.


Amy Heller

These factors indicate that the drawings and their ritual instructions were
co-eval with the vast program of translation and diffusion of Indian tantric
texts, Buddhist and Hindu, in the Land of Snows.

I. Physical Description
The page measures 80 x 30 cm. It is a light beige color, with slight striations.
It is evenly cut but at present there are small tears along the edges; the thickness
varies slightly. The plant composition of the paper has not been subject to
analysis but the color and consistency of the paper conform to Tibetan and
Himalayan paper made of the white inner bark, the bast, of the shrub daphne.2
The color and surface texture of the paper resemble leaves of manuscripts
collected at the Tholing monastery by Giuseppe Tucci, now conserved in the
Tucci archives of IsIAO library, Roma and the Los Angeles County Museum:
thick, and semi-smooth, to slightly coarse, glazed.3
The inscriptions at the center of the cakra are written in dbu can, the
ritual inscriptions surrounding the cakra diagrams are written in dbu med
as is the historical inscription. Frequently, there is the superabundant a chung
(bde ba chen poi tsa kra); gi gu log is infrequent, there is no instance of
da drag. The punctuation is somewhat erratic: around the diagrams, there
is total absence of punctuation at the beginning of phrases; at the end of
phrases, there is either no indication (i.e. omission of shad) or single shad
or double shad. There is no page number or any binding holes traced on
the sheet to indicate that it formerly was part of a manuscript; it is therefore
understood to be conceived as an independent leaf, however, there is no
indication which side of the sheet is to be read first.

II. The diagrams

The term cakra is the Sanskrit word for wheel, circle, or disc; by
extension, in Indian vedic medical systems, cakra has the specific meaning
of the psycho-physiological energy centers conceived as vortices which
facilitate the circulation of the winds and energies within the body organized
into a coherent system by Patanjali in the Yogasutra.4 One side of this paper
2 Imaeda, Yoshiro. Papermaking in Bhutan, Acta Orient. Hung. XLIII(2-3),
409-414 (1989).
3 Harrison, Paul. Notes on some West Tibetan manuscript folios in the Los Angeles
County Museum of Art in B. Kellner et al. (eds) Pramakrti. Papers dedicated
to Ernst Steinkellner of the occasion of his 70th birthday. WSTB, vol. 70.1.
Arbeitskreis fur Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, Vienna, 2007: 229-245.
4 Meyer, Fernand. Gso ba rig pa, le systme medical tibtain, Editions du
CNRS, Paris, 1981, 61 passim.

Two Early Tibetan Ritual Diagrams for Cakra Meditations


presents a drawing with eleven geometric shapes and symbols; at the centre
of each, there is a mantra syllable. These shapes and mantra are specifically
related to the cosmos in the Abhidharmic universe5 which is extrapolated in
microcosm as the cakra system within the human body illustrated on the
diagram of anthropormorphic shape drawn on the other side of this paper
(see below).
The main correlations of shapes of the component elements of the
universe are indicated from top to bottom:
1) a white circle, center syllables: a li ( the heavens : the moon disc)
2) a red circle, center syllables: ka li (the heavens: the sun disc)6
3) a black vajra, center syllable: bam (the summit of the vajra palace)
4) a black viva-vajra, hum inscribed at the extremity of the 4 points (the
base of the vajra palace)
5) a yellow circle surrounded by 8 red petals, bam at center
6) 7 concentric circles in blue, black and white; at the center, five staves
emerge from the rings; underneath the circles, the syllable sum (Mount
7) 4 successive squares, outlines in red, white, green, and yellow; center
syllable: lam (the earth element)
8) 2 concentric circles, a red circle surrounding a white circle; center
syllable: bam (the water element)
9) a red triangle, with flames at edges; center syllable: ram (the fire
10) a blue bow with red ribbon streamers, above, the syllable yam (the
wind element)
11) a red triangle with the letter a clearly visible at center, the vowel
greng bu is slightly effaced but legible, yielding the syllable E; at
the apex of the triangle, a white circle with the syllable bam at
center, surrounded by a red outline with 4 red petals at the cardinal
points and 4 blue petals at the intermediary points (emptiness, the
air element).
At present, this series of identifications is primarily based on the work
of Elizabeth English who studied similar diagrams in the context of
5 English, Elizabeth. Vajrayogini Her visualizations, rituals and forms.
Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2002: 144 -151. I thank Dan Martin
for this reference.
6 Ibid, p.152. The two discs represent the polarity of male and female, the
white representing semen and the red blood; further English notes that at
certain stages in the meditations the sun disc and moon disc should be seen
to mingle, .a simulacrum of sexual uniongiv(ing) rise to great bliss.


Amy Heller

Vajrayogini meditations.7 While it has not yet been possible to correlate this
series of the syllables and all shapes with a specific text, whether Vajrayogini
or Kalachakra, it is nonetheless certain that this series of shapes corresponds
to a representation of the cosmos as found also on Hindu examples of the
Mahapurua, the Great Being of ancient India.8
On the opposite side of the paper, it is the diagram of the human body
with inscriptions describing the ritual function of the cakra and drawings of
the cakra. While the cakra correspond to those of the human body, the
presence of a head of a boar emerging from the human head is an immediate
clue to the identification of this figure as a form of Vajravarahi, who is
herself an aspect of Vajrayogini. This identification is corroborated by the
presence of the name Buddhakini in some of the mantra on the chart, as
Buddhakini is yet another name of Vajrayogini.
In this diagram, the inscriptions near the circles on the drawing of the
human body describe five cakra positions and provide the name of the body
part associated with each cakra. The genital cakra is not shown as a disc
but instead is represented by a triangle shape, on which the letter E is clearly
legible. This corresponds to the base level of the cosmos in the preceding
diagram, the air element or the emptiness from which all arises. The
hip cakra is represented by the bow which is the wind element, the syllable
yam is visible in between the red bowstring and the limb of the bow. Above
this is the circle for the next cakra which has a yellow snake in-between
two long red and white curving elements, these are respectively the main
veins, white for male energy (semen) and red for female energy (blood).
The two veins and the snake are positioned on a triangle which is partially
covering a red swastika. Careful observation by Dan Martin reveals that
the snakes mouth is clamping the main veins, which is an element of Hindu
tantra, hitherto not documented for Buddhist tantra9. The mantra along the
sides of the triangle are individual syllables, not totally legible but along the
outer edge of the circle on can read Om Om Om Sarva Buddha dakini Ye
7 Ibid, see diagrams on p. 145 and p. 151. For similar symbolic representations
of the universe see Martin Brauens discussions on the analogy between the
person and the cosmos in relation to Kalachakra (Brauen, Martin. Mandala,
Sacred Circle in Tibetan Buddhism, Rubin Museum of Art, New York, 2009,
p. 155 passim).
8 See Hindu representations of the Mahapurua from India illustrated by
Rawson, Philip. The Art of Tantra, Thames and Hudson, London, 1973, figs.
134-136; a Mahapurua from Nepal illustrated in Mller-Ebeling, Claudia,
Rtsch, Christian, Shahi, Surendra Bahadur. Shamanism and Tantra in the
Himalayas, Inner Traditions, Rochester, 2002: 115-117.
9 Dan Martin, personal communication, January 2005.

Two Early Tibetan Ritual Diagrams for Cakra Meditations


Bazdra pani ye bee ro tsa ni ye hum hum phat phat phat sva ha, a mantra
which, upon reconstruction, refer to Vajrayogini, Vajrapani, and Vairocana.
At left the inscription reads: phyi g.yu ru khyil pai ca kra, the cakra of
the whirling turquoise (exoteric), and at right the inscription reads lte (?lto)
ba ye shes kyi khor lo, the circle of wisdom of the belly or circle of
wisdom of the navel. The implication here is that there has been, to borrow
the expression of Robert Meyer, not only transmission and translation of
Indian texts in Tibet, but a Tibetan reformulation of Indic materials whereby
certain Hindu elements were incorporated with the Buddhist tantric ritual.10
Henceforth, in this diagram, rather than give names for each cakra as
in an anatomical system, the cakra are associated with different ritual
phases. Beside the right elbow, which is raised so that the right hand
appears to hold the cakra over the heart, the inscription reads phyi gtor
mai ca kra, the cakra of the exoteric gtor ma offering. To the right of
the heart cakra, snying ga chos kyi ca kra , the cakra of Dharma, the
heart. In the center of the heart cakra there are two red inversed
triangles and the syllable hri at center. There are eight petals surrounding
the heart cakra, and on each red petal, a letter may be seen: shri, hum,
da, rdo (?); among the syllables of the heart cakra mantra, a ki li ki la
ya (the mantra to Vajrakila) but at present not all is may be discerned.
At the throat cakra, there is the red triangle where at present only a few
mantra syllables can be read, among which Om Buddha dakini ye svaha
.Bee ro tsa na hum hum phat phat svaha. To the left of the neck,
phyi mchod pai ca kra, the cakra of the exoteric offering. To the
right of the neck, the inscription reads, me long yees (> ye shes) dpung
gi ca kra, the cakra of the arm, mirror-like wisdom which appears to
refer to the disc (i.e. the mirror) held in the right hand, adorned by the
emblem of the red swastika. 11
Above the boars head, the inscription refers to the mantra syllables
grouped in the square above the deitys head, phyi yi gi btu bai ca kra,
the cakra of the assembly of letters of the exoteric ritual. It is to be
noted that there are 49 squares, 7 x 7 in the diagram. This is the
mantroddhara (sngags btu-bu) as defined by Robert Mayer, wherein,
following the standard Indic convention, the mantras are reduced to a
simple code which preserves precisely the mantra and at the same time
10 Mayer, Robert. A Scripture of the Ancient Tantra Collection. The Phur-pa
bcu-gnyis. Kiscadale publications, Oxford, 1996, p. 135. I thank Dan Martin
for this reference.
11 See Orofino, Giacomella. Divination with Mirrors. Observations on a simile
found in the Kalachakra Literature in P. Kvaerne (ed) Tibetan Studies, The Institute
for Comparative Research on Human Culture, Oslo, 1994: vol.2: 612-628.


Amy Heller

conceals it.12 On the other side of the square of letters, the inscription reads
bde ba chen poi ca kra, cakra of great joy. This is may be an allusion
to the Sukhavati paradise of Amitabha Buddha called Land of Joy, bde ba
can, in Tibetan, or, in the words of Elizabeth English, to the sexual
soteriology of the higher and highest tantras where emptiness is described
experientially as the ecstatic, all consuming great bliss, the tantric metaphor
for which is orgasm.13 However, in the opinion of Ven. Tsenshab Rinpoche,
the 49 squares of letters in combination with the expression bde ba can
evoke the 49 days of the bardo period, which implies possibly a post-mortem
ritual. To thoroughly understand this diagram, in the future, it would be
essential to have definitive readings of all the mantra and correlate with
specific texts, which is beyond the scope of the present study. Yet, already
the imbrication of Hindu and Buddhist elements is salient and warrants
attention by scholars familiar with both.
The historical inscription is on the page with the diagrams of shapes.
Along the left edge of the paper, at left, the one line inscription (inscription
1a) reads: rgya (rgyal?) slong dgan pas pro mo spyad pai bleng bzhis
brgyud pa lus rgyus.
At right (inscription 1b): (line 1) lus gnas yin gos rgyus pai bye zhi ni shud pu
zhi ba od gi bu shud pu ser skya ma de de bzhin (line 2) bshegs pa od srungs gi
drung du mdo sde sde snod ma lus slabs nas rgya kar shar nub na pra dang tshad
ma (line 3) nga bas khas na med/ shud bu zhi ba od tshei dus byas chi yang
bu khyod gra (grab?) yod pas lta
In this transcription of the inscription, there are elements of historic
significance due to the name Zhi ba od, which immediately recalls the
name of the prince of Guge Pho brang Zhi ba od who was a monk and
translator. The interpretations proposed here below remain tentative, to be
re-assessed in the light of future research. These diagrams and inscriptions
have been discussed with Ven. Tsenshab Rinpoche, a dge lugs pa specialist
in ritual born in 1935, and Anne-Marie Blondeau, whose studies of rituals as
well as previous studies in Tibetan hippiatric medicine and Tibetan medical
terminology render her advice most precious, as well as Dan Martin.14 The
12 Mayer. op.cit. p. 136-139. See the triangular configuration for the
mantroddhara for Vajrayogini in English, op.cit, p. 54 and the explanation of
the organization of the alphabet on p.152.
13 English. op. cit, p. 149.
14 Blondeau, Anne-Marie, Dakpa, Ngwang, Meyer, Fernand (eds) Dictionnaire
thmatique franais-tibtain du tibtain parl langue standard. Volume
1, Lhomme, anatomie, fonctions motrices et viscrales, lHarmattan, Paris,
2002; Anne-Marie Blondeau (ed. and tr.): Matriaux pour letude de
lhippologie et de lhippiatrie tibtaines ( partir des manuscrits de
Touen-houang). Librairie Droz, Geneva, 1972.

Two Early Tibetan Ritual Diagrams for Cakra Meditations


term which precedes Zhi ba od is Shud pu or Shud bu. This is known as a

name of an ancient Tibetan clan in central Tibet as of the 8th century, among
which were some of the 25 disciples of Padmasambhava15. This clan is well
known in ancient Tibetan historical accounts. However, it has not been
previously recorded that Zhi ba od and the Guge royal family were in
matrimonial alliance with this clan. Although possibly the term may be used
here literally, it does not seem likely. Shud pa, literally, means to copy a
text. Shud bu might, by extension, be a diminutive expression to refer to a
person who copies religious texts. This could certainly apply to Zhi ba od in
the sense of his personal religious studies and functions as royal monk in Guge
during the 11th century. But it is far more likely that Shud bu/pu is a clan name
here. As far as I have been able to determine, the monastic name Zhi ba od
was exclusively used by the royal monk of Guge after his ordination. But his
title pho brang is not present here, nor any other titles which he used, such as
bod kyi dpal lha btsan po or dge slong bla ma, shakya dge slong lha bla ma,
bod kyi rgyal po pho brang Zhi ba od, which are titles used to refer to him in
texts he translated.16 The expression in the first line rgya (rgyal?) slong dgan
pa, here understood to mean aged royal monk, would seem to refer to the
person who is talking in the following three lines, who is named Zhi ba od.
However, the paternal clan (rus) of the royal monk Zhi ba od is lha, i.e. of divine
descent, not Shud bu. This raises problems as to the identification of the
person Zhi ba od in this inscription.
To summarize the inscription, the proposed interpretation is that at left,
there is the explanation that this is the account or the diagram made by the
aged royal monk and in the right inscription, there is the explanation of what
is the content of this account or diagram, discussed as a preparation for
rituals to be made following an imminent death of an aged person named
Shud bu Zhi ba od.
15 Ven. Tsenshab Rinpoche is of the Shud khud family of rTa nag, gTsang, ( see
Carnahan, Sumner and Lama Kunga Rinpoche, In the Presence of my Enemies,
Memoirs of Tibetan Nobleman Tsipon Shuguba, Clear Light Publishers,
Santa Fe, 1995). I thank Roberto Vitali for the information that Shud phu is
the family line of Lho brag mkhan chen Nam mkha Sen ge, active in Lho brag
in 12th century. His lineage continued at the Thig phyi monastery in Lho
brag (see Shud is also a clan name listed among the donors
in the Prajaparamita volumes of gNas gsar dgon pa, Byi cher village, Dolpo:
N. 108, N. 171, N. 188, Shud kye clan in N. 239, N.306, N. 314, N. 354. (see
A. Heller, Hidden Treasures of the Himalayas, Tibetan manuscripts,
paintings and sculptures of Dolpo, Serindia Publications, Chicago, 2009:
CD of prefaces)
16 See Samten Karmay, An Open Letter by Pho-brang Zhi ba od, The Tibet
Journal, 1980, vol 3: 1-28.


Amy Heller

In the left inscription, the transcription of the first line is as follows:

rgya (rgyal?) slong dgan pas pro mo spyad pai bleng bzhis brgyud pa lus
rgyus. Rinpoche suggested the interpretation and rectification of transcription as
follows: rgyal slong rgan pas pra mo spyad pai byung bzhis bskus pai lus rgyus:
the body clues (marks/signs) painted (to indicate) the basis of the mirror
divination practice, made/written(?) by the aged royal monk Mme. Blondeau
agreed rgyal slong rgan pas was a probable reading for the initial section, the
aged royal monk. However, she suggested different interpretations of the rest,
reading lus rgyus as tendons/or nerves of the body, bleng bzhis> gleng bzhis,
account: possibly sro mo (heat) instead of pro mo, spyad pa > dpyad ma, thus>
sro mo dpyad pa, which would give Tendons/ or nerves of the body, account
of the examination of heat, made by the aged royal monk.
The interpretation and rectified transliteration of the three line inscription
at right is as follows:
Lus gnas (gnad) yin gos rgyus pai >bskyus pai bye zhi >
byung bzhis ni shud bu zhi ba od gi bu shud bu ser skya ma de/
de bzhin bshegs (>gshegs) pa od srungs gi drung du mdo sde
sde snod ma lus slabs byas rgya kar >gar shar nub na pra dang
tshad ma nga bas khas (>mkhas) na med/ shud bu zhi ba od
tshei dus byas/ chi yang bu khyod gra (grab?) yod pas lta
The person speaking is Zhi ba od, talking to his son,
Concerning the basis of the painted (diagram), understand that
it is the essential points of the body. You Shud bu ser skya ma, son
of Shud pu Zhi ba od, because I am close to dying17, look (at this
diagram)! Having spent my life (as) Shud bu Zhi ba od, (now) I
also die. I studied all the sutra and piaka in front of the (teacher
who is like) Buddha Kyapa, in all of India east and west there is
none more knowledgeable than me in mirror divination and logic
(pra dang tshad> pra mo and tshad ma).
The implication is that this person Zhi ba od is telling his son to look at
the diagram to prepare for post-mortem rituals for himself as he is nearing
the end of his life, having accomplished vast studies in religious topics. Is
this indeed the scion of the kingdom of Guge? The royal monk Zhi ba od
(1016-1111) was ordained as a monk in 1056 at age 4118, thus he could have
17 gra yod pa is possibly to be read grab for grabs to be close, to be near.
grabs yod pa is given in the Tshig mdzod chen mo ( vol. 1: 396, col 1) with the
example to be close to death (chi grabs yod pa). I thank Mme. Blondeau for
this reference.
18 Vitali, Roberto. The Kingdoms of Pu.hrang, Tho.ling gtsug.lag.khang lo
gcig.stong khor.bai rjes dran.mdzad sgoi go.sgrig tshogs.chung, Dharamsala, 1996: 296

Two Early Tibetan Ritual Diagrams for Cakra Meditations


married and had children prior to his vows. The names of any spouse or offspring
have not been preserved in history as far as I know.19 However, if Zhi ba ods
studies in religious topics - both Sanskrit language and logic - were well known
and he translated many texts for many Indian paitas during their visits to
Guge, there is no text on divination or cakra meditations per se attributed to his
patronage or his translation as far as I have been able to determine.20
In the interpretation of Mme. Blondeau, it is possible to reconstruct less
and stay closer to the actual grammar of the text, albeit correcting the
spelling somewhat. For the first sentence of the second inscription she
suggested, As for the distinction of the tendons/ nerves, such as the essential
points of the body (lus gnas> lus gnad), which might be construed to
refer to the diagrams of the mandala of the body. However, for the rest,
she agreed with the gist of the proposed translation of the discourse of Zhi
ba od to his son. The question remains: is the person Zhi ba od in this text
indeed the royal monk Zhi ba od? If so, these inscriptions raise questions
about the teachings transmitted by Zhi ba od, those he translated and those
he practiced. I am indebted to Dan Martin for the information that among
the numerous texts he requested and translated was a text of a mandala
obtained from a Kashmiri master, Jar (Ye shes dpal), in which some of
the content relates to aspects of the charts on this page, although the text in
question is not specific to Vajrayogini. 21
To conclude, these elegant diagrams are visually quite simple yet extremely
sophisticated in their ritual significance. Their inscriptions raise multiple questions
about the process of introduction of Indic materials, both Buddhist and Hindu,
to Tibet, their transmission in Tibet and perhaps within the royal family of Guge,
and how these Indic materials were adopted and eventually reformulated during
the initial periods of their transmission and practice in Tibet.

19 See full list of the names of all royal family members in Vitali, ibid. p. 145.
20 See Vitali, op. cit. pp. 66-67 for Tibetan text and pp. 119-120 for translation of the
text of the mNga ris rgyal rabs which describes Zhi ba od and Atishas collaboration
on translation as well as his translations of texts on tshad ma, additional translations
with other masters and his translation of tantric work as well.
21 Dan Martin, personal communication, January 2005. The text is the Toh. No
1539, Sahajamaalatryloka (lhan cig skyes paI dkyil khor gsum gsal bar byed
pa), written by the Kashmiri Jar at the request of Zhi ba od, who then
translated it: lhan cig skyes pai dkyil khor gsum gsal bar byed pa zhes bya ba
mkhas pa chen po dznya na shris mdzad pa rdzogs so // bod kyi rgyal po pho
brang zhi ba od kyis gsol ba btab nas bsgyur bao.
See also Samten Karmay, op.cit. 19-29 for the discussion of the different royal
titles used by Zhi ba od in his translations.


Amy Heller

Diagram for Cakra Meditations (recto)

Two Early Tibetan Ritual Diagrams for Cakra Meditations

Diagram for Cakra Meditations (verso)


Inscription 1b

Inscription 1a

Amy Heller

Greatly Perfected, in Space and Time:

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission
from Zhang zhung
Henk Blezer

In Tibetan Studies, we customarily refer to Tibetan historical sources. Yet,
when we do so, both the referent and the exact definition of the category
history often tend to move a bit out of focuswhether that is considered
convenient or not ... From the great wealth and variety of Tibetan historical
literature available, for this paper, we look at an interesting but also somewhat
remote Bon representative: complementary materials on lineage, history, and
cosmology that developed as a legitimising adjunct to the Aural Transmission of
Zhang zhung (Zhang zhung snyan (b)rgyud ZZNG). The ZZNG mainly
contains tantric and Great Perfection teachings. There is a curiously insulated
and timeless quality to these materials, which of course adumbrates the prominent
Great Perfection view and its rhetoric of transcendence.
Early ZZNG lineage stories appear almost entirely depleted of verifiable
names and dates, while at the same time being replete with stencilled, evocative,
trope-like events, names, sacred places, maxims and teaching devices. If one
would have much invested in securing historical traces, their conspicuous absence
could almost suggest conscious efforts to cover the tracks. Indeed, it is notoriously
difficult to put a handle on dates of lineage Lamas of the ZZNG traditions before
Yang ston chen po (the late 11th c. AD), who most likely first codified the ZZNG.
This raises interesting questions about implicit historicities. Much of the frustration
about what may appear to be historical obscurantism might actually relate to a
clash of historicities and does not necessarily put the integrity of the underlying
ZZNG Bon historicities into question.
A convention of a-temporality renders the markedly insulated explications
of (partly even transcendent) space and time in lineage documents of the
ZZNG Bon Great Perfection particularly useful for understanding the clash of
historicities that occurs when we try to read such materials as chronologies, and
for appreciating the sensibilities from which historicising teaching documents
of that ilk are designed. Three crucial links in the ZZNG lineages promise to be
particularly revealing:


Henk Blezer

1) The legendary Gu rib Gyer spungs sNang bzher lod po, who is placed in the
8th c. AD and is said to have recorded the Four Cycles of the Oral Tradition
(bKa (b)rgyud skor bzhi) in writing.
2) The equally legendary dPon chen btsan po, who, by context, is dated to
around the 10th c. AD. Later tradition believes him to be the Master where
the teachings emerge from a Zhang zhung cultural sphere into the Tibetan
world. He is believed to have lived for 1600 years (and thus ought to be still
alive as we speak).
3) Yang ston chen po Shes rab rgyal mtshan probably is the only historical
figure in this exalted company. His dates start somewhere in the last quarter
of the 11th c. AD. The great Yang ngal teacher is a crucial figure for the
eventual codification of the ZZNG and its narratives (he and his teacher Or
sgom kun dul apparently were the first to produce notes on the Nyams
(b)rgyud or Experiential Transmission).
In this study we will take a closer look at some of these Masters of the
ZZNG. Since the type of historicity of Yang ston chen po seems the least
problematic, we will pay particular attention to the manner of construction the
religious persona of the first two figures: to the way their hagiographical narratives
gradually emerge from legendary materials, in accordance with convention (and
philosophical view).

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung

ZZNG Lineage Thangka in a German collection 15th c.?, Karmay (1998:2)



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung




or 8th

Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


Henk Blezer


The ZZNG Lineage Revisited11

First we need to revisit briefly the whole of the ZZNG lineage, which I
partly discussed earlier (IATS 2003). The lineage comes to us broken up into
more or less homogeneous groups. The historicities vary slightly, mostly groupwise. The narrative paradigms of individual masters within groups are predictably
similar and appear stencilled. The first major division is into a far and near
transmission: ring rgyud and nye rgyud; which are believed to be more or less
Interestingly, ring rgyud and nye rgyud here de facto function as indicators
of the underlying historicity. But, traditionally, nearness here of course refers
to the immediacy (and perceived reliability) of the visionary encounter of sNang
bzher lod po with Ta pi hri tsa.

Ring rgyud
Mythic & Legendary Time
The first divine, mythic and legendary parts are called far transmission (ring rgyud);
transmitted over a long lineage. But, implicitly, the name also indicates awareness of
the remote temporal order that these divine, mythic or legendary parts are projected
from. Those that produced the texts, in a way, took care to inform their audience
that this is written from a more remote historicity, which may deviate from usual or
other sensibilities. There evidently is no intention to deceive but rather to inform one
about the type of historicity of this part of the lineage.
It starts with the elusive intentional or mind transmission of the nine conquerors
(rgyal ba dgongs pai rgyud pa dgu), which obviously is out of space and time.
The deities are followed by two main oral or aural lineages of superhuman and
human adepts (grub thob snyan khung gi rgyud pa gnyis):

rGyud pa khrug can gsum

The Interrupted Lineage
The Interrupted (rgyud pa khrug can gsum), implies that the transmission
occasionally was interrupted by visionary revelation, a bit like the nye rgyud. It
consists of three sub-groups, developed with the familiar predictability of Bn
and Buddhist mnemonic classifications; excercising the main mythical figures:
1. The lineage of seventeen Masters, transmitted through Chi med tsug phud,
born from heat (drod skyes chi med tsug phud nas brgyud pa bcu bdun);

Then a lineage of eight Masters, transmitted through Ye gshen tsug phud, hatched
from an egg (sgong skyes ye gshen tsug phud nas brgyud pa brgyad);

11 Many thanks go to Gerd Manusch, for carefully reading and improving the
redaction of this article.

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


3. And a lineage of nine Masters, transmitted through gSang ba dus pa,

miraculously born (rdzus skyes gsang ba dus pa nas brgyud pa dgu).

rGyud pa khrug med (bzhi)

The Uninterrupted Lineage
The Uninterrupted Transmission lists 24 masters divided into four groups
(rgyud pa khrug med nyi su rtsa bzhi):
1. The five transcendent lamas (la zla bai bla ma lnga (sems dpa brdai rgyud pa));
2. Transmission of the awareness of six so-called wisdom holders (rig dzin
rig pai rgyud pa drug);
3. Transmission through the ear(hole) of nine ordinary persons (gang zag snyan
khung gi rgyud pa dgu); and
4. Transmission through four scholar-translators (mkhas pa lo pa gyi rgyud pa
The overall heading of these four probably is to be emended to: mngal
skyes sprul pai ston pa gshen rab [nas brgyud pa]. Following the three other
births mentioned before. This is one of the few occasions in these texts that
sTon pa gShen rab makes an appearance. His conspicuous absence underlines
once more how disparate early Bon traditions are.

And Mythic & Legendary Time it Is!

The first of these adepts also are divine or in any case superhuman. Compare,
for instance, the headings for the first two categories of the Uninterrupted
lineage. In this section, the lineage crosses from mythic to legendary. But all
Masterslegendary or divineare entirely beyond verification. One would not
even feel inclined to try. If descriptions appear at all, they are extremely brief
and are lacking in personal detail. A brief, historical-looking beacon appears at
Ra sangs khri ne khod, who supposedly is a contemporary of emperor sTag ri
gnyan gzigs (5th/6th c. AD?), but looks fictional.
Ubiquitous are toponyms such as Zhang zhungeven sTag gzig occurs.
But exactly because of their generic nature, they do not look convincingly Zhang
zhung. They look more like obligatory references in accordance with later
dominant narratives about western origins of Bon.

Nye rgyud
Zhang zhung smar gyi grub chen drug: Legendary & Human Time
The next major subdivision, the so-called near transmission are the six
great adepts from Zhang zhung smar. As said, it is called near because sNang
bzher lod po directly receives these teachings from Ta pi hri tsa, in visions.


Henk Blezer

This subdivision is where the lineage emerges from Zhang zhung into Tibet, at its
last Master, dPon chen btsan po. It thus mediates to later Masters the heritage of
sNang bzher lod po, who is the receptacle of all the previous teachings, is said to
have recorded the bKa brgyud skor bzhi, and is the focal point and narrative
centre of gravity of the ZZNG. It looks like this lineage segment was conceived as
a new start, perhaps of a more verifiably human part of the lineage, which may
relate to the fact that this part is projected into a time that Tibet came on record,
starting approx. the 7th8th c. AD. Again, such brief intimations of the approximate
type of historicity involved are often apparent from the texts, hidden or overtly.
Naturally, it is also at this turning point that the stories start to assume body
and authors care to elaborate; before that, there were only names and very brief
pro forma descriptions. The somewhat unimaginative dMu names serve to
underline their ancient Zhang zhung provenance. The dMu/gShen clan is a well
known old family name, which is well-known to be associated with Zhang
zhung and with the founder of Bon. However, here it appears an artificial entity.
The preternatural lives of these Masters first of all seem to adorn their
accomplished saintly stature, but, covertly, they also indicate the legendary nature
of the type of historicity. Yet, extreme longevity apparently does not preclude
humanity: they are not treated very differently from later figures who are closer to
the historical memory of the first codifiers of the traditions. At this point the
lineage splits into two: The lower (smad lugs) and upper transmission (stod lugs).

sMad lugs kyi bla ma lnga: Nyams rgyud

When the teachings supposedly enter the Tibetan part of the lineage, they
split into an upper and a lower transmission, which in fact very much turns out
to be a systematic doctrinal issue.
The five Lamas of the lower transmission only delivered the experiential
transmission (nyams rgyud). This leg in of the link preserves memories of orally
transmitted commentary by Masters of the ZZNG, accrued and codified over
time. But this is also the approximate point in the lineage, toward its very end,
where it emerges into verifiable human memory. The last person of this lineage,
Or sgom kun dul, together with his student, Yang ston chen po Shes rab rgyal
mtshan, the first of the next subsection, are said to have recorded the experiential
transmission, which may indeed be a historical fact. The descriptions in the
lower lineage part are more elaborate, which may relate to the fact that Yang ston
chen po, who codified the nyams rgyud, also happened to preserve the stories.

sTod lugs kyi bla ma drug: bKa brgyud

The six Lamas of the upper transmission only transmitted the fourfold oral cycle (bka
brgyud skor bzhi), supposedly written down by sNang bzher lod po, in the 8th c. AD.

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


Both sub-lineages again lead up to a focal point: Yang ston chen po, who
combines these two disparate teaching lineages. Again, we see a third possible
starting point of the lineage, that of verifiable historical Masters in Tibet. Here
too, various more or less vague antecedents come together in one figure, Yang
ston chen po, who is the starting point of their known dissemination and of a
new leg in the line. And here too we seem to enter a slightly different type of
historicity, one which can actually be related to historical records.
At Yang ston chen po, the lineage splits into two once more: the Northern
and Southern transmission, each combining both doctrinal corpora. These are
on relatively firm historical ground. The Southern Transmission became better
known than Northern one (Karmay1988:xix).

Some Preliminary Conclusions of Oxford 200312

Considering the leverage of religious historiographical paradigms, overall,
the Aural Transmission lineages show remarkably few signs of editing and
cosmetic surgery. Certainly when compared to more fanciful reconstructions,
such as of the early dul ba lineages and the like.
Tibetan/Bn historiographical conventions are distinctive. Divergences in
historical sensibilities are also apparent. At least four consecutive, major lineage
segments appear, most feature a culminating figure that reveals its reconstruction.
Still, the general temporal framework usually differs radically. Time and
space generally are viewed as relative (because dualistic) categories, probably
particularly in reference to Great Perfection rhetoric. It is interesting that in all
this the lineage histories themselves show some awareness that the narratives,
mostly group or sub-group wise, pertain to diverging historicities and they give
that construction away.

Cyclical Time and Moral Causalities

The conventional task of the Bon historian is to read, capture and link the
signs of time properly in his narrative. Time is realised as a cyclical succession
of world periods. Within this cyclic succession a somewhat pessimistic outlook
on history presupposes a moral law of entropy: virtue and primeval order
decrease (and chaos thus increases) with time. Within one world cycle, things
can only get worse. The law of karma adds a touch of determinism; perhaps
most tangible in the ubiquitous prophetic revelation (lung bstan). This appears
somewhat teleological: things are supposed or bound to fulfil their destiny in
certain ways (cf. Bjerken 2001).
The organising principle is clearly moral, rather than causal. Time is a factor
involved in moral precedence and authority rather than purely in chronology.
12 Forthcoming in Oxford & Bonn PIATS, Emerging Bon, Bonn 2010.

Henk Blezer


Such are the temporal framework and (some of) the general parameters within
which Bon narrative strategies function.

Important Points to Retain

There seem to be traditional conventions and codes in place that indicate
which type of historicity is engaged in a particular lineage segment. Divine figures
indicate mythic time. Preternatural lives and an exuberance of magical powers
indicate a legendary frame, located in high antiquity (while the present is
visualised below). Emphasis on ordinary details, such as parents, clan or kin,
ordinary places, and personal vicissitudes of life indicate human historical
dimensions. For all these historicities there is an interesting gliding scale. This
also indicates that they are rarely perceived as clashing.
Thus, the lineage accounts also allow us insights into the conventions of the
bonpo historians (often family) craft better. In the following we will take a
closer look at the construction of some of the narratives. But first I will need to
introduce the ZZNG and the main sources for its lineage that I used for this study.

Zhang zhung snyan brgyud Historicities

In Tibetan Studies, we rarely pause and think how exactly what we perceive
as Tibetan historical genres relates to academic historical writing, beyond noting
that traditional Tibetan materials often do not quite match academic genres.
This raises fundamental questions regarding:
1) The wide inner variety of the Tibetan literatures that we deem historical and
2) The applicability of academic historiographical methods (and of the category
history to begin with) to those widely diverse Tibetan literatures.
3) The issue of commensurability alo requires fundamental reflection on
underlying historicities: such as, on the intellectual and existential sensibilities
from which the literary documents are produced: for example, the implied
visualisation of space, time, and causality or some other meaningful
connection (e.g. of a moral order).
Ad 1) The first issue clearly is beyond the scope of any single study, at least
in its quantitative aspects.13 Yet, in a qualitative sense, those puzzling,
multi-farious and functionally diverse varieties of Tibetan historical writing that
have largely been taken for granted and up until now remain poorly understood14
(at least in any systematic sense) do query the historicities that they emerge
13 For an overview of historical genres see Vostrikov 1962 and van der Kuijp 2005.
14 See Blezer 2006:436; with my sincere apologies for the lack of elegance to quote myself.

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


from and thus this first issue partakes in the second point as well. This study
attempts a modest contribution toward understanding the latter, but without
attempting to engage in deeper reflection on the receiving epistemes; I leave that
to scholars of modern en postmodern historicities.
Ad 2) Academic study of Tibetan historical literature necessarily involves
well-familiar paradoxes of transfer (of knowledge between epistemes). After all,
understanding basically involves reframing the unfamiliar within the familiar,
and, at least in the humanities, historicising data is a preferred mode of
understanding, attempting to reveal temporal causalities of events. The
procedure entails at least two inescapable circularities. Data only become
knowledge when they are incorporated into a system of knowledge, to which
they at the same time contribute. Thus, by their very inclusion, data also come
to constitute the very knowledge system that makes them known (cf. Giddens,
1984 on duality of structure). Yet, when data become part of a new knowledge
system, they may appear a different entity altogether. After all, they do not exist
in that new manner separate from the system that defines them.
Thus, when understanding Tibetan history, we customarily frame or reframe
what we perceive as Tibetan history in more familiar academic historical paradigms
or historicities.15 But when we reframe Tibetan historical data (which originally
often were implicated in religious narrative and moral causalities) within current
academic historicities (which usually prioritise chronology and temporal causality
over narrative and morality), then they are instantly transformed into something
else, at times beyond recognition.
When historians turn to Tibetan historical literature, they mostly look for
chronologies and temporal causalities of events and try to get past religious or
mythic narrative content and its religious, ideological or moral lessons. The
basic descriptive pattern sought for is this then that, the understanding of
which often implies causality with hindsight: that because of this. Historical
narratives, on the other hand, usually prioritise the expression of particular
structures and potentials for meaning over historical fact (and religious historical
narratives only more so). There, chronology merely is one element, at best, of a
grander ideological design.
Ad 3) Less well-known is how this prioritisation of meaning is implemented
and from which systems of knowledge and which understandings of space, time
15 To avoid the problematic term paradigm, following general custom, I here
rephrase historical sensibility or consciousness as historicity. Following Neil
Whitehead (2003:xi), I define the term historicity as cultural schema[ta]
and subjective attitudes that make the past meaningful ... the cultural
proclivities that lead to a certain historical consciousness within which ...
histories are meaningful ... Historicity thus encompasses historiography, which
is the culturally particular methodology of how the past may be written or
otherwise expressed.


Henk Blezer

and causality it proceeds. Among Tibetan historical literature, naturally, we

find not just one, nor even one coherent group, but many different historicities.
Some are mainly concerned with chronology and temporal causality, much like
positivist history is, but others, in most interesting ways, also radically prioritise
meaningful coincidence over geographical or chronological fact. Examples of
the latter are systems that organise events according to moral causalities (such
as karmic connections) or teleologies (such as the fulfilment of ancient prophecies
or ripening of saintly aspirations), and the like (Bjerken 2001). We may
occasionally also find different (and not necessarily coherent) architectures or
framings of history, such as Indian cosmological ideas of cyclical time, typically
joined with the moral cosmological notion of straying from early divine or pristine
perfection into later decadence. The Indian model of four yugas, incidentally, in
some ways is the reverse of popular positivist understandings of linear progression
in time: it prioritises high antiquity instead, which morally towers above an
ever more depraved present; things can only go down-hill from there. The
organising principle here is clearly moral and not causal (put that against amoral,
greed-driven, naive belief in progress, such as precipitated the present credit
crunch). The grand cosmological scheme basically is also just a story. On the
risk of sounding like a culture relativist, I might add that history, in a conventional
sense, obviously is someones story, be it grand or small, and that stories that
have allowed people to live well, sometimes for several millennia, are stories
worth considering.
Academic prioritisation of chronology (and its implied temporal causality)
over religious or mythic narrative (and its evoked meanings) produces
demonstrable blind spots in our understanding non-modern Tibetan historical
traditions and leaves major resources of Tibetan knowledge systems unused.
Let me give one example, continuities from early, non-chronologicalin fact,
instead often spatialorderings of Tibetan narratives into lineage histories have
been completely overlooked, due to a fixation on text types that reveal chronology.
Examples of such non-chronological orderings are ritual recitations of legitimising
precedents and persons, recited prior to ritual procedures and recorded in ancient,
non-Buddhist Tibetan ritualistic documents from Dunhuang from before the
early of mid-11th c. AD (such as PT1285, cf. the so-called Catalogues of
Principalities and the like).16 These recitations of ritual antecedents clearly are
continuous with later orderings of similar legitimising narratives in the form of
lineage histories, which are more explicitly chronological, for instance in such
genres as transmission lineages that often accompany and authenticate important
teaching texts. These are genres that, not incidentally, the texts discussed in this
study mostly pertain to. Indeed, temporality is not the only factor of continuity,
16 Early, purely chronological systems are of course also extant from the earliest
layers of Dunhuang documents (e.g., the Old Tibetan Annals).

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


but also the basic fact of organising and systematising data into temporal or
spatial sequences.
We should not lose sight of the fact that the first extant, fully narrativised
historiesperhaps starting the 11 or 12th c. ADroughly coincide with the
inception of the genre per se in Tibet; e.g., the dBa bzhed.17 This period follows
a truly momentous epistemic clash of influx of foreign Buddhist culture,
cosmologies, and historicities from India, China, etc. and coincides with the
extremely interesting trans-formation of the Imperial Tibetan legacy into the
grand origin narratives of Buddhist Tibet.18
Before the 10th c. AD, in Tibet, we mostly find historical genres of a simpler
kind, such as inscriptions,19 annals and chronicles, usually with limited religious
import,20 or brief recitations of ritual antecedents of unclear date and provenance;
but all of which predate phyi dar Buddhism and Bon-as-we-know-it. Around
that time, not only Tibetan Buddhists but also bonpos start framing (subdominant)
historical discourses in religious narratives. Bonpos go about it in revealingly
different ways, which, structurally, are strongly reminiscent of other subaltern
or subdominant forms of discourse, notably of the so-called Old Sect of Buddhism
within wider Tibet.21

The Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung

From the great wealth and variety of Tibetan historical literature available,
we will here look at one example from a revealing but also somewhat remote,
subdominant Bon religious corner: complementary materials on lineage, history,
and cosmology that developed as a legitimising adjunct to the Aural Transmission
of Zhang zhung (Zhang zhung snyan (b)rgyud ZZNG). The ZZNG mainly contains
tantric and Great Perfection teachings. There is a curiously insulated and timeless
quality to these materials, which of course adumbrates the prominent Great
Perfection view and its rhetoric of transcendence. In its discourses, it mainly
refers to itself or to anonymous generic doctrines, be they Buddhist, Bon or
otherwise. Its curriculum is markedly self-contained, indeed, an island unto
itself. Moreover, the antecedents of the teaching lineages soon disappear into
the mists of legend; in fact, already shortly before their date of composition
17 See e.g., Beckwith 1987 and 2009, and Kapstein 2000; for a tentative chronology,
see Martin 1997.
18 Cf. Walter, forthcoming 2009.
19 Cf., amongst others, Richardson 1998 and Li and South Coblin 1987, Takeuchi
et al. 2009.
20 But cf. the earliest samples of beginning narrativisation, such as we find in the
relatively late Dunhuang source called the Old Tibetan chronicle (PT1287 and
21 See the comparative symposium and publication project on Framing Discourse
and the Special Case of Nativism in Buddhist Environments.

Henk Blezer


(which is roughly the period of inception of narrativised history writing). This

does not leave the conscientious chronicler with much to go by.
Especially the early parts of the ZZNG lineage histories are curiously depleted
of verifiable names and dates, but, at the same time, they are replete with
stencilled, evocative, trope-like events, names, sacred places,22 maxims and
other teaching devices. If one would have much invested in securing historical
traces, their conspicuous absence could almost suggest conscious efforts to cover
the tracks. Indeed, it is notoriously difficult to put a handle on dates of lineage
Lamas of the ZZNG traditions before Yang ston chen po (late 11th c. AD). Yet,
there need not be any intentionality to that apparent timelessness. A-temporality
may be part of conventions for projecting time and space in Great Perfection
traditions: in keeping with its own distinctive philosophy and cosmology. It is
this historicity that I am interested to explore in this study.

A Convention of A-Temporality?
This convention of a-temporality reveals the construction of the narratives
and of their historical legitimisation, and the ideological role of a cultivated
discourse of timelessness. It raises interesting questions about the historicities
that are implied. Much of the frustration about what may appear as obscurantism
might actually relate to a clash of historicities and does not necessarily put the
integrity of the underlying Bon historicities into question.
In short, perhaps there is nothing wrong or lacking in these lineage documents
per se, but only in our understanding of them. We are most likely not facing
failed histories here, but rather with our own flawed appreciation of Tibetan
literary genres. The main problem is our act of reframing Tibetan historicities,
and not necessarily the integrity of the knowledge system that we study. This
clash of historicities becomes particularly poignant, when we try to read ZZNG
lineage materials as chronologies.

A Clash of Historicities?Three Major Time Nodes in

This clash of historicities renders the curiously insulated explications of
space and time that are contained in those somewhat excentric lineage documents
of the Great Perfection ZZNG exceptionally useful for understanding the meeting
of underlying historicities better; albeit, of course, from academic perspectives.
Three links in the ZZNG lineages promise to be particularly revealing:
1) (Gu rib) Gyer spungs sNang bzher lod po is said to have recorded the
Four Cycles of the Oral Tradition, the bKa brgyud (skor bzhi), in writing.
22 These stories about places seem to have played a major role in establishing (so
not merely recording) a sacred geography.

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


Because of his position in the narratives, he is to be dated to the 8th c. AD

(his narrative invokes Khri Srong ldeu btsans reign). Yet, there is no
corroborative evidence for his existence outside recorded ZZNG narratives,
some of which are late and all of which post-date at least the 11th c. AD
(Yang ston chen po); let alone for his supposed codification of the ZZNG
bKa rgyud.
2) The equally legendary dPon chen btsan po is believed to be the link
where teachings emerged from the Zhang zhung cultural sphere of the six
Siddhas from sMar into the Tibetan world (and he is considered responsible
for transmitting separately the oral from the experiential teachings): the six
Lamas of the Upper Transmission (bKa brgyud) and the five lamas of the
Lower Transmission. dPon chen btsan po is from that supposedly Zhang
zhung clan called Gu rib or Gu rub, which sNang bzher lop po also is said to
hail from. Interestingly, this crucial position is only implicit in the biographies
of his Tibetan students, dPon chen lHun grub mu thur, of the Khyung po
clan, from Ra ring country,23 and Gu ge Shes rab blo ldan, of the sNyel clan
from Gu ge Nang khongs in Western Tibet.24 It is mainly on these grounds
that bonpo sholars (such as Lopon Tenzin Namdak) and those who go by his
lights (such as John Myrdhin Reynolds) presently assume that in the
transmission from dPon chen btsan po the language shifted from Zhang zhung,
whatever that may be, to Tibetan, but his early biographies do not mention or
even hint at the fact. He is believed to live for 1600 years (and thus ought to
be still alive today). His position in the lineage suggests a date somewhere in
the 9th or 10th c. AD. Also for his person there is no corroborative evidence
for his existence outside ZZNG narratives themselves; some of which are late
and all of which post-date at least the 11th c. AD.
3) Yang ston chen po Shes rab rgyal mtshan probably is the only historical
figure in this exalted company. He is a figure of paramount importance for
the codification of the ZZNG and its narratives. He and his teacher, Or
sgom kun dul, were the first to write things down from the Nyams rgyud,
by way of mnemonic notes; on Yang ston chen pos request. Later in his
teachers life, two men from Khams visited, who were interested in acquiring
the text of the teachings. Eventually, by means of three scribes they recorded
what Or sgom kun dul taught, and within 20 days produced 120 folios of
13 lines (exact amount of text is only mentioned in N.1).25 Yang ston chen
23 See N., Sh.2.1.562.6ff and YST.5.74.4ff (cf. YST.5.46.4).
24 See N.1.55.656.6, and Sh.2.1.576.5.
25 See Sh.2.1, p.574.25: dgung lo brgyad cu bgrangs pa dang /mdo khams kyi
khams pa gnyis kyis gdams ngag zhus nas/ don thams cad rdzogs pa dang /
da dpe gnang bar zhus pas/ sgros dogs gcod pa don gyi rgyud pa la/ yig
chung gi lhad ma zhugs pa zhig dgos pa yin/ nga la yi ge ka tsam zhig yod re
gsungs nas

Henk Blezer


po is to be dated starting the last quarter of the 11th c. AD and looks like a
historical figure. In spite of the copious narratives on the legendary sNang
bzher lod po, this may in fact be the first time that anything has been
preserved in writing. This explains why in the surviving records only figures
close to Yang ston chen po look anywhere near historical.
All these figures relate to codification of the ZZNG somehow. It probably
will not surprise anyone that major nodes in the lineage and major differences
between the paradigms of groups of Masters relate to its manner of codification.
Yang ston chen po seems the least problematic figure, because he most likely is
a historical figure. In the following we will pay particular attention to the manner
of construction the religious persona of the two earlier figures. We will study
the manner in which their hagiographical narratives emerge from names and
legendary materials, in accordance with historiographical convention and
philosophical view. The biographies of the first and third, but particularly of
Gyer spungs sNang bzher lod po, seem to have grown significantly by centripetal
narratological forces, such as epic concentration. sNang bzher lod po thus gradually
grew into a major Bon ZZNG culture hero.

A-Temporal Explications of Time

Because of their perceived importance, these figures are featured in more
detail or occasionally may indeed have been documented relatively better.
They seem essential to the outlook of their section of the lineage. They appear
as culminating figures and representative of their group. Perhaps in some cases
even the point of projection or development of the rest of the group. They
indeed often mark the transition to another historicity and at times in fact the
point where a new type of lineage and historicity starts. These Masters of epic
stature seem to have accrued much of their characteristics through epic
concentration, and relative to briefer narratives, they therefore may be
significantly more out of focus than the size and detail of their life stories
might suggest.
dbu bsnyung bzhes/ phyis yang ston gyis yi ger debs par zhu ba phul/ nan bskyed
nas yang yang zhus pas/ bri mkhan gsum gyi bla mai thugs la bris pas zhag nyi
shui khongs su bri rgyu byung / de nas dbu bzung nas dpon sras rnams kyis kyang
/ brjed tho than thun yig chung du zhus nas bkod pa yang gdao/.
Cf. N.1, pp.54.555.6: sku tshei gzhug la mdo khams kyi khams pa gnyis kyis
dpe zhu byas pas/ bla mai zhal nas sgros dogs gcod pa don gyi rgyud pa la/ yig
chung gyi lhad ma zhugs pa yin pas/ bla yi ge bri ru med pa la/ yang ston gyis zhu
ba phul nas/ nged gnyis kyis brjed tho bkod pa ma yin pai/ nga la yi ge khyi lce tsam
gcig yod re gsungs nas/ dbu bsnyung bzhes pas/ de la khams pa yid ches nas/ bris
mkhan gsum gyis bla mai thugs nas bris [55] pas! zhag nyi shui khongs su gsum
btub ma bcu gsum phring/ shog gu brgya nyi shu tsam byung / de man ched dpon
sras rnams kyis kyang / brje tho yig chung than thun zhus so/.

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


In this study we will take a closer look mainly at two earlier Masters of the
ZZNG; at different points in the lineage. A brief overview of historical sources
on the ZZNG lineage masters, that appears in Yang ston dPal bzangs rDzogs pa
chen po zhang zhung snyan rgyud kyi rtsis byang, on pp.14.815.4. (YST.1)
may serve as a starting point:
gang zag mdzad nas bzhag pai bon skor la/ bla ma yang ston chen pos
mdzad pai rnam thar rgyas bring sdus gsum/ sras po bum rje od
kyis mzad pai rgyud dbang brgyas bring sdus gsum! gcung po klu
brag pas mdzad pai [15] rgyud phyag brgyas bring gsum/ gnyag ston
ri pas mdzad pai/ sgron ma grel ba nyi od brgyan/ brgyal ba [Bru
rgyal] rin po ches mdzad pai sgron mai dgongs don dang / snyan rgyud
phyag khrid lag len dmar khrid kyi bskor/ don ldan zhang ston bsod
rin gyi mdzad pai man ngag dmar khrid kyi bdams pa drug bya ba yod
do/ de rnams snyan rgyud stod lugs kyi bon skor la rtogs pao/

Earliest Sources of Lineage Histories

Yang ston chen po Shes rab rgyal mtshan
The earliest records, like the one by Yang ston dPal bzang, indeed
point to a long, medium and short version of rnam thar by Yang ston chen
po Shes rab rgyal mtshan, which are now lost.26 The same appears, amongst
others, in sPa btsun bsTan rgyal seng ge dpal bzang pos 1419 AD text and
also in an occasional later Chad thabs.27 Bru rgyal ba g yung drung (1242
90) only mentions non-descript earlier sources. According to Bru rGyal ba
g-yung drung, Yang ston chen po was a disciple of Bru sha rJe btsun
(1040) and rMeu ston Lha ri gnyen po (102491). He also studied with
Ba ri lo ts ba (1040, who was still active in 1103). 28 That puts him in the
last quarter of the 11 th c. AD.

26 But cf. beginning lineage part of the sNyan rgyud brgyas bshad chen mo (YST.5)?
27 See sPa btsun bsTan rgyal seng ge dpal bzang pos (Zhang zhung snyan rgyud kyi)
brGyud pai bla mai rnam thar (N.1) below, the colophon to Bru rgyal ba g yung
drungs text in Sh.2.1/K.III.101.1, and the rDzogs pa chen po zhang zhung snyan
rgyud kyi bka rgyud skor bzhii chad thabs, p.28.529.2: (gnyis pa grol byed
kyi khrid la gnyis ste/) lo rgyus byung khungs/ dngos [29] gzhii gdam pa gnyis
so// dang po ni/ rnam thar rgyas bsdus gang rung tshar gcig bshad/ gnyis pa
dngos poi gdam pa la gnyis ste/ bka rgyud dang nyams rgyud do/.
28 Sh.2.575.1ff.: lo gnyis shui dus su bru la stod pa dang / mkhu ston dbang phyug
la thug nas shes rgyud grol ba dang / g yas bru ston rje btsun/ rmeu ston lha ri
gnyan po rnams la thug nas dus tshod dei gra thog la mkhas zer ba byas/ ba ri lo
tsa ba la tshad ma dbu ma sher gsum gyi rig pa mkhas par bslabs/ ...


Henk Blezer

Yang ston chen po Shes rab rgyal mtshan

Bum rje od
Details of a Lineage Thangka in a German collection 15th c.?, Karmay (1998:29 & 43)

Bum rje od
Yang ston chen pos son Bum rje od apparently, produced a long, medium
and short version of a rGyud dbang. I have not seen those texts, but I am aware
of references and secondary materials based on it.29 Fortunately, there are datable
29 Cf. sNyan rgyud dbang gi yig chung yig phran cha tshang cha lag cha
rkyen dang bcas pa (YST.14, p.411.6). There is no real colophon, but there
is some information included (inserted?) after the first concluding
benedictions: deng gsang yang ston dpal bzang bdag gi dngos grub yin. It
indicates that it is now in the hands of Yang ston dpal bzang, but it does not
indicate where this sNyan rgyud dbang originates. See also sNyan rgyud
brda dbang (YST.15, pp.431.9ff.): gong ma rim par rgyud nas/ rtogs ldan
dad shes/ rtogs ldan [432] bsams rtan [bsam gtan] rin chen/ khyung sgom
tshul od [i.e. Khyung btsun tshul khrims od zer]/ gur sgom tshul rgyal!
hor sgom dul rin [do not confuse with an earlier figure, Or sgom Kun dul,
this is Or sgom Dul ba rin chen, aka mTshan ldan dul ba, the 9 th abbot of g
Yas ru dben sa kha]/ de la bdag yang ston dpal bzang gis zhus/ ? yang
rgyud pa gcig la/ chig chod dad shes/ bru rgyal ba g yung drung / des
rtogs ldan kun od/ des ri pa sher blo/ des hor sgom de la bdag gis zhus sho/ bum rje od kyis mdzad pai dbang rgyas bring sdus pa gsum yod pa
la/ gsal zhing go bde bar khrigs su/ yang ston dpal bzang bdag gis zhal
zhes yan chad yi ge bris/ ghal [gal] khrul ci mchis bon skyong rnams la
bshags dge bas bdag gzhan smin grol thob par shog/ s m y/ dg[e]o/
/ dgeo// kra shis ...
Yang ston dpal bzang wrote this to clarify and and rearrange, for easier
understanding, what appears in the long middle and short versions prepared
by Bum rje od. The sNyan rgyud dbang gi yig chung (YST.16), also

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


figures in Bum rje ods environment: his younger brother Yang ston bKra shis
rgyal mtshans teachers in gTsang were gShen chen Ye shes blo gros and Gro
mgon sMan sgong.30 Ye shes blo gros, according to mKhan chen Nyi ma bstan
dzins dKar chag, founded the gtsug lha khang Dar lding gser sgo in 1173.
Gro mgon sMan sgong ba is the same person as Mar ston rgyal legs, who was
born in 1123 AD. That puts him in gTsang somewhat later in the 12th century
and he may have lived until the early 13th c. AD.

Gro mgon Klu brag pa, Yang ston bKra shis rgyal mtshan
Bum rje ods younger brother (Yang ston) bKra shis rgyal mtshan, in turn,
apparently composed a long, medium and short version of a rGyud phyag (see
YST.9 and 11). bKra shis rgyal mtshan is also known as Gro mgon Klu brag
pa, the founder of Klu brag monastery (the community is studied extensively by
Charles Ramble). One naturally wonders about the veracity of the recurrent
division into long, medium and short; the reference may have a different function
in these contexts (completeness?).31

followed the same path, from rTogs ldan dad shes to Yang ston dpal bzang:
[436.8f] rtogs ldan dad shes bya bral gzhon tshul rnams nas rim par
rgyud nas/ deng sang yang ston dpal bzang bdag gi dngos grub du
babs s-ho/ dgeo ...
30 His biography is omitted from Sh.2.1/K.III.101.1; N.1, p.86.5f.: dgung
lo sum cu so gcig lon pa dang / ston pai zhabs kyis bcags g yas ru
gtsang du gshegs so/ snyi mo bzang rii grva sar zhang bar thang ba
sum ston [Zhang ston bSod nams dpal and Sum ston lHa bum] rnam gnyis
kyi drung du/ rgyud sde bshad nyan bslabs/ gshen chen ye shes blo
gros kyi drung du/ so sor thar pai sdom pa mnos/ gro bai mgon po
sman gong pai drung du dbang bzhi rdzogs par zhus/ khyad par gcen
po bum rje od kyi drung du/ rdzogs pa chen po snyan rgyud kyi gdams
ngag zhus nas/ theg pa gsum ldan gyi bon la dka ba spyad nas grub
pa thob pa lags so/.
31 Cf. the use use in Sh.2.1, p.588.26, the section leading up to the colophon: snyan
rgyud kyi skor di rnams kyang / snyan rgyud chen moi skor di/ skyes bui lus
dang dra ba yin/ sgron gzer ma bu cha lags dang bcas pa di/ nang gi don lnga
dang dra ste/ med thabs med pai man ngag gi skor/ lha khrid dang bshad srol
las sogs ni/ lus kyi gos sam mgoi zhvaam/ rkang pai lham mam/ bcings pai ske
rag lta bu gang la gang dgos kyi gdams par rtogs la/ de dag kyang sngar gyi
grub chen gong ma rnams kyi dus su/ bka skyong dang mi ma yin laang / gang
dga ci bder ba ma tshud pa dang / snod ldan yang dkon par byung bas/ rgyas
bsdus bring po rdzogs par ma bstan/ gdams pa skor res kyang gang zag gi mgo
thon pa ltar mkhyen nas/ skor re skor re phye nas bstan pas/ da lta kha thor ba
ltar gyur pa yang dei gnad yin/ da lta yang thams cad rdzogs par tshogs na
yang rab/ de min skor re kyang mgo thon pa ltar snang ngo /


Henk Blezer

N.B., Yang ston dPal bzang attributes the sGron ma grel ba nyi od rgyan
to gNyag ston ri pa sher tshul and not to his student U ri bsod nams rgyal mtshan.
The attribution of the rDzogs pa chen po zhang zhung snyan rgyud kyi rtsis
byang to Yang ston dPal bzang is clear from its colophon: [15.716.4] di dag
rgyud pai khungs ni/ sangs rgyas dgongs rgyud dgui thugs rgyud/ gang zag
nyi shu rtsa bzhii snyan rgyud sprul pai sku yis las can gnyis la bstan nas/ de
nas bzung nas zhang zhung smar gyi grub thob bdun [drug?] la rgyud/ des
rtogs [16] ldan khrul zhig drug la!/ des bod kyi grub thob bzhi/ des bla ma
yang ston chen po/ ya ngal gong khra ba/ des klu brag pa/ des rtogs ldan
dbon po/ des [Yang ston] brgyal mtshan rin chen/ des lnga brgyai skyes
gcig rtogs ldan dad sho/ des mnyam med brgyal ba rin chen [=Bru sgom]/
des rtogs ldan kun od/ des ri pa shes rab blo gros/ des hor sgom dul rin/
des yang ston dpal bzang bdag la gnang ngo/ gnam lo brgyal po sa mo
glang gi dbyar zla tha chungs kyi tshe bco brgyad la sil pa phug du bris pa
bkra shis/ dgeo

Yang ston bKra shis rgyal mtshan

Bru chen rGyal ba g-yung drung
Details of a Lineage Thangka in a German collection 15th c.?, Karmay (1998:57 & 61)

Bru chen rGyal ba g-yung drung (124290)

The next earliest source is the (rDzogs pa chen po zhang zhung snyan
rgyud kyi) Lo rgyus rnam thar dang bcas (Sh.2.1/ K.III.101.1), by Bru
rGyal ba g yung drung (124290). Bru sgom indicates to rely on various
scattered earlier sources, but does not specify which exactly: [588.6] bdag

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


gis gdams pa khyad par can di/ kha thor ba la brten nas zhu ba la nyer len
dang rtsol ba/ dka tshogs mang po byas pas/ gzhug [589] la spros pa chod pa
byung ba ni/ grub chen gong ma rnams la mos gus byas pai thugs rjeo/ rdzogs
pa chen po snyan rgyud kyi rnam thar lo rgyus dang bcas pa di ni/ phyi rabs
dag snang bskyed pai phyir du/ sngar gyi rnam thar las go bde zhing / sgong
dril nas g yas rui bru sgom rgyal ba g-yung drung la sprul sku rkyang phags
chen poi thugs sras/ las can gyi bshes gnyen dam pa/ thogs med sku mched
gnyis kyis nye bar bskul te/ thang lha gangs kyi mar zur/ nam ra gangs kyi g-yas
zur/ sho mon mdzoms rai mdun zhol/ khams dbus gnyis kyi so mtshams/ sgrom
mdzod dpal gyi dben dgon zhes bya bar/ byi bai lo dbyar zla tha chung la sbyar
bao/ /sarba mangga la/ dgeo/.
Then there is the sNyan rgyud brgyas bshad chen mo (YST.5), probably
including the next text that appears in the arrangement of the ZZNG Bon skor,
the rGyud pa khrugs can (YST.6). This text may have to be dated after Bru
sgom: names up to and including Yang ston chen po appear in the list; but up to
and including Bru sgom in the detailed discussion. Karmay (1998:7) attributes it
to Yang ston dpal bzang, the author of the rDzogs pa chen po zhang zhung
snyan rgyud kyi rtsis byang.

Khyung po Rang grol bla ma rgyal mtshan (b.1328 or 1364)

Close to that text, both in time and content, is the (rDzogs pa chen po
zhang zhung snyan rgyud kyis) Bla mai rnam thar lo rgyus rnams rgyas pa
(KII.110.4). It in fact looks like a short version of YST.5. By implication (v.
lineage) this texts is attributed to the unnamed Khyung po Rang grol bla ma
rgyal mtshan (b.1328 or 1364).32 The authors lineage appears at the end,
on f.48v.5: rtogs ldan dad shes! rin chen rgyal ba! rtogs ldan gun od [kun
od]/ rtogs ldan ri pa gshen rab [shes rab] blo gros! de la bdag gis zhus so/
/ Rin chen rgyal ba here refers to mNyam med rGyal ba rin chen, aka Bru
chen rGyal ba g yung drung (see f.42r.1).33 Kun grol grags pa (b.1701)
refers to a rnam thar chen mo, which may be this Bla mai rnam thar lo
rgyus rnams rgyas pa.34 g Yung drung tshul khrims in his catalogue of 18761880 also speaks of a rNam thar rgyas pa, which he indeed attributes to
Rang grol bla ma rgyal mtshan.35
32 See Martin 1997, lemma 127. For the dating of Rang grol bla mas birth to 1364
rather than 1304, both based on dPal ldan tshul khrims, see Vitali (1996:482); for its
traditional dating to or 1328, see mKhan chen Nyi ma bstan dzin and Kvaerne 1974.
33 Cf. Martin 2003:512f.
34 KGKC:222.4: rnam thar chen mo? rnam thar chung ba/ (mTsho sngon 1993)
35 YTKC:1159: rnam thar rgyas pa rang grol bla ma rgyal mtshan yan/ (in
Bon bKa gyur II).


Henk Blezer

Khyung po Rang grol bla ma rgyal mtshan

Kar tsa bSod nams blo gros
Details of a Lineage Thangka in a German collection; 15th c. ?, Karmay (1998:45 & 53)

Kar tsa bSod nams blo gros

According to the colophon of the (Zhang zhung snyan rgyud kyi) brGyud
pai bla mai rnam thar by (N.1) sPa btsun bsTan rgyal seng ge dpal bzang po,
Kar tsa bSod nams blo gros, probably in the late 14th early 15th c. AD, also
transmitted an extensive teaching (rgyas bshad) on the ZZNG lineage, which formed
an important source for his compilation. sPa btsun should know, because he was a
student of Kar tsa bSod nams blo gros. It is not clear from the wording whether
these ever were compiled in written form. In any case, no word of the independent
survival of this text has reached me so far. See the colophon of the next text.

sPa btsun bsTan rgyal seng ge dpal bzang po

Influential and much used is the lineage history written by sPa btsun
bsTan rgyal seng ge dpal bzang po in 1419: the (Zhang zhung snyan rgyud
kyi) brGyud pai bla mai rnam thar (N.1). It is based on earlier oral
communications (zhal rgyun), such as, particularly, the extensive teaching
(rgyas bshad) of his teacher Kar tsa bSod nams blo gros and communications
by rGya sgom bstan bzang, a fellow student with Kar tsa bSod nams blo
gros: [129.6] //zhang zhung snyan rgyud kyi bla ma brgyud pai rnam thar
lo rgyus di/ sngar kyi [emend: gyi] rnam thar rgyas bring bsdus gsum

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


mang du dug pas/36 / bla ma gang zag ga zung gi zhal rgyun bdud rtsii
thigs pa dang / khyad par slob dpon [130] bsod nams blo gros rgyas bshad dang /
rgya sgom bstan bzang de gnyis las sogs te/ thos pa phyogs med kun la dris brda
bskor cing gtugs nas/ sa mo phag gi lo/ zla ba bcu pai tshes bcu/ skar ma bya bzhug
la/ dpal ri khud yang dben bde chen sgang gi pho brang dkar po ru/ spa btsun bstan
rgyal seng ge dpal bzang bdag gis ni/ phyi rabs gang zag mos dun byed pai phyir/
the tshom blo mun bsal phyir ru/ sgros dogs bskur debs med par/ mos dun dad
pas bkod pa re zhig tshar ro/ sems can thams cad rgyud pai bla ma rnams kyi
thugs rjes zin par gyur cig- dge bas gro rnams theg chen don rtogs shog- sarba
mangga la// //
Furthermore we have the Bla ma rgyud pai rnam thar (T.III.156.10) by
sKyang sprul Nam mkha rgyal mtshan. This lineage history starts close to
where sPa btsuns leaves off, with Kar tsa bSod names blo gros, and continues
through Khrul zhig g Yung drung tshul khrims.
The sNyan rgyud bring po sor bzhag sngon gro (T.III.156.22) also contains
useful lineage information.

Overall Time Frame

Clearly the testimonies that we presently have are relatively late. The earliest
texts, by Yang ston chen po, late 11th c. AD, are now lost, except, perhaps, for
the brief lineage in sNyan rgyud rgyas bshad chen mo (YST.5, by Yang ston
dpal bzang?). The earliest source we still have is by Bru chen rGyal ba g yung
drung (124290), written in the late 13th c. AD. The extant sources heavily
depend on each other. All may depend on Yang ston chen pos texts, directly or
indirectly. By all appearances (records), these narratives were recorded or
construed starting the late 11th c. AD. It is well possible that shortly before that
time only names and listings of groups of Masters existed together with various
narratives and narremes, some of which later made it into the hagiography.

A Convenient Model for the Construction of the Narratives

Five-fold Classification
Yang ston dPal bzang (sNyan rgyud rgyas bshad chen mo; YST.5) may be
the first to systematise the individual biographies into a five-fold classification.
36 The ones by Yang ston chen po; these are not extant anymore (but cf. beginning
of YST.5?). See, amongst others also Yang ston dPal bzangs rDzogs pa chen po
zhang zhung snyan rgyud kyi rtsis byang above, the colophon to Bru rgyal ba g
yung drungs text in Sh.2.1/K.III.101.1, and the rDzogs pa chen po zhang zhung
snyan rgyud kyi bka rgyud skor bzhii chad thabs, p.29.1.

Henk Blezer


Yet, the arrangement of information in earlier sources prefigures the classification

as such, and in that implicit form may be older. Bru chen rGyal ba g-yung drung
does not mention the classification yet, but his arrangement of narrative content
is very similar. The explicit scheme seems to have started after the 13th c. AD.
Many authors after Yang ston follow the scheme, such as Khyung po rang grol
and bsTan rgyal seng ge dpal bzang po. Yang ston dPal bzang and others
implement it for those narratives that have sufficient substance; usually starting
at around sNang bzher lod po.
While it does put some flesh on the bones of the narratives, from sNang
bzher lod po up to approximately Yang ston chen po, it is mainly cardboard
content. All further particulars are often trope-like or fantastic embellishments.

YST.5, PP.62.963.3
First, the story of his father and mother and the attainment of a pure human
body (dang po rtsang [gtsang] ma mi lus thob pa yab dang yum gyi lo
rgyus dang /)
Second, the story of how he met his Lama, because of his ripened karma
and good fortune (las phro dang skal ba yod pas [63] grub thob kyi bla
ma dang ji ltar mjal bai lo rgyus dang gnyis/)
Third, the story of his sojourn at special places and his lifespan (sa gnas
khyad par can du rten pai tshe du bzhugs pai lo rgyus dang gsum/)
Fourth, the signs of attainment (miracles) at ordinary occasions (thun mong
gnas skabs kyi grub rtags dang bzhi/).
Fifth, the extraordinary qualities that manifest his realisation (rtogs pa mngon
gyur thun mong ma yin pai yon tan dang lngao/).

A Brief Outline of a Saintly Person?

This classification is revealing for the manner of construction of such
hagiographies and biographies. Post-hoc it reveals what exactly, within these
epistemes, constitutes a human saintly person, or, alternatively, how to
construe one.

What defines an ordinary person are: parents, clan and a place of birth.
These are basic sociological realities.
A religious person is moreover defined by his karmic connection to a teacher (2)
and by the leisure allowing him or her to engage the teachings (3). The places of
practice incidentally chart out or perhaps also establish a sacred geography. This is
clearly not for everyone and reveals a deeply elitist perspective.
Lastly, a saintly person is defined by his ordinary and extraordinary
accomplishments. The extraordinary accomplishments, factionally rhetorically,
distinguish the tantric miracle worker from the preferred Great Perfection adept.

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


A Model & Saving Grace of Lineage Lamas?

Generic descriptions of the earlier Masters, before sNang bzher lod po,
strongly suggest that they were first transmitted in the form of names mainly.
This does not preclude that some of them are historical names. Most of the
stories of the six Masters of Zhang zhung smar and many among the Lower and
Upper tradition, receive most of their body from the classification itself and not
from independent narratives.
Standard phraseology in the last two or three categories, particularly
make up much of the substance of these minimal, stencilled-looking stories.
What Yang ston dPal bzang here made explicit may well also be the basic
narrative paradigm according to which lists of names are reworked and
elaborated, one step further on the way from a mere name to a plausiblelooking hagiography.
Yet, it is also somewhere in these Lower and Upper lineages that the
first historical and remembered, rather than narrated and literary, figures
appear. The design of individual lineage groups becomes immediately apparent
when we look at two intermediate groups, in tabular format.

Two Samples
1. Immediately before sNang bzher lod po (bottom right) we find the four
scholars and translator-pundits (mkhas pa lo pa), which form the last
group of the uninterrupted lineage, in the far transmission.
2. Immediately following sNang bzher lod po we find the six adepts from
lower Zhang zhung (zhang zhung smar gyi grub chen drug), the first group
from the near transmission.
Ad 1) The four scholars barely are more than names in a lineage, with
only very brief testimonies of their accomplishments attached. A tell-tale sign
is that most of their excellent qualities are in fact shared! They very much
have a group identity, as if nobody cared to carve individual features to go
with the names.
Ad 2) The six adepts equally have most of their weight in the
descriptions of their presumed accomplishments, which, needless to say,
are totally nondescript, historically. The detail of matters spiritual and
the inner biography stand in no comparison to the practical details of
their lives.








NB. based on sPa btsuns lineage history, unless indicated otherwise

mKhas pa lo pa gyi rgyud pa rgyud pa khrug med, ring rgyud
Don kun
grub pa

Ra sangs
Phan rgyal

Gu rib
gSas dga

Zla ba
rgyal mtshan

realised the (great Perfection) view that is without

fixed reference point
(rtsa bral gyi lta ba rtogs)
mastered the contemplation
of clarity and emptiness
(gsal stong gi sgom pa la
guarded his practice of
one taste (ro snyoms
pa skyongs)
held to reality as it is in
its original state (bon
nyid rang sa zin)

Henk Blezer

Also, these four lamas, who are like a crown, manifested the ordinary accomplishments, being unhindered such as, not sinking in water
(i.e., walking on water), flying in the sky, riding a boulder as if it were a horse, diverting the course of a river uphill; and the extraordinary
accomplishment of awakening after having manifested the total freedom of conceptual thought. (dbu rgyan gyi bla ma bzhi po de
yang / thun mong gi dngos grub chu la mi bying pa dang / mkha la phur ba dang / pha bong rtar gzhon pa dang / chu bo gyen la
bzlog pa las sogs la thogs pa med/ mchog gi dngos grub rtog med chen po mngon du gyur nas sangs rgyas so/)

Parents or Contemporaries Teacher (=previous)


Place practice

Accomplishments [(extra)

NB. based on sPa btsuns lineage history, unless indicated otherwise

Zhang zhung smar gyi grub chen drug, nye rgyud
Pha ba
rGyal gzigs
gsas chung

son of (yab) Ya ngal gSas

rgyal and (yum) Thod
dkar sMan skyid
bodyguard (sku srung)
to king Ral pa can (805-?)



abbreviated paraphrase

teacher Gyer spungs

snang bzher lo po, nb.
in the 8th c. AD; taught
at age 73

Me rgyud dkar nag

[developed all kinds of good

personal qualitieslong description]. After one year he
realised not to have great hope
for awakening up high nor burning fear for living beings below


Pha wa stag slag can he became equal to his

teacher. After five months, he
gained confidence, renounced
samsara and internalised the
realisation of an awakened one

dMu Tso

taught at 47


Shangs shel rong

he mastered both the ordinary

and highest accomplishments,
unerringly. Having reached
realisation after one month,
he was liberated

renunciation at 40


Pha bong ngar ba in

Gangs sta rgo, to the
left face of Nyi ma

the signs of his manifest

accomplishments were beyond
imagination. After 17 days, he
cut the root of life & death, and
after having manifested direct
realisation, he became equal to
an awakened one

Gu rib clan; son of (yab)

Gu rib sTon pa rgyung
nge and (yum) Rog shud
Za a lo sman

dMu Shod
Gu rib clan; son of (yab)
tram chen po Gu rib Khro rgyal and
(yum) Ra mo lu gu;
nephew dMu tsog ge


dMu Tsog ge Gu rib clan; son of (yab)

spotted at 3by Gyer
Gu rib Gyer rgyung and
spungs chen po;
(yum) sNya mo lcam gcig; taught at 19
paternal uncle dMu Shod
tram chen po

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


Gu rub clan; son of a

pauper (yab) Gu rub
Tsu gu

shepherd;renunciation at 220<
45; meets dMu Shod
tram chen po at Gangs
can sta rgo

early in life in Rog

he gained the mastery of
lcag phug and later in exceedingly many
Zang zang lha brag
feats. [He was a bit
(contains elaborations slow, only after more than two
on his practice and feats) years of struggle] he understood that mind & body
do not touch the level of
samsara & nirvana anywhere;
he became equal in realisation
to an awakened one

dPon chen
bTsan po

Thog lha clan, son of

(yab) sKu gshen Thog
lha rTse mo and (yum)
Mang wer Za rgyan
chung main Da rog gi
brag ri

met master at 12 in
Zang zang lha brag

g-Yas ru shangs kyi

ri rtse (contains
elaborations on his
practice and accomplishments)


Henk Blezer

(he is a rig dzin who has

power over his life and has the
power to be born for the
benefit of others, as needed).
Because the impurities of body
and birth were exhausted he
needed no physical nourishment and he transformed
himself into a turquoise cuckoo
and went to rTag gzigs and he
suppressed demons in the
south-west; he gained mastery
of various signs of accomplishment like that. After seven days
realisation arose, and faith and
pride in accomplishment, all
three arose; he was indistinguishable from an emanation.


dMur Gyal
ba blo gros

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


The Golden Goose

Comparison of these two groupsone immediately before sNang bzher lod
po and one immediately afterreveals a relevant divide in the lay-out of the
narratives, between mere names in a lineage and mini-hagiographies. Also the
inordinate length of the hagiography of sNang bzher lod po, in comparison to
what came immediately before and after, is conspicuous. sNang bzher lod po
clearly is a watershed figure in the construction of the lineage and in the narrative
framework in general. Note also his preponderant presence in the Bon ma nub
pai gtan tshigs, the Ta pi hri tsai lung bstan, etc.
This confirms our earlier conjecture that early parts of the lineage are created
from mere names in a lineage and do not derive from independent story traditions.
Apparently, it also was too much trouble to infuse each and every figure with
individuality afterwards. Identity here preferably is epically concentrated in a
few crucial figures, usually at the beginning or end of a lineage group. This may
underline orality at some stage in its creation or transmission.

What these texts apparently are mainly concerned to deliver are:

Respectable names in a extensive lineage that inspire faith.

The exemplary saintly persona of the lineage holders.
And, after sNang bzher lod po, systematic efforts at providing a semblance
of an ordinary and religious persona are also noticeable.

The source texts again give clear clues, implicit or explicit, regarding what
constitutes a recognisable person and thus about the way a persona of a lineage
Master might be constituted and construed. From a concrete historical point of
view, the earliest descriptions and hagiographies generally are nondescript,
certainly up until dPon chen btsan po but also for some parts leading to Yang
ston chen po. Up until dPon chen btsan po, personalities are usually concentrated
in a few crucial figures, that more or less represent the group.


Henk Blezer

Gyer spungs sNang bzher lod po

dPon chen Ta pi hri tsa

Details of a Lineage Thangka in a German collection 15th c. ?, Karmay (1998:15 & 14)

sNang bzher lod po

ma hor stag gzig dang gu rib shing slag can dang zhang zhung bkra shis rgyal
mtshan dang tshe spungs zla ba rgyal mtshan gyi slob ma
gyer spungs chen po snang bzher lod po 27.431.5, SGK.35,
YST.5.46.12: gu rib snang zher lod po, cf. YST.5.63.3: gyer spungs chen po snang
zher lod po, YST.6.159.6: dpon chen gu rib snang zher lod po,
Sh.2.1.542.5ff (: gyer spungs chen po snang bzher lod po)
(rDzogs pa chen po zhang zhung snyan rgyud kyi) Lo rgyus rnam thar dang bcas
(Sh.2.1.542.5ff., cf. K.III.101.1)
This lineage history is attributed to Bru chen rGyal ba g yung drung (124290).
sNyan rgyud brgyas bshad chen mo (YST.5.62.4ff.)
Cf. also the following text in the arrangement, the rGyud pa khrugs can.
This text is to be dated after Bru sgom: names up to and including Yang ston chen po
appear in the list; up to and including Bru sgom in the detailed discussion. Karmay
(1998:7) attributes it to Yang ston dpal bzang.
(rDzogs pa chen po zhang zhung snyan rgyud kyis) Bla mai rnam thar lo rgyus
rnams rgyas par (KII.110.4, it looks like a short version of YST.5.62.4ff.)
By implication (lineage) this texts is attributed to the unnamed Khyung po Rang
grol bla ma rgyal mtshan (b.1328 or 1364).
(Zhang zhung snyan rgyud kyi) brGyud pai bla mai rnam thar (N.27.431.5)
This well-known lineage history is by sPa btsun bsTan rgyal seng ge dpal bzang po
(written in 1419). The narrative of revenge appears at the general and incidental spiritual
qualities and signs accomplishment of sNang bzher lod po (p.27.431.5 esp. p.29.530.5).
N.B. the narrative of sNang bzher lod pos dbu yogs also appears in: [N.26067.4]
{{pa}} //rDzogs pa chen po zhang zhung snyan brgyud kyi bon ma nub pai gtan
tshigs bzhugs so//, the present redaction of which post-dates the 14th15th c. AD.

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

The Grand Master (Narrative)

Now let us have a closer look at the main focus of epic concentration in the
early lineage: Gyer spungs sNang bzher lod po. He is the pivot of many ZZNG
narratives and, according to tradition, also was instrumental in the revelation
and codification of the bKa brgyud skor bzhi. His narrative body, comparatively
speaking, is huge, particularly if one would include its secondary impact on
narratives of other masters.
Bru sgom (13th c. AD) has incorporated by far the longest narrative. He
even has included the lengthy Bon ma nub pai gtan tshigs narrative, which, in
a long digress, gives the reasons why Bon did not decline. It makes up a large
part of the total volume of the hagiography. The Bon ma nub pai gtan tshigs I
have discussed at great length elsewhere.37 Important to mention is that its
present redaction is 14th c. AD or later. The conclusion of a possibly late redaction
is partly based on a reference to the Kha byang or, less likely, the Kha byang
rgyas pa, which turns out to be the well-known Kha byang: the Srid pa rgyud
kyi kha byang chen mo.

Extractions & Inclusions

Another major addition appears in sPa btsuns 1419 lineage history, an
ascetic episode of sNang bzher lod po with his student at Da rog Lake. This
particular inclusion by sPa btsun does not appear in the other extant earlier
lineage histories, it is plausible that he included that part of the narrative in
1419 based on narratives similar to those that still appear in the Ta pi hri tsai
lung bstan, mJal thebs bar ma, Zhe sa dgu phrug. As is known, Ta pi hri tsa is
the transcendent Master and immediate source of sNang bzher lod po, in the
near transmission or nye rgyud, and thus is his immediate source of the bKa
brgyud skor bzhi teachings. Interestingly, also in the Ta pi hri tsai lung bstan
we find a reference to a Kha byang, like in the Bon ma nub pai gtan tshigs. It
therefore probably also depends on the Srid pa rgyud kyi kha byang chen mo.
The localising intro is also similar. Perhaps these texts are even from the same
This suggests to consider a date after 1310 AD for the inclusion of this story
as well, when apparently a surge in literary activity on Ta pi hri tsa and sNang
bzher lod po is attested.

37 Paris 2008 conference on Publishing and Editing: The Evolution and Future
of Writing in Tibet, forthcoming.

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


Late Embellishments?
Important to keep in mind is that major swaths of digressing narrative on
sNang bzher lod po were included and occasionally (Bon ma nub pai gtan
tshigs) even appear as an important, late-looking, separate text.

First, as the truly paradigmatic narrative on why Bon did not decline.
Secondly, elaborations on his inner experience.

One would therefore feel inclined to speculate that in the 13th c. AD, Bru chen
started the inclusion of the bon ma nub pa-theme (others have included only brief
indications of this theme: his skill in making gold bombs). Parts of the bon ma nub
pa-theme have been around in Bon narratives since at least the 11th-12th c. AD
(the Gab grel), and appear in the ZZNG since, at least, the 13th c. AD.
sPa btsun, in the 15th c. AD, started the inclusion of the Da rog-narrative.
Both narratives appear to be rather late in their current redaction at least. There
is a faint suggestion that the Da rog-narrative in its present form may post-date
the Kha byang chen mo (1310).

Can we Conclude on an Older Core Story?

The late additional materials moreover mostly deal with quite intractable
details of inner experience, otherwise reserved for more esoteric types of rnam
thar; but they do not provide much in terms of down to earth historical data or
verifiable information. If one were to remove from the hagiography what look
like later embellishments, one would then retain a story that structurally is very
similar to the other brief accounts. This suggests a next step in the way these
stories grew:

From lists of names in a lineage with added inner experience;

To stencilled, complex descriptions of personsordinary, religious and
saintlyin a five-fold classification;
To eventually ornate versions with disproportionally large digresses on inner
religious experience and historical apologetic detail.

All of this may have started with a name remembered from a lineage ...


Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

dPon chen bTsan po: The Cultural Translator

No More Heroes Anymore
dPon chen bTsan po almost is an example for the opposite. He is said to hail
from the same Gu rib/rub clansupposedly from Zhang zhungthat sNang
bzher lod po also is from. He too is an important link in the chain of transmission,
with a special status, both as a focal point of group identity and as a lineage
figure. But he never gained the momentum of sNang bzher lod po, and he did
not attract the mass of the latters inner hagiographical narration nor of his
momentous historical involvement. dPon chen bTsan pos hagiography instead
basically reads like a slightly more elaborate version of the usual paradigm.
dPon chen btsan po, is believed to be the link where teachings emerge from the
Zhang zhung cultural sphere of the six adepts from sMar into the Tibetan world
(and also for transmitting separately the oral from the experiential teachings, to the
six Lamas of the Upper Transmission (bKa brgyud) and the five lamas of the
Lower one (sNyan brgyud). Interestingly, his crucial position between Zhang zhung
and Tibetan cultural spheres is only implicit, in biographies of his Tibetan students:
1. dPon chen lHun grub mu thur, of the Khyung po clan, from Ra ring country.
2. Gu ge Shes rab blo ldan, of the sNyel clan from Gu ge Nang khongs in
Western Tibet.
In fact, much narration on him appears in narratives of his students. Here
we may have a contrasting and illuminating sample where later reconstruction
and embellish-ment of narratives did not take place.
In the lineage thangka of the ZZNG kept in a German collection (perhaps 15th c.)
and reproduced in Karmay (1998:12) (see above p.73), dPon chen bTsan po appears
in row five from above, the third from the left, numbered 41 in Karmays book.

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung



Henk Blezer

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


Henk Blezer


Concluding Remarks
Ideology & Convention
Both ideologically and conventionally, there are diverging historicities involved,
which often shift between major groups within the lineage. Ideologically, the
groups may in fact be viewed as carriers & examples of historicities, as graded
steps in construed antecedents. They bridge the gap, almost cosmologically,
from transcend-dent origins: via mythic figures, and legendary saints, to emanation
in known humans.
The cosmological parts of the ZZNG Great perfection discourse neatly
match this old conundrum of crossing over from transcendent origins, beyond
existence & non-existence, to existence in space and time. ZZNG cosmology,
such as appears in the Khor lo bzhi sbrag & sGron ma drug, matches the
epistemologically phrased process of straying from primordial state, but it
deviates considerably from mDzod. mDzod cosmology and theogony involve
relatively unique narratives on primordial eggs and mythic episodes of darkness
& light (Blezer 2000). E.g., in texts such as the Srid pai mdzod phug, Bon
mDzod 1-0-1, the rTsa rgyud gsang ba bsen thub or the rTsa rgyud nyi zer
sgron ma (similar).

Conventions & Family Traditions

The life-stories of the ZZNG Masters probably first appeared in written
form with Yang ston chen po, at the turn of the 11th c. AD. Before that time,
only a few Masters were remembered, the rest was received wisdom, in the
form of lists of names and narrative traditions. The early Masters come in
homogeneous groups, they often reveal somewhat similar naming conventions
and share many characteristics and a group identity, with divine/mythic, legendary
and human segments. Conventionally, early groups often feature exemplary
figures at the beginning or end, who more or less carry group identity. They are
lineage types. The whole trajectory from primeval awareness to codified teachings
in space and time thus is dramatically enacted by surprisingly few persons.
The rest, approximately until the time of recording, appears a literary construct,
that may or may not have a historical basis; who can tell.
This localised convention or craft of laying out a lineage reveals a certain
mnemonic efficiency peculiar to story traditions, whole lineage groups are
recreated or invented based on very sparse traditional data.

Zhang zhung & Yar lung Conventions

The mnemonic structure of lineages from the ZZNG workshops is reminiscent
of similar constructs in Tibetan mnemonic culture.

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


A very well-known example is the post-hoc design, re-creation and

inter-polation of earlier Yar lung dynastic groups (such as in Haarh, 1969, and
Linnenborn, 2004), in workshops of other Tibetan historical craftsmen. There
too, more or less discrete segments are visible, which cross the gap between the
human and the divine: divine descent & mythic ancestors; legendary figures;
and finally human-looking or historical figures. Especially in the early parts
structurally similar collectives appear, also with equally unimaginative, collective
names (the seven Khri, the six Legs, lDe &c.). There, groups also concentrate
narration and characteristics in a few epic bearers of identity, e.g. gNya khri
btsan po or Gri gum btsan po.
This does not preclude that early figures would be based on people that
existed in space and time, also beyond narratives, but it reveals that there is a
certain logic to the conventions of the construction of lineages that surpasses
local workshops and relates to mnemonic, possibly oral cultures.

More on Structure
Structurally, early life stories, hinge on only a few unverifiable names, on
famous clans and places, but mainly on nondescript details of inner experience
and accom-plishments, rather than on historical detail. Place names seem to
play a major role in mapping out or establishing a sacred geography, nunc pro
tunc (it may be more creative than merely recording received wisdom). Catalogues
of places often are a hidden backbone of mythic hagiography. They would
typically be inserted with hindsight and thus mostly relate to time and sensibilities
of the period of composition.
There are at least three phases leading up to the life stories of (probably)
historical persons, which all show traces of recent textual codification, starting
the 11th or 12th c. AD:
1. Mere names in a lineage plus emblematic saintly experience.
2. Five-fold elaboration scheme, incidentally defining 3 person types.
3. Epic concentration: inclusion of lengthy and late digresses on the greatest
hits on inner experience, only for a few, select, epic figures.
These culture heroes usually are figures with a high citation-index, more
often than not Masters involved in textual codification.

Note on Narrative & Chronology

As said, in history, chronology usually implies temporal causality. The basic
descriptive pattern sought for this then that, which often implies causality with
hindsight. Narrative rather prioritises structures and potentials for meanings.


Henk Blezer

Academic prioritisation of chronology over religious/mythic narrative has

produced demonstrable blind spots in our understanding of non-modern Tibetan
historicities and thus leaves major resources of Tibetan knowledge systems
unused. The topic at hand is a telling example for this resulting mismatch.
But there also are some very surprising continuities, from early, nonchronologicalin fact, instead often spatialorderings of Tibetan narratives,
right into lineage histories. Due to a fixation on text types that reveal chronology
and temporal causalities, atypical ones have been almost completely overlooked.
Early, purely chronological systems are of course also extant, since the
earliest layers of Dunhuang documents (such as the Old Tibetan Annals).

Time, Narrative, Chronology and Order

As discussed above, examples of non-chronological orderings are ritual
recitations of legitimising precedents and persons, recited prior to ritual procedures.
Some of those were recorded already very early-on, in ancient, non-Buddhist
Tibetan ritualistic documents from Dunhuang from before the early or mid-11th c.
AD (e.g. PT1285, cf. the so-called Catalogues of Principalities and the like).
While these narratives all are in time, they are not necessarily ordered
chronologically but, e.g., spatially, or according to
ritual necessity. Old recitations of ritual antecedents
clearly are continuous with later orderings of similar
legitimising narratives, as they appear in transmission
histories that usually are more explicitly chronological.
For example, the ubiquitous transmission lineages
(brgyud rim), which, as here, often accompany and
authenticate important teaching texts. As we saw,
these also often involve cataloguing of sacred space.
Temporality is certainly not the only convention of
continuity. There also is the very basic fact of
systematising data, be that into spatial, ritualistic,
ideological, or, indeed, temporal sequences.
Bar snang khu byug
One of the ordinary (!)
powers of dPon chen btsan po
also was to manifest as a
Cuckoo. Detail of a Lineage
Thangka in a German collection;
15th c. ?, Karmay (1998:4)

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


Appendix on mNang
When Gyer spungs chen po sNang bzher lod po receives his ZZNG
transmissionshere consciously rendered in the Present Tensefrom the last
lineage holder(s) of each of the three interrupted lineages and the uninterrupted
one: to wit, from sTag wer Shing slag can, Zhang zhung bKra shis rgyal mtshan,
and Ma hor sTag gzig (rgyud pa khrug can), and from Tshe spungs Zla ba rgyal
mtshan (rgyud pa khrug med), YST.5.63fthat is, the sNyan rgyud rgyas
bshad chen mousually phrases that as follows: [some previous Master] gyis
bdams pa mn[a]ng. The first and most logical solution would be to read mnang
as an odd alternative spelling for gnang: to give, grant, bestow, etc.49 Also,
mnang here clearly is not an isolated spelling mistake: it appears three times in
the passage.
The use of bdams pa for gdams pa is of course well within the range of the
orthographical variance that one would expect for these texts and does not
worry me too much. The alteration gnang/mnang is certainly not as common a
variant as is the pair gdams pa and bdams pa. The exchange of a sngon jug
ma by a a, for instance in Bon MSs from Dolpo, is very common indeed;
as in mtshan and tshan (which in fact occurred in the above-mentioned name
Tshe spungs Zla ba rgyal mtshan, in YST.5). The alteration of sngon jug ma
instead of gain my recollection at leastis not common. In fact, at the
moment I do not recall any other instance, except gnang/mnang. So, I think we
well ought to be careful here and would need additional evidence to be sure.

The word mnang has been recorded with different meanings, for instance:
1) Ives Waldo:
mnang med pahell of waves of torment (one of the {sems can dmyal
ba brgyad} eight hot hells) [IW].

49 Theoretically, mnng could of course also be a bsdud tshig for a two-syllable

word, something in the manner of man (cf. man ngag?). But man ngag
could only be erroneously rendered as mnng. But then it is the only two-syllable
word that I could think of that would make much sense in this context (assuming
that people do make mistakes with abbreviations and granting that this would
also make the sentence very elliptic, verb etc. missing). Needless to say, I certainly did not want suggest that man ngag could properly be abbreviated that
way. But it is a good thing that you warn people, who perhaps are less familiar
with the logic of Tibetan abbreviations, about that: my shorthand might cause
confusion and lead people to make unwarranted assumptions.

Henk Blezer


But here mnang med pa looks like a variant for the more regular phrase
mnar med pa, or aviici hell, the waveless or incessant (maximum torture) one.
Well, if mnar ba means torture then mnar med doesnt seem to add up here ...;
but lets not go into that now. Anyway, I have a hunch that the alternative
spelling of the word in this context implies no escape. Considering the narratives
about that very nasty loka, that would certainly be an understandable variant.
There is an illuminating passage in the mKha gro rin chen phreng bai
rgyud, on p.87. Purportedly, this text was translated from Sanskrit. The gter
ston Lung ston Lha gnyan is said to have received it from Ri khrod pa Tshe
dbang rig dzin. Karmay, in his Catalogue, on p.11, dates Lung ston Lha gnyan
to 10881124 or 11121148. The mKha gro rin chen phreng bai rgyud is
included in the Ye khri mtha sel, the so-called Indian cycle of rdzogs chen,
which, as is well known, is likewise considered to have Indian roots.
In section 34, which strives to ascertain the proper spelling of words (heard),
on p.86f. there appears an interesting series of paired words, which all sound or
look fairly similar, yet are very different (in meaning). Fortunately, for us, each
entry comes with a brief defining context. This section is preceded by chapters
on the proper manner of reading mantras (32) and the pronunciation of mantras
in the bKa gyur (33). In short, apart from the rituals pertaining to the mandala
and the like, this text also has a lot of other interesting things to offer, such as
materials on phonetics and other linguistic matters. I really would need to spend
more time with this textsignificantly more than I presently haveto be sure
about anything. This text certainly deserves closer study; but since it is only
tangential to our present concern, for now, I will merely quote a small
representative sample:
... sa phyogs dma dang lus kyi rma/
byin gyis brlabs dang chu dar rlabs/
bros dor mnang dang mi bu mna/ ...
For our purposes, that passage turns out to be very helpful. Here (too?)
mnang seems to relate to something like escaping (bros) or abandoning (dor).
I dont think that the meaning that is recorded in this passage is necessarily
very relevant to our particular context of use, but it may relate to what Ives
Waldo has recorded as an alternative rendering for avci hell. In any case,
mnang, however infrequent it may be, is an existing word after all, and that may
go some distance to explain the likelihood of orthographical confusion, somewhere
down the line.
2) There is an on-line verb dictionary the Verbinator 200050 that includes
mnang and mnangs as different aspects of the same verb and has an interesting
array of meanings:
50 See:

Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


mnang: Present: mnang DK. Past: mnangs DK. Future: mnang DK.
Imperative: mnangs DK. Meaning: To satisfy, to be satisfied, to be
possible DK.
Its authorship and origins are unknown to me and I have no idea which
sources or data it is based on (apart from other such works, as referenced in the
document; legenda?).
3) Tsanlha: mnang bar bzhag pa (legs su brgyan pa < brDa yig blo gsal
mgrin rgyan).
4) In translations from Sanskrit mnangs translates Skt bhoga
5) In the Li shii gur khang we find nor paam srid.
All five semantic fields of mnang do not seem to apply to the ZZNG context.
This should encourage us to pursue the option of an alternative spelling for
gnang after all. We therefore need an occurrence of mnang in a context similar
to the one found in the ZZNG, meaning gnang. By stroke of luck, in several
bsGrags pa gling grags editions, I found a passage that has exactly what I was
looking for, evidence for mnang and gnang, as variants, in a similar context of:
giving, bestowing or granting.
This is a passage where the sPu rgyal King sTag ri gnyan gzigs bestows
various honours upon his sku gshen (which Samten-la so nicely translated as
body guard). The name of his sku gshen is Ra sangs kyi bon po Khri ne khod
(cf. Khyung po Ra sangs rje rgyal, elsewhere). As you will know, sTag ri gnyan
gzigs is said to be the great-grandson of lHa tho tho ri gnyan btsan and the
grandfather of Khri Srong btsan (sgam po); so about that time (the late sixth to
early seventh century AD). In this passage he bestows honours on his sku gshen
for rescuing him from prison, when he was in dire straits, captured by the King
of lHo brag.
Dolanji, Khedup Gyatso (reportedly based on the Oslo MS):
p.87.5ff: ( bon gyi gsas mkhar yang mang bar bzhengs so/ )
drin lan dang che thabs su bon gshen la [p.88] rtsigs byin pas/
gral g yas gral rtse la sku gshen de jog
bal poi gdan khri dang za og gi gdan/
yig tshang du gser gyi phud bu gnang ngo /
bKa brten, Vol.72:
p.53.3ff: ( bon gyi gsas mkhar yang bzhengs so/ )
drin len dang che thabs su bon gyi sku gshen la gtsigs byin pa/

Henk Blezer

gral g-yas gral gyi rtse la sku gshen de jog
ba soi khri dang za og gi gdan bting /
yig tshang du gser gyi phud bu gnang ngo /

An edition that Per Kvaerne styles Nagchu MS and that tends to be more
verbose, reads the last part as:
... yig tshang gser gyis phud bu dang thing gis bum pa yang mnang /
A MS that Dondrup Lhagyal has edited (styled sNyan(g) rong MS in Bellezza),
which reportedly is very close to the Nagchu MSand may be even more
verbose than that one already ishas:
f.35.3ff: ( bon gyis gsas mkhar mang po yang bzhengs so/ )
drin lan dang che thabs su/ sku gshen la rtsig phul ba/
g yas gral gyi rtse la sku gshen jogba soi gdan khri dang za og gis gdan gnang /
yig tshang du gser gyis phud bu dang thing gis bum pa yang mnang /
This passage is in fact part of a very involved story with a long and complex
history, more about this will follow at another occasion.
I assumed that in this context mnang is simply represents a different way of
spelling a more familiar word, such as, perhaps, gnang. Thus, the phrase probably
will have to be emended to: [some previous Master] gyis gdams pa gnang.
I have a hunch that we would be well advised to separate our query for the
meaning of mnang from that for mnangs, because in their real occurrences
seem to tend into rather different semantic directions. In the following I shall
gather some occurrences and semantical deliberations on mnangs.

In OT documents. One meaning at least (mnangs su bcad see PT128751
and PT0016 & ITJ0751)52, roughly seems to relate to the mnangs/bhoga semantic
field mentioned in 5 and 6; in this case: appropriating livestock or property, as
booty or something like that? I therefore did not mention that again. I presume
that the mnangs su bcad pa that bTsan lha rendered as bdag gir bzung ba
relates to such occurrences.
An occurrence of mnangs in the Ge khod lha la rten mkhar gzugs
(KT.242:357-461; supposedly a gter ma text, but as of yet of unclear origins)
seems perfectly in line with the OT occurrences.


Historicities of the Bon Aural Transmission from Zhang zhung


Nathan Hill in The Old Tibetan Chronicle, Chapter I, in RET 10,53 p.98, n.4,
has some interesting references for mnangs as well:
Uray (1966: 245 n. 21) tentatively suggests that mnangs is the past
tense of a verb to kill and related as the causative to the verb nongs to
Zhang (1985) defines the word as wealth.54







Nyams rgyud rgyal bai phyag khrid, by Bru chen rGyal ba gyung drung (N.B. contains sPa bsTan rgyal dpal bzang pos
lineage history!), published by mKhan po dBra tsa bsTan dzin
dar rgyas, Kathmandu 2002, NB. deb gzugs; cf. Sh
rDzogs pa chen po zhang zhung snyan rgyud bka rgyud skor
bzhi, in rGyal gshen gSung rabs Nyams zhib dPe skrun Khang,
Vajra Publications: Kathmandu 2006, NB. deb gzugs
bKa gyur, first edition, see AYKC
bKa gyur, second edition
bKa gyur, Mongyal Lhasay Rinpoche, third edition, Sichuan 1996
Zhang zhung snyan rgyud, contained in volume 110 of the
second edition of the bKa gyur (K.II), this is the edition that
is followed in Kvaerne et al. (2003)
History and Doctrine of Bon-po Ni.spanna-Yoga, published by
Lokesh Chandra and Tenzin Namdak, New Delhi 1968, NB. deb
rDzogs pa chen po zhang zhung snyan rgyud kyi gsung pod,
published by Yongs dzin Sangs rgyas bstan dzin, New Delhi n.d.,
NB. dpe cha
rDzogs pa chen po zhang zhung snyan rgyud bka rgyud skor bzhi
gsung pod, in Zhang Bod Shes rig dPe tshogs (Zhang Bod
Educational and Cultu<t>ral Texts), arranged by sNang mtha
bsTan dzin nyi ma, 770 pp., 2005 Tibet Autonomous Region,
NB. deb gzugs
Zhang zhung snyan brgyud kyi bon skor bka brgyud skor bzhi,
blockprint from Nyag rong, printed by Nyag rong ba bya btang

53 See:
54 Cf. bhoga, points 5 and 6 above. References (as in Hill):
Uray (1966). Greng, the alleged old Tibetan equivalent for the ethnic name
Chiang. Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 19. 245-256.
Zhang Yisun (1985). Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo / Zhang Han Da Cidian.
Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun kang / Minzu chubanshe.

Henk Blezer






mChog sprul Tshe dbang gyur med, the dPe rtsis is by Shar rdza
bKra shis rgyal mtshan (18591934), NB. dpe cha
Zhang zhung snyan brgyud kyi bon skor, manuscript from bSam
gling, Dol po, NB. dpe cha
Zhang zhung snyan rgyud skor, published by Sherab Wangyal
together with the sNyan rgyud nam mkha phrul mdzod nges
skor, Dolanji 1972, NB. deb gzugs; cf. dBra
Zhang zhung snyan brgyud bka brgyud skor bzhi, microfilm of
blockprint of D.L. Snellgrove, JOLM/3/471 (filmed by J. Briggs
9-Oct-1962), NB. dpe cha
bka brten, published by Sokde Tenpai Nyima Rinpoche, Lhasa
1996; this edition came out together with the third edition of the
bka gyur by Mongyal Lhasay Rinpoche but is actually the first
edition, it corresponds to the Osaka/Kathmandu catalogue
rDzogs pa chen po zhang zhung snyan rgyud bka rgyud skor
bzhii gsung pod, Triten Norbutse Library, 2002, NB. dpe cha
Zhang zhung snyan rgyud bon skor, published by Yongs dzin
Sangs rgyas bstan dzin, Dolanji 1974, NB. deb gzugs

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In the Presence of the Diamond Throne:

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan
(Last Quarter of the 12th Century to Year 1300)*
Roberto Vitali

There are many episodes in the relationship between Tibet and India, lasting
for at least a millennium and a half, that stand out to show how much the people
of the plateau are indebted to the Noble Land for its role of source of knowledge
and civilisation. Fewer are those episodes where the reverse was done and yet
fewer are those episodes where an exchange for mutual benefit occurred.
Among these latter especially rare cases of Tibetan interaction with rGya
gar I single out a complex chapter in the history of the plateau during which
Tibetans contributed to the survival of the holiest place of Indian Buddhism,
at a time when the Noble Religion suffered its major setback in the Gangetic
region. In this steady stream of exchanges one perceives a concern
reminiscent of the contribution of contemporary India to the survival of the
traditional Tibetan way of life.
At the outset one should ascertain whether the stereotype of the
uniqueness of Chag lo tsa ba Chos rje dpals (1197-1264) adventure that
led him to rDo rje gdan during the peak of iconoclastic pressure upon Ma
ga dha stands up in the light of historical cross-checking. This stereotype,
popular among the scholarship of the past, should be rejected outright.
Leaving aside Chag lo tsa ba, at least seven masters journeyed to and
sojourned at rDo rje gdan during the same period from the end of the 12th
century to the end of the 13th, during which a fate of destruction was
befalling these holy sites. They were:

dPyal Chos [kyi] bzang [po] (1163-1230);

Chag dgra bcom pa (1153-1216);
dPyal A mo gha (?-?);
dByil ston Khyung rgod rtsal (1235-?);
Thar pa lo tsa ba Nyi ma rgyal mtshan (?-?);
Man lung pa bSod nams dpal (1235 or 1239-?),1 and
U rgyan pa Rin chen dpal (1230-1309).
* This article is dedicated to the memory of A rgya rGya mtsho tshe ring.
1 The year of Man lung pas birth was either earth pig 1239, as the opening
lines of his biography state (Man lung pai rnam thar f.3a line 1) (see below


Roberto Vitali

Two of themU rgyan pa and Man lung pawent to rDo rje gdan on
more than one occasion. Both are credited with restorations in its temple
Two more masters should be mentioned. Their work bears signs of
familiarity with Bodhgay, which indicates that they may have been there:

mChims Nam mkha grags (1210-1267 or 1285 or 1289);2 and

bcom ldan Rig pai ral gri (1228-1305).

The reasons why all these masters are less popular with Western scholarship
(U rgyan pa excepted) may be traced to the imponderable fate that peopleand
documents focusing on themface with the passage of time. Their place in
posterity is often influenced by cultural and political dominance which is
instrumental to the marginalisation of events or historical actors. Fortunately these
masters are recorded in little known documents which are resurfacing in recent
years, and thus their recognition in Tibetan history is secured.
Less prominent Tibetans of the same period, who stayed at rDo rje
gdan, were:
mGon po rgyal mtshan, a little-known monk who had a different kind of
involvement with the centre of the Buddhist world from the others; and
a number of disciples of Man lung pa, who figure marginally in the
decriptions of their masters feats in India. They were:
slob dpon Byang chub dpal (see below n.40, 52 and 53);
dBus lCang bsar (spelled so) ba Byang chub mgon (n.40);
dBus pa Byang chub bum (n.47);
rTag (spelled so) tshal Bya grong pa (n.50);

n.30), or wood sheep 1235 according to a passage elsewhere in his rnam thar
(ibid. 11b lines 3-4: In earth male pig 1299 he returned to Tibet, having
reached the age of sixty-five at that time on account of one [of the calculations
based on his birth date]).
The formulation of the latter sentence indicates that Man lung pas
biographer was aware of the controversy concerning the masters year of birth.
2 Sources have erratic assessments of the death date of mChims Nam mkha
grags. His life span is thus remarkably shortened or prolonged on the basis
of these contradictory reckonings. A text that supports the date 1289 is his
dbu can biography in fifty folios, entitled simply mChims Nam mkha grags
kyi rnam thar bzhugsand also known as rNam thar yon tan bsngags pai
phreng ba to the colophon of the same work (f.50a line 1). It was written by
sMon lam tshul khrims at sNar thang. In order to compute the death date 1289,
the rnam thar first mentions some religious activities undertaken by mChims
Nam mkha grags for the bird year 1285 whenthe text sayshe was already
aged over seventy (ibid. f.44b line 3). Then it says that mChims lived for
five more years (ibid. f.45a line 3).

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


lo tsa ba Grags pa rgyal mtshan (n.50, 51, 53 and 57);

other unidentified seven (n.51) and two more (n.52);
Zhang bSod nams dar (n.51 and 52); and
slob dpon Rin bsod (n.40 and 52).

Tibetans at Bodhgay
during the early decades of the phase under study
Chag lo tsa ba Chos rje dpal
A conceptual rather than historical starting point to the exploration of
the literary accounts dedicated to the Tibetans who dared to travel to rDo
rje gdan during the 13th century is Chag lo tsa ba Chos rje dpal, given his
notoriety. I deal with him briefly, my focus being reserved to the above
mentioned masters.
During his long journey, which lasted from wood bird 1225 until around
water tiger 1242, Chag lo tsa ba spent eight years in the Kathmandu Valley
(1225-1232) and about eleven years in Ma ga dha (1232-1242) (mainly at
rDo rje gdan and Nland, but also at other holy places), without returning
to Tibet in the meantime.3
He was not the initiator of the Tibetan custom of journeying to Ma ga
dha and receiving teachings locally. Two prior phases go back to bstan pa
3 Chag lo tsa bai rnam thar (Roerich, The Biography of Dharmaswamin
p.105) records that fourteen and a half years had elapsed in the dragon year
1256 after Chag lo tsa ba returned from rGya gar, which helps to fix the end
of his Indian sojourn to around 1242. Earlier, upon the death of his uncle
Chag dgra bcom pa in fire rat 1216, he formally proclaimed his intention to
proceed to rGya gar, but it still took him ten years before he could actually
do so (ibid. p.52). He left for Bal po in 1225, where he spent eight years
(1225-1232) (ibid p.56). Hence, in 1232, he proceeded to Ma ga dhasaid to
be across the Gangga coming from the north (ibid. p.63)where he resided
until around 1242.
His biography outlines the political situation of 1232-1242, the years of
Chag lo tsa bas stay in Ma ga dha. At the time Yangs pa can and rDo rje
gdan were attacked by iconoclastic marauders. Chag lo tsa bas visit to the
holy places of Ma ga dha fell at the peak of one of the marauders pillages.
Chag lo tsa ba i rnam thar tells that, upon Chag lo tsa bas arrival there, the
inhabitants of Yangs pa can had just fled for fear of the Du ru ka approaching
(ibid. p.62). At rDo rje gdan the monks had run for their lives after plastering
closed the door of the temples sanctum; only four remained behind (ibid.
p.64). Vikramail still existed during the time of Chag dgra bcom pa and
dPyal lo tsa ba (about them see below); it was in ruins when Chag lo tsa ba
reached the locality (ibid. p.64).


Roberto Vitali

snga darassociated with Bai ro tsa na, in particular, during the reign of Khri
srong lde btsan (Bai ro tsa nai rnam thar dra bag chen mo p. 292 line
8-p. 300 line 17)and bstan pa phyi darassociated with lo chen Rin chen
bzang po, the earliest of several masters of this period, who went to the
Noble Land for their studies.4
Chag lo tsa ba was not even the originator of a third phase to which
he should be assigned. This new phase was inaugurated around the time
when alien pressure was applied upon the land between the Gangga and
Yamuna, which endangered the survival of the Buddhist heartland.

dPyal lo tsa ba Chos bzang and Chag dgra bcom pa

It is well known that Chag lo tsa bas uncle Chag dgra bcom pa
preceded him to Ma ga dha. Chag dgra bcom pa travelled with dPyal lo
tsa ba Chos bzang, a master little known but nonetheless of great
importance (see my The Manjusri mountain and the Buddha tree: a history
of the dPyal clan (7th-14th century), forthcoming).
dPyal lo tsa ba Chos bzang was younger than Chag dgra bcom pa by
some ten years (for their respective dates see above), and one could be
led to think that he was initiated by his older companion in the practice of
proceeding to rGya gar. This was not so. The dPyal clan had a consistent
tradition of journeying to Bal po and rGya gar, begun by one of their
members, Se tsa dMar ru, who went to the Gangetic plain at the inception
of bstan pa phyi dar in dBus gTsang.5 His successors in the dPyal clan
followed his example, so as to obtain teachings from the cradle of Buddhism
(see Vitali, ibid., forthcoming).

4 The Rin chen bzang poi rnam thar entitled Jig rten mi gyur Lo chen Rin
chen bzang poi rnam thar bsdus pa, excerpted from A mes zhabss Nag
po chen poi chos byung, describeswith some variants from the
originalthe well known account of the mission assigned to Rin chen bzang
po by Ye shes od (ibid. p.194 line 3-p.199 line 4). He was entrusted with
the task of bringing a suitable chos skyong for the mNga ri skor gsum
kingdom. Lo chen, upon the advice of his teacher Kha che Shraddha ka ra
warma, went to the rDo rje gdan cemetery in the south-west and to the local
mgon khang. He was able to summon Gur mGon po to Upper West Tibet
by means of the practice of this deity, which he had learned from his master.
5 On Se tsa dMa ru, one of the early masters from dBus gTsang who, after
studying sngags rnying ma, went to India in order to receive sngags gsar
ma, an event that contributed to the establishment of bstan pa phyi dar in
Central Tibet, see Vitali, The Manjusri mountain and the Buddha tree: a
history of the dPyal clan (7th-14th century), forthcoming.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


Tsa/rTsa mi lo tsa ba Sangs rgyas grags pa (?-?),6 along with his disciples
rGa/rGwa lo gZhon nu dpal (or rGa lo, the elder) (b. before 1105/1106-d.
before 1193-1194) and sTengs lo tsa ba Tshul khrims byung gnas (11071190),7 preceded the earliest Tibetans at rDo rje gdan, with whom I deal in
this paper. The former masters sojourned in Ma ga dha for a long time and
received pure teachings at the heart of the Noble Land one generation before
the latter ones (see the Addendum below).
The experiences of Tsa/rTsa mi, rGa lo the elder and sTengs at
Bodhgay are among the most meaningful in the history of the Tibetan
frequentation of this locality. Despite their significance, the nature of these
adventures, nonetheless, cannot be assimilated to those of the dPyal family
members. They were the expression of individual endeavours rather than
the collective aim of a family tradition.
Chag dgra bcom pa was a disciple of sTengs lo tsa ba under whom he
studied Dus khor, bDe mchog rtsa rgyud, Sanskrit and the art of translating
(Deb ther sngon po p.1226 lines 12-15, Blue Annals p.1054-1055). The life
example of his teacher influenced Chag dgra bcom pa but, given the dPyal
family tradition, it is probable that the leading force in the implementation of
the plan to travel to Ma ga dha was the younger dPyal Chos bzang. This is
6 For a brief account of the activity of rTsa mi lo tsa ba and for a much longer
one concerning his disciple rGa/rGwa lo tsa ba gZhon nu dpal (entitled dPal
gyi rnam thar) in which the former narrative is embedded see Zhang g.Yu
brag pa brTson grus grags pa, dKar rgyud kyi rnam thar (p. 360 line 3p. 391 line 2); also see mKhas pai dga ston (p. 530 lines 3-22). This material
is assessed in Sperling, Rtsa mi Lo-ts-ba Sangs-rgyas grags-pa and the
Tangut Background of Early Mongol-Tibetan Relations. dPa bo gtsug lag
phreng bas statement that Tsa/rTsa mi was a native of Khams Mi nyag has
been dismissed by Sperling. This master was from Byang Mi nyag, and thus
a Tangut. Indeed elsewhere in his work dPa bo gtsug lag phreng ba says
that Tsa mi was born at Mi nyag Gha (ibid. p. 1498 line 8).
7 Gos lo tsa ba gZhon nu dpal (Deb ther sngon po p. 932 line 9) says that
rGa lo the elder lived for eithty-nine years. Ar. Macdonald attempts an
approximation of his dates, basing them on those of his rebirth rGa lo the
younger (born in water pig 1203). She comes to 1110/1114-1198/1202 (Le
Dhnyaka aka de Man-lungs guru p. 177 and Sperling Rtsa-mi lo-ts-ba
Sangs-rgyas grags-pa and the Tangut Background of Early Mongol-Tibetan
Relations p. 801, who mentions her reckoning). However, given that rGa lo
gZhon nu dpals disciple Zhang g.Yu brag pa records at some length the
circumstances surrounding his teachers death, an apt terminus ante quem for
the passing of rGa lo the elder is the date of the formers demise (1193 or
1194). A succinct biography of sTengs lo tsa ba is found in Deb ther sngon
po (see the Addendum below).


Roberto Vitali

confirmed by a passage in the biography of Chag lo tsa ba Chos rje dpal that
deals with the activities of Chag dgra bcom pa.8
The journey brought dPyal Chos bzang and Chag dga bcom pa first to the
Kathmandu Valley. The biography of dPyal Chos bzang says that, on the way
to Bodhgay, the two companions were robbed by brigands on the banks of the
Gangga.9 Deb ther sngon po assigns this episode to Chag dgra bcom pas return
to Tibet, which would imply that they traveled together back to the plateau.10
Given that dPyal Chos bzang spent twelve years in rGya gar (see below), Chag
dgra bcom pa, too, would have been in Gangetic India for the same period.
It is unlikely that the two companions, if indeed they traveled back to
Tibet together, were robbed at the bank of the Gangga both on the way in
and out of Ma ga dha. If this hypothesis is dismissed, it is then hardly
possible to prefer one of the two versions given the meagre clues provided
by dPyal gyi gdung rabs Ganggai chu rgyun and Deb ther sngon po.
A sign of shared experiences is that the gdung rabs-s of the dPyal clan assign
to dPyal Chos bzang the same great Indian masterKha che pan chen Shakya shri
bhadrawho is attributed to Chag dgra bcom pa by Gos gZhon nu dpal.11
The dPyal clan members extended visits to Bal po and rGya gar
continued uninterruptedly from bstan pa phyi dar until when dPyal lo tsa
8 Chag lo tsa bai rnam thar (p.9 lines 4-5): dPyal lo tsa ba Chos kyi bzang
po dang rGya gar du dus mtshungs pai grogs po dam pa//; [Chag dgra bcom
pa was] the noble companion of dPyal lo tsa ba Chos kyi bzang po. They
went to rGya gar at the same time. Conspicuously, the text does not say that
Chag dgra bcom pa went to India accompanied by dPyal Chos bzang despite
being a document of the Chag family.
9 dPyal gyi gdung rabs Ganggai chu rgyun (p.12 line 35-p.13 line 3): They
(i.e. dPyal Chos bzang and Chag dgra bcom pa) left and crossed the town of
Tira hu ti. They had not even reached the bank of the Gang g (p.13) that
three troubling occasions occurred in the same area. Bandits appeared then
at the bank of the Gang g. They said they would hurt, strip, beat and kill
them. A few people (i.e. thus showing they were travelling in a group) fainted.
Some cried; some lamented. His noble companion sNyel (spelled so) gyi Chag
lo tsa ba and he, altogether two, were stripped naked. He told [the bandits]:
I happen to consider this terrifying experience as not painful. Instead, one
should be brave at heart. Even if some companions are breathless, do it (i.e.
go ahead with your harassment)!.
10 Gos lo tsa ba gZhon nu dpal, Deb ther sngon po (p.1227 lines 13-15, dGe
dun chos phel and Roerich (transls.), Blue Annals p.1055): On the way
back to Tibet in the company of dPyal lo [tsa ba], having been attacked at
the bank of the Gangga by the Shi skyid brigands, [Chag dgra bcom pa] stared
at them, and the brigands became stiff.
11 For instance, both the main sources on his clan say that dPyal Chos bzang
took vows from Kha che pan chen, although their versions do not correspond.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


ba was in Ma ga dha in the eighties of the 12th century (Vitali, The Manjusri
mountain and the Buddha tree: a history of the dPyal clan (7th-14th
century), forthcoming).12 Hence the third phase of Tibetans at Bodhgay
is not so much defined by the presence of his fellow dPyal clan members
at rDo rje gdan, which was customary by then, but by the changed local
conditions, on account of the Muslim takeover of the region.
dPyal lo tsa ba Chos bzang was in Ma ga dha for a longer time than
Chag lo tsa ba Chos rje dpal. He stayed in this land for twelve years from
not later than fire horse 1186 to not later than fire snake 1197 (Vitali,
ibid.). He thus witnessed the first iconoclastic and particularly destructive
Muslim wave during his prolonged sojourn in Ma ga dha.
It is significant that dPyal lo tsa ba was made the abbot for an
unspecified number of years of major hermitages and monasteries including
Jam dbyangs chos kyi grags pa, dPyal pai lo rgyus kyi yi ge (p. 411 lines
3-4) reads: [dPyal Chos bzang] took the rab tu byung vow from Kha che
pan che Shakya shri at rDo rje gdan.
dPyal gyi gdung rabs Ganggai chu rgyun (p. 13 line 20) says: He received
the dge tshul vow from the Kha che pan chen who bore the name of Shakya.
Gos lo tsa ba gZhon nu dpal, Deb ther sngon po (p.1228 lines 3-5)
mentions an episode of the interaction of Chag dgra bcom pa with Kha chen
pan chen: While Kha che pan chen was bestowing the bsnyen rdzogs vow
to others, Chag [dgra bcom pa] recited las chog (i.e. the ritual for confering
the so so thar pa vow) in Sanskrit. The pan chen was pleased. Also see dGe
dun chos phel and Roerich (transls.), Blue Annals (p.1056).
As for other activities of Kha che pan chen at Bodhgay, a curious tale
recounts the miraculous circumstances surrounding his famous calculation of
the Buddha nirvana. He would have extracted those dates from the Bodhi
tree at rDo rje gdan. These circumstances are defined as spurious by the
famous astrologer Phug pa lHun grub rgya mtsho (see Pad dkar zhal lung
p.10 lines 4-6).
12 Among the Tibetans not belonging to the dPyal clan, who were at Bodhgay
before dPyal Chos bzang, there was the little known Sum pa dPal mchog
dbang poi rdo rje, the dPal mchog rdo rje of Bu ston Rin chen grubs chos
byung (p.209 lines 21-22).
mKhas pai dga ston (p.531 lines 4-6): Sum bha (spelled so) dPal mchog
dbang poi rdo rje studied sGrol ma and Phag mo at rDo rje gdan. Having
received their oral transmission, realisations were born [in him]. The main
work he brought back [to Tibet] was bDe mchog mkha gro rgya mtsho.
Dung dkar rin po che Blo bzang phrin las (Tshig mdzod chen mo p.427b
lines 13-20) says that bDe mchog mkha gro rgya mtsho was translated by
rGya gar pandi ta rGyal bai sde and Bod kyi lo tsa ba Darma yon tan at U
rud kyi gtsug lag khang in Bal yul during the 11th century (see sDe dge bKa
gyur in the rGyud (kha) section).


Roberto Vitali

Pu la ha ri (of N ro pas fame) and O dan ta pu ri, given to him by the

local lord, Hari tsandra. 13 Going by the sequence of episodes in his
biography, I am led to think that his appointment happened before the first
iconoclastic takeover, and thus that this choice was made in recognition
of his importance rather than in haste owing to an emergency.
dPyal lo tsa ba eventually left Ma ga dha for East India, pushed to
this destination by the advance of Muslim invaders, and from there he
returned to Tibet.14 Subsequently his teacher Kha che pan chen followed
the same route to flee to the plateau.15
dPyal lo tsa ba and Chag dgra bcom pas personal experiences in Ma
ga dha were at the cusp of a major turning point marking a second period
13 Jam dbyangs chos kyi grags pa, dPyal pai lo rgyus kyi yi ge (p.411 lines 56): The king of the land of Ma ga dha invited [dPyal Chos bzang] to the
Dze ba na ga ra palace and placed him upon his crown. He offered to the bla
ma five holy places including Go sa la, O dan tu (spelled so) and Pu la ha ri,
situated inside the boundaries (lcags ri) [of his kingdom]. [dPyal Chos bzang]
was the gdan sa of Pu la ha ri for three years.
dPyal gyi gdung rabs Ganggai chu rgyun (p.13 lines 30-31): [dPyal Chos
bzang] was invited to Ma ga dha by the king who bowed to his feet with his
crown. Inside its boundaries (lcags ri), there are five holy places, such as
Go sa la, A tan pu ri (spelled so for O dan ta pu ri) and Phu la ha ri. He
offered them to the bla ma and appointed him to be the great protector of
the northern door of rDo rje gdan. He worked there for a few years.
Chag lo tsa ba i rnam thar (Roerich, The Biography of Dharmaswamin
p.85) gives the location of Phu la ha ri, N ro pas hermitage in Ma ga dha,
as being north of Nland and bSil bai tshal, the latter situated in the northwest of Nland in a treeless spot, surrounded by a thick forest. The rnam
thar (ibid. p.93-94) records that Odantapur was under Muslim pressure at
the time of the visit of Chag lo tsa ba.
14 dPyal gyi gdung rabs Ganggai chu rgyun (p.13 line 29-p.14 line 1): [dPyal
Chos bzang] then went to east rGya gar, to rGya mtsho khrab can, the holy
place of Ka sa pa ni (spelled so for Ka sar pa ni). He had the vision that rgyal
po Hari tsandra and his court had gone to the sky[, killed by the Muslims].
Having attained mastery of miracles, he made offerings to rNam par snang
mdzad gang chen mtsho at the external ocean. He received his blessing and
offered his prayers. Moreover he gave offerings (p.14) at whatever locality many
extraordinary meditation traditions were, such as at the extraordinary meditation
places of slob dpon Klu sgrub and grub chen Nag po spyod pa.
If Deb ther sgnon po is correct in its assessment of the journeys to and
from Tibet (see above and n.10), Chag dgra bcom pa, having travelled together
with dPyal Chos bzang, would have followed the same itinerary in order to
return to the plateau.
15 bSod nams dpal bzang po, Kha che pan chen gyi rnam thar (p.29 (= f.9b) lines
25-27) says that he fled to the east guided by the compassion of sGrol ma.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


in the same phase. The dPyal clan members and their associates revised the
sense of their coming to Bodhgay. It was no more the traditional search
for teachings in a free and conducive environment. They still came for
obtaining Buddhist teachings but they added a new dimension that would
have been unimaginable before.

dPyal A mo gha
dPyal A mo gha, the cousin of the great dPyal lo tsa ba, represents this
change of perspective. He did indeed venture to the Gangetic plain infested
by armies hostile to Buddhism. He was granted an even more prestigious
abbatial chair than his great relative. He was, to my knowledge, one of the
earliest among the few Tibetans to become abbot of rDo rje gdan, a post
he held for three years.16
dPyal A mo ghas appointment has the aura of an intervention to save the
holy site from decay and oblivion, an attitude, forced upon him by the unsettled
conditions of Ma ga dha, which was different from his family tradition.
It is well known that rTsa mi/Tsa mi lo tsa ba Sangs rgyas grags pa was
abbot of Bodhgay before him (see above n.7). However rTsa mi was not
a Tibetan but a Tangut, although fully assimilated to Tibetan culture. Their
appointments could not have been more different. rTsa mi lo tsa ba was
made abbot of Bodhgay in a time when Buddhism prospered whereas dPyal
A mo gha was the mkhan po of Bodhgay for three years during a dangerous
time for the existence of the Noble Religion and inimical to his personal
safety, when the holy site was depleted of monastic activity.
On a smaller scale though, the experience of Chag lo tsa ba belongs
to the same existential situation. His heroics are proverbial (he stayed a
long time in difficult conditions), but he apparently did not take on official
responsibilities in defence of the local Buddhist establishment.

dByil ston Khyung rgod rtsal

Another episode belonging to the phase characterised by Tibetans
journeying to Bodhgay despite the troubled situation is the peculiar das
log travelogue of the Bon po gter ston, dByil ston Khyung rgod rtsal.
16 The reference in dPyal gyi gdung rabs Ganggai chu rgyun (p.20 lines 1316, see below n.18) to Thar pa Nyi ma rgyal mtshans three year activity as
mkhan po of rDo rje gdan helps to fix the length of his predecessor A mo
ghas tenure of the same monastic throne. Given that Myang chos byung
(p.142 lines 4-5) attributes six years of abbotship to A mo gha and Thar pa
Nyi ma rgyal mtshan cumulatively, the former held the gdan sa of Bodhgay
for a similar term of three years.


Roberto Vitali

His biography says that, having crossed Byang thang in earth horse 1258,
he went to the lands of Zhang zhung described as paradises. After seemingly
returning to earth, the rnam thar records his visit to territories from Gar
zhwa to rDo rje gdan in the same terms, establishing a hazy boundary
between dreams and reality.17
rDo rje gdan would be a destination somewhat incongrous for a Bon
po, were it not that this master also had a career as a Buddhist gter ma
rediscoverer (see Anne-Marie Blondeau, Annuaire de lEcole Pratiques des
Hautes Etudes, 1984-1985 p.107-114 and Identification de la tradition
appele bsGrags-pa Bon-lugs).

Thar pa lo tsa ba Nyi ma rgyal mtshan

Despite the unsettled conditions in Ma ga dha, Tibetan religious
personalities continued to obtain teachings in Gangetic India. Exemplary
is the case of Thar pa Nyi ma rgyal mtshan, another of the masters
associated with the dPyal, who stayed in rGya gar for fourteen long years.
He is celebrated for his heroics during that troubled period. He too was
made abbot of Bodhgay and, remarkably, for the same number of years
as dPyal A mo gha.18 An obvious questionunfortunately without answer
for no clue is offered at least in the Tibetan literatureis whether this
was a fixed tenure of the throne of Bodhgay during the period.
Thar pa Nyi ma rgyal mtshan reconciled in his activities the newly acquired
dPyal pa role of protectors of Buddhism, induced by the destruction of the Noble
Religion in Ma ga dha, with that of a brilliant master of the doctrine. He is
reputed for his erudition in Sanskrit which he taught to his disciples. Unlike dPyal
A mo gha who remained a somewhat obscure master, he became a major teacher
17 Khyung rgod rtsal gyi rnam thar (p.266 lines 2-3): Having crossed
[unspecified territories defined as barren lands of India], [Khyung rgod rtsal]
arrived at rDo rje gdan, whose temple is built with bricks, and has a gan dzira
and golden streamers. At its foot, in front of a tree (the Bodhi tree?) is a statue
of sGrol ma. While he was offering prostrations and circumambulations, the
white man of before (i.e. the white man who had participated in the judgement
of Khyung rgod rtsals soul during his das log ordeal) appeared from nowhere.
He said: What are you doing here? Lets go..
18 dPyal gyi gdung rabs Ganggai chu rgyun (p.20 lines 13-16): [Thar pa lo tsa
ba Nyi ma rgyal mtshan] went to rGya gar, the source of knowledge. Having
attended upon many pandi ta, [teachers] of the masters of West and East rGya
gar, he became the great master of the masters. He was the gdan sa of bcom
ldan das Thub pa chen po at Mang (sic) ga dha rDo rjei gdan for three years.
He averted the attacks of the heretics. He obtained the fame of a unique
Tibetan monk. After spending fourteen years in rGya gar he returned to Tibet
and set many sentient beings on the path of liberation.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


of his day once he was back to Tibet. He imparted upon Bu ston rin po che
and other disciples instructions on Dus khor and sByor drug, linked with the
dPyal clan and their teachers from Ma ga dha.19

Ripples in Tibet
The consistency of the prolonged visits to rGya gar by members of the
dPyal family was a major impetus for other Tibetans. Most of the masters
who then went to Ma ga dha during this period were directly or indirectly
associated with members of the dPyal clan. Such evidence of their
endeavours south of the plateau is crucial in order to widen the above
mentioned, obsolete historical perspective that the journey of Chag lo tsa
ba is unique. These masters, too, brought notions about Bodhgay to Tibet.
Cultural imports from rDo rje gdan during this period are exemplified
by the work of mChims Nam mkha grags, bcom ldan Rig pai ral gri and
also dPyal Padmo cans expansion of the dPyals hermitage of Thar pa
gling. Unlike the stereotype of temples ideally shaped after Bodhgay, the
new structure of Thar pa gling was actually styled after rDo rje gdan.20

mChims Nam mkha grags

There is a tenuous sign that links rDo rje gdan to mChims Nam mkha
grags, author of the most important bKa gdams pa biographies including
19 dPyal gyi gdung rabs Ganggai chu rgyun (p.20 lines 17-21): In particular
the outstanding Bu ston thams cad mkhyen pa went [to see Thar pa lo tsa ba]
all the time to get inner wisdom by means of the knowledge (sic) of sGra (i.e.
linguistics) and the essence of sByor drug. Moreover [Thar pa lo tsa ba]
gathered [around him] savants and siddha-s, such as dPyal lo tsa ba Rin chen
dpal bzang and dPyal ston A rya shri; Sa skya pa bla ma mnyam med chen po
bDe rgyas pa Don yod dpal ba; La stod Shes rab bzang po; dBus pa Blo gsal;
Dul dzin Tshul khrims gzhon nu; bla chen Kun rdor ba; kun mkhyen Shes
rab ral gri and mkhan chen Shes rab od zer.
20 Jam dbyangs chos kyi grags pa, dPyal pai lo rgyus kyi yi ge (p.415 lines 4-7):
At Rong, [dPyal Padmo can] made sku tshab Byang chub chen po (i.e. a second
Byang chub chen po statue like that of rDo rje gdan). In Bal po he accomplished
a great achievement by completing its rgyab yol (torana) at the same time [as
the statue was made at Rong]. Having brought the statue and the rgyab yol here
(at Thar pa gling), the gtsug lag khang was similar in look to rDo rje gdan and
the big golden statue was similar in style to [that of] Ma ha bo dhi. Many relics
[belonging to the chos sku category] were installed inside it and many relics
appeared (bstams spelled so for ltams) from both the Thub pa chen po statue
and the remains of the bla ma. He made the mask portrait of his bla ma for the
Bum khang chen mo. When he performed an extensive consecration, the bla


Roberto Vitali

A ti shai rnam thar rgyas pa.21 This sign, although of entirely different nature
from those left by the masters I deal with here in my article, is mentioned by
dGe dun chos phel in both his Guidebook to India and gTam rgyud gser
gyi thang ma. dGe dun chos phel records the tradition which holds that
mChims Nam mkha grags was the author of a model of Bodhgay for the
well known miniature tridimensional replicas of the monastic complex.22
His model was still in use during the Yung-lo period in metropolitan China.23
No literary reference exists that mChims Nam mkha grags went to Bodhgay.
A rather long record of his life (sMon lam tshul khrimss mChims Nam mkha
grags kyi rnam thar) which is, although branded a rnam thar, rather more a gsan
yig (see above n.2), records a limited amount of details concerning his life.
ma in mKha spyod and the dkyil khor of the deities manifested and gave
blessings. Since then, peculiar spiritual experiences were born in him.
21 See, for instance, the colophon of Jo bo dpal ldan A ti shai rnam thar rgyas pa
(f.170a lines 4-6) of the dbu can manuscript edition of the biography contained
in the 170 folio collection of bKa gdams pa bla ma-ss rnam thar-s from lHa
sa, which establishes the paternity of this major biography of Jo bo rje.
22 dGe dun chos phel, rGya gar gyi lam yig (p.42 lines 7-10): At sNar thang
dgon pa there is a black stone model of rDo rje gdan, brought from rGya
gar, and a model of rDo rje gdan in sandalwood according to the design by
mChims Nam mkha grags, brought from China.
dGe dun chos phel, gTam rgyud gser gyi thang ma (Varanasi ed.
(containing a fraction of the whole text) p.30 line 18-p.31 line 2): Here [at
sNar thang] there are two different models of the temple complex [of
Bodhgay] including the rDo rje gdan gandho la. One is made of black stone
and the other of white sandalwood, which are extraordinary. It is said that
the one in stone was brought from rGya gar. [On the account of] the type of
stone, it became popularly known as the black stone [brought from] gSil ba
tshal (Sitavana). (p.31) It is said that the one in sandalwood was made in
China, based on the model designed by mChims Nam mkha grags.
23 Von Schroeder (Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, vol. One: India and Nepal p.323
and n.228) says that the sNar thang model (probably destroyed) bore an
inscription linking it with the Yung-lo emperor. This shows not only that
Tibetans were masters of the conception of these models but also that the
rDo rje gdan complex, as known to them during the 13th century and to
mChims Nam mkha grags in particular, remained the standard for models in
the following centuries.
The picture of this sNar thang model, taken by Rhula Snkityyana who
shared political ideas and travel with dGe dun chos phel in Tibet and India,
is well known. It has appeared in a plethora of publications.
In water snake 1293 when grub chen U rgyan pa met a young Rang byung
rdo rje and formally recognised him as the third Karma Zhwa na gpa, U rgyan
pa also gave him a model of Bodhgay. mKhas pai dga ston (Rang byung
rdo rjei rnam thar ibid. p.926 lines 16-20) reads: [Rang byung rdo rje]

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


mChims Nam mnkha gragss model of Bodhgay

(from R. Snkityyana, JBORS 1937)

In the absence of clues, one wonders how mChims Nam mkha grags
could have designed a model of Bodhgay of such remarkable accuracy if
he did not know the complex thoroughly. Is his model just an imitation, and
the attribution recorded by dGe dun chos phel sheer flattery?

bCom ldan Rig pai ral gri

The case of mChims Nam mka grags was not an isolated one, for it
reflected a cultural trend popular in his monastic milieu. Influenced by the
went to see jo btsun O rgyan pa of La stod [lHo]. He said [U rgyan pa] gave
him a speech on east and west rGya gar; offered him a model of rDo rje
gdan, and gave him teachings [by means of] a speech on the Noble Religion
[based on] his knowledge.
This suggests that the model given by U rgyan pa to the third Karma pa
may have been styled after the one designed by mChims Nam mkha grags.
This would imply that mChims model was already popular in his days and
soon after, following his passing in 1289. Or else, having frequented rDo rje
gdan personally, the model of Bodhgay given by U rgyan pa to the child
Rang byung rdo rje may also have been an Indian work, collected by the grub
chen during his sojourn in Ma ga dha.


Roberto Vitali

dPyal clan from nearby sMan lung and Thar pa gling, sNar thang and neighbouring Chu mig, which had close links, shared an interest in Ma ga dha.
Among the masters active at sNar thang, bcom ldan Rig pai ral gri,
famous for his edition of bKa gyur and bsTan gyur (see, inter alia,
Lobsang Shastri, The Transmission of Buddhist Canonical Literature in
Tibet p.27), was exposed to notions about rDo rje gdan through a
multifarious channel:
the dPyal family and their associates (in particular dPyal lo tsa ba Chos
bzang and Thar pa Nyi ma rgyal mtshan);
Chag lo tsa ba Chos rje dpal;24 and
the sNar thang pa inasmuch as he was a disciple of mChims Nam mkha grags.

At sNar thang, Rig pai ral gri wrote a guidebook to rDo rje gdan (the
famous but not too commonly available rDo rje gdan rnam bshad rgyan
gyi me tog) so detailed in its description of the location of temples, stupas and statues as to let one presume a thorough familiarity with the place.
In the last lines of the work he gives brief statistics of the number of
mchod rten-s with statues at rDo rje gdan according to dPyal lo [tsa ba
Chos bzang], their reckoning manifestly being calculated at the time of
the presence of this master in loco. These were 260 for the record.25
The short biography of bcom ldan Rig pai ral gri written by bSam
gtan bzang poand published by Khams sprul rin po che bSod nams lhun
grub in his gSung bumhas no reference to a journey of his to Ma ga
dha and a stay at rDo rje gdan. It indeed mentions the interaction
between Rig pai ral gri and Thar pa Nyi ma rgyal mtshan, the dPyal
clan associate. 26 The biography of Rig pai ral gri holds that the Thar
pa gling pa master was instrumental in giving Rig pai ral gri access to
the ancient Indian manuscripts kept at bSam yas. 27 Deb ther sngon po

24 Rig pai ral gri and Chag lo tsa ba had an interaction recorded in Chag lo
tsa bai rnam thar (Roerich (transl.). The Biography of Dharmaswamin
(p.109) interprets it as follows: In winter the Darmaswmin proceeded to
Thang-po-che, and preached the Pradpodyotana and the Ratnval in the
house of Shud-ke. The kalyana-mitra Rig-ral made a request for these books,
and the Dharmaswmin gave them to him).
25 The colophon of the work reads as follows (bCom ldan Rig pai ral gri, rDo
rje gdan rnam bshad rgyan gyi me tog p.11b lines 23-27): rDo rje gdan rnam
par bshad pa rgyan gyi me tog was composed by the learned monk bcom ldan
Ral gri. [This work], written at dpal sNar thang, is [here] completed. In the
days of dPyal lo [tsa ba] the mchod rten-s with images were 260.
26 The Thar pa gling abbot bestowed the bsnyen rdzogs vow upon Rig pai ral
gri (bCom ldan Rig pai ral grii rnam thar (p.254 lines 4-7): Likewise,

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


(p.409 lines 12-13) says that Rig pai ral gri originally belonged to the
monastic division of mChod rten dkar po at bSam yas before moving to
sNar thang, which could a sign of his familiarity with the documents kept
in this chos skors premises.
Did Rig pai ral gri rely for his guidebook on Thar pa lo tsa ba, who
had been an abbot of rDo rje gdan and on dPyal Chos bzang for the
statistics? Or was dPyal Chos bzang responsible for a report of
unspecified nature on rDo rje gdan before the ravages caused by the
iconoclast invaders, given the statistics of mchod rten-s he mentions?
Alternatively, did Rig pai ral gri base himself on the description of
Bodhgay by Chag lo tsa ba, included in the latters biography, given that
he had studied with him?
Finally, should the anonymous rDo rje gdan gyi dkar chag dang lam
yig, presently in the premises of the Bihar Research Institute (Patna), be
attributed to a member of the dPyal clan (perhaps dPyal Chos bzang), to
one of their associates (perhaps Thar pa lo tsa ba Nyi ma rgyal mtshan)
or to Chag lo tsa ba Chos rje dpal? Only a close scrutiny of this text to
detect traces could validate any claim. 28
Rig pai ral gri received many mDo sNgags doctrines from Chag lo tsa ba,
such as the dbang and rgyud grel of gSang dus. With dByar (sic for dPyal)
Nyi ma [rgyal mtshan] acting as mkhan po, mkhan chen mChims as las chog,
sKyos ston (1219-1299) as gsang ston, [Rig pai ral gri] was bestowed the
bsnyen rdzogs vow at dGa ba gdong).
The relationship between mChims Nam mkha grags, Rig pai ral gri and
Thar pa lo tsa ba Nyi ma rgyal mtshan in the name of rDo rje gdan remains
to be ascertained. The first of these three was the teacher of the second, who
based his assessments of Bodhgay on the third.
27 bSam gtan bzang po, Rig pai ral grii rnam thar (p.255 line 28-p.256 line
1): Thar [pa] lo [tsa ba] Nyi ma rgyal mtshan sent from bSam yas the Indian
manuscripts on gsang rnying for [Rig pai ral gri] to investigate. (p.256) [Rig
pai ral gris study] resulted in the excellent composition written by him,
entitled gSang rnying sgrub pa rgyan gyi nyi od.
28 The interdependence of the material on rDo rje gdan produced in the period
under study is hinted at in a brief statement by dGe dun chos phel (gTam
rgyud gser gyi thang ma Varanasi ed. (containing a fraction of the whole
work) p.31 lines 2-4) who says: It is as if these [models of Bodhgay (see
above n.22)], the actual rDo rje gdan, bcom ldan pa [Rig pai ral gri]s rGyan
gyi me tog and Chag lo tsa bas Lam yig, once these four are compared, were
made by the same person.
The biography of Chag lo tsa ba contains the above mentioned long section
which indeed is a gnas bshad of rDo rje gdan (Roerich (transl.), The


Roberto Vitali

Two better documented frequentations of rDo rje gdan

Man lung pa bSod nams dpal
Returning now to a more mundane plane, where exertions to reach
Gangetic India were accompanied by the reality of negotiating a hostile
territory and travelling difficulties, the adventures of two Tibetans are
better described in their biographies.
One of the two was Man lung pa bSod nams dpal (also known as Man
lung gu ru), who had a significant presence in Ma ga dha during the same
period. I give Man lung pa some prominence, because little more about
him is found in a twelve folio dbu med biography (entitled simply Man
lung pai rnam thar) which briefly records his adventures in India, among
other episodes of his life. This rnam thar exceeds the length of the
biographical notes of most masters studied in my article. Unfortunately
another work about himMan lung pas travelogue to India that was
celebrated in antiquityis not available to me.
Contrary to Ar. MacDonalds understanding that he did not belong to
it, Man lung pa was born at sTag lung in the Bran ka family to Bran ka
Shes rab seng ge and ma gcig Padma rin chen. His grandfather, Bran ston
mTha bral, was a master of some importance.30
Biography of Dharmaswamin p.65 line 22-p.73 line 22). This may have led
D. Jackson (The Miscellaneous Series of Tibetan Texts in the Bihar
Research Society, A Handlist catalogue entry n.1510, B. no. 590 p.223) to
think that the anonymous rDo rje gdan gyi dkar chag dang lam yig, kept
at Patna, is another work by the same author. It is unclear whether dGe dun
chos phels allusion to Chag lo tsa bas Lam yig refers to his biography,
given the section dedicated to the description of rDo rje gdan.
29 Ar. MacDonald (Le Dhnyakaaka de Man-lungs guru p.183) says that Man
lung pa was the rebirth of Bran ka mTha bral but did not have any blood relation
with him. Man lung pa is indeed considered the rebirth of this member of the
Bran ka family. However he also was his grandson (see immediately below n.30).
30 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.2a lines 6-8) records two generations in the family
before Man lung pa: The king of the realised sages, the lord of yogi-s, became
well known under the name of Tran/Bran (spelled both ways in the text) ston
mTha bral. Foremost, he had great devotion, compassion and knowledge. He
learned many religious systems and was a master of teaching, debate and
composition. He was born in the lineage bearing great qualities of wisdom.
Ibid. (f.2a line 8): The one with clairvoyance that enabled him to see the future
was rin po che Tran (spelled so for Bran) rton (spelled so) Shes rab seng ge.
Ibid. (f.2b line 8): [Man lung pa] was the son born to ma gcig Pad ma rin
chen [and Bran rton Shes rab seng ge], altogether two.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


The Bran ka family owes its fame to the great Bran ka dPal gyi yon
tan, Ral pa cans slained chief minister-monk, to whose wandering spirit
legends attribute the role of architect of the various kheng log that sealed
the fate of the lha sras btsan po order. Myang chos byung records in a
note the names of a few Bran kha family members (see ibid. the note on
p.30 lines 10-18). Those mentioned are Bran ka Mu ru ti Sangs rgyas gsang
ba, who lived in the time of Khri srong lde btsan; Ban chen po and dPal
gyi yon tan, active during the reign of Khri Ral pa; then Bran chung pa
and finally Bran ston mTha bral.
Man lung pa received the rab tu byung vow in fire sheep 1247.31 He
studied various texts based on the system of Ye shes zhabs and gSin rje
gshed according to the system of gNyos lHa nang pa (1164-1224) under
the latters nephew, the lHa pa master Rin chen rgyal po, founder of Gye
re lha khang (lHo rong chos byung p.426 line 11), where Man lung pa
received these teachings.32 Further training in the Bri gung pa tradition
included Na roi chos drug at the main monastery of this bKa brgyud pa

Ibid. (f.3a line 1): He was born at rTag (spelled so) lung dgon pa on an
auspicious day and month of earth female pig 1239.
A note in Myang chos byung (p.31 lines 4-8) reads: mTha brals son Bran
Shes rab seng ge received from his father the following order: sTag rtse is the
dwelling place of an extraordinary mkha gro ma and also of monks and nuns,
hence [you] should see that my rebirth will come to take care of it. In fulfilment
of his words, [Shes rab seng ge] took care of that and, having inseminated [a
woman] by secret means, Man lung gu ru was born at sTag lung dgon pa in the
upper part of g.Yung. The g.Yung ba saw this as an auspicious circumstance.
31 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.3a lines 4-5): He performed the funerary rites for
the death of his father. When bla ma lHa rin po che Rin chen rgyal mtsho (sic
for rgyal po) and many dge bai bshes gnyen of the monks (dge dun-s) were
invited . (ibid. lines 5-7): in the presence of those who led the ceremony
with dge bai bshes gnyen Nyag pa bKra shis seng ge acting as mkhan po, Rin
chen rgyal mtshan (sic for Rin chen rgyal po) acting as slob dpon, and with
precious monks provided with faith leading the ceremony, [Man lung pa] received
the rab tu byung vow in the evening session (dgongs thun) during the last month
of spring of fire female sheep 1247. He was given the name bSod nams dpal.
32 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.3a line 8-f.3b line 2): Then, together with the
rin po che, (f.3b) [Man lung pa] went to Gye re dgon pa of dBus and received
all systems of the so sor thar pa [vow]; the cho ga of sems bskyed of the
excellent enlightment according to the system of Ye shes zhabs; the dbang
of the nine deities of gShin rje gshed according to the system of sMyos (i.e.
gNyos [lHa nang pa?]); instructions on Tantric commentaries and additional
teachings on rdzogs rim according to the system of Ye shes zhabs.


Roberto Vitali

school, where he met gCung rin po che rDo rje grags (1210-1278, on the
throne of Bri gung in 1255).33
His education also encompassed the system of the dPyal clan masters and
their associates, the dBen dmar family of Rong. Indeed his biography says
that, after his appointment to the abbatial chair of Man lung (Man lung pai
rnam thar f.3b line 8), he went to Rong. Rong pa rGa lo the younger imparted
upon him teachings on Dus khor and sByor drug; plus gShin rje gshed nag
po according to the system of Rwa lo tsa ba and gShin rje gshed dmar po
according to the system of dPyal lo tsa ba Chos bzang.34 He also was a disciple
of the Phag mo gru pa abbot bCu gnyis pa Rin chen rdo rje (1218-1280) (lHo
rong chos byung p.372 line 21-p.373 line 1).
Myang chos byung says that the seat of Bran ston mTha bral in Nying
ro of Myang stod was sKyid khud. 35 The branch monastery of Man lung
pas Bran ka family at sTag tshal in Myang smad, formerly held by the

33 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.3b lines 2-4): [Man lung pa] received secret
instructions of the Gri (spelled so for Bri) gung pa without omissions, such
as the khrid of Na roi chos drug. Moreover he met Jig rten gsum gyi mgon
po bChung (spelled so) rin po che at Gri (spelled so) gung and received many
khrid and gdams ngag.
34 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.4a line 6-f.4b line 2): As for the preaching of
the first part of rdzogs rim, having learned some of it, in order to ask about
how to grasp its meaning, given that he had heard about the masterly fame
of rGa lo [the younger], the bla ma of Rong dBen dmar, he went there to
learn the rgyud grel of Dus khor belonging to the Tantric class. He received
bshad bka-s, such as teachings (stan sic for bstan) on the dbang and grub
thabs of bcom ldan das Dus kyi khor lo, its grel chen and abridged dbang;
and sgrub bka-s consisting of secret instructions on sByor drug; Chi med
kyi rtsa ba and their practice. Moreover he received rjes gnang-s of many
Tantra and Tantric grub thabs, such as gShin rje gshed nag po skor gsum
according to the system of Ra (spelled so for Rwa lo) and gShin rje gshed
dmar po of the dPyal pa; and many further teachings such as Byams pai chos
lnga, sPyod jug and Tshad ma.
Khon ston dPal byor lhun grub, gShin rje gshed bla rgyud chos byung
(p.70 lines 4-5) confirms that Man lung pa was a disciple of Rong pa rGa lo:
Principally [Rong pa rGa lo] preached the cycle of [gShin rje] gshed and
Dus kyi khor lo. His sonsdisciples who became mastersrje Man lung
gu ru and lHo pa Grub seng were among the many followers who became
savants and accomplished masters.
35 Another note in Myang chos byung (p.29 line 21-p.30 line 1) says: The
monastery of bla ma Bran [ston mTha bral], called sKyid khud, (p.30) is
situated near a hot water spring below which, having stayed there, his
meditation blossomed.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


lineage of Lo ston rDo rje dbang phyug,36 was known as Man lung,37 owing
to the greatness of the grandson, bSod nams dpal. 38 But the rationale for
the appellative Man lung pa given to bSod nams dpal is unaccounted for in
these passages of Myang chos byung.
Becoming learned in the doctrinal system of the dPyal clan members
may have been a stimulus to follow in their footsteps. However the
influence exercised by Bran ston mTha bral, an older contemporary of
Mi tra dzo gi (in Tibet 1198-1199) and Khro phu lo tsa ba Byams pa dpal
(1173-1225), on Man lung pa ripening the thought of going to India should
not be underestimated. Bran ston mTha bral received a Po ta lai lam
yig during his interaction with Khro phu lo tsa ba.39 Under this light Man
36 Myang chos byung (p.115 lines 17-21): As for Man lung dgon pa, at the
very beginning, Man lung was held by Mon btsun g.Yu ston and Phug ston
Ye shes yon tan, two in all, who belonged to the junior group of disciples of
tsarya Ye shes dbang po, a disciple of Lo ston rDo rje dbang phyug.
37 The Man lung monastery should not to be confused with sMan lung, the seat
of the dPyal clan, despite being both in Myang.
38 Myang chos byung (p.31 lines 1-4): Nowadays the descendance of Bran
ston mTha bral is at [a place in] sTag rtse (i.e. sTag tshal), namely Man lung.
On account of the fact that Bran ston mTha brals rebirth, Man lung gu ru,
was its abbot, it is called Man lung.
A number of important masters graced sTag tshal with their activity. The
site is ancient, for it goes back to the time of the chos rgyal mes dbon rnams
gsum. Some of these masters were Ting nge dzin bzang po; Zangs dkar lo
tsa bas disciple sMon gro lo tsa ba Mar pa rDo ye; gTsang rong Mes ston
chen po; sTod lung rGya dmar ba and Rong mNgon pa; gTsang pa rGya ras;
Byams sems Zla ba rgyal mtshans disciple Nyi phug pa Chos kyi grags pa;
Chag lo tsa ba Chos rje dpal, who met pandi ta D na ri there; and Man
lung pa bSod nams dpal. sTag tshal was the birth place of rGya brTson seng
and the three Yol brothers.
39 Myang chos byung (p.115 line 21-p.116 line 10): The earlier birth of Man
lung gu ru, Myang stod sTag tshals Man lung pa bshes (p.116) gnyen chen po
Bran ston mTha bral attained great knowledge and the highest spiritual
experiences. Possessing unhindered clairvoyance, he had the vision of N ro
pa coming [to see him] in his dreams. The next morning a messenger was sent
to him. Both the father and son went to see rje Mi tra chen po upon his arrival
at Tsong dus mgur mo. They received blessings and secret instructions. Brag
(sic for Bran) ston also went to meet Khro phu lo tsa ba Byams pa dpal. On
that occasion, he obtained a Po ta lai lam yig and extensively established the
practice of the accumulation [of merit]. His successive rebirth (i.e. Man lung
pa) held the dgon pa of Man lung and proceeded to Po ta la. The monastery
called Man lung, belonging to a great being such as Bran ston, and its estates
are owned by Bran stons descendants.


Roberto Vitali

lung pas pilgrimage to the Po ta la abode of sPyan ras gzigs assumes the
features of a fulfilment of his family destiny (see below).
Man lung pa went thrice to the lands south of the plateau. He definitely
had a protracted stay at rDo rje gdan during the first two journeys. His
biography does not record his presence at Bodhgay during the third, but
it is reasonable to think that he again visited this holy place.

First journey (1264-1268)

The first time, Man lung pa left Tibet in wood rat 1264,40 and returned
in earth dragon 1268.41 Before leaving to cross the Himalayan range, he
went to Chu mig ring mo to gather his travel companions, this being
another sign of contacts between this monastery and rGya gar. He stopped
at sKyid grong on the way and, at Phags pa Wa ti lha khang, the sKyid
grong Jo bo statue spoke to him, sending him contradictory omens which
pointed at the complex duality of phenomenal existence and aspiration to
enlightment (Man lung pai rnam thar f.6a lines 4-6).
In Bal po he pleased the ruler of the Bong chong castle, for he
performed rituals that led his wife to beget a son, so that this princely
lineage was not interrupted.42

40 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.6a lines 3-4): [Man lung pa] decided to go to a
few noble lands of rGya gar.
Ibid. (f.6a lines 4-6): In wood male rat 1264, aged twenty-six, when he
was performing meditation at sDing chen, [Man lung pa] entrusted the
community (lit. those rising smokes) to slob dpon Rin bsod, and [went] to
Chu mig ring mo to gather [his companions]. After calling upon (gdongs) slob
dpon Byang chub dpal and dBus lCang bsar (spelled so) ba Byang chub mgon,
altogether two, the master and disciples, altogether four (sic, one missing),
left for rGya gar.
41 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.8a lines 4-6): Then during the hot months (sos,
i.e. April to June) of earth male dragon (grug sic for brug) 1268, in
accordance with his acceptance [of the request to return to Tibet], the master
and disciples went [there].
42 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.6b line 8-f.7a line 2): [Man lung pa] left for the
Kathmandu Valley. On the way, when the ruler of the Bong chog castle, in
order to [fulfill] his wish that a successor should be born [to him], confiscated
whatever wealth was available [to give it to the Tibetan master], [Man lung
pa] said: I do not need many (sic!) wordly possessions; (f.7a) I came on
pilgrimage to the holy receptacles of the Kathmandu Valley; If so, stay
here. [The ruler] ordered to give him boiled rice porridge. During the period
of his circumambulations, the ruler developed faith in him and asked for
teachings. [Man lung pa] rendered service to him and performed meditation.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


He had a prolonged stay in Bal po amidst miraculous events. 43 The

biography of Man lung pa claims that, when he was at Phags pa shing
kun, he was garlanded by the local monkeys, and that the earth shook and
made the mchod rten vacillate. Other miraculous omens occurred when
he visited Phags pa Ja ma li (White Machendranath) and U khang Phags
pa (Red Machendranath), the two Kathmandu Valley brother statues of
Phags pa Wa ti at sKyid grong and Phags pa Lokeshwara presently in
the Po ta la. 44
He was prevented from proceeding farther south because Ti ra hu ti was
sieged by the Muslims.45 The Muslims attack against the territory north of
rDo rje gdan, the site of Ti ra hu ti, in the days of Man lung pa should be
assigned to soon after wood rat 1264 (see below n.78 for an assessment of
the chronology of the activities of Man lung pa during those years).
An absence of details about his next move makes it seem apparently
irrational. The biography abruptly says that he diverted to Ya rtse, where
he met the local king A sog lde, also known as A seng lde, without any
43 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.7a lines 2-7): [Man lung pa] then left and reached
the town of Patan. He stayed at the place of the local man A ma ra tsan ti.
He went to perform worship on the stone stairs of Phags pa shing kun. The
monkeys welcomed him and offered him flower garlands. Upon worshipping
[the mchod rten], special signs occurred, such as that the earth shook and
Phags pa [shing kun] vacillated. While having sight of Phags pa Ja ma li
(White Machendranath), the dkon gnyer gave him butter lamps which were
not ignited (?) (bteng), and it was wondrous that they set ablaze spontaneously.
Upon worshipping U khang Phags pa (Red Machendranath), it was wondrous
that a rainbow-like tent covered it. He went to Bhu khang and, on the way
back to Phags pa Gom pa gang rtse, [something] wondrous happened. Upon
worhipping inside Hum ka rai lha khang, a loud Hum sound uttered in the
sky which continued for a long time. It is well known that, while he was
around, all the locals experienced non-conceptual samadhi for a long time.
44 Similar marvelous events also occurred when Chag lo tsa ba left Bhu khang
(the temple of Red Machendranath) on the way back to Gom pa gang rtse,
and during his worhip inside Hum ka rai lha khang (see Roerich transl., The
Biography of Dharmaswamin p.54-55). Is this a case of legendary
appropriation by the biography of one of the two?
45 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.7b line 1): At the time the Ti ra hu ti pa-s and
the Muslims (Sog po) were at war and [the situation] was not peaceful.
Ti ra hu ti (south of Bal po, north of Ma ga dha and west of Yangs pa can;
see Chag lo tsa bai rnam thar Roerich transl., The Biography of
Dharmaswamin p.57-58), was a kingdom encompassing a wide region centred
around present-day Muzzarfarpur in Bihar. The same biography (ibid. p.100)
adds that the capital of Ti ra hu ti was Pat (i.e. Patal) and that, in the days
of Chag lo tsa ba, its raja was Rmasiha.


Roberto Vitali

reference to the lands he crossed to reach this kingdom at a remarkable

distance from Ti ra hu ti, to the north-west of it.46
It is probable that Man lung pa was in Ya rtse for a while because he
acted as the officiating bla ma of A sog lde. The king tried to convince him
to remain in Ya rtse for good, but he refused and went to rDo rje gdan,
manifestly on account of improved traveling conditions. Was the MuslimTi ra hu ti war over?
At Bodhgay he left an indelible imprint of his presence, having
restored bDud joms lha khang, 47 a remarkable achievement vis--vis
the widespread destruction. This was the first direct and personal
involvement of a Tibetan bla ma in a building activity at rDo rje gdan
within the framework of Tibetan efforts to resuscitate Bodhgay from
Retracing his steps towards the plateau, in Bal po he went to meet
his sbyin bdag of some time before; 48 here he was joined by disciples
who had come from his monastery. The passage describing these events
provides the first chronological reference after 1264. The gathering with
his disciples in Bal po occurred in fire hare 1267. All his deeds after
he had left Tibet were contained in the span of those four years. In
Bal po he performed meditation based on the system of the dPyal, a
sign of his dedication to the practice of this familys teachings and
hisat least indirectlinks with the clan. Back in Man lung in earth
46 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.7b lines 1-2): On the way back [from there, Man
lung pa] went to Ya rtse. Chos rgyal A sog lde became positively impressed
[by him]. It is well known that he was honoured as the most outstanding of
the officiating religious masters. There, too, he did not stay and Jad pa Nam
ye remained behind as substitute. He proceeded to rDo rje gdan.
47 Here Man lung pai rnam thar (f.7b lines 2-3) has two skeletal sentences
before the relevant statement: [Man lung pa] gave lavish offerings and
performed meditation. dBus pa Byang chub bum died here. [Man lung pa]
restored bDud joms lha khang.
48 A first attempt to summon Man lung pa back to Tibet was undertaken by
fellow Tibetans when he returned to Bal po at the same Bong chong castle
of his sbyin bdag of some time before (see n.42). Another delegation
composed by some elders reached sKyid grong, and Man lung pa felt obliged
to join them. The episode is interesting because it mentions the acquaintances
of his fellow Man lung pa. They were the lHa pa, dBen dmar pa and sKar
lung pa. These elders asked him to go back to Tibet, but Man lung pa refused,
promising he would return to his monastery one year later. He indeed was
back in Man lung the next year, earth dragon 1268, and spent the above
mentioned three years in meditation at Phug rdzogs (1268-1270) (see
immediately below n.49).

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


dragon 1268, he spent the following three years in meditation at Phug

rdzogs (1268-1270). 49

Second journey (1270-1276)

During the second journey to the south of the plateau, which lasted from
iron horse 1270 to fire rat 1276, Man lung pa had a sojourn of several years
at Bodhgay. He first returned to Ya rtse, where he met A sog lde and his
elder brother pandi ta Rad na rakshi ta,50 whose name helps to confirm that
the ethnic stock of the royal dynasty of the time was not Tibetan. The
brothers indeed belonged to the Calla genealogy, A sog lde being its last ruler
(see Vitali, The Kingdoms of Pu.hrang p.467). Having again refused
to become their officiating bla ma, Man lung pa left behind a disciple
entrusted with the task and proceeded to rDo rje gdan.
The Ya rtse episodes in the biography of Man lung pa have significant
implications for the history of this kingdom. The dates of Man lung pas
two travels to Ya rtse during the reign of A sog lde, separated as they are
by a few years, help to assign his reign to the period from before 1264 to
at least 1270 (but see below for epigraphic evidence that, while supporting
this reckoning, expands the length of this kings rule).
In water monkey 1272 he was joined at Bodhgay by two of his disciples
from Tibet, namely lo tsa ba Grags pa rgyal mtshan and Zhang bSod nams dar.51
49 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.8a lines lines 4-6): Then during the hot months (sos,
i.e. April to June) of earth male dragon (grug sic for brug) 1268, in accordance
with his acceptance [of the request to return to Tibet], the master and disciples
went [there]. [Man lung pa] met all his disciples. On one occasion, he went to
see the Jo bo in dBus and offered his worship. Moreover, he met the bla ma-s of
dBus gTsang. He spent three years in meditation at Phug rdzogs.
50 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.8b lines 1-5): In iron horse (lcags lta sic for
lcags rta) 1270, following the recommendation of [mGon po] Zhal bzhi [pa],
he went to stay at Ya tse (spelled so). The chos rgyal of his earlier [sojourn]
and his eldest brother pandi ta Rad na rakshi ta held him as the jewel of their
crown. He gave them guidance. In response to their request, he left sNar
[thang] pa Byang ye as officiating bla ma. The master and disciples, such as
rTag (spelled so) tshal Bya grong pa and lo tsa ba Grags pa, altogether six,
went to rDo rje gdan. He offered worship, performed circumambulations and
meditation in an extremely strict manner. Then, on one occasion, he told [the
disciples]: You cannot be struck by illness. You should go to Byang chub
gling and take residence there. You should meditate there for twelve years..
51 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.8b line 7-f.9a line 2): Then [his disciples] went
back, as instructed [by him], and the bla ma remained behind to perform
meditation. The next year, the monkey year 1272, nine men, such as lo tsa
ba Grags pa rgyal mtshan and Zhang bSod nams dar, came to rDo rje gdan


Roberto Vitali

They were among several of Man lung pas followers who proceeded to Ma ga
dha, either to accompany him in his wanderings or to plead with him to return to
his monastery in Tibet (for their list see above). For the record, Zhang bSod nams
dar was one of the two disciples of Man lung pa, who died in rGya gar (the other
was dBus pa Byang chub bum; see above n.47).52
Man lung pa also traveled to South India around the same time. A
speech of his, in which he declined to accept the petition of his fellow
monastery members to return to Tibet (see above n.51), is useful to locate
his visit to South India to a fraction of water monkey 1272 and a good
amount of water bird 1273.
Concerning his feats during the period, a legend in his biography
(picked up by Deb ther sngon po) holds that he visited the Po ta la abode
of sPyan ras gzigs, who bestowed blessings upon him (Man lung pai
rnam thar f.9a lines 3-8). Hence he would have made good use of the
Po ta lai lam yig in his familys possession (see above).
His path brought him back to rDo rje gdan. Despite the local pandi
ta-s supplications to stay on, he returned to the south accompanied by
two Indian disciples in the autumn of 1273,53 given that winds of destruction
from Tibet. They met Man (f.9a) lung pa and begged him to go back [to
Tibet]. He requested: I have to go to shri rDa na ka ta ka, so I cannot accept.
I will be staying there until the winter of the bird year 1273.
52 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.9a lines 2-3): Zhang [bSod nams dar] died in rGya
gar. [Man lung pa] related the cause [of his death] to slob dpon Byang chub
dpal and sent [him] to Man lung with slob dpon Rin bsod. The Man lung pa
granted him twenty-seven srang of gold which they sent with three men, such
as bla ma Byang chub dpal. They left for rGya gar. Perhaps the gold was given
to finance Man lung pas journey to South India (see the next note).
53 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.9a line 8-f.9b line 5): At that time, despite the
request [to remain at rDo rje gdan] by rgyal po Bhu dha se na, Tsandra pandi
ta and Mu ka ti mai tri, [Man lung pa] did not consider it convenient to
postpone [his departure]. Having received [this plea], he said: I will do in
accordance with the request of the Tibetans, accompanied by a gift of gold,
(f.9b) a statement he left in a bka shog. Accompanied as guides by pandi ta
Go tam shr bha dra from Ma ga rda (spelled so) and Tsandra ghi rti from
East India who was btsun pa Dze ta ri bha dra from Zla ba gling, two in all,
he left to the south on the eighth of the month (sic) of water female bird 1273.
On the twenty-sixth of that month the Tibetans joined [him]. He exclaimed:
This should be said: an offering in gold must be made!, which was arranged
[by the Tibetans] in an extensive way. After leaving, [these Tibetans] founded
Thar pa dgon pa at the border of Bal Bod in accordance with the words of
their bla ma. By staying here, [disciples], such as bla ma Byang chub dpal
and lo tsa ba Grags pa, had spiritual realisations. So it became known as
Byang chub dgon pa.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


were again blowing in Ma ga dha. He is credited with outstanding realisations

(Man lung pai rnam thar f.10a lines 1-8). He obtained the power of
transforming his body into rainbow and the ability to fly (ibid. f.10a line
4). Extraordinary visions occurred to him including that of the land of sTag
gzig (ibid. f.10a line 6). These deeds are described in a work by pandi ta
Bi ma la shri, entited Chos byung rab gzigs (ibid. f.10a lines 7-8). He finally
reached Tibet in 1276.54

Third journey (?-1299)

The third journey, the departure year of which is not recorded in his rnam
thar, took him to South India where he gave teachings to the local Buddhists.55
These activities led him to exclaim with considerable understatement that he
went thrice to South India seeking the blessings of sPyan ras gzigs in order
to develop a Bodhisattvic attitude which he thought he never attained.56
Ibid. (f.9b line 6-f.10a line 1): Then, on account of a concentration of a
great [number of] weapons during a strife, the great being, grub thob chen
po Man lung pa, [proceeded] towards the southern direction. To that region
he went. The master and disciples, altogether three, visited most of the four
great holy places of Dzam bu gling, or else eight, or else twelve, such as ri bo
Bya rkang can and mchod rten rNam dag. Given that he then stayed at the
mchod rten of dpal Bras spungs (Dha na ko ta in Andhra Pradesh; see Ar.
Macdonald, Le Dhnyakaaka de Man-lungs guru), (f.10a) he strenuously
performed prostrations and circumambulations, and gave offerings.
54 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.10a line 8-f.10b line 2): At that time he told pandi
ta Gau tam shri bha dra to go to Tibet, introduce Pha rol du phyin pai stong
phrag brgya pa (i.e. Paramita in 100,000 stanzas) and devote time to [give]
instructions related [to these teachings] by making use of Indian examples. [He
told] Dza ya su (f.10b) ri to introduce a community of monks belonging to Theg
pa chen po. He returned to Tibet in fire male rat 1276. Owing to the fact that
the Man lung pa and Sa skya pa again sent him gifts for his sustenance, he
established a [religious] community. Some 300 monks were gathered there.
55 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.10b lines 3-7): Then taking along Dze ta ri bha
dra, one of his two [Indian] disciples, he went to Bam pa ka ya in the south,
[the place] known as the unbrella-bearer of non-sectarian knowledge. Then,
equally in the south, he went to Dznya na ka, or Ye shes [in Tibetan], known
as the [locality] with a murti (sku can), for it has a statue placed in the water.
He then went up to dpal ldan Bras spungs. Having gone there, he gave
teachings on Dus khor, gSang dus, bDe mchog and dGyes rdor to many
fortunate beings, such as mkhan po Surdi bha dra. It is well known that most
people of this area were exposed to a mix of Theg pa chen po.
56 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.11a lines 4-6): [Man lung pa said]: I myself,
[in order to get] the wisdom coming from the water of sPyan ras gzigss feet,
went [to develop] the behaviour of a Byang chub sems dpa. Although I went


Roberto Vitali

Back in Tibet in earth pig 1299, he met Thar pa Nyi ma rgyal mtshan
and other major masters of his day, who urged him to have his experiences
written down.
His earlier acquaintances and the later ones help to assess Man lung pas
religious orbit. He first operated within a Bri gung pa milieu and, after his
last sojourn in India, attracted the attention of the Sa skya pa. It seems that,
more generally, Man lung pa received the recognition of his contemporaries
and his endeavours were celebrated by masters who had similar experiences
or showed an interest in the Noble Land. These included his disciples bcom
ldan Rig pai ral gri and Rong pa Shes rab seng ge, the son of Rong pa rGa
lo the younger and an expert of Dus khor associated with the dPyal masters.57
Among those who urged him to authorise his story to be written down,58
Tharpa lo tsa ba Nyi ma rgyal mtshan personally drafted a preliminary version
of his biography, later completed by the Man lung pa monk bSod nams bzang
po, to whom the rnam thar is ascribed.59
Man lung pa did not stay long in Tibet and continued his wandering
life despite approaching old age. The last part of his biography finds him
at Ri bo rtse lnga, another destination he considered crucial for his

there thrice taking you along, this was not given [to me]. You visited [the
localities] known as the four or eight holy places of Dzam bu gling.
57 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.11b lines 6-8): Having then heard his history,
his follower slob dpon bSod nams mgon po, with lo tsa ba Grags pa, Jam
dbyangs rin rgyal from Sa skya, sNar thang pa bcom ldan Rig ral, Rong pa
Dus khor ba Shes rab seng ge providing sustenance, worked [in favour of]
his teachings in gTsang and dBus, and [masters], such as lo tsa ba bShad
sgrub, diffused them in an extensive manner.
58 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.11b lines 4-5): He went to the place of Thar pa
lo tsa ba mkhan po Nyi ma rgyal mtshan. On account of the bka shog that
the history of the teacher and disciples should be translated and put into
written form, he gave [the history of his life] as parting gift to Man lung.
59 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.12a line 7-f.12b line 3): Those who heard [the
account of his feats] on that occasion were the pandi ta from rGya gar, Gau
tam shr and (f.12b) and the Tibetan lo tsa ba, Grags pa rgyal mtshan, who
were its translators after having earlier received his words. Later the yogin
from rGya gar, Dze ta ri bzang po (sic), and the bshes gnyen from Tibet, Thar
pa gling pa Nyi ma rgyal mtshan, made a translation, having heard the account
[of his deeds]. They translated it after they put it together into a single work.
At Man lung gtsug lag khang, btsun pa bSod nams bzang po completed its
composition with devotion.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


religious practice,60 where he was seen for several years.61 The rnam thar
loses his traces at this point, and one is left wondering whether he met his
end in China.
The deeds of Man lung pa were not only transmitted to posterity in a
biography. His wondrous life in Tibet, Ya rtse, Bal po, Ma ga dha and South
India was depicted on the walls of the temple of sKyid khud according to
an art style dominant in 13th-14th century gTsang.62

U rgyan pa Rin chen dpal

No other extensive stays in rDo rje gdan and activity in favour of the holiest
Buddhist place by a Tibetan were more influenced by the political evolution
on the plateau than U rgyan pa Rin chen dpals experience, as I will show
below. He had to disentangle his work from difficulties induced by the situation
in Tibet and the continuing unsettled status of Gangetic India.
Already a legend for negotiating the journey to Udiyana (bSod nams
od zer, U rgyan pai rnam thar rgyas pa p.66 line 16-p.105 line 11), he
went to Bodhgay twice. Away from Ma ga dha, the outcome of both
occasions was that he contributed to the restoration of rDo rje gdan with
funds from Tibet.
60 He construed that his life-time mission was not complete without a visit to
Ri bo rtse lnga, the mountain of Jam dpal dbyangs, a pilgrimage he
recommended to one of his Indian disciples. Man lung pai rnam thar (f.11a
line 6): You should go to Ri bo rtse lnga in the future. Owing to former
karma, you must become a follower of rje btsun Jam dpal dbyangs.
61 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.11b lines 5-6): After staying [at Man lung] for
two months, he went to [Ri bo] rtse lnga. It is well known that everyone saw
him staying there for many years.
62 The murals at sKyid khud depicting the life of Man lung pa did not portray
the mountains of Bal po, as Ar. MacDonald understands (Le Dhnyakaaka
de Man-lungs gurup.183-184 n.1, where she is misled by the reading Bal
ri rather than the correct Bal ris, i.e. Bal [po] ris). The passage means
to say that the depiction of Man lung pas rnam thar in the temples murals
was in the Newar style of the Kathmandu Valley. Myang chos byung (p.29
line 21) says: Inside the lha hang ., (p.30 lines 19-24). . the main
statues, about one floor high, are those of the Dus gsum Sangs rgyas,
consecrated by Bran ston mTha bral, nowadays known as the Jo bo-s of sKyid
khud. They bestow great blessings and are yearly recipients of great
circumambulatory [activity]. Next to them are the life size statues of Bran
ston mTha bral and his rebirth Man lung gu ru. The murals are detailed
depictions of the life of Man lung gu ru who went as far as the Po ta la. They
are in an extremely pure, original Bal [po] painting style.


Roberto Vitali

Soon after the death of his teacher rGod tshang pa mGon po rdo rje
(1187-1258), the great Brug pa master appeared to U rgyan pa in a vision
and told him to go to rDo rje gdan in a bird year. This happened in the next
useful bird year (iron bird 1261) (Si tu pan chen Chos kyi byung gnas,
Karma Kam tshang gi gser phreng p.168 lines 3-4).
On the way south, he went to the Kathmandu Valley, sojourned at Go
da wa ri and proceeded to Ti ra hu ti where he behaved like a Tibetan-style
madman with the local king and in Hindu temples.63 On the former occasion
63 lHo rong chos byung (p.732 line 21-p.733 line 5): When he was thirty-two
in the bird year 1261, [U rgyan pa] went to rDo rje gdan. (p.733) On the
way he sent back nye gnas Sher rin. He went on alone . He visited Go ta
wa ri, one of the twenty-four places [of the bDe mchog mandala]. He took
the route to Ye rang and then reached Ti ra hu ti.
bSod nams od zer, U rgyan pai rnam thar rgyas pa (p.135 line 3-p.137
line 2): [Ram shing], the king [of Ti ra hu ti], was invited to a festival by
his senior minister. His palanquin could not move because many people
surrounded it. While the ministers carrying various kinds of weapons in their
hands were telling people to move away, the rje grub chen rin po che,
grabbing the moment, snatched a stick from the hand of a minister and said:
Go away. [U rgyan pa first] jumped (phyongs sic for mchongs) on the king,
and upon the king exclaiming: A madman has come, jumped on his
palanquin. The rje grub chen rin po che having dropped the stick, [the
procession] moved. The people said: This is the behaviour of a dzo gi who
is bestowing protection. The king sat on the throne, while the rje grub chen
rin po che was asked [to sit] at the corner of the throne. He said: I took
part in the festival to which the king was invited. I have [achieved] the feats
of someone successful in his activities and sang a song that said: I led Ram
shing rgyal po with a stick.
He then went to a Hindu temple housing a stone image of god Shiva. The
dkon gnyer ma (woman keeper?) said (p.136): Prostrate to the god, but
he retorted: I will not prostrate. As soon as she warned him: If you do not
prostrate, a disease will come to you, he covered the image with a woollen
robe and rode on it saying: Khyu khyu and added: If a disease will come
[to me], take this one. She said: He is doing this to my image!, and cried.
[U rgyan pa] sang a song which said that he rode on the neck of Ma ha de va
sha ra (spelled so).
He then went to another Hindu temple and halted [there]. He relinquished
[there] his big smell and smelly water. This being a behaviour supremely
unruly, the next morning one dkon gnyer came and said: You did such things
in the lha khang. The king comes here for his worship, so you must clean it
yourself. If you do not do it, the king will come to kill you. [U rgyan pa]
replied: I am not afraid to be killed. If you are afraid to be killed, clean it
yourself. [The dkon gnyer] said: There is no one who is not afraid of getting
killed. At that time, [U rgyan pa] urinated in a leather (ko) bowl he had and

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


he disrupted a ceremony to which the local ruler, Ram Shing, was invited by
his senior minister. U rgyan pa avoided punishment owing to the local belief
that his behaviour was somewhat auspicious. On the latter occasion he
desecrated the murti-s of two temples, to the outrage and desperation of their
keepers. Again he went scot-free because these pujari-s were too worried to
patch up his misdeeds to report him to the authorities.
lHo rong chos byung says that U rgyan pa was urged to rush from
Bal po to rDo rje gdan by mGon po on account of an impending risk of a
new attack by iconoclastic raiders.64
Unusual events occurred when U rgyan pa was in front of the Bodhi
tree, said to be to the west of the main gandho la. The thought of
enlightment manifested overwhelmingly in him. On an important occasion,
Ganesha appeared to him in front of the tree and vowed to support his
endeavours. In the northern area of the sacred complex he made
arrangements for the making of a statue of Sangs rgyas and had a vision
poured it on the head of a statue. The dkon gnyer said: You are someone who
is not afraid to be killed, but they will come to kill me. Go away. [U rgyan pa]
said that the [dkon gnyer] was the one who cleaned. He said he sang a song
which told that (p.137) he poured urine on the head of god Shiva.
Although having all the features typical of the practice, this isolated case
in the life of U rgyan pa does not allow one, in my view, to qualify him as a
full-fledged smyon ba like several illustrious countrymen. His behaviour
in Ti ra hu ti was supremely controversial, but it was so freakish that it may
have been influenced by local (non-described) factors, for nowhere else and
under no other circumstances did he resort to trespassing the boundaries of
his highly individual personality. On several occasions in his life U rgyan pa
was not intimidated by situations which could have dire consequences, but
always behaved within the limits of a sensible demeanour.
U rgyan pas sitting on the royal throne at Ti ra hu ti and taking the liberty
to sit on a couch without Se chen rgyal pos permission at the Mongol court
of China (ibid. p.235 lines 8-9) do not have the style of smyon ba
performances but of a refusal of authority.
64 bSod nams od zer, U rgyan pai rnam thar rgyas pa (p.133 lines 13-19):
Then at the palace of Bal po called Tha bga me, there was a black man
with four arms and red eyeballs. He said: The Du ru ka troops will be coming
to rDo rje gdan. Go there quickly to repulse them with your prayers. Four
rnal byor pa like you will cooperate as if they are one. This appeared to
be an auspicious omen because he scattered [seeds] from his hand. [U rgyan
pa] said: This was chos skyong Ye shes mGon po.
lHo rong chos byung (p.733 lines 1-4): [U rgyan pa] said he had a notion
that, at Bal mo thal dkar, a black man smeared with white ashes and four
hands pulled him with two hands, saying: Visit it quickly. The Du ru kha
are creating an obstacle in rDo rje gdan..


Roberto Vitali

of his teacher rGod tshang pa among deities in the sky, headed by Indra.
In order to fulfil the supplications of four local mastersone of them being
Dznya na garbhain the same 1261 he averted Gar log troops advancing
to Bodhgay (on all these episodes see, e.g., Si tu pan chen Chos kyi byung
gnas, Karma Kam tshang gi gser phreng p.169 lines 4-7).
In his abridged biography, dPa bo gtsug lag phreng ba says that U rgyan
pa spent three years at rDor je gdan (1261-1263), and is credited with the
same activity useful to ward off the threat of Muslim attacks.65 He was thus
able to give some respite to the local practitioners.
Si tu pan chen Chos kyi byung gnas says that, on the way back to
Tibet, U rgyan pa gave a display of his siddhi of not sinking into water
(ibid. p.170 line 1). Was levitating upon water a skill that great masters
developed in Ma ga dha (perhaps at rDo rje gan), given that rGa lo the elder,
too, gave abundant demontrations of this miraculous ability (see below)?
Upon his return to Tibet, he sent much wealth to Bodhgay from sKyid
grong for a first restoration sponsored by him.66
U rgyan pa returned to rDo rje gdan soon after iron horse 1270. He
travelled from sKyid grong to Bal po rdzong, via the mountain Ma ha par
ba ta at the border between Bal po and rGya gar, which I think refers to
the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley.
U rgyan pa made lavish offerings to the image of the Buddha at rDo rje
gdan and interacted with the saints who were bold enough to sit under the
Bodhi tree in those risky circumstances.67 He was invited to head a tshogs
khor (ganacakra) in which 500 yogi took part (ibid. p.172 lines 6-7).

65 mKhas pai dga ston (p.915 lines 7-10): [U rgyan pa] went to rGya gar rDo
rje gdan. Four [practitoners], including Dznya na garbe (spelled so), pleaded
him with a prayer and, being likewise urged by mGon po, he repulsed troops
of the Gar log. Tshogs bdag (Ganesha) offered him the essence of his life.
[U rgyan pa] stayed three years at rDo rje gdan.
66 lHo rong chos byung p.734 line 18-p.735 line 2): From Mang yul he went
to sKyid grong. He was offered Bang dkar dgon pa. There bCom ldan das
ma gave him many prophecies: You are the incarnation of Ras chung pa who
resides in lCang lo can. After that, [you will] be called rgyal po Rin byang.
After that, [you will be] a khor lo gyur bai rgyal po (akravrtin). After
that, having become rGya sbyin, you will serve the master (i.e Shakya Thub
pa). (p.735) The amount of wealth which came into his hands was sent for
the renovation of rDo rje gdan.
67 lHo rong chos byung (p.736 lines 19-21): Having crossed the Gang ga, he
went to Ma ga ta (spelled so). He gave uncountable offerings to Byang chub
chen po at rDo rje gdan and payed his respects to those dwelling by the tree
at the bank of the Na ra dza ra (i.e. the river of Bodhgay).

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


On the way back, at the bank of the Gangga, Ganesha transformed into
a white horse and came to welcome him (lHo rong chos byung p.736 lines
5-6 and lines 22-23) and, like dPyal Chos bzang and Chag dgra bcom pa
before him (see above), he had to handle brigands attacking travelers on the
bank of the river (ibid. p.736 line 5).
The second time U rgyan pa provided funds for rDo rje gdan was when
he contributed to the renovation of its boundary wall, destroyed in the havoc
caused by the Muslim marauders. He and the kings of Sri Lanka and Ya rtse
restored one side of the wall each.68 This is whythe biographies of U rgyan
pa saythe northern gate of rDo rje gdan is known as the gate of Tibet.
One may speculate whether this ruler of Ya rtse was the same A sog
lde who hosted Man lung pa soon after wood rat 1264 and again around
iron horse 1270 (see above n.46 and 50). U rgyan pas restoration of the
rDo rje gdan boundary wall, shared with the kings of Ya rtse and Zangs
gling, occurred sometime after 1270 and thus quite close to Man lung pas
second visit the former kingdom. Indeed A sog lde signed two inscriptions
at Bodhgay which date to 1255 and 1278 (Vitali, The Kingdoms of
Pu.hrang p.449). While the first of these epigraphs is too early to be linked
to the activity of U rgyan pa at rDo rje gdan (1255 predates his first journey
to Ma ga dha), the second inscription may refer to the restoration
undertaken in collaboration with the Tibetan master.
A sog lde is credited by mNga ris rgyal rabs with major successes in
extending his dominions. This apparently is contradictory because the same
text records an advance by the Gu ge king Grags pa lde into the territories
to its south, where Ya rtse was located. He was a contemporary of A sog
lde, the dates of the latters inscriptions encompassing Gu ge Grags pa
ldes reign (Vitali, ibid. p.449-450). A sog ldes expansion of his dominions
and the inscriptions he left at Bodhgay may indicate that he turned his
attention towards the lowlands as a consequence of a contraction of his
dominions on the highlands.
On the way back from his second visit, U rgyan pa relieved a large
number of Tibetans from the harassments of the local authorities in Bal
po. This is something two other prominent Tibetan bla ma-s in the
68 bSod nams od zer, U rgyan pai rnam thar rgyas pa (p.166 line 17-p.167
line 6): At that time, given that the boundary wall [of rDo rje gdan] had
been destroyed by Sog po troops, the king of Zangs ling, the king of Ya rtse
and the rje grub chen (p.167) rin po che having provided (skur sic for bkur)
much wealth [to repair it], they restored one side each. rDo rje gdans northern
gate is known as the gate of Tibet. From then on until the end of the world,
whatever wealth exists, such as gold and silver, this is used to restore the
decay of rDo rje gdan gtsug lag khang and its images.


Roberto Vitali

Kathmandu Valley did not do. 69 According to the literature dedicated to

U rgyan pa, these Tibetans had left the plateau owing to a drought.
Eventually he could not convince the Newar authorities to give up tormenting
his countrymen. So he led those Tibetans back to the plateau.
69 bSod nams od zer, U rgyan pai rnam thar rgyas pa (p.176 line 14-p.178
line 3): [U rgyan pa] comfortably reached Bal po thil. At Bal po thil the
sufferance of the Tibetans was relieved. Afflictions of other [Tibetans] came
to an end at Zab moi sgang. He visited ri bo chen po A yang ka, a holy place
frequented by all the [spiritual] princes who have been liberated. At that time,
there was a crop failure in Tibet, hence, that winter, in the land of Bal po
there were many thousands of Tibetans. Remembering all the kinds of
misdeeds [they had to bear], the Tibetans requested the rje grub chen rin po
che, Bho ta pandi ta and a Sa skya pa dge bshes, (p.177) altogether three, to
intercede with the Bal poi bha ro-s. It said that Bho ta pandi ta exclaimed:
This crazy U rgyan pa will not be useful to us. The rje grub chen rin po
che retorted: It is excellent (go bcad) that you are not crazy, so you should
prevent them from catching fever along the way. It is said that the Sa skya
pa dge bshes exclaimed: These bad Tibetans came here to evade the taxation
by the Sa skya pa. Now, when they will go back to Tibet, each of them will
stand (bzhug) [responsible] for this crime. The Tibetans went to see the rje
btsun rin po che, and pleaded with him: Those two will not help us with
[our] appeal to [the Bal po bha ro-s]. We beg [you], the bla ma, to help us
plead with [the bha ro-s]. He pleaded with the bha ro-s, but [the problem]
was not sorted out because the various [bha ro] denigrated one another (phar
skur tshur skur). Hence the grub chen rin po che said: All of you, Tibetans,
must gather at Bod thang (i.e. Thundikel in Kathmandu), and carry a [walking]
stick (rgyug pa) one dom long [for the journey to Tibet]. If you stay here
the next season, you will catch a fever and die. Whoever will be holding up
[skyil ba] here will be killed. The Tibetans did follow suit. The Bal po
[authorities] requested the rje grub chen rin po che: Bla ma, do not be the
head of these Tibetans. He replied: I am not the head of these Tibetans.
All these Tibetans will leave during the hot season. [Otherwise,] catching
fever, they will die, which is not commendable. The locals say that, if they
hold them up, they will beat them. Provisions for the journey were given to
the Tibetans amounting to fourteen pham of rice for each of them. (p.178)
Rice was sent along with the 200 attendants of the rje grub chen rin po che
as much as they could carry.
There are a few implications in this episode I wish to explore. Going by U
rgyan pas reply to Bho ta pandi ta, it would seem that the latter questioned
the sanity of taking the Tibetans back to the plateau. U rgyan pa pointed out
that it was even worse to oblige them to stay in the Kathmandu Valley, a proSa skya stronghold, exposed to tropical diseases and the harassment of the
local authorities. This was an obvious solution after U rgyan pas attempt to
have a parley with the local dignitaries failed on account of the impossibility

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


U rgyan pas legend grew considerably in the eyes of the Mongol

emperors of China who gave him lavish gifts,70 despite his overt antipathy
towards them. His sentiments led him to reject their patronage. He refused
their gifts, but once he did accept, having in mind the survival of Bodhgay.
He sent to rDo rje gdan the gold and silver given to him by Ol ja du for
another reconstruction campaign.71 In the absence of a specific date, this
must have happened between wood horse 1294 and fire sheep 1307, the
Tibetan reckoning of Ol ja dus regnal years.
of finding any local authority who would have been reliable enough to deal
with the matter.
The other issue, raised by the Sa skya pa dge bshes, pertains to the sphere
of the resistance put up by Tibetans who resented the authority of the Mongol/
Sa skya alliance. Being an active and uncompromising opponent of foreign
rule in Tibet and of the alliance, U rgyan pa organised dissent against the
Mongols representatives and brought this dissent to the plateau in order to
engage them.
As for the remarkable quantity of rice carried on the way by U rgyan pas
attendants, it seems it was meant to cope temporarily with the necessities of
the people the expedition met on the way.
Bho ta pandi ta is a mysterious and intriguing character. The way he spoke
to U rgyan pa gives the impression that he was a Tibetan settled premanently
in the Kathmandu Valley, also because he was known by the name used by
the non-Tibetan people of the Himalaya to identify the inhabitants of the
plateau. The rnam thar provides evidence that the term Bhota was already in
use at least during the early 14th century when this biography of U rgyan pa
was written.
70 A case of a wondrous gift, owing to U rgyan pas great fame, by an Indian
ruler rather than financial support by a Mongol emperor is recorded in mKhas
pai dga ston (p.915 lines 20-21): The king of Dza ye pur (i.e. Jaipur)
offered him the relic [consisting] of the top (?) thumb knuckle of sTon pas
(i.e. Shakyamunis) right hand.
71 bSod nams od zer, U rgyan pai rnam thar rgyas pa (p.253 line 18-p.254
line 10): The august lord of the land, completely ornamented with the nobility
of excellence, (p.254) firm in his faith for the precious teachings of the bDe
bar gshegs pa-s, and truly striving to make offerings to the precious teachings,
is the emperor Ol bya (spelled so for Ol ja du). Having heard the fame of
the rje grub chen rin po che, he granted two bre chen of gold, twelve bre
chen of silver and an extensive offering to the rje grub chen rin po che in
order to restore all the decaying lha khang-s and statues of Ma ga ta rDo rje
gdan. Moreover, the princesses, princes and many mi chen (dignitaries),
in turn, sent presents and a letter, entusted to gser yig pa dPag (sic for pag)
shi Grags pa rgyal mtshan. These [offerings] were handed over to him [and
reached] without obstacles on the way.


Roberto Vitali

The biographies of U rgyan pa mention an unsung Tibetan hero,

mGon po rgyal mtshan, who was the head of the latter restoration
project. He must have had a protracted stay in Bodhgay because he is
known in the biographies of U rgyan pa under the appellative of rDo rje
gdan pa.72 He should be classified side by side with the religious masters,
protagonists of the phase of Tibetan activity at rDo rje gdan, conducted
under iconoclast pressure.

The context
The motivations that led the masters I deal with to proceed to the centre
of the Buddhist world changed during the course of those 100 years or
more with the modification of the political conditions affecting north-central
India and Tibet.
At the beginning of this phase, the protagonists of this
adventuremembers of the dPyal clanfollowed a consolidated family
tradition to receive teachings from masters of Ma ga dha and led
othersmembers of the Chag clanto share these experiences.
Owing to the different political conditions, Tibetan masters ventured
to Ma ga dha for other reasons. On the one hand, the unsettled situation
of Gangetic India under Muslim pressure remained substantially unchanged
for the rest of the period under study. The situation in Ma ga dha was
consistently bad. On the other hand, the evolving political status of the
plateau, in particular its central regions,73 influenced the adoption of new
perspectives concerning the importance of the journey to rDo rje gdan.
Bitter internecine rivalries dominated the scenario of dBus gTsang in
expectation of the takeover of Tibet by the Mongols. The matter at stake
was the race to become the interlocutors of the upcoming overlords.74 Man
72 bSod nams od zer, U rgyan pai rnam thar rgyas pa (p.254 lines 10-13):
Many meditators who were renunciate, headed by rDo rje gdan pa mGon
po rgyal mtshan, brought these [funds] to rDo rje gdan. A great service was
rendered [by restoring its temples]. Also see lHo rong chos byung (p.746
lines 12-14). The passage implies that the status of mGon po rgyal mtshan
was that of a monk.
73 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.5a lines 1-2): In particular, being ruled by the
Hor, the people of Tibet were oppressed (mnar ba).
74 An episode in bcom ldan Rig pai ral grii rnam thar shows that the Tibetan
political arena was fragmented during the feud between Se chen rgyal po and
A ri bho ga who, after the death of Mong gor rgyal po, vied for the throne.
This was a state of affairs also indicated by the rows between Tibetans at the
Mongol court. bCom ldan Rig pai ral grii rnam thar (p.254 lines 17-19)
records a significant episode in gTsang: [Rig pai ral gri] argued against the

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


lung pai rnam thar shows that the fate of the country was not only decided
at the Mongol court, as the famous letter of Sa skya pandi ta to the Tibetans
would lead one to believe, but also reflected local realities.
ContendantsMan lung pai rnam thar saysvied for supremacy in
Central Tibet. The Sa skya pa, who clashed against the Chags sdang, were
the most prominent authority in gTsang. The lHa pa, who fought against
the Bri gung pa, were among the principal contenders in dBus.75 Monastic
life was shattered. It should be noted that Chags sdang is not a proper name
referring to an otherwise unknown Tibetan party or family, but a term
(literally meaning love and hate) applied to the controversy between rival
factions among the Phag mo gru pa (see Deb ther dmar po p.122 line 23p.123 lines 3).76
Although historically inaccurate, for it mixes events attributed to the
fifties of the 13th century with those a few decades later (i.e. the Chags
sdang controversy), the passage under study is nonetheless precious. It
echoes the political dynamics of Central Tibet, marked by a transition from
a dimension that did not transcend regional boundaries to one in which dBus
and gTsang were antagonist. It also shows that, despite the assertion in
the letter written some time before by Sa skya pandi ta to the Tibetans
that the Tibetans were a single lot, the political situation on the plateau
continued to be widely fragmented.
opposers of Bo dong rin po ches numerous entourage. [The dispute]
concerned the religious functions [to be held] as a commemorative liturgy
for Sa skya lo tsa ba (i.e. Sa skya pandi ta Kun dga rgyal mtshan) and various
religious rites [to be held] at Chu mig ring mo, including [the performance
of] religious ceremonies for the enthronement of Go pe la.
The event should be attributed to earth horse 1258 hence before Go pe
la became Se chen rgyal pobecause, soon below in the text (ibid. p.254
line 21), there is a reference to this year.
75 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.5a lines 3-4) reads: In particular there was an
internal strife between the lHa pa and the Gri (spelled so) gung pa. The Sa
skya pa quarreled with the Chags sdang. These [strifes] were like fire burning.
The reason to fall into the lower realms increased exponentially.
76 Tai si tu Byang chub rgyal mtshan, the most eminent Phag mo gru pa of the
successive period, explains in his own words the etymology of the name Chags
sdang (Si tu bka chems in Rlangs kyi po ti bse ru p.117 lines 4-5):
Sometimes, in our own house (lit. nest) the chags sdang (love and hate)
[controversy] prevailed among the monks, subdivided into sPu [and] lTol
(spelled so), and there was internal discord).
The slightly later Deb ther dmar po, which explains the historical orgin of
these factions among the Phag mo gru pa monks, spells sPu for sPu rtogs
and lDol for lDol bu (ibid p.123 lines 2-3).


Roberto Vitali

A retrospective calculation of events in the life of Man lung pa helps to

assign these local struggles for supremacy to obtain a position of preeminence
in Tibet vis--vis the surging Mongol power to somewhere within the fifties
of the 13th century (see below n.78).
Religious fervour, combined with difficult local conditions, led some
masters to leave the plateau. This was the case of Man lung pa, whose
activity was hindered by the lHa pa family, and U rgyan pa, who did not
enjoy the favour of the new Sa skya pa overlords.
The unsettled times led Man lung pa to move south. Initially the lHa
pa were able to prevent him from proceeding to India. 77 Despite an
attempt by the lHa clan member Rin chen rgyal po (1201-1263) to send
him back to Man lung by assigning him (again) to his gdan sa, Man lung
pa continued his progress towards the lowlands in the south, where he
was stopped by lHa pa troops sent to take him back. He would leave
Tibet only several years later, following a protracted disappearance from
the scene of central Tibet. 78
Man lung pas departure for India in 1264 coincides too closely with
the death of lHa Rin chen rgyal po in water pig 1263 not to have been
influenced by the fact that, with the latters passing, political and religious
77 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.5a line 7-f.5b line 2): Having thought to go to
holy places, such as Tsa ri, to perform meditation that bestows spiritual
attainments in a single lifetime and with a single body, [Man lung pa] went
to see lHa Rin chen rgyal po at Phag ri Rin chen sgang, who bestowed Man
lung upon him. He asked [lHa Rin chen rgyal po permission] to meditate for
one [year], known as bdag lo. Zhang bSod nams dar, slob dpon Byang chug
dpal and Shag rin (f.5b), the master and disciples, altogether four, held a
consultation, the outcome of which was that Zhang made a verbal request
(phrin bzhag spelled so for gzhag) on behalf of all of them, but the men of
the lHa pa sent after them caught them at Gro mo. The bla ma rin po che
(i.e. Man lung pa) dissuaded them [from taking them away]. He stayed on to
perform meditation for a few years at Brag ra and sDings chen.
78 Man lung pai rnam thar (f.5b lines 4-5): For four years and seven and a
half months [Man lung pa] performed meditation leading to liberation.
Man lung pai rnam thar (f.6a lines 3-4): He decided to go to a few noble
lands of rGya gar.
After being stopped by the lHa pa troops sent in pursuit and eventually
managing to get on a spiritual retreat that lasted for almost five years, he made
the decision in wood rat 1264 that the time was ripe to proceed to rGya gar
(Man lung pai rnam thar f.6a lines 4-6; see above n.40). This helps to gauge
approximately the above mentioned outbreak of hostilities in dBus gTsang
to sometime in the fifties of the 13th centuries (1264 minus some five years
plus some intervening time).

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


pressure upon him was lifted.79 Foreseeing gloomy days ahead in Central
Tibet, Man lung pa sent out warnings, which were ignored, and decided to
go to India.80
Indeed in the same 1264 when he set out to cross the Himalayan range,
Mongol troops advanced to Central Tibet in order to prepare the way for
gro mgon Phags pas return to Sa skya. Their chieftain Du mur was
convinced to desist from further action in dBus by the sTag lung abbot
Sang rgyas yar byon (1203-1272) and the latters emissary Zhang btsun.81
79 A brief biography of lHa rin chen rgyal po is found in gNyos Kha rag gi gdung
rabs khyad par phags pa (f.9b line 2-f.10a line 9) which I summarise here.
lHa Rin chen rgyal po (1201-1263) was a religious master of some importance
on the scene of Central Tibet during the first sixty years of the 13th century.
A member of the lHa, he belonged to the gNyos family of Kha rag. The son
of sngags chang Grags pa bum and rGyu phrul ma, he was considered the
last of the twelve rebirths of Mu tig btsan po. He was ordained to the monastic
vow at sKyor mo lung, reputed for bestowing the purest ordinations to
monastic observance. In fire pig 1227 at the age of twenty-one he was chosen
to be the abbot of lHa Rin chen thel. He gave teachings at this monastery for
four years until iron hare 1231, when he founded Gye re dgon pa. He was
active at this monastery for a number of years, disseminating teachings (Bang
mdzod, gSang dus, Jigs byed and bDe mchog plus Grol thig, Bri khung
pai chos drug gsar rnying, bCu chos, Sum chos, bDun chos, Tshig bsdus,
Tshe gsum, sKog chos and Tshin rta ma ni).
One duodenary cycle after the foundation of Gye re dgon pa he established
Gye re lha khang and Phag ri Rin chen sgang in water hare 1243, together with
his nye gnas Dam pa ri pa. The latter was completed in wood dragon 1244.
He is remembered in the literature for his contribution to save the peace
of the lands in dBus because, in iron pig 1251, he was able to dissuade the
Mongol officer Du se ta ba dur, who had invaded dBus on the eve of Mong
gor rgyal pos ascension to the throne of the Mongols, from causing a further
blood bath. He exercised secular duties, too, and was the phyi dpon of dBus
gTsang for nineteen years from the snake year 1245 to the pig year 1263.
On him also see Deb ther dmar po (p.126 lines 2-11) and lHo rong chos
byung (p.426 lines 9-14).
80 A note in Myang chos byung (p.31 lines 8-12) reads: When he was twentyfive years old (1263/1264), [Man lung pa] said, while he was on a tour to
visit holy places and lands, that harm would be inflicted upon many sentient
beings, such as the Rwa lung pa. Those monks did not listen to him. Knowing
that [this would happen] for sure, he left for rGya gar. Later, having given
advice to monks who were devoted to him, disciples and sponsors, he returned
to rGya gar and proceeded to Po ta la [on his second visit].
81 sTag lung chos byung (Sangs rgyas yar byon gyi rnam thar p.276 lines 813): After a while, a large army of Hor troops, [led by] Du mur, came to
Tibet. Sangs rgyas yar byon gave gifts to Zhang btsun and sent him to the


Roberto Vitali

For his part U rgyan pa had to bear the brunt of Sa skya pa hostility. In
water monkey 1272, dpon chen Kun dga bzang po burned down U rgyan
pas monastery of sBud skra/sBu tra,82 an event the master had foretold with
his clairvoyance according to his biographies;83 or, I would say, with a grain
of political acumen, given his tense relations with the Sa skya pa, dpon chen
Kun dga zang po in particular. The fire of sBu tra has the garb of a rehearsal
for the destruction of Bri gung in the gling log of iron tiger 1290.
As mentioned above, upon returning from his second sojourn at rDo
rje gdan at an unspecified time after iron horse 1270, and thus when the
Mongol law had already been enforced in Tibet, U rgyan pa became the
head of the Tibetans exiled in Bal po, who numbered in the thousands.
They officially took shelter in the Kathmandu Valley, owing to a drought
in Tibet, but they actually fled due to the heavy taxation imposed by Sa
skya, as said by a dge bshes of this school who was in Kathmandu at the
time (see above n.69).84
encampment of the Hor. He rolled up [a bunch of] prayers [as gifts for them],
and so their evil minds were pacified. They became subdued. On the occasion
of travelling to the encampment of the Hor, due to the fact that there was a
one night halt on the way, the men who carried [Zhang btsun]s residential
tent (gzims gur) on their head had the vision that Thug rje chen po was sitting
[on their heads]. They made prostrations.
82 lHo rong chos byung (p.737 lines 18-21): Then, having listened to the
calumny of others, dpon chen Kun dga bzang po destroyed sBu tra (spelled
as) mchod khang. [U rgyan pa] went then to sBu tra and restored the gzim
khang with rgyal bu A rog che acting as sponsor.
This helps to fix the destruction of the sBu tra palace/mchod khang to 1272
and the restoration of sBu tra to 1276 (see my Grub chen U rgyan pa and the
Mongols of China, a paper read at the International Conference Exploring
Tibets History and Culture, held at Delhi University in November 2009).
83 See, for instance, bSod nams od zer, U rgyan pai rnam thar rgyas pa (p.170
line 11-12): When the palace at dpal ldan sBud skra was under construction,
he gave a prophecy that it will be destroyed.
84 Rather than earthquakes which, more often than not in the Tibetan tradition
are wondrous but improbable signs that accompany extraordinary events in the
life of great religious personalities and at the time of their death, famines are
indicative of troubled political and social conditions. Their occurrence on the
plateau should be the topic of historical and anthropological research. Famines,
by [my] definition, should theoretically be considered so in the case they affect
the rich and poor indiscriminately. However, in most cases, they affect only
the poor. Droughts assume proportions that lead to famines often owing to
causes engendered by partisan human contributions that turn natural conditions
to the worse. The case mentioned here is proverbial. Drought was accompanied
by excessive taxation imposed by the Mongol/Sa skya pa authorities.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


Man lung pa took a different direction from U rgyan pas temporary

exile. When the situation became unbearable in Ma ga dha on account of
renewed lethal attacks by the Muslims on the Buddhist centres of learning,
Man lung pa preferred to proceed to South India than to return to Tibet, as
U rgyan pa had. Man lun pas reluctance to go back to the plateau, despite
the uneasy situation in Ma ga dha, is palpable in the rnam thar.
One wonders whether their paths crossed. This did not happen but they
did come close to meeting. U rgyan pa saw Man lung pas nye gnas at
Bodhgay, while the latters master was away from rDo rje gdan for one
of his Indian pilgrimages.85
Can one then think that, from earlier being a proverbial destination of
Tibetan pilgrimage, rDo rje gdan became, in some instances, the symbol of
Tibetans taking the road to exile? All one can say is that, owing to persistent
religious zeal and changed political conditions in Tibet, the way to rDo rje
gdan was frequented by Tibetan masters during a time of destruction of
Gangetic Buddhism as much as when Ma ga dha was peaceful.
Driven to rDo rje gdan by various reasons, ranging from a family
tradition and personal motivation to political dissent and the need to go
into exile,86 these masters were linked, in most cases, by common training
(especially Dus khor and sByor rgyud), shared values, personal
interactions and similar activities.87 Although in the extant literature they
have been examined separately, the evidence arising from linking their
individual stories seems to indicate that these masters formed a kind of
collateral (or unofficial) cultural movement.
85 lHo rong chos byung (p.737 lines 6-7): [U rgyan pas visit to rDo rje gdan]
coincided with [the presence of] Byang chub dpal, the nye gnas of grub chen
Man lung pa who had gone to lHo dPal gyi ri to offer his prayers.
86 These masters went to Bodhgay because of:
~their owns clan consolidated tradition of getting teachings from the
Noble Land (dPyal members);
~the significance of the enterprise (the Chag uncle and nephew);
~internal dissent in Tibet (Man lung pa);
~pressure by the Sa skya/Mongol alliance (U rgyan pa).
87 I have briefly documented in the present article the existence of common
grounds between some of these masters, especially in the case of their Dus khor
training. I add here that U rgyan pa received Dus khor based on the systems
of Tsa/rTsa mi Sangs rgyas grags pa and Chag lo tsa ba Chos rje dpal from Bo
dong Rin chen rtse mo (?-?), and also studied it under rGod tshang pa.
As for his relationship with at least one master belonging to the phase under
study, U rgyan pa received Tshad mai lung from bcom ldan Rig pai ral gri,
called sNar thang Rig ral by Si tu pan chen Chos kyi byung gnas in the
passage that deals with this interaction (Karma Kam tshang gi gser phreng
p.174 line 2).


Roberto Vitali

The immediate precursors
(first, second and third quarter of the 12th century)
Tsa/rTsa mi lo tsa ba and his disciples
The influx of other Tibetans at rDo rje gdan was not marginal during
the days of Tsa/rTsa mi lo tsa ba Sangs rgyas grags pa, rGa lo tsa ba gZhon
nu dpal and sTengs Tshul khrims byung gnas. mKhas pai dga ston
(p.1495 lines 18-20) preserves the names of other visitors to Bodhgay,
most of them obscure pilgrims active in the period immediately preceding
the phase dealt with in this paper:
sPong zho gSal ba grags,
Kher gang Khor lo grags,
Rong gling lo tsa [ba],
lDi ri Chos grags and
Tre bo Shes rab dpal, along with two better known Buddhist proponents:
Sheu lo tsa [ba] and
gNyan lo [tsa ba] (the younger?).88
In his biographical notes on the South Indian master A bhay k ra
[gupta] who was mainly active in Ma ga dha, dPa bo gtsug lag phreng
ba says that he was a teacher of Tsa mi/rTsa mi and all of them.89 rGa lo,
too, is included among A bhay k ras disciples but not sTengs, this
perhaps being a sign that the latter was in Bodhgay after the Indian
masters demise.
These practitioners were another wave of Tibetans in search of teachings
at the cradle of Buddhist world. In my view, they did not form a fully fledged
phase, comparable to the one under study in this article, since the presence
of Tibetans at rDo rje gdan at the time was circumscribed to disciples of
A bhay k ra and their disciples.
The frequentation of rDo rje gdan by Tsa/rTsa mi, rGa lo the elder
and sTengs lo tsa ba cannot be placed into a precise span of years. The

88 This gNyan lo tsa ba cannot have been the famous gNyan lo tsa ba Darma grags
who attented the 1076 Tho ling chos khor and was allegedly assassinated by
Rwa lo tsa ba (1016-?), or else he would have been assigned in this passage of
dPa bo gtsug lag phreng bas work to one generation too late.
89 dPa bo gtsug lag phreng ba confirms the evidence of the colophons of the
religious works, in which A bhay k ra is mentioned, that this Indian master
was the teacher of Tsa/rTsa mi lo tsa ba (mKhas pai dga ston p.1496 line
1-p.1497 line 13). This goes against the statement in the biography of rGa lo
tsa ba gZhon nu dpal penned by Zhang g.Yu brag pa that Tsa/rTsa mi was
the teacher and A bhay k ra his disciple.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


dates of Tsa/rTsa mi are not known; those of rGa lo are approximate (see
above and n.6). The bstan rtsis of Sum pa mkhan pos dPag bsam ljon
bzang says that A bhay k ra died in wood snake 1125 at the remarkable
age of 121 (ibid. p.839; also Tshe tan zhab drung, bsTan rtsis kun las btus
pa p.171).90 Consequently the activity of Tsa/rTsa mi and rGa lo the elder
at Bodhgay may be provisionally assigned to before the end of the first
quarter of the 12th century and an unspecifiable number of years thereafter.

rGa lo gZhon nu dpals life activities: a synopsis

I dedicate a few more lines to rGa lo tsa ba gZhon nu dpal owing to
the existence of a rnam thar recording his deeds, penned by his disciple
bla ma Zhang g.Yu brag pa (1123-1193 or 1194). This biography is
marginally more articulated on the issue of the years spent by rGa lo the
elder in Ma ga dha than the longer periods he was in Tibet. I summarise
here the main facts in his life.
His early years
He was born to rGa (spelled so) Shes rab rtse and Nyang bza Tshe
sprul at a place south of dByar mo thang in A mdo, namely Theu chung
of rTsong ka (a beautiful, archaic spelling) (dPal gyi rnam thar p.360 lines
5-7). Despite being a native of A mdo, he is called Khams (spelled so)
pa rGa lo a few times in his biography. My understanding is that his family
originally was from Mi nyag Gha (also spelled in several other manners),
the clan name rGa probably being indicative of this provenance.

rGya gar
After rather undescribed studies in his youth, he left Tibet for rGya gar
aged thirty (ibid. p.361 line 4). Having collected gold in sTod lung phu, he
stayed in Bal po on the way, and then reached rDo rje gdan, where he
searched for a true teacher (ibid. p.362 lines 1-4). He met the great A bhay

90 Gos lo tsa ba says that A bhay k ra was a disciple of N ro pa

(Deb ther sngon po p.931 lines 18-19, also see Ar. Macdonald, Le
Dhnyakaaka de Man-lungs guru p.177). Is Gos lo tsa bas statement that
A bhay k ra had a long life an attempt to accommodate his claim that he
was a disciple of N ro pa with the fact that he met and gave teachings to
Tsa/rTsa mi and rGa lo the elder? The year of N ro pas death is
controversial. An earlier one is fire hare 1027, another and perhaps more
reliable is iron dragon 1040. Indeed the alleged birth date of A bhay k ra
in 1005 (d. 1125 at the age of 121) would have allowed him to meet N ro
pa in both the cases of the latters death in 1027 or 1040.


Roberto Vitali

k ra who recommended Tsa/rTsa mi lo tsa ba, but he was reluctant to follow

this advice. His mental argumentation, for which he is famous, was that there
was no point in coming to rGya gar to end up studying under a Tibetan (ibid.
p.362 line 4-p.363 line 3). He eventually chose Tsa/rTsa mi owing to this
masters greatness (ibid. p.364 line 3-7).
He spent at least thirteen years and nine months in rGya gar.91 Being a
disciple of Tsa/rTsa mi and Abhay k ra, he became an expert of Dus
khor and sByor druglike most of the masters I deal with in this study.
He had spiritual powersespecially the siddhi-s he attained at bSil bai
tshal, practising the system of Tsa/rTsa mi (ibid. p.365 lines 4-7, p.366 line
2-p.369 line 2); he was a yogin and great performer of miracles.
In Ma ga dha he engaged in strict religious practicemostly penance
and meditation (ibid. p.363 line 4; p.365 lines 1-2; p.365 line 4; p.366 line
1; p.372 line 7)but was also invited by the local ruler, Shing rta can, to
become his mchod gnas despite Hindu resistance (ibid. p.373 lines 5-p.374
line 3). He is credited by his biography to have defeated unspecified Du
ru kha troops (ibid. p.375 line 2), but this is anachronistic, for the troops
of Islam had not yet advanced to the Gangetic plain in his days.
This synopsis of the biography does not do justice to the many details
mentioned by Zhang g.Yu brag pa about rGa los prolonged sojourn in Ma
ga dha, which deserve an extensive study, especially those religious. The
biography mentions:
~holy sitesrDo rje gdan (ibid. p.362 lines 3-4; p.374 line 7), Na len
tra (spelled so, ibid. p.362 lines 4-5; p.364 line 1), gSil bai tshal (ibid.
p.365 lines 4-7, p.366 line 2-p.369 line 2; p.372 line 7), Kho kha rag
pa, Nya tro ta (ibid. p.370 line 2 and line 6; p.371 line 2; p.371 line 7)
and Bya rgod phung poi ri (ibid. p.375 line 3);
~monasteriesBho/Gho sa kra ma at the outskirts of Na len tra (ibid.
p.365 lines 1-2; p.376 line 7)),
~templesSangs rgyas gdam bzhii lha khang (ibid. p.370 line 3);
~buildingsthe three floor high residence of Tsa/rTsa mi (ibid. p.376
line 6) at Na len tra (ibid. p.376 line 4);
~statuesShiva at Nya tro ta (ibid. p.371 line 2), sPyan ras gzigs on
the left side of Nya tro ta (ibid. p.371 line 7-p.372 line 1) and Nag po
chen po (ibid. p.372 lines 2-3);
~miracles he performedthe recurring one was that he sat in the lotus
posture levitating over water, a sign of yoga practice; his taking the
aspect of a snake to scare away Hindu-s; or his bringing down, dead

91 In order to calculate the number of years spent by rGa lo in Ma ga dha one

needs to collate the indications in various passages of dPal gyi rnam thar
(p.363 line 4; p.365 lines 1-2; p.365 line 4; p.366 line 1; and p.372 line 7).

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


on the ground, a big bird by means of a single glance (this happened

upon leaving Bya rgod phung poi ri; an allusion to this holy place where
he stayed for three months?) (ibid. p.375 lines 4-5);
~Indian religious mastersA bhay k ra (ibid. p.363 lines 2-3; p.363
lines 6-7; p.365 lines 2-3; p.365 lines 6-7), Ba gi shwa ra from U rgyan
(ibid. p.363 lines 6-7; p.364 line 1) and gDug spu re ba (ibid. p.363
line 7-p.364 line 3);
~Indian rulersShing [rta] can and Ra ma phala (ibid. p.362 lines 34; p.371 lines 3-4; p.373 line 5); and also
~visionssGrol ma, sPyan ras gzigs, Od zer can (ibid. p.372 lines 12), mGon po phyag gnyis pa and phyag bzhi pa, and the zhing skyong
of the cemetery bSil bai tshal, who transformed into a snake slithering
from the roots of a tree.
dBus gTsang and eastern Byang thang
Back to Tibet (ibid. p.377 line 6), he was in La stod (lHo or Byang?),
where he defeated a chos log pa who practised a system called Ma cig
ma rje cig ma lha cig ma (ibid. p.377 line 6-p.378 line 2) and then went to
dBus (ibid. p.378 lines 2-4).
North of dBus, he stayed at gNam mtsho for five years, including its island
Se mo do, where he had the vision of Don yod grub pa (ibid. p.378 line 4p.379 line 2); then in g.Yo ru (ibid. p.379 line 2); again in La stod (lHo or
Byang?) and at Gor rdzong brag (in La stod?) (ibid. p.379 line 7). He spent
one year in Byang (ibid. p.379 line 7-p.380 line 1).
In all these localities he performed miracles and had extraordinary visions.

A mdo, Khams and Nag shod

Having proceeded to Eastern Tibet, he spent seven years at Kam po
sNas (spelled so) snang (ibid. p.380 lines 1-4). He went back to his native
place in A mdo, where he found that his parents had died in the meantime
(ibid. p.380 line 4). At that time he received an invitation by the Chinese
emperor but run away from it (ibid. p.380 line 5).
Back to Khams, he witnessed the destruction of monasteries in Khams
sgang; he rebuilt them (ibid. p.380 line 5-p.381 line 2). He reopened paths
in the flooded gorges of the Nag chu by performing the miracle of splitting
the water asunder (ibid. p.381 lines 2-4).
He then proceeded to Sog (in Nag chu kha), where, at Nam (spelled
so) shod Grab khar (ibid. p.381 lines 5-6), lHa bzangs, his sponsor from
the ru ba of Sog, donated much gold to him (ibid. p.381 line 7-p.382 line
1). He gave teachings at Gyang dmar of Nag shod Dral (spelled so) khar
(ibid. p.382 line 6-p.383 line 2) and then returned to dBus.


Roberto Vitali

Again he displayed his wondrous capacities and had extraordinary visions

at several of the above mentioned localities.
dBus (again)
In Kyu ru g.Yu brang of dBu ru he performed his trademark miracle of
levitating over water for the sake of bKa gdams pa practitioners who did
not have faith in him (ibid. p.383 lines 2-4). He interacted with his disciples
in dBus (ibid. p.383 line 6-p.384 line 5) and then went to Yer pa, in whose
vicinities he received a grant from a Bon po of Rab rgang. This prompted
him to recollect an earlier encounter with bandits in the latter area (in La
stod?) (ibid. p.385 line 1-p.386 line 1). Once again some of these events
were accompanied by an extraordinary performance.
After announcing his demise during the followingunspecifiedyear
(ibid. p.386 line 7), the biography comes to an end with a long description
of the circumstances leading to his death and the ensuing funerary rites
(ibid. p.386 line 7-p.391 line 2).

sTengs lo tsa ba
sTengs lo tsa ba Tshul khrims byung gnas went thrice to rGya gar
(for a brief biography of this master see Deb ther sngon po p.1223 line
14-p.1226 line 9). He spent ten years in Ma ga dha with Tsa/rTsa mi lo
tsa ba (ibid. p.1224 lines 15-17). The number of years of his interaction
with Tsa/rTsa mi may define the length of his first sojourn in India.
When sTengs reached Ma ga dha the second time, he found out that Tsa/
rTsa mi had died in the meantimeamong the masters I deal with in this
study, he is the only one who passed away in India without returning to
Tibetbut this information does not help to establish an approximate date for
his demise. sTengs stayed in Ma ga dha for five years and studied under quite
a few teachers (ibid. p.1225 lines 8-18). He put his training to good profit,
for he engaged, back to Tibet, in the translation of several religious texts.
He returned to rDo rje gdan a third time, and stayed there for three years
(ibid. p.1225 lines 18-19), but none of his three visits can be dated.92
92 sTag lung chos byung (p.243 lines 14-18) says that Ma yo gom nag (i.e. Ma
[ha] yo [gi], the black meditator?)included among the eighteen close
disciples of sTag lung thang pa bKra shis dpal (1142-1210) and said to have
been a mkhan po of rDo rje gdanmade a statue of his teacher at Bodhgay
and donated it to his monastery in Tibet. A legend holds that the statue
miraculously crossed the Gangg by itself. It was chosen as the main image of
Li ma lha khang at sTag lung. The presence at rDo rje gdan of Ma yo sgom nag,
whose ethnicity is unclear, may be assigned to the period around the last quarter
of the 12th century.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


Tibetan sources
Si tu Chos kyi byung gnas, Karma Kam tshang gser phreng (completed
by Be lo Tshe dbang kun khyab): Si tu Chos kyi byung gnas, bsGrub
rgyud Karma Kam tshang brgyud pa rin po chei rnam par thar
pa rab byams nor bu zla ba chus shel gyi phreng ba, A History
of the Karma bKa brgyud pa Sect (vol.1), D.Gyaltsan and Kesang
Legshay eds., New Delhi 1972.
Zhang g.Yu brag pa brTson grus grags pa, dKar rgyud kyi rnam thar in
Zhang rin-po-chei bka-bum, Writings (bKa thor bu) of Zhang
g.Yu-brag-pa brTson-grus grags-pa, Khams-sprul Don-brgyud nyima (ed.), Sungrab Nyamso Gyunpel Parkhang, Palampur 1972.
bSod nams dpal bzang po, Kha che pan chen gyi rnam thar, in D. Jackson
(ed.), Two Biographies of Shakyashribhadra: Then Eulogy by Khrophu lo-ts-ba and its Commentary by bSod-nams-dpal-bzang-po,
Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 1990.
Kha rag gNyos kyi gdung rabs: Anonymous, Kha rag gNyos kyi rgyud pa
byon tshul mdor bsdus, handcopy by bKra shis tshe ring after an
original in the library of Ba nyag A teng gDan sa pa.
Khyung rgod rtsal gyi rnam thar: Dol po Shud kye drang srong rGyal
mtshan tshul khrims, dPon sras kyi rnam thar, in Sources for the
History of Bon: a Collection of Rare Manuscripts from the bSamgling Monastery in Dol-po, Lopon Tenzin Namdak (ed.), Tibetan
Bonpo Monastic Centre, Dolanji 1972.
mKhas pai dga ston: dPa bo gTsug lag phreng ba, Dam pa chos kyi khor
lo bsgyur ba rnams kyi byung ba gsal bar byed pa mkhas pai dga
ston, rDo rje rgyal po (ed.), Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, Pe cin 1986.
dGe dun chos phel, rGya gar gnas yig, in T. Huber (ed.), The Guide
to India, A Tibetan Account by Amdo Gendun Chphel, Library of
Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala 2000.
Chag lo tsa bai rnam thar: Chos dpal dar dbyangs, Chag lo tsa ba Chos
rje dpal gyi rnam thar bla mai gsung dri ma med pa bsgrigs pa,
pan chen Os sprul (ed.), Varanasi 1963.
mChims Nam mkha grags kyi rnam thar: sMon lam tshul khrims, mChims
nam mkha grags kyi rnam thar bzhugs, 50 folio dbu can manuscript.


Roberto Vitali

mChims Nam mkha grags: Jo bo dpal ldan A ti shai rnam thar rgyas pa,
dbu can manuscript in 50 folios.
Rin chen bzang poi rnam thar: Jig rten mig gyur Rin chen bzang poi
rnam thar bsdus pa in Gur mGon po chos byung, in Collected
Bibliographical Material about Rin chen bzang po and his Subsequent
Re-embodiments, Dorje Tsetan (ed.), Delhi 1977.
dGe dun chos phel. gTam rgyud gser gyi thang ma (abridged version):
mKhas dbang dGe dun chos phel gyis mdzad pai gTam rgyud gser
gyi thang ma zhes bya ba bzhugs so, Blo bzang nor bu Shastri (ed.),
Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Varanasi 1986.
sTag lung chos byung: Ngag dbang rnam rgyal, sTag lung chos byung,
Chab spel Tshe brtan phun tshogs ed., Gangs can rig mdzod vol.22,
Bod ljongs Bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, lHa sa 1992.
Deb ther sngon po: Gos lo tsa ba gZhon nu dpal, Deb ther sngon po, Si
khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, Chengdu 1984.
Deb ther dmar po: Tshal pa Kun dga rdo rje, Deb ther dmar po rnams kyi
dang po Hu lan deb ther, Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, Pe cin, reprint 1993.
bCom ldan Rig pai ral gri, rDo je gdan rnam bshad rgyan gyi me tog,
in Ri dkar poi brjid sgra, Students Education Committee, Sakya
College, Rajpur 2006 n.1.
Phug pa lHun grub rgya mtsho and mkhas grub Nor bzang rgya mtsho, Pad
dkar zhal lung: Legs par bshad pa Padma dkar poi zhal gyi lung
zhes bya ba bzgugs so, Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, Pe cin 2002.
dPyal gyi gDung rabs Ganggai chu rgyun: bya btang pa Padma rdo
rje, Bla chen dPyal gyi gdung rabs rin po chei za ra tshags zhes
bya ba dang/ gDung rabs Ganggai chu rgyun gnyis gleg bam
gcig tu bris pa las/ kun gsal me long che ba bcud ldan bzhugs
so, computer version in thiry-three pages.
dPyal pai lo rgyus kyi yi ge: third Brug chen Jam dbyangs chos kyi
grags pa, dPyal pai lo rgyus kyi yi ge bzhugs so, Kargyud Sungrab
Nyamso Khang, Darjeeling 1985.
Bu ston chos byung: Bu ston Rin chen grub, Bu ston chos byung gsung rab
rin po chei mdzod, Krung go Bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, Zi ling 1988.
Bai ro tsa nai rnam thar dra bag chen mo: g.Yu sgra snying po and
others, Bai roi rnam thar dra bag chen mo, Si khron mi rigs dpe
skrun khang, Chengdu 1995.

Tibetans at rDo rje gdan


Man lung pai rnam thar: bSod nams bzang po, Man lung pai rnam thar
bzhugs, dbu med manuscript in twelve folios.
Myang chos byung: Anonymous, Myang yul stod smad bar gsum gyi ngo
mtshar gtam gyi legs bshad mkhas pai jug ngogs zhes bya ba bzhugs
so, lHag pa tshe ring (ed.), Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang,
lHa sa 1983.
Dung dkar rin po che, Tshig mdzod chen mo, Krung goi Bod rig pa dpe
skrun khang, Pe cin 2002.
Rig pai ral grii rnam thar: bSam gtan bzang po, bCom ldan Rig pai
ral gri dad pai ljon shing, in Legs par bshad gtam gyi tshogs Utpala
sngon poi do shal shes ldan dgyes pai mgul rgyan, Khams sprul
bSod nams don grubs gSung bum, no place and year of publication.
Tai si tu Byang chub rgyal mtshan, Si tu bKa chems in Rlangs kyi po ti
bse ru, Chab spel Tshe brtan phun tshogs (ed.), Gangs can rig mdzod
n.1, Bod ljongs mi dmans dpe skrun khang, lHa sa 1986.
lHo rong chos byung: rTa tshag Tshe dbang rgyal, Dam pai chos kyi
byung bai legs bshad lHo rong chos byung ngam rTa tshag chos
byung zhes rtsom pai yul ming du chags pai ngo mtshar zhing dkon
pai dbe khyad par can bzhugs so, Gangs can rig mdzod vol.26, Bod
ljongs Bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang, lHa sa 1995.
bSod nams od zer, U rgyan pai rnam thar rgyas pa: bSod nams od
zer, Grub chen U rgyan pai rnam thar, Gangs can rig mdzod vol.32,
rTa mgrin tshe dbang (ed.), Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang,
lHa sa 1997.

Secondary sources
Blondeau A.M., Annuaire de lEcole Pratiques des Hautes Etudes, Ve
Section, tome XCIII, 1984-1985.
Blondeau A.M., Identification de la tradition appele bsGrags-pa Bon-lugs,
in T.Skorupski (ed.), Indo-Tibetan Studies, Buddhica Britannica II,
Tring: 1990.
Jackson D., The Miscellaneous Series of Tibetan Texts in the Bihar
Research Society, A Handlist, Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 1989.
Macdonald Ar., Le Dhnyakaaka de Man-lungs guru, Bulletin dcole
Franaise dtreme Orient vol. 57 1970.
Roerich G. (transl.), The Biography of Dharmaswamin (Chag lo tsa ba
Chos rje dpal), K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, Patna 1959.


Roberto Vitali

von Schroeder U., Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet, vol. One: India and Nepal,
Visual Dharma, Hong Kong 2001.
Lobsang Shastri, The Transmission of Buddhist Canonical Literature in Tibet,
Tibet Journal vol. XXXIII n.3 Autumn 2007.
Sperling E., Rtsa-mi lo-ts-ba Sangs-rgyas grags-pa and the Tangut
Background of Early Mongol-Tibetan Relations, in P.Kwaerne,
Tibetan Studies, Proceedings of the 6th International Association for
Tibetan Studies vol.II, The Institute for Comparative Research in
Human Culture, Oslo 1994.
Vitali R., The Kingdoms of Pu.hrang, Tho.ling gtsug.lag.khang
lo.gcig.stong khor.bai rjes dran.mdzad sgoi go.sgrig tshogs.chung
publishers, Dharamsala 1996.
Vitali R., Grub chen U rgyan pa and the Mongols of China, a paper read
at the International Conference Exploring Tibets History and
Culture, jointly hosted by University of Delhi and Central University
of Tibetan Studies Sarnath, Delhi November 2009.
Vitali, The Manjusri mountain and the Buddha tree: a history of the dPyal
clan (7th to 14th century), forthcoming.

The Life and Lives of

Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub
Jos Ignacio Cabezn
Santa Barbara

In 2007, while reading through a collection of Tibetan texts published

several years earlier in eastern Tibet, I came across a short practice text
called The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel of the Oral Tradition 1 written by Khon
ston dpal byor lhun grub (1561-1637). The work piqued my interest for a
number of reasons. Lucidly written, it manages to combine, in a manner
that is at once easily accessible and philosophically interesting, both
theoretical reflections on the nature of mind and practical instructions for
engaging in this type of meditation. I found the works nonsectarian
approach especially intriguing, combining as it does Rdzogs chen,
Mahmudr, and Madhyamaka approaches to the view (lta ba). One other
thing piqued my interest: it was written by the fifteenth abbot of the Byes
College of Sera.
I have since translated the work, 2 and so will not dwell on it here.
Instead, this essay focuses on the author of The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel.
Little has been written in Western languages about Khon ston Rinpoche.
This paper provides readers with a short biography of this interesting
scholar. It is based on the few Tibetan sources on Khon ston Rinpoches
life available to us, chiefly the biography written by his most famous student,
the Fifth Dalai Lama. 3 At the end of the paper, the reader will find an
1 Snyan brgyud yid bzhin nor bu lta ba spyi khyab tu ngo sprod pai khrid yig,
in Sngags rdzogs dbu mai skor gyi dpe dkon thor bui rigs phyogs bsgrigs
(Gser ljongs bla ma rung lnga rig nang bstan slob grwa chen mo, 2005). The
title of the text in the modern edition is slightly different from that found in
the Fifth Dalai Lamas list of Teachings Received (thob yig), where the title
of the text is instead Lta ba spyi khyab tu ngo sprod pai tshul gsal bar
byed pa snyan brgyud yid bzhin nor bu.
2 The work is being published in His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Khntn Pelnjor
Lhundrub, and Jos Ignacio Cabezn, Meditation on the Nature of Mind
(Boston: Wisdom Publications, forthcoming).
3 Ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, Khyab bdagkhor loi dbang phyug
dpalbyor lhun grub kyi rnam thar skal bzang dad pai shing rta, found in
the Fifth Dalai Lamas Gsungbum (Collected Works), vol. nya, pp. 609-696
(hereafter Shing rta); the text was written in 1645, eight years afterKhon ston


Jos Ignacio Cabezn

appendix listing the masters in Khon ston pas incarnation linages (sku
* * *
Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub was born in 1561 into the famous
Khon4 clan, the ancient Tibetan clan whose members include the founders
Rinpoches death. I have also consulted the entry forKhon ston dpalbyor
lhun grub in Yongsdzin ye shes rgyal mtshan (1713-1793), Lam rim bla ma
brgyud pai rnam thar (Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 1990), pp.
794-796 (hereafter Bla brgyud), which relies, as do most of the other
biographies, on the Fifth Dalai Lamas work. The earliest Rnying ma biography
of Khon ston Rinpoche known to me is found in the Guru bkra shis
chosbyung; Guru bkra shis ngag dbang blo gros, Gubkrai chosbyung
(Mtsho sngon: Krung goi bod kyi shes rig dpe skrung khang, 1990), pp. 299300, hereafter Gu bkra; this work was written between 1807 and 1813. Guru
bkrashiss text appears to be the chief source for Dudjom Rinpoches
biography, found in Bdudjomsjigs bral ye shes rdo rje, Gangs jongs rgyal
bstan yongs rdzogs kyi phyi mo sngagyur rdo rje theg pai bstan pa rin po
che ji ltar byung bai tshul dag cing gsal bar brjod pa lha dbang g.yul las
rgyal bai rnga bo chei sgra dbyangs (Bound book; no bibliographical
information other than the date, 1990), pp. 336-339, hereafter Bdudjoms;
translated in The Rnying ma School of Tibetan Buddhism (Boston: Wisdom
Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pp. 677-78. A short modern biography ofKhon
ston pa is to be found in Sgo mang ngag dbang lung rtogsforeward toKhon
ston pas History of the Yamntaka Lineage, theJam dpal gzhin rje gshed
skor gyi bla ma brgyud pai chosbyung gdul byai redod skong ba yid
bzhin nor bui phreng ba, hereafter Gzhin rje gshed chosbyung (Dharamsala:
Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 2005). A brief mention ofKhon ston
pa is found in Ko shul grags pabyung gnas and Rgyal ba blo bzang mkhas
grub, Gangs can mkhas grub rim byon ming mdzod [hereafter Ming mdzod]
(Sichuan: Kan suu mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1992), pp. 235-237; and in
Bstandzin lung rtogs nyi mas Rdozgs chen chos byung chen mo (Beijing:
Krung goi bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2004), pp. 167-8. For references
toKhon ston Rinpoche in other Tibetan works, see Dan Martin, in
collaboration with Yael Bentor, Tibetan Histories: A Bibliography of Tibetanlanguage Historical Works (London: Serindia, 1997), entry 196, p. 99.Khon
ston Rinpoche is also briefly mentioned as the teacher of G.yul rgyal nor bu
(1550?-1607) in Per Srensen and Guntram Hazod, with Tsering Gyalbo, Rulers
of the Celestial Plain: Ecclesiastical and Secular Hegemony in Medieval
Tibet, a Study of Tshal Gung-thang (Vienna: Verlag des sterreichischen
Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2007), vol. II, pp. 245, and 768n10.
4 Khon. Bla brgyud, p. 795, calls this the Maju r Khon lineage (Jam
dbyangskhon gyi rigs). The Fifth Dalai Lama gives a long explanation of
theKhon clans history in Shing rta, f.5af. Elsewhere in the work, he explains
the clans connections to the deity Majur .

The Life and Lives of Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub


and present-day throne holders of the Sakya school. Khon ston pa was
born in the village of Skyong gar in the region of E.5 His father, Tshe dbang
nor rgyas, 6 was an important figure in the transmission lineage of the
Magical Net Tantra,7 one of the most important tantric systems of the
Rnying ma school. Khon ston Rinpoche himself came to be considered
one of the major figures in the transmission of this Tantra.8 Khon ston pa
also played an important role in the history of the Dge lugs school. As
already mentioned, he was the fifteenth abbot of the Byes College of Sera,
and he came to be considered one of the lineage masters in the Dge lugs
schools transmission of the stages of the path or lam rim. Both the
Rnying ma and Dge lugs schools eventually came to consider him a
reincarnation of the great Rnying ma scholar-saint Sgro phug pa.9 Khon
5 In Klong rdol bla mas Rgya bod du byon pai bstandzin gyi skyes bu dam
pa rnams kyi mtshan tho, Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP) digital text,
ref. no. S6552E_T, f. 385a, he is called E pa Dpalbyor lhun grub. The Fifth
Dalai Lama explains that the region whereKhon ston Rinpoche was born is
called E because it has the shape of the Tibetan letter E; Shing rta, f. 6b.
6 All of the old sources give Tshe dbang nor rgyas as the fathers name. Ming
mdzods Tsewang Norbu, is therefore almost certainly an error. Gu bkra, pp.
299-300, traces the lineage of the Guhyabargbha from the fourth Zhwa dmar
chos grags ye shes (1453-1524) to the 18th abbot ofBri gung,Bri gung rin
chen phun tshogs (1509-1557) to Nyi zla sang rgyas (see below) toKhon ston
Rinpoches father.
7 The Magical Net (Sgyuphrul drwa ba) or Secret Nucleus (Guhyagarbha;
Gsang ba snying po) Tantra is the chief tantra of the Mah yoga division of
the nine vehicles of the Rnying ma. See Gyurme Dorje, The Guhyagarbhatattvavini cayam tantra and its XIVth Century Tibetan Commentary:
Phyogs bcu mun sel, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of London, 1987.
8 Gu bkra, p. 299 and Bdudjoms, pp. 336-37, also state that he received from
Nyi zla sangs rgyas (15th-16th centuries) various other Rnying ma teachings,
including the lineage of the Seminal Essence of the Clear Expanse (Klong
gsal snying thig), an important Great Perfection tradition revealed by Ratna
Lingpa (Ratna gling pa, 1403-1479). And in fact, among the works of Khon
ston Rinpoche mentioned by the Fifth Dalai Lama, we find an Homage to
the Lineage of the Great Perfection Seminal Essence of the Clear Expanse
(Rdzogs pa chen po klong gsal snying thig gi brgyuddebs), a work that is
unfortunately no longer extant.
9 See Gu bkra, p. 299, Bdudjoms, 337. This important master, the son of the
great Zur chung pa, belonged to the late 11th and early 12th century. Gu bkra,
pp. 274-314, gives a fairly lengthy biography of Sgro phug pa. Both Sgro phug
pa and Khon ston Rinpoche are also found in the incarnation lineage of the
famous Dge lugs master Lcang skya rol pai rdo rje (1717-1786); see Klong rdol
bla ma, Rgya bod du byon pai bstandzin, f. 399a, and the Appendix.


Jos Ignacio Cabezn

ston pa therefore had close ties to the Sa skya, Rnying ma, and Dge lugs
schools. As the Wish -Fulfilling Jewel demonstrates, he also had a deep
and profound knowledge of the teachings of the Bka brgyud school. It is
not surprising, therefore, that Khon ston pa should be described in a variety
of sources as a ris med master, a teacher who had an attitude of impartiality
with respect to both the Ancient and New schools.10
Khon ston Rinpoches mothers, Rgyal mo dzom, gave birth to three
children. Khon ston pa was the eldest of the three. Our sources describe
him as an unusual child. As is typical of the hagiographical sources, we are
told that he could recite the seed syllable of the deity Majur from the time
he was an infant; and that instead of playing ordinary childrens games, he
would pretend to give teachings and empowerments to his peers. The boy
learned to read and write simply from being shown the written letters. At
the age of seven he is said to have developed a sense of renunciation as the
result of secretly reading his teachers mind training (blo sbyong)11 texts
during breaks between classes.12 His biographers also tell us that a sense of
compassion for sentient beings never left him from the time when, as a child,
he saw the suffering being experienced by a dog.
In 1570, at age ten, Khon ston pas parents took him to receive
teachings on refuge and the altruistic mind from the third Dalai Lama, Bsod
nams rgya mtsho (1543-1588). 13 Some sources state that he also took lay
vows from the Third Dalai Lama at this time,14 receiving the name Bsod
nams rnam rgyal. But the Fifth Dalai Lama 15 tells us that Khon ston
Rinpoche received lay vows from the Third Dalai Lama around age
10 gsar rnying rim med. This is how he is known in his biographies, and also
by later scholars like Sum pa mkhan po ye shes dpalbyor (1704-1788); see
Tibetan Chronological Tables of Jam-dbyas bad-pa and Sum-pa mkhanpo, tr. by Alaka Chattopadhyaya and Sanjit Kumar Sadhukhan (Sarnath:
Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, 1993), p. 197.
11 On this genre of Tibetan literature, see Thubten Jinpa, tr., Mind Training:
The Great Collection (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2005); and Michael J.
Sweet, Mental Purification (Blo sbyong): A Native Tibetan Genre of Religious
Literature, in Jos I. Cabezn and Roger R. Jackson, eds., Tibetan Literature:
Studies in Genre (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1996), pp. 244-260.
12 Shing rta, f. 7b.
13 On the Third Dalai Lama, see Martin Brauen, The Dalai Lamas: A Visual
History (London: Serindia Publications, 2005), pp. 53-59.
14 Gu bkra, p. 299, and Bdud joms, p. 336 (Dudjom Rinpoche, The Rnying ma
School, p. 677) state thatKhon ston Rinpoche was ordained (rab tu byung)
by the Third Dalai Lama at this point in his life: that is, at the age of ten.
15 Shing rta, f. 9a. Samten Karmay, Secret Visions of the Fith Dalai Lama (London:
Serindia, 1999), p. 3, states thatKhon ston Rinpoche first met the Fifth Dalai
Lama when the latter was 19 years of age, and that it wasKhon ston Rinpoche

The Life and Lives of Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub


seventeen, adding that his great predecessor picked the boy out of a large
group of children brought before him and asked that the boy be
ordained.16 This may be the last time that Khon ston Rinpoche would
ever see the Third Dalai Lama, who left Tibet the following year (1578)
to become the spiritual preceptor (mchog gnas) of the Mongolian ruler
Altan Khan.17 Rgyal ba bsod nams rgya mtsho would remain in Mongolia
and in the Kokonor region of northeastern Tibet, preaching the doctrine
and establishing monasteries for most of the rest of his life.
In 1574, at age of thirteen or fourteen, Khon ston Rinpoches father
took him for a visit to Dwags po College,18 a Dge lugs monastery, where
the boy received a number of long-life empowerments and some teachings,
including Rnying ma teachings, from the master of the College, Skal bzang
rgya mtsho. 19 He did not, however, enroll in the monastery at this time.




who was responsible for initiating the Fifth Dali Lama into the Great
Perfection and other Rnying ma teachings. If this is true, it means that
although Dpalbyor Lhun grub only served as the Dalai Lamas tutor for two
years, he would have a profound influence on his student, spurring in him
an interest in the tantric teachings of the Ancient School that would last
throughout the Fifth Dalai Lamas entire life.
This ordination may be a reference to what has come to be known as bar
ma rab byung, a level of ordination between lay and novice, since we know
from the Dalai Lamas biography thatKhon ston Rinpoche did not receive
formal novice vows until later in his life.
See Zahiruddin Ahmad, Sino-Tibetan Relations in the Seventeenth Century
(Rome: IsMEO, 1970), p. 1578ff.
This was a teaching institution in southeastern Tibet founded by a student
of Tsongkhapa, Rje blo gros bstan pa or Blo gros rgya mtsho in 1473.Khon
ston pa, however, states in his Gzhin rje gshed chosbyung, p. 131, that it
was Rje shes rab seng ge (1383-1445), founder of Rgyud smad, who founded
the Mthong smon grwa tshang at Gsang phu, which today is known as Dwags
po grwa tshang; gsang phur mthong smon grwa tshang btsugs pa da lta
dwags po grwa tshang du grags padi yin. This may be an error. See Sde
srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Dgaldan chosbyung bai urya ser po (Mtsho
sngon: Mi rigs dpe skrung khang 1991), pp.197-198. Klong rdol bla ma, Rgya
bod du byon pai bstandzin, f. 388b, listsKhon ston Rinpoche as one of
the great scholars who hailed from Dwags po College. On the date of his
first visit to Dwags po, I follow Shing rta, f. 8a, rather than Ming mdzod,
which claims that he entered the College at age 10.
Shing rta, f. 8a: d[w]ags po grwa tshang gi slob dpon skal bzang rgya mtsho.
Sde srid, Bai urya ser po, p. 197, lists this figure as one of the abbots of
the monastery, who held the abbacy between E pa dgedun lhun grub and Ei
teu ra pa dgedun bsam grub. Sde srid also lists the textbooks used at the
college, and states that in his day there were 300 monks studying there.


Jos Ignacio Cabezn

Instead, the boy continued to live at home, where he was tutored by his father.
Over the next several years Tshe dbang nor rgyas imparted to his son various
important Rnying ma lineages, including the empowerment and teachings on
the Magical Net Tantra, mentioned above. In his seventeenth year (1578)
Khon ston Rinpoche met his other main Rnying ma tutor, Nyi zla sangs rgyas
(b. 15th/16th century)20 one of his fathers own masters. Over the next two
years Khon ston Dpal byor lhun grub received from this famous master
introduction to the nature of mind, a variety of teachings on the Great
Perfection, as well as other instructions of both the scriptural and treasure
(gter ma) genres.21 In this way, Khon ston Rinpoches teen years were spent
mostly devoted to Rnying ma tantric studies.
Not long after the death of his father, which occured when he was
nineteen or twenty years old, Khon ston Rinpoche began to devote himself
to Dge lugs scholastic studies. He officially entered Dwags po College in
1580, taking novice ordination at age twenty under the abbot of that
institution, Blo bzang rgya mtsho.22 Under this same teacher he also began
his studies of the various subjects of the scholastic curriculum. 23 Khon
ston Rinpoche began to write his own works during this time. For example,
his Teaching on the Middle Way View (Dbu ma lta khrid)24 was written
in his twenty-second year while he was still studying at Dwags po. The
Fifth Dalai Lama tell us that this short text, whose authorship Khon ston
Rinpoche initially concealed, perhaps out of humility, was remarkably well
received. Shortly after completing his initial studies at Dwags po, Khon
ston pa was appointed to an administrative position at his old home monastery
20 He was a lineage master in the Northern Treasures (Byang gter) tradition,
and one of the major lineage figures in the transmission of the Magical Net
Tantra of the Rnying ma school. He was a student ofBri gung zur pa rin
chen phun tshogs (1509-1557), also known as Sna tshogs rang grol. See
Dudjom Rinpoche, The Rnying ma School, vol. 1, pp. 676-677.
21 For a list of these teachings, see Shing rta, ff. 9b-10a.
22 Ol kha blo bzang rgya mtsho. Sumpa khenpo (Tibetan Chronological Tables,
p. 205), states thatKhon ston Rinpoche entered Dwags po College in 1580.
23 Bla brgyud, p. 794, states that he completed all of his studies of the five
classical subjects of the monastic curriculum at Dwags po; but the earlier
Shing rta, f. 11b, chiefly mentions three subjects: Perfection of Wisdom (phar
phyin), Middle Way (dbu ma) and Logic (tshad ma). It does later mention
his study of Monastic Discipline and Abhidharma (dul mdzod) at Dwags po,
f. 12a, but almost as an afterthought. SinceKhon ston Rinpoche did not
receive full ordination until much later in his life, it would be a bit unusual
(though not impossible) that he would have studied Vinaya at this point.
24 Dbu ma lta khrid. This text is no longer available, but the Fifth Dalai Lamas
Shing rta,f. 12a, informs us that this is when the work was written.

The Life and Lives of Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub


of E ri sgo chos sde.25 He served in this capacity for a year, and then went
into retreat for a short time. When he returned to Dwags po, he began to teach.
Finishing his initial studies at Dagpo College, and already quite
advanced in his knowledge of the classical Indian texts, Khon ston pa
nonetheless decided to travel to Lhasa to enroll in the Byes College of
Sera. 26 The Fifth Dalai Lamas biography sees this as confirmation of
his past-life connections to Sera. In fact, the Great Fifth informs us that
various events that occured much later confirmed Khon ston Rinpoche
to be the reincarnation not only of Byams chen chos rje, 27 the founder
of Sera Monastery, but also of Rje btsun chos kyi rgyal mtshan (or Rje
btsun pa), 28 the writer of the Sera Byes yig cha, or textbooks. At Sera,
Khon ston Rinpoche deepened his knowledge of the Indian texts under
the tutelage of Dpal byor bsod nams lhun grub 29 and Phrin las lhun
grub,30 basing his studies on the textbooks of Rje btsun pa. Not long after
arriving at Sera he did the traditional monastic debate rounds within
the monastery, and was awarded the gling bsre degree. 31 This did not
bring an end to his studies, however, for he continued to receive teachings
from Phrin las lhun grub on various texts not normally covered in the
standard Dge lugs curriculum (at least today), texts like the four
additional works of Maitreya. He also received various Tantric initiations
and teachings form his master during the breaks between the formal
teaching periods. Shortly after completing the study of these additional
texts, Khon ston Rinpoche sat for an additional set of examinations
covering this broader corpus of literature at Rtse thang Monastery, 32
obtaining the title of rab byams pa, 33 master of myriad treatises.
25 The monastery was founded by Gtsang pa ngag dbang bkra shis. See Sde
srid, Bai urya ser po, p. 204.
26 This is, of course, one of three colleges of Sera Monastery. The Byes College
was founded by Kun mkhyen blo gros rin chen seng ge (b. 15th century).
27 Byams chen chos rje sh kya ye shes (1354-1435). He founded Sera in 1419.
28 Se ra rje btsun chos kyi rgyal mtshan (1469-1544). On the life of this important
figure see Elijah Saevan Ary, Logic, Lives and Lineage: Jetsun Chkyi
Gyaltsens Ascension and the Secret Biography of Khedrup Geleg Pelzang,
Doctoral Dissertation, Harvard University, 2007, chap. 3.
29 Dpalbyor bsod nams lhun grub (b. 1553). Dpalbyor Bsod nams lhun grub is
an interesting figure in his own right. Born into the Zur clan, he served as
abbot of the Byes College beforePhrin las lhun grub; see the following note.
30 This figure, who hailed from Brag dkar, preceded Khon ston Rinpoche as
abbot of Sera Byes.
31 This is one of the types of dge bshes degrees. Shing rta, f. 13a: gyangs
med du gling bs[r]e grub. Bla bryud, p. 795, only mentions that he did the
monastic rounds, and does not mention any degree.
32 Shing rta, f. 13b.


Jos Ignacio Cabezn

After completing his formal scholastic studies, Khon ston pa began to

travel and to take teachings from some of the more famous scholars in the
region. For example, he went to Skyid shod to study lam rim under Dga
ldan chos rje byams pa rgya mtsho (1516-1590). 34 He also spent
considerable time at Lhas ltag Monastery, where he studied under Spyan
snga chos dpal bzang po (b. 16th century). From this renowned master he
received instruction on Tsongkapas Great Treatise on the Stages of the
Path 35 and on a wide range of topics of both stra and tantra. His
biographers tell us that he devoted himself to single-pointed contemplation
on these texts until he made realizations appear.
The Fifth Dalai Lama records an interesting episode in Khon ston
Rinpoches life that occured while while he was studying under Spyan snga
pa. One day, Khon ston Rinpoche asked his teacher to engage in a
prognostication to determine how long he (Khon ston pa) would live. The
master told his young student that he should engage in the practice of
Lhamo Shra ma na 36 so as to receive this information through his own
dreams. The fifth Dalai Lama records what transpired.37
A woman appeared to him [Khon ston pa] in his dream at dusk.
She said, You only have seven more years to live. Fearing that
there were obstacles to accomplishing his many religious goals,
he became worried, and prayed again, asking her, What will help
to eliminate these interferences [to my lifespan]? During a dream
he had at dawn, she replied, If you have eight statues of
Amitbha and White Tr built, you will be able [to live to the age]
33 A degree higher than the gling bsre, the candidate for this degree must show
extraordinary knowledge of a wide variety of texts. It is interesting to note that
the degree was not awarded by his home monastery of Sera, but rather by
another institution, Rtse thang. Candidates for the rabbyams pa degree had
to submit to examinations outside their home institution to receive this title.
34 He was the twenty-fourth holder of the throne of Dgaldan.
35 Lam rim chen mo; see Tsong Khapa, tr. by Joshua Cutler et al., The Great
Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 20012004), 3 vols.
36 This goddess is considered to be an emanation of Tr. The lineage of dream
prognostication based on this deity goes back, in the Dge lugs school at
least, to the time of the First Dalai Lama, Dgedub grub (1391-1474).
37 Shing rta, f. 14b: srod kyi mnal lam du bud med cig byung nas khyod la lo
bdun gyi tshe las med zer nas/ chos ldan gyi dgos pa du ma sgrub pai gegs
su gyur gyi dogs nas thugsdzangs bar byung bas/ slar smon lam btabs/ bar
gcod sel byed la ci phan dris pas/ tho rangs khai mnal lam du yod la/ tshe
dpag med dang sgrol dkar kyi sku brgyad bzhengs na lo bdun cu don bdun
thub/de nas bi byas kyang mi phan zer ba/.

The Life and Lives of Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub


of seventy-seven. But there is nothing you can do [to lengthen your

lifespan] beyond that.
Khon ston Rinpoche commissioned these statues on a yearly basis,
and he lived to the precise age of seventy-seven.
Khon ston pas other teachers during this somewhat peripatetic
period of his life include the great Sgom sde nam mkha rgyal mtshan
(1532-1592), 38 from whom he received the empowerment and instructions
on the generation and completion stages of the deity Yamntaka. 39 He
also studied under Chos rje rin chen bshes gnyen (b. 16th century) 40 at
Pha bong kha Hermitage.
Khon ston Rinpoche received full ordination from Dpal byor rgya mtsho41
(d. 1599) as ordaining abbot and Dge dun rgyal mtshan42 (1532-1605/07) as
secret preceptor at Dga ldan in 1594, when he was 34 years old. He was
hencefroth known under his new ordination name, Dpal byor lhun grub. He
then entered Rgyud smad,43 the Tantric College of Lower Lhasa, where he
studied for four years under the renowned Mkhas grub rnam rgyal dpal bzang

38 He was the eleventh abbot of Sera Byes. The Fifth Dalai Lama states that
Khon ston Rinpoche studied under this master in the water dragon year
(1592), i.e., during the last year of Sgom sde Rinpoches life; Shing rta, f.
15a. See also Khon ston pas remarks on Sgom sde pa in his Gzhin rje gshed
chosbyung, pp. 138-9, and 143-7.
39 Khon ston Rinpoche would in fact write a history of the masters in the
Yamntaka lineage entitledJam dpal gzhin rje gshed skor gyi bla ma brgyud
pai chosbyung gdul byai redod skong ba yid bzhin nor bui phreng ba,
a work that is still extant and that has been recently published by the Library
of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, mentioned earlier; see also
Martin, Tibetan Histories, entry 196, p. 99. In his History of the lineage,Khon
ston pa mentions that he himself received the Yamntaka teachings from Sgom
sde pa; see the previous note.
40 He was a student of Sgom sde pa who succeeded his master to the throne of
Sera Byes as its twelfth abbot. It may have been due to Sgom sde pas passing
that Khon ston Rinpoche went to study under this master.
41 He was the 25th holder of the Dgaldan throne and was a teacher of Gomdepa.
He became Dgaldan khri pa in 1582.
42 He was the 28th holder of the throne of Dgaldan, and had ascended to the
throne of Tsong kha pa a few years prior to ordainingKhon ston Rinpoche.
43 Khon stonp a himself tells us that he studied at Rgyud smad for four years
beginning in the sheep year, that is, 1595: bdag gis lug lo nas lo bzhir
chos grwagrims; Gzhin rje gshed chosbyung, p. 160. He also lists there all
of the teachings he received; these are also listed in the Fifth Dalai Lamas
Shing rta, f. 16b-17a.


Jos Ignacio Cabezn

(1541-1602),44 mastering all of the major tantric texts and rites of the Dge lugs
tantric tradition. During breaks in his studies at the Tanric College he would
often go to other monasteries, like Dga ldan and Bras spungs, for other tantric
teachings and to engage in retreat. Despite several illnesses, Khon ston pa
continued his practice and his fame as a scholar and practitioner began to
spread.45 In 1599, he got word that his mother had taken seriously ill and he
went home to see her. He learned that she had passed away while he was
staying at Phyong rgyas,46 on the road to E. He continued his journey home
to perform his mothers funerary rituals.
On his return to Lhasa, Khon ston Rinpoche continued tanric studies at
Sera under Dpal byor Bsod nams lhun grub. He also turned his attention to
poetics and prosody. During this period he accumulated 100,000 circumambulations of Lhasas most famous temple, the Jokhang, and engaged in a variety
of other merit-making practices on behalf of a patron, Nyang bran rin chen
tshal pa. Throughout this entire time he continued to study both tantric and
exoteric scholastic subjects under a variety of different masters.47
In 1601, at the age of 40, Khon ston pa was appointed chief teacher,
or master (slob dpon), of the Nyi ma thang College of Gsang phu
Monastery.48 He held this position for five years. In 1603 the young Fourth
Dalai Lama, Yon tan rgya mtsho (1589-1616), who had been born in
Mongolia, was brought to Bras spungs, given novice vows, and installed
in his seat, the Dga ldan pho brang. Four years into Khon ston Rinpoches
term at Nyi ma thang, Phrin las lhun grub, the abbot of the Byes College
of Sera and Khon ston Rinpoches teacher,49 became gravely ill. Because
44 He was also known as Rgyud pa or Rgyud chen nam mkhadpal bzang. Khon
ston Rinpoche gives a short biography of his master, whom he calls Rdo
rjechang rnam rgyal dpal bzang, in Gzhin rje gzhed chosbyung, pp. 157-162.
45 See Shing rta, f. 17bff, where a variety of masters and teachings are mentioned.
46 See Shing rta, ff. 18b-19a, for an account of Khon ston Rinpoches reception
at Phyong rgyas.
47 These are mentioned in Shing rta, f. 20af.
48 This was a Dge lugs teaching college of Gsang phu Monastery founded by
Gnyal rgod rin chen bsam grub (14th-15th century), a student of Tsong kha
pa. Sde srid, Baiurya Ser po, p. 148, lists the masters of this college,
placingKhon ston Rinpoche between Rtses dang ba dgnos grub rgya mtsho
and Gung ru kun dgarin chen. One of Khon ston Rinpoches own students,
Blo bzang rgya mtsho (b. 1590), also held the seat of Nyi ma thang, although
much later.
49 The timing of these appointments is a bit uncertain. Bla brgyud, for example,
states that he was abbot at Nyi ma thang for only a year before becoming
abbot of Sera Byes. Dudjom Rinpoche, The Rnying ma School, vol. 1, p. 678,
also mentions that he was also a scholar at Rtses/d thang Monastery earlier
in this life, though it is unclear when this might have been.

The Life and Lives of Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub


of Khon ston Rinpoches great learning, and because, in his teachers

words, he was familiar with all of the difficult points of the philosophical
tradition of the Byes College,50 Phrin las lhun grub instructed the monks
of the College to appoint Khon ston Rinpoche as his successor. The monks
followed their masters advice, and installed Khon ston pa as the fifteenth
abbot of Sera Byes in 1605.51
Even during his time as Byes abbot, Khon ston pa continued to receive
instructions from the famous masters of the Dge lugs tradition. For
example, in 1611 he went to Bras spungs to take teachings on the Vajra
Garland 52 and other tantras under Pa chen blo bzang chos kyi rgyal
mtshan (1570-1662),53 one of the greatest scholars of the day. Khon ston
Rinpoche developed a close relationship with the Pa chen bla ma, who,
it is said, praised him profusely, pronouncing him to be an extremely learned
and holy being, and even prophecying him as later ascending to the position
of Lord of Pha bong kha. 54 During his years as master of the Byes
College, Khon ston Rinpoche continued, whenever possible, to meet and
to study under the greatest teachers of other schools of Tibetan Buddhism:
Jo nang pa, Sa skya pa and Bka brgyud pa. 55As the Fifth Dalai Lama
states, although he already possessed a great wealth of erudition, his thirst
for knowledge could never be quenched.56 So as to make it clear that his
teacher was not only a textual scholar but also a great practitioner, the
Great Fifth mentions many miraculous events that took place during the
rituals that Khon ston Rinpoche presided over at the Byes College.57
50 Shing rta, f. 21a: khyad par byes pai grub mthai dkagna ng [d] thams
cad ladris par yod pas.
51 On the fact that early abbot of Sera were usually appointed by their
predecessors, see Ary, Logic, Lives and Lineage, p. 140.
52 Rdo rje phreng ba, the explanatory tantra (bshad rgyud) of the Guhyasam ja
cycle. The date (lcags phag) is mentioned by the Fith Dalai Lama in Shing
rta, but more importantly, it is mentioned byKhon ston pa himself in Gzhin
rje gshed chosbyung, p. 155.
53 Khon ston pa mentions him briefly in his Gzhin rje gshed chosbyung,
pp. 148-152.
54 Shing rta, f. 22a.
55 See Shing rta, ff. 24a-b.
56 Shing rta, f. 25a: thos nor mang yang chog shes ngom pa med.
57 See Shing rta, f. 25b; and also f. 39a. On a miraculous footprint said to have
been left at Ganden byKhon ston pa, see the passage from Thuu kwan blo
bzang chos kyi nyi mas biography of Lcang skya Rinpoche cited by His
Holiness the Dalai Lama (October 1977), online in Concerning Dholgyal with
reference to the views of past masters and other related matters,


Jos Ignacio Cabezn

Life as an abbot of Sera in the early seventeenth century was far from
easy. The Fifth Dalai Lama mentions some petty opposition that Khon
ston Rinpoche faced from his fellow monks during his tenure as head of
the Byes College, a reminder that the the great Dge lugs seats of learning
were not immune from internal squables.58 The greatest challenges that
Khon ston pa faced, however, were not from within the walls of the
monastery, but from the outside world of Tibetan realpolitik. Over the
previous decades the former rulers of Tibet, the Rin spungs pa, had
gradually lost power.59 By the time that Khon ston Rinpoche ascended to
the abbacy of Sera Byes, the new political force, the rulers (sde srid) of
Gtsang, had substantial control of central and western Tibet.60 Since the
Gtsang pa rulers were supporters of the Karma Bka brgyud school, this
meant that all of the monasteries of Lhasa, including the great Dge lugs
gdan sa, were under the control of the Gtsang pa and Bka brgyud
hierarchs. Sometimes the gdan sas enjoyed a great deal of freedom under
the Gtsang pas, but at other times those freedoms were curtailed.
In 1616 the Fourth Dalai Lama, Yon tan rgya mtsho, died. The following
year, the Pa chen Rinpoche became titular head of Sera and Bras
spungs.61 The monks of these two Dge lugs institutions, resentful of being
under the control of the Gtsang king, began to plan, in conjunction with
58 See Shing rta, f. 27b-28a, where a certain Rong pa rabbyams pa is specifically
mentioned as someone who found every opportunity to opposeKhon ston
Rinpoche. The Fifth Dalai Lama compares this to the opposition that the
translator Ska ba dpal rtsegs (9th century) faced at the hands of jealous
ministers at the time that he invited the Indian master Vimalamitra to Tibet. The
comparison must have seemed especially appriopriate to the Great Fifth because
he consideredKhon ston Rinpoche a reincarnation of that very translator.
59 The initial shift of power from the Rin spungs to the Gtsang kings took place
in 1565, when Karma tshe brtan rdo rje seized Gzhi ka rtse from the Rin spungs
pa, and took control of Gtsang. See Ahmad, Sino-Tibetan Relations, p. 94; and
Srensen and Hazod, Rulers of the Celestial Plain, p. 55. But the final turning
point in this political transition probably did not take place 1612, at which point
the armies of Gtsang had conquered all of northern and western Tibet as well
as Rgyal rtse and Sneu gdong; see Ahmad, Sino-Tibetan Relations, p. 101.
60 For example, in 1605, the very year thatKhon ston Rinpoche became master
of the Byes College, or perhaps in 1607, Gtsang pa troops put down a revolt
by the Phag mo gru pa-s in Skyi shod. Despite being nominally in control of
central Tibet, the Gtsang kings were also aware of the threat posed by the
presence of Mongolian troops in the capital, and had to turn their armies
back at least once (in 1610) in their invasions of central Tibet; Ahmad, SinoTibetan Relations, p.101.
61 See Sde srid, Baiurya ser po, p. 132. See also Tibetan Chronological Tables,
p. 220.

The Life and Lives of Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub


Khalkha Mongolian troops, an armed attack against the Gtsang pa forces

stationed in Lhasa. Khon ston Rinpoche, the Fifth Dalai Lama tells us, tried
his best to keep Sera monks from taking part in this uprising, and especially
from resorting to violence, but his pleas were ignored. In their revolt of 1618,
the Dge lugs monks and their Mongolian supporters proved no match for
the Gtsang pa troops under the leadership of Karma bstan skyong dbang
po (d. 1642).62 Many monks were killed, and those that managed to avoid
being massacred had to flee to Stag lung tshe, northeast of Lhasa.63 The
Pa chen Rinpoche himself fled to Mnga ris64 in northwestern Tibet, and
Khon ston Rinpoche, fearing that he might have to become a refugee in
Mongolia, went to Yer pa to wait as events unfolded. Eventually, the Dge
lugs monks were allowed to return to their monasteries, and Khon ston
Rinpoche himself returned from Yer pa, but Sera had been sacked and was
in chaos. Khon ston Rinpoche tried his best to restore order to the
institution, but the task was a mammoth one.65 The situation must have been
especially disheartening to Khon ston pa, who had advocated a policy of
non-confrontation from the start.
It was probably as a result of these political problems,66 both internal
and external to Sera, that, after teaching at the monastery for about 14
years, Khon ston Rinpoche stepped down as master of the Byes College.
In 1619, at the age of 58, he moved from Sera to the nearby hermitage of
Pha bong kha,67 where he decided to devote himself to more intensive

He was the son of Karma phun tshogs dbang rgyal.

See Ahmad, Sino-Tibetan Relations, pp. 103-104.
See Tibetan Chronological Tables, p. 221.
See Shing rta, ff. 29b-30a.Khon ston pa mentions in passing in his Gzhin
rje gshed chos byung , p. 36, that he is unable to write a portion of his history
because the required text was destroyed in the war: dpe cha dmag gi dus
thor bas bri ma nus/.
66 Shing rta, f. 28a, states that outwardly Khon ston Rinpoche appeared to
come to this decision after doing some divinations, but that in fact the master
simply knew that the time to step down had arrived.
67 Pha bong kha is located about two miles west of Sera. It was as a result of his
long stay at Pabongkha that Khon ston Rinpoche is also known under the
title Pha bong kha pa. Although some contemporary scholars have claimed that
the controversial Pha bong kha pa bde chen snying po (1878-1941) was Khon
ston pas reincarnation, this is a misunderstanding. Bde chen snying po was
identified in his lifetime as the reincarnation of a minor abbot (mkhan sprul).
He in fact never lived at Pha bong kha, but rather meditated for a period of
time at the nearby hermitage of Rtags brtan sgrub phug. It was the Lcang skya
Lamas (see Appendix) who were considered the reincarnations of Khon ston
pa. On a prophecy found in the Rgyal po bka thang mentioning a certain Pha
bong kha pa, which the Fifth Dalai Lama sees as referring to Khon ston


Jos Ignacio Cabezn

practice.68 In this ancient retreat, Khon ston Rinpoche devoted himself chiefly
to meditation. 69 Khon ston Rinpoche made Pha bong kha his base of
operations for most of the rest of his life, staying mostly in his retreat throughout
one of the most turbulent periods of Tibetan history.70 Shortly after moving
to Pha bong kha, Khon ston Rinpoche began to teach Zur chen chos dbyings
rang grol (or Zur dpal byor phrin las rab rgyas, 1604-1669), 71 who would



Rinpoche, see Shing rta, f. 4b.Khon ston Rinpoche penned a small history
or inventory of the Pha bong kha hermitage, the Chos kyi rgyal po srong
btsan sgam poi sgrub gnas pha bong kha byang chub shing gi nags khrod
kyi dkar chag, which seems to have been available to the author of (and
incorporated into) a modern-day inventory of the Monastery; see Jos Ignacio
Cabezn, The Hermitages of Sera (Charlottesville: Tibetan and Himalayan
Digital Library, 2006), http:/
hermitages/pdfs sera_herm_pabongkha.pdf. See also the Fifth Dalai Lamas
remarks about the hermitage in Shing rta, f. 30aff.Khon ston pas Gzhin rje
gshed chosbyung (pp. 141, 147) makes it clear that at least two other
individualsBde legs nyi ma and Sgom sde nam mkhargyal mtshanretired
to Pabongkha after their terms as abbot of the Byes College. By the time
ofKhon ston pa, therefore, this might already have been something of an
established tradition.
Shing rta, f. 30a: de nas sgrub pabazhig la thugs gzhol.
For a list of some of his main practices during this period, see Shing rta, f. 31a.
For instance, Mongolian and Gtsang pa troops fought at Skyang thang sgang,
just southeast ofBras spungs, in 1620 or 1621. The war spread to Lhasa.
The Mongol supporters of the Dge lugs pas seized the city and drove out
the forces of Gtsang. Under a truce negotiated by the Pa chen Rinpoche, a
truce that saved many Gtsang pa troops from slaughter at the hands of the
Mongols, the Dge lugs pa institutions in central Tibet regained much of their
previous power and property. But the political tension between Gtsang and
Central Tibet would continue for another two decades. See Tibetan
Chronological Tables, p. 223. As Srensen and Hazod, Rulers of the Celestial
Plain, p. 55, make clear, the Mongolian troops were supported by Skyid shod
pa and other pro-Dge lugs pa Tibetan forces.
He was an important holder of many Rnying ma lineages who was himself one of
the teachers of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Zurchen studied underKhon ston Rinpoche
from 1621 to 1637, often receiving two daily teaching sessions from his master. Gu
bkra, p. 300, and Bdudjoms, p. 338 (Dudjom Rinpoche, The Rnying ma School,
p. 678), both state thatKhon ston Rinpoche taught Yungtonpas (G.yung ston
rdo rje dpal ba, 1284-1365) commentary on the Guhyagarbha as well as the Seminal
Essence instructions to Zurchen. It was due to his training underKhon ston
Rinpoche, our sources tell us, that Zurchen was able to defend Rnying ma tantric
exegesis at Tsetang Monastery during lectures he gave there in 1624.
Interestingly, Zurchen is also considered the next lineage lama followingKhon
ston Rinpoche in the Dge lugs lineage of masters of the Lamrim tradition. On the
teachingsKhon ston Rinpoche gave to Zurchen, see Shing rta, f. 33a.

The Life and Lives of Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub


later become one of the greatest masters of his daya figure that, like his
own teacher, was acknowledged as a major lineage holder in both the Rnying
ma and Dge lugs traditions.
In 1622 the young Fifth Dalai Lama was enthroned in the seat of the
Dalai Lamas, the so-called Palace of Ganden, at Bras spungs Monastery.72
He took novice vows two years later.73 In 1628 there was a lunar eclipse,
and Khon ston Rinpoche interpreted this as an omen of bad things to come.
Although he did not travel much while at Pha bong kha, Khon ston pa did
receive many visitors, imparting empowerments and instructions to an entire
generation of young incarnate lamas and ordinary monks. In 1632 Khon
ston pa became very ill. When his disciples showed concern, he told them
that there was nothing to fear, reassuring them that he still had about five
years left to live. After recovering, he traveled the following year (1633) to
the residence of the Fifth Dalai Lama. There he gave his new student a
variety of empowerments and instructions.74 The Fifth Dalai Lamas regent,
Sde srid sang rgyas rgya mtsho (1635-1705), tells us that the Dalai Lama
repeatedly told him that Khon ston Rinpoche and the latters student, Zur
chen, were his two chief tutors during the early part of his life.75
In 1634 Khon ston Rinpoche once again became quite ill, and different
rituals were done on his behalf at various institutions in and around Lhasa,
indicating the prestige that he had achieved by this point. As on previous
occasions, he recovered. In the following year (1635), another year of great
political upheaval in Tibet, the Fifth Dalai Lama spent a fortnights at Pha
bong kha receiving empowerments, oral transmissions, and teachings from
Khon ston pa on a variety of subjects of both the Ancient and New traditions.
In a very personal portion of Khon ston Rinpoches biography, the young
Dalai Lama also tells us first-hand of the great reverence that Khon ston
Rinpoche had for the teachings of Tsong kha pa, to the point where tears
would well up in his eyes at the thought that the political turmoil of his day
might lead to the decline of Tsong kha pas tradition.76 The Fifth Dalai Lama
also adds that because of his great knowledge of the non-sectarian tradition,
even during his own lifetime there were many individuals who described his
72 See Sde srid, Baiurya ser po, p. 382.
73 With the enthronement of the Great Fifth at Drepung, many Mongolian
pilgrims began to arrive in Lhasa. The large numbers of Mongolians in Lhasa
worried the king of Tsang, who, given the events of the previous year, saw
these foreigners as a threat. See Ahmad, Sino-Tibetan Relations, p. 109.
74 These are listed in Shing rta, f. 35b. They include practices of both the
Ancient and New schools.
75 Sde srid, Baiurya ser po, p. 384: sku tshei stod kyi yongsdzin gyi gtso bo
yin zhes yang yang gsung.
76 Shing rta, f. 38a.


Jos Ignacio Cabezn

philosophical position as impure. However, he continues, the measure of

having a really pure philosophical view is whether or not one respects this
very master [Khon ston Rinpoche, an individual] who had authentic respect
for the teachings of the victor Tsong kha pa.77 Khon ston pas great faith
in Tsong kha pa is attested to in his own works. For example, in the final
lines of his History of the Yamntaka Lineage, Khon ston Rinpoche refers
to himself as Dpal byor Lhun grub, a Khon monk, who, though born
into the Majur Khon lineage of the glorious Sa skya pas, came to
understand and to have faith in the texts of the omniscient Blo bzang grags pa
(i.e., Tsong kha pa). 78
In addition to defending his teachers doctrinal understanding, the Dalai
Lama also recounts several anecdotes to confirm the depth of Khon ston
Rinpoches spiritual attainments. Despite the fact that his teacher always
tried to hide his realization, the Dalai Lama states that he witnessed many
instances that confirmed for him Khon ston pas level of realization. For
instance, he cites examples to show that Khon ston Rinpoche had great
compassion for others, that he had perfected the generation stage of Tantra,
that his divinations were always accurate, and that he was capable of
predicting the future.79 The Dalai Lama also expresses great admiration
for his masters method of teaching: In between the sessions of formal
teachings, his conversations always consisted of historical anecdotes of
the great events of the past, and his explanations were always flanked by
the oral traditions of the lineage of the elders. Never, he adds, did I
hear him say anything that was motivated by the three mental poisons
[anger, desire and ignorance], nor did he ever engage in stupid, idle
77 Shing rta, f. 38b: rjedi zhal bzhugs skabs/ ris med chos la mkhyen pa che
bas grub mthami gtsang bar gleng mkhan mang po yod de/ grub
mthagtsang gtsang mo tshos [tshod] kyang/ rgyal ba tsong kha pai bstan
pa la thugs zhen bcos min rjedi pa tsam dgabar mchis/.
78 Gzhin rje gshed chosbyung, p. 195.
79 This is especially significant sinceKhon ston pa authored two texts (it seems
in 1628) that predicted future events: (1) Five Prophecies that Explain the
Sequence of What Will Happen in the Future (Maongsbyunggyur gyi rim
pa bshad pa lung bstan lnga pa), and (2) A Source of Happiness: Rituals to
Bring About the Happiness of the Country as a Whole (Yangs pai rgyal
khams bde thabs kyi sku rim pa phan bdebyung gnas). The Fifth Dalai Lama,
Shing rta, f. 35b, explains that the two works were controversial treatises
that were seen by some as words that had Theu rang demons as their
source, and by others as sheer arrogance. But the Dalai Lama goes on to
defend the works, seeing them as examples of the clairvoyance of his master,
as practices that had many precedents in Tibetan history, and, empirically, as
true based on the political events that happened after 1629.

The Life and Lives of Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub


chatter.80 At the end of his two-week stay, as the young Dalai Lama was
about to take leave of his teacher, Khon ston Rinpoche told his student that
the time for him to take full ordination was at hand, and that he should invite
the Pa chen Rinpoche to serve as his abbot.81 This, in fact, happened a
few years later in 1638.
In 1636 war once again broke out in Lhasa, and the Fifth Dalai Lama
and his entourage took refuge at the Rgyal lha khang in Phan yul.82 Once
the threat had subsided, the Dalai Lama returned to the capital, stopping
at Pha bong kha on the way back to his residence at Bras spungs. Although
the Dalai Lama had planned to spend a few months receiving teachings
from Khon ston Rinpoche at the hermitage, circumstances did not allow
him to remain for more than ten days. Nonetheless, Khon stonpa managed
to give his student many special instructions during this time. He also
warned him of his own (i.e., of Khon stonpas) impending death: I am
now 76 years old, and I dont know how much longer I will live.83 The
young Dalai Lama asked his teacher where he would be reborn. The
master replied that if he had any choice in the matter, he would not be
reborn in China, Mongolia, central or western Tibet. Lest the reader
assume from this response that Khon ston Rinpoche had seen too much
strife on the Tibetan plateau, and was ready to leave the Tibetan world
behind him, the Dalai Lama assures us that his teachers words should
not be taken literally.84 This, of course, is significant, since eventually the
Lcang skya lamas would come to be recognized as the reincarnations of
Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub.
In the seventh Tibetan month of 1636, the victorious Khalkha Mongolian
general Arslang arrived in Lhasa. Arslang visited Khon ston Rinpoche as
part of his tour of the city. Various bad weather omens, including hail, occured
during Arslangs visit to Pha bong kha, and rituals had to be done on Arslangs
behalf. Arslang asked Khon ston Rinpoche whether a reconciliation between
him and his estranged father was possible. The master replied that it was
not, that serious obstacles still remained.85 And, in fact, it would not be long
80 Shing rta, f. 39a: bkachos kyitshams la gsungphros kyi rigs sngonbyon
gyi lo rgyus/ rgan rabs kyi ngag sgros kyis mthabrten pa ma gtogs rgyu
mtshan dang mibrel bai dug gsum gyis kun nas bslang pai long gtam
gsung ba ni ma thos/.
81 Shing rta, f. 39a.
82 See Ahmad, Sino-Tibetan Relations, pp. 114-115.
83 Shing rta, f. 40a.
84 Shing rta, f. 40a: rang dbangdus pa zhig dkabardug kyang/ rgya hor dbus
gtsang sogs su skye ba lendod ni med ces bkaphebs/ de yang thugs dbang
midus pa sogs ni dgongs pa can du nges shing/.
85 These events are recounted in Shing rta, ff. 40b-41a.


Jos Ignacio Cabezn

before Arslangs father, Tsogtu Taiji, would order the murder of his own son
for having betrayed him.
By 1637 life at Pha bong kha returned to normal. The monks rainy
season retreat was observed, and the traditional ritual cycles were performed.
But then various bad omens began to appear. On the 8th day of the 8th
Tibetan month, at the conclusion of the rainy season retreat, Khon ston
Rinpoche became slightly ill. His conditioned worsened, but he maintained a
joyful attitude, even smiling and greeting visitors who came to see him. On
the 9th and 10th he took to looking repeatedly into space and laughing, his
expression one of utter joy. The Dalai Lama tells us that what was
transpiring, although of great significance, is beyond anyones ability to put
into words. 86 Khon ston Rinpoche, he then recounts, actualized the
profound, peaceful, unelaborated state of the clear-light dharma-body on the
evening of the 11th. The Fifth Dalai Lama, who was twenty-one years old
at the time, was traveling, and so, in his words, missed the opportunity to
see [Khon ston Rinpoche] make his passage to the pure land. Two days
later, however, he did have the chance to see his teachers body in meditative
equipoise. Various miraculous signs appeared. Khon ston Rinpoches body
emitted a pleasant fragrance and a glow that would not dissipate. A canopy
of rainbow light took shape in a clear sky, a sign that often accompanies
the passing of a master of the Great Perfection. On the 19th, eight days
after he stopped breathing, the two drops, one white and one red, appeared
from the great masters nostrils, indicating that Khon ston Rinpoche had
passed from the clear light of death of the dharma body into the enjoyment
body of the intermediate state. 87 The funeral services were then
performed.88 As foretold in his dream by the goddess Shra ma na decades
earlier, Khon ston Rinpoche died at the age of 77.89
With offerings made by the Mongolian ruler Gushri Khan90 and others,
the Fifth Dalai Lama built a silver funerary stupa at Pha bong kha to house
86 Shing rta, f. 41b: de la dgongs gzhi che ba yod tshod dudug kyangdi zhes
brjod pai yul lasdas.
87 Shing rta, f. 42a:chi baod gsal chos kyi sku las bar do longs spyod rdzogs
skur bzhengs pai rtags su thugs dam grol.
88 For a precise description of these services, see Shing rta, f. 42b.
89 Dudjom Rinpoche, The Rnying ma School, vol. 1, p. 679, gives the exact date
of his death as August 30, 1637. Sde srids Baiurya ser po, p. 144, lists four
abbots of Pha bong kha afterKhon ston Rinpoche: Zhal snga nas dpalbyor
rab rgyas, Se ra pajam dbyangs grags pa, Mkhan ngag dbang bstandzin,
and Smad bla zur blo bzang don grub.
90 Gushri Khan, the leader of the Koshot Mongols, who was responsible for
the final triumph of the Dge lugs pas over their Gtsang pa and Bkabrgyud
rivals a few years later, was secretly visiting Lhasa at the time. The Fifth Dalai

The Life and Lives of Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub


his teachers remains, and he commissioned a life-size statue of Khon

stonpa for the hermitage.91 Various magical signs occured on the day the
body was finally placed inside the stupa-reliquary. As a tribute to his
teacher, the Dalai Lama also expanded the Pha bong kha retreat center,
and generously endowed it with fields, pastures and livestock. 92 An
important influence on the Great Fifth, both intellectually and spiritually,
Khon ston Rinpoches most extensive biography is the one written by the
Dalai Lama, his most famous student.93 Khon ston Dpal byor Lhun grub
is considered one of the principal holders of the Dge lugs Stages of the
Path or lam rim tradition, passing on this lineage chiefly to his student
Zur chen, who himself later became a teacher of the Fifth Dalai Lama.94

The Incarnation Lineage of Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub95
1. Sangs rgyas snang ba mtha yas (Buddha Amitbha). This is not
found in Shing rta.





Lama tells us that the Koshot ruler witnessedKhon ston Rinpoches body
in equipoise after he stopped breathing.
The Dalai Lama himself speaks of commissioning the stupa. But the statue
(sman sku) ofKhon ston Rinpoche is only mentioned by Sde srid, Baiurya
ser po, p. 417.
Pha bong khai dkar chag (hand-copy of an inventory of the hermitage
made available to me in Lhasa, 2004), f. 44b. This work, as mentioned above,
seems to incorporate into its early sections portions of Khon ston
Rinpoches own inventory of the hermitage. Sde srid, Baiurya ser po, p.
417, lists the various ways in which the Fifth Dalai Lama endowed Pha bong
kha after his teachers death.
AmongKhon ston Rinpoches other Dge lugs students was Drung pa
brtsongrus rgyal mtshan (17th century), a pivotal figure in the Sera hermitage
tradition, as I have argued in my Hermitages of Sera, p. 16.
Zur dpalbyor phrin las rab rgyas (1604-1669). See above, and also Bla brgyud, p.
796ff; as well as Srensen and Hazod, Rulers of the Celestial Plain, p. 44 et passim.
This list is based on several sources: (1) the list of the former lives of Khon
ston Rinpoches found in Shing rta, f. 3aff; (2) the list of Lcang skya
incarnations found in the introduction (par du bskrun pai sngon gleng) of
the Collected Works of Lcang skya rol pai rdo rje, Lcang skya rol pai rdo
rje ye shes bstan pai sgron mei gsung bum (Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan
Works and Archives, 2003), vol. ka, pp. 1-19; (3) the incarnations of the Lcang
skya bla mas found in Klong rdol bla ma, Rgya bod du byon pai bstandzin,
f. 399a; and (4) E. Gene Smith, Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature
of the Himalayan Plateau (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2001), p. 146. Michael
Henss, Rlpai DorjeTeacher of the Empire, (http: www.asianartgallery.


Jos Ignacio Cabezn

02. Shkya thub pai spyan sngar dgra bcom pa tsunda (Arhat Chunda). He
is believed to be a disciple of kyamuni.
03. Klu sgrub spyan sngar shkya bshes gnyen (kyamitra). He is said
to be a disciple of Ngrjuna, and a lineage holder of the latters
Guhyasamja teachings.
04. Gshin rje gshed grub pa darban tsarya (Darpaa crya). He is
identified as an Indian Yamntaka yogi, but is not mentioned in Shing
rta, nor is he found in Khon ston Rinpoches own History of the
Yamntaka Lineage.
05. Lo ts ba ska ba dpal brtsegs (8th century). He was one of the most
famous Tibetan translator of the early dissemination period.
06. Gsang sngags rnying mai grub chen sgro phug pa (b. 11th century). Khon
ston Rinpoche states that Zur mda tsha hor po (1074-1134) is probably
the Lord Dropugpa; Bzhin rje gshed chus byung, pp. 49-50. has also compiled a list based on one found in
Dkon mchogjigs med dbang po, Rje btsun thams cad mkhyen pa lcang skya
rol pai rdo rjei khrung rab kyi phreng ba gtam du brjod pa ngo mtshar
dad pai ljong shing, in The Collected Works of Dkon-mchogjigs med dbangpo, Gaden Sung-rab Mi-nyam Gyunphel Series no. 22 (New Delhi: Ngawang
Gelek Demo, 1971), vol. 2. See also Tashi Densapa, A Short Biography ofGromgon Chos-rgyalPhags-pa Bulletin of Tibetology, New Series, no. 3 (1977):
pp. 7-14. As an aside, the eighth Zhwa dmar Rinpoche, Dpal chen chos kyi
don grub (1695-1732), mentions that he believed that Lha bzang khans
candidate for the reincarnation of the Sixth Dalai Lama was in actuality a
reincarnation ofKhon ston Rinpoche. The comment is found in the Bkargyud
gser phreng, in Tai si tu pa kun mkhyen chos kyibyung gnas bstan pai
nyin byed kyi bkabum (Delhi: Palpung Sungrab Nyamso Khang, 1990), vol.
na, p. 360. I have Tashi Tsering of the Amnye Machen Institute to thank for
this reference. The Zhwa dmar Rinpoche believed and publically proclaimed
that Tshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho was the true reincarnation of the Fifth Dalai
Lama (rje tshangs dbyang rgya mtsho ni lnga pai yang srid yin), for which
he was fined 500 dngul srang by the Mongolian ruler. The monks of Sera
and Bras spungs, he states, helped him to pay this fine through their
generous gifts, suggesting that these Dge lugs monks too were also opposed
to Lha bzangs choice of candidate; dngul srang lnga brgya bsgrub dgos
byung yang serbras kyi grwa tshang rnams nas gnang cha ches pas bde
blags tugrig pa byung. The statement also suggests that in the early
eighteenth century, when the Zhwa dmar pa was writing,Khon stons
reincarnations had yet to be identified with the Lcang skya line.

The Life and Lives of Khon ston dpal byor lhun grub


07. Spyan ras gzigs dbang si si ri pa. E. Gene Smith and Michael Henss
identify this figure as Se ston ri pa, d. 1233, but the dates of this
figure do not fit with the present scheme. Shing rta, f. 3b, states
that he hailed from the region of E, and was an accomplished
Avalokitevara yogi.
8. Bka gdams pa glang ri thang pa rdo rje seng ge (1054-1123). He is
not mentioned in Shing rta, nor do his dates fit into the present
scheme, but Glang ri thang pa is found in Dkon mchog jigs med
dbang pos list.
9. Sa skya pa blo gros rgyal mtshan (1235-1280); i.e., Chos rgyal phags
pa. He was, of course, the nephew of Sa skya pa ita, the teacher to
Kublai Khan, and the first viceroy of Tibet under the Mongols.
10. Bla ma dam pa bsod nams rgyal mtshan (1312-1375). Here, I
follow Shing rta, f. 4a, where we find the next incarnation after
Phags pa is Gro mgon bsod nams pa (also called Bla ma bdag
nyid chen po bzang po dpal). Klong rdol bla ma lists here Sa skya
pa gro mgon chos rgyal phags pa, clearly a reduplication of
the previous entry.
11. Byams chen chos rje shkya ye shes (1354-1435). He was a disciple
of Tsong kha pa and the founder of Sera Monastery. On Khon ston
pas recognition as the reincarnation of this master, see Shing rta,
f. 26a. It should be noted, however, that Byams chen chos rje was
born 21 years before the death of the previous incarnation in this list,
Bla ma dam pa.
12. Se ra rje btsun chos kyi rgyal mtsan (1469-1544). He was the writer
of the textbooks (yig cha) of the Byes College of Sera.
13. Khon ston dpal byor (1561-1637)
14. Mkhas grub (or Lcang skya) grags pa od zer (d. 1641). Although the
date of his birth are not known, this master, who made Dgon lung
byams pa gling his seat, lived a long life. He must therefore have been
born substantially before Khon ston Rinpoche died. Grags pa od zer
served as abbot of Dgon lung from 1630 to 1633.96
96 See Smith, Among Tibetan Texts, p. 161; Ming mdzod, pp. 526-27.


Jos Ignacio Cabezn

15. Lcang skya ngag dbang blo bzang chos ldan (1642-1714), the first97 Lcang
skya incarnation. He served as abbot of Dgon lung from 1688 to 1690.98
16. Lcang skya ye shes bstan pai sgron me (1717-1786), also known as
Lcang skya rol pai rdo rje; he was the second Changkya incarnation,
and one of the greatest scholars of the Dge lugs school. He served as
abbot of Dgon lung from 1763/4 to 1769/70. 99
17. Lcang skya ye shes bstan pai rgyal mtshan (1787-1846), the third
Lcang skya Rinpoche.
18. Lcang skya ye shes bstan pai nyi ma (1849-1859/75),100 the fourth
Lcang skya lama.
19. Lcang skya blo bzang ye shes bstan pai rgya mtsho (1860/78-1870/88),
the fifth Lcang skya incarnation.
20. Lcang skya blo bzang dpal ldan bstan pai sgron me (b. 1871-1890/91),
the sixth Lcang skya Rinpoche.
21. Lcang skya chos dbyings ye shes rdo rje (1891-1957/8), the seventh
Lcang skya incarnation, who apparently died in Taiwan.101
22. Lcang skya don yod rgya mtsho (b. circa 1980), the eighth and present
Lcang skya incarnation. He was identified at age 18 by His Holiness
the Dalai Lama, who ordained him in 2004. He presently studies at
the Sgo mang College of Bras spungs in India.
97 In some enumerations, Mkhas grub grags paod zer is considered the first Lcang
skya Lama, in which case all of the following would be increased by one.
98 See Smith, Among Tibetan Texts, p. 164; and Ming mdzod, 527-29.
99 On his life and works, see Xiangyun Wang, Tibetan Buddhism at the Court
of Qing: The Life and Work of lCang-skya Rol-pai-rdo rje, PhD
Dissertation, Harvard University, 1995. See also Smith, Among Tibetan
Texts, chap. 11, and p. 170; and Ming mdzod, pp. 529-530.
100 For this and the next two figure in the lineage, the different dates correspond to
those suggested, respectively, by Smith (Among Tibetan Texts, 146), and by the
authors of the Wikipedia entry, lCang-skya Khtukhtu at http:/ en.
wiki/LCang-skya_Khutukhtu. See also Smith, Among Tibetan Texts, n. 472.
101 See Kevin Garratt, Biography by Installment: Tibetan Language Reportage on the
Lives of Reincarnate Lamas, 1995-99, in P. Christian Klieger, ed., Tibet, self,
and the Tibetan diaspora: voices of difference, Proceedings of the International
Association for Tibetan Studies 2000 (Leiden: Brill, 2002), p. 89.

South of the Border:

Tranthas Perceptions of India
David Templeman

In several previous presentations I have discussed Tranthas fascination
with India and his literary recreation of himself as a Virtual Indian.
This has been based upon evidence which shows that, especially in
his earlier years, Trantha envisaged himself as an Indian, somehow
accidentally born in gTsang.
This view was reinforced in his last writings too.
This paper takes a somewhat different approach. It looks at the model
of India which Trantha believed he was part of. It suggests that rather
than possessing an accurate and intimate image of India, which he is
renowned for possessing, that instead Trantha created in his mind an
idealized form of that land, one shaped and vivified both by his intimate
Indian informants and by his own aspirations.
In this small paper which attempts to understand something of
Tranthas ideas about his past and future roles in India, indeed his
understanding of the entity India itself, I am not suggesting that such
research is limited to the person of Trantha alone.
Rather, I see it as belonging to the larger series of projects which work
towards redefining Tibetan knowledge about India and more broadly, the
Tibetan re-visioning process of knowledge concerning the outside world.
These studies are exemplified by the recent researches of scholars such
as Aris (1995) and Huber (2008).

Problems of History
In terms of Tranthas understanding of Indian religious history, we
might be forgiven for imagining that his so-called Origins of the Dharma
in India, the rGya gar chos byung 1608), is as its reputation suggests, a
monument of scholarly accuracy.1 This optimistic assessment might in part
1 Text is TARA6. Translations are: Vasilev (1869); Schiefner (1868/1869);
Chimpa (1990)


David Templeman

be due to its spectacular passage through Tibetan, Indian and European

written histories of Indian Buddhism, where it has often been employed
as an apparently unimpeachable source. There has been sufficient research
to suggest that this is not at all the case. Instead we find that Tranthas
knowledge about India was in fact quite thin. It comprised at best, a surface
familiarity with some dynastic events and names, and a basic but often
unrealistic, geography. These were combined with relatively commonplace
observations about Buddhism which Trantha felt constituted an accurate
description of its trajectory.
Especially in his discussion of the otherwise completely unknown topic
of Buddhisms rise after its post-Pla decline in the 11-12th centuries, we
find not only historically unverifiable facts but a wholesale adoption of
spurious accounts transmitted to him by what I refer to as Indian semisiddhas. Much of what purports to be an accurate summary of Indias
Buddhist history is in fact a wildly inaccurate and at other times, quite
unfoundedly speculative in nature.
Nevertheless its coherent and sequential narrative style and the
apparent depth of its content give an impression of solidity and
trustworthiness. Perhaps it is for these reasons that Tranthas Origins
of the Dharma in India, although being accorded such great reverence by
Tibetans for its massive and synoptic overview, was only rarely quoted
by Tibetan historians who perceived its faults too clearly.
Indeed if one examines Tranthas other so-called historical works
with the same critical faculties, precisely the same sorts of flaws may be
discovered in those works too. Those works which were written over some
30 years of Tranthas adult life reflect the same sort of preoccupation
with certain historical features. 2 These features include a prima facie
coherent narrative as well as a strong reliance on earlier accounts as their
basis for authority. Added to this, especially in these later works, is an
almost uncritical acceptance of the timeless and inexhaustible arc of Indian
Buddhist siddhas, who, according to Trantha, still peopled India in the
16-17th centuries.
When examining Tranthas writings on the extreme later period of
Buddhism, that is 16th -17th centuries, even the assumption that there existed
such a thing as Buddhism in India at that very late period is utterly
undemonstrable. Instead, his apparently authoritative statements about
Buddhisms existence merely demonstrate the kind of wishful thinking which
Trantha engaged in when imagining India and the state of its religions.
2 These works include: bKa babs bdun ldan (TARA1, written 1600); rJe btsun
sgrol mai rgyud kyi byung khungs (TARA5, written 1604); sLob dpon spyod
chang dbang poi rnam thar (TARA7, written 1632).

Tranthas Perceptions of India


Trantha and his sense of Indian-ness

As a means of legitimating his sense of being Indian, like many other
Tibetan prelates, Trantha deliberately locates himself at certain
epochal moments in Indian Buddhist history. He wrote about these
intimate involvements when he was 37 years of age in the second
section of his Secret Autobiography (TARA4). Among the specific
important events and persons in Buddhist history in which he locates
himself are:
as a close confidante of the Buddha Vipayi, the Buddha prior
to kyamni.
being present as an auditor when the Buddha preached the
Great Drum Stra (Mahbheri Stra)
being the King Arvanti of Li yul (Khotan)
actually being the Mahsiddha Kcrya one of the 84
as priest to the founder of Nland Mahvihra
as a friend of Abhaykaragupta.
being a student of Jo bo Ata
The claim to have been in such notable locations and situations
served to authenticate Tranthas claims to know India intimately.
Moreover throughout his large Autobiography, written at 59 years
of age, and in his tripartite Secret Autobiographies written when he
was aged 24, 37 and 44, Trantha makes it quite clear that he was
indeed Indian in spirit, if not in body. A series of life-incidents which
he records and which will not be dealt with in detail here, demonstrate
to the reader that:
1. His life was saved by Indian yogis and their blessing made
his life firm.
2. He had belonged to Indian yogic groups before,
demonstrated through his strong desire to emulate their lives
in his youth.
3. His true home was in the very heart of Buddhist India,
Bodhgya to where he is transported in visions upon the sight
of Indian yogis.
4. In his ability to converse easily with Indian yogis as a natural
speaker of various Indian vernaculars, he reaffirms that the
languages of India were his natural preserve.
5. In childhood visions he discovers that his innermost nature
is identical and inseparable from that of Cakrasa


David Templeman
generally regarded as the consummate Anuttrayoga deity in
Indian tantric practice.3

All this was not merely some sort of Indophilic affectation. He tells us
over and over that his relationship with ryavarta ran through the very core
of his being. However, unlike other masters of earlier periods who had
actually visited ryavarta, Trantha never did. Instead he built up a
personal, idealized and idiosyncratic vision vision of India which was both
flawed and yet touchingly human.

The Baghela Rjas and Buddhism in the Vindhya Hills.

Among the events which shaped Tranthas ideas about what
constituted India were his meetings with certain Indian siddhas. It was
these people who are said to have transmitted to him the very latest tantric
Core to understanding Tranthas mental re-creation of India is the
relationship between the patrons of his Indian master Buddhaguptantha
and that siddhas own guru, ntigupta. ntigupta is said by Trantha
to have been linked to the Baghela rulers of northern India for several
decades in the role of court priest. According to Trantha, ntigupta was
the major religious player for the Baghela rulers, but the site of their
isolated fortress at Bandogarh shows not even a single trace of Buddhism.
Opposed to this and running counter to Tranthas exuberant claims of
the Baghelas being strong in their commitment to Buddhism are the
considerable number of Vainava and aivite images and shrines extending
to the year 1597 when the Baghelas were relocated to the town of Rewa
closer to Akbars authority.
Without doubt these patrons of Buddhaguptantha and ntigupta were
minor players when measured against among the other independent rulers
of Akbars time. The Baghelas were extraordinarily wealthy, were
renowned warriors and curried favour with a wide range of religious
figures, including Kabr. However they had what might be called
thesedays, a bad attitude to other authority and remained independednt
far past their use-by date.
We know that in their process of collecting representatives of a wide
range of religions as their court priests, the Baghelas were merely doing
what Indian kings had done for centuriesthat is, reinforcing their rule
by seeking blessing from the widest possible range of religious means.
3 These incidents occur in TARA 3. (Incident 1 on p.17, line 6ff; Incident 2 on
p.20, lines 2-6; Incident 3 on p. 21, lines 1-3; Incident 4 on p. 21, lines 1-2 and
p. 37, lines 4-6; Incident 5 on page 54, line 6ff.)

Tranthas Perceptions of India


The case could be made that the Baghela patronage of Buddhism alongside
a wide range of other religious traditions, was no more than an opportunistic
flirtation with Buddhism rather than a serious commitment to it. However,
for Trantha such a sober assessment would not have done justice to
what he regarded as the Baghelas true role as the renewers of Buddhism
in India, a role which he magnified out of all proportion. Hearing of this
supposedly liberal, but doubtlessly exaggerated, Indian patronage extended
towards Buddhism, was for the 16 year old Trantha a sign that Buddhism
was still alive and well in India.
But the questions must be asked: What form of Buddhism was
actually being patronized by the Baghelas? What sort of Buddhism was it
which they favouredif any?
What Trantha tells us of the Baghela patronage of the two siddhas
referred to above suggests that they would have been more likely to have
shown an inclination towards tantric forms of Buddhism, or at least the ritual
and ceremonial aspects of it. However Trantha believed that something
quite different, and potentially of a far wider importance, was being
patronized. Indeed as is evidenced in Tranthas vision of Indian Buddhism
in that late period, he regarded the Baghela patronage as leading to a
revitalizing, or more accurately a resurrection, of the entire edifice of Indian
Buddhism itself from the state of utter despondency it had fallen into. In
his written histories Trantha shows only a partial awareness of the actual
demise of Buddhism. For Trantha the enormity of the situation, much of
which was vicariously reflected back upon him through his master and his
masters gurus involvement, was that those siddhas were at the vanguard
of this revival, patronized as they were by the Baghelas.
The setting for this Buddhist revival as recorded by Trantha in his
Origins of Buddhism in India was that the Baghela king, Rmacandra, had
initiated what Trantha refers to as the greatest assembly of Buddhists
in 500 years at the cave site of Indralaguha near Rjagha. This involved
the ordaining of over 2000 monks from all over south-east Asia. After the
departure of the 3000 fully ordained monks and the huge number of lay
people who were all supported there for 3 years, there was said to have
been on-going Royal support and extraordinarily liberal handouts for 5000
yogis for 3 years thereafter. (If the calculations are performed with the
exclusion of the cost of clothing, then the amount must be reckoned as
vast: 6000 tolas of silver daily for 3 years, plus 4 silver srang for each of
the 5000 yogis for 36 months and 10 gold mohur for each of the 5000 on
6 other occasions.)
Betraying a sense of uncertainty about what sort of Buddhism was
actually being followed in the Vindhya Hills, Trantha enumerates the
people whom he says were present at the gathering without apparently


David Templeman

considering the problems inherent in the potentially volatile mixture of

religious figures. These included fully ordained monks, paits, upsakas
and upsikas, yogins, mahpaitas, cryas, siddhas, yogins etc. In other
words this quite disparate and sometimes inimical range of Buddhist
practitioners, comprised representatives from almost every conceivable
Buddhist tradition and reflects Tranthas idealized wish rather than any
plausible reality.
In Tranthas eyes this was the real India, a place where Buddhism
had never ever truly died out and where royal patrons were still
extraordinarily generous in their support of it.
Such a marvellously implausible presentation tells us much about
Tranthas envisioning of India. Most importantly it suggests that in
describing such an optimistic outlook for Buddhism, Trantha had, through
his direct connections with Santigupta, his masters master, skilfully
embedded himself directly into the heart of what he believed to be a still
vital Indian Buddhism. A more intimate involvement of self and Buddhism
in India as recreated by Trantha would be hard to imagine.
Trantha tells us that in 1601 he received a letter from the Rj
Blabhadra in which the ruler reminded the lad of their connection through
the person of ntigupta. The letter mentioned that both he, the ruler and
Trantha had been bonded together throughout previous births through
the ministrations of certain other siddhas.4 Tranthas response to this
letter referred to the Rj and what Trantha perceived as his singlehanded revival of Buddhism in the Vindhyas. He went on to say that he
had heard that all of the students of the Mahsiddha ntigupta acted
as court tantric practitioners for the King.5
For Trantha, part of the attraction in a south of the border
relationship might have been the access it afforded him to even more and
better Indian siddhas and paits to whom he had taken a clear liking
and who added to his reputation as a Tibetan Indophile and as an inheritor
of cutting edge Indian teachings. In this respect Trantha was doing
exactly what other Tibetan prelates had done for many yearsthat is,
enhancing their prestige by linking their lineage or their teachings to a
unique person or teaching.
For the Rja Blabhadra on the other hand, the north of the border
relationship might have represented for him the possibility of cultivating
of new business ventures with a reputedly ambitious and potentially wealthy
Tibetan patron. As far as we know from Blabhadras letter to Trantha,
these hopes resided largely in what Trantha could do for them. Perhaps
4 TARA3, p. 102, lines 1-4.
5 TARA3, p 102, lines 5-6.

Tranthas Perceptions of India


they hoped for a personal relationship with Trantha himself, but it seems
more likely to me that they were more probably interested in accessing the
vast wealth of the sDe pa of gTsang through his good offices. This
relationship would quite likely have been achieved through the agency of
gosains or other mendicant-traders, but as we have no direct evidence of
this actually occurring it must remain purely speculative.

Siddhas, yogis and newly-arrived tantric teachings

As we have seen, Tranthas India was still a land where Buddhism
was still a vital force, a place peopled by super-generous kings and ascetic
wonder-workers. In the various examples of their activities which he cites
in his so-called historical works, he seems convinced that they were a
still viable and considerable force in 16-17th century India. Indeed, so
complete was Tranthas notion of a tantric India that in his own
perception he referred to his visions of himself as actually being an Indian
ascetic while, until his later years, he remained a celibate Jo nang monk
in gTsang. In several of the paintings of Tranthas life, we see him
depicted seated at the centre of a group of Indian yogis as if he were
actually one of their cohort. Sometimes these yogis are in the form of
portraits of Trantha himself in previous lives.6
The attraction of the new had no doubt been encouraged and inflamed
by Indian mendicants in their relationship with curious Tibetans over the
centuries. In Tranthas case it appears that several of the tantric sdhanas
which were newly brought to Tibet from India might in fact have been
spurious. It is known that semi-Buddhist treatises with a subcurrent of
haha yoga praxis were employed by Nth mendicants in their attempts
to gain the favour and patronage of various Indian Rjas. The life span of
such texts appears to have been brief however. For example, Trantha in
his hagiography of Buddhaguptantha, written when he was 27 years old
and still to an extent besotted by his meeting with his master 10 years
previously, recorded the titles of some of the sdhanas which he had been
taught by his Indian master. He notes that they ...had not been previously
known in the region known as the Land of Snows... Yet, despite their
supposed rarity we find no examples of their further expansion or
employment in Tranthas later writings, almost as if they were
abandoned perhaps when it was realized that they were somehow not
genuine. This certainly casts some doubt onto their veracity. Moreover,
such texts were not used by other Tibetan lamas, or even adjudged as being
6 Jackson, D. 2005. Spuren Tranthas und seiner Prexistenzen: Malereien
aus der Jo nang pa- Schule des tibetsichen Buddhismus. In Die Welt des
tibetischen Buddhismus. Hamburg: Museum fr Vlkerkunde.


David Templeman

at all important. Even Tranthas historical writings, many of which dealt

with precisely those siddhas and yogis in his Indian lineage were given
scant attention by his contemporaries.
Trantha was firmly convinced of the veracity of these latest teachings
from India, again placing himself at the centre of an India which he had
never visited. He said:
I believe that I had extraordinary good fortune in being the
(only ???) person in this part of the world (phyogs dir ) who
was able to draw on the essence-knowledge (thugs bcud) from
all the learned Indian scholars, and that I have gained all the
extraordinary secret words (teachings) whose meaning adhered
to me right from the outset.7
And yet we must ask the difficult question, How realistic was
Tranthas vision of himself as the inheritor of a genuine, viable Indian
tantric Buddhist series of teachings vouchsafed to him alone?
Having referred to them as new doctrines Trantha is not
particularly forthcoming about the details of these developments, other
than to note how difficult they were for him to understand. A task yet to
be undertaken is a complete examination of Tranthas Collected Works
for examples of texts purporting to have come from India in this later
period. This might demonstrate precisely what these new materials were
comprised of. My preliminary examination has revealed that many of those
works which might have been expected to reveal something significantly
new according to Trantha, such as the Vajrasumrga (known in Tibetan
as the Grub chen Zhi bas bas pai thugs bcud bka babs bdun ldan gyi
gzhung rdo rjei lam bzang po) and the bKa babs drug ldan khrid yig
phags yul grub pai zhal lung show nothing of any later developments
in Buddhist understanding at all. 8
We must assume that Tranthas monastic education had imparted to
him a solid grounding in the details of the major events and trends in
Indian Buddhism.
But like so many Tibetans in the centuries after the major period of
pilgrimage from Tibet to India which had effectively ceased by the mid14 th century, he had little access to authentic, eye-witness details. His
Indian siddha visitors gave him what they said were indeed accounts of
the very latest events in Buddhisms trajectory in the land of its birth.
7 TARA3. p 123, lines 1-3.
8 Since the Conference at which this paper was presented, I have translated the
Vajrasumrga and the Yogasakepa and find prima facie what appears to
be recycled haha yoga physiology and elements of Mahmudra.

Tranthas Perceptions of India


It is upon this basis that Tranthas somewhat sentimentalized historical

works were created. And it is upon these same bases that much of what he
wrote is basically flawed. Tranthas accounts of, for example, the neatly
defined periods into which he crammed Buddhism show that he held the
almost Orientalist view that Buddhist history had to be categorized into neat,
almost watertight, compartments. In other words, for Trantha, Buddhism
had to be neat, logical and unmessy. It could not be permitted to display
any stumbling blocks whatsoever. Events and trends had to flow seamlessly
into one another in this wondrous land of India. In fact, Buddhism never
has been and hopefully never will be, thus!

Tibetan Patrons and Patronage

In Tranthas turbulent world of gTsang many old aristocratic families
were no longer in positions of power, and therefore were no longer able
to act as generous patrons. Trantha was made aware of the urgent need
for infallible patrons of his own, patrons whose star was in the ascendent,
and who would give him the same sort of largesse that he believed the
Baghela Rjs had bestowed on ntigupta.
For an ambitious young prelate whose lineage was open to some doubt,
there was a clear need to develop something unique, something which
would set him apart from other ambitious priests and which would make
his position virtually unassailable. In other words, a Buddhist gimmick.
For some prelates this unique facet might have been specific ritual
knowledge, for others an authentically impeccable lineage.
For Trantha it was his intimate knowledge of India and his contacts
with siddhas, who were supposedly the very last in India, which gave him
cachet and potential futures with his new gTsang patrons.
Tranthas close proprietorial control over the teachings he had been
given by his Indian masters is evident in an incident he records in his large
Autobiography. He says,
The Eminence of sTag lung (monastery) said Because it is hard
to understand all the vast numbers of scriptures for these new
doctrines which have arisen in India, you should make a synopsis
and an outline (sa bcad) for all of them. Although I was willing to
start work on those manuals immediately, provoked by my own
laziness and due to the requirements of my own cycle of daily prayers,
I did nothing much about it. In the Hare year (1603, when he was
28 years old) because I recalled his words of encouragement to do
so, I composed an outline for each of those texts.9
9 TARA3. p.124, lines 6-7.


David Templeman

As noted by sTag lung rin po che, these new doctrines required a series
of commentaries for them to become useable, and Trantha claimed to have
inherited this key to them from his Indian visitors through his specific
knowledge of the works. We must acknowledge here that what he calls his
ability to write the various sa bcad outlines for them provides some evidence
that there might indeed have been certain new developments to which he
had been privy through his Indian contacts. We also note that he he
maintained some keenly guarded proprietorial rights over them too, his
delay in writing about them serving such a purpose.
Clearly Trantha was attempting to create something of a niche
market for himself here. His delay in responding to the request of sTag
lung rin po che for his assistance in explicating these new materials
suggests that Trantha might well have wished to maintain some control
over their dissemination, despite his protestations of his inherently lazy
nature and his overwork to the contrary. Were Trantha to have written
the manuals promptly as he had been requested by sTag lung rin po che,
he would have thereby weakened his position of control over them. From
the very fact of the rin po ches request, it is clear that there was nobody
else with Tranthas specific Indian knowledge who was able to
explicate those new materials. This proprietorial control over such works
added further to Tranthas power, charisma and made him a far more
desirable commodity for his own, and possibly other, patrons.

This paper has raised more questions than might have been expected
from its relatively basic title. The major question which dominates all
others is this:
How realistic was Tranthas vision of India and did he
really believe that he had a role in Buddhisms regrowth
From this arise several other leading questions all of which are
of considerable importance. Some of these are:
With his claimed Indian sensibility why did Trantha avoid
almost all further reference to his Indian links between the
ages of 21 and 59, that is until writing his Autobiography
very late in his life?
Why did his very last work, his Autobiography become the
locus classicus for all his reminiscences about India and for
some of his strongest assertions of his intimacy with it?

Tranthas Perceptions of India


Was Tranthas resurrection of his visions of India towards

the end of his life a means of reinforcing his unique nature
to his patrons the gTsang sDe pa, thereby ensuring their
ongoing munificence as well as their concern to maintain his
lineage after his passing?
These will only be resolved with far more detailed and nuanced readings
of Tranthas many writings, a task which I hope attracts other scholars
interested in creating a more realistic view of this complex and sometimes
contradictory figure.

Tibetan Language Texts
TARA1. (2000) Trantha (1575-1634) bKa babs bdun ldan gyi brgyud
pai rnam thar ngo mtshar rmad du byung ba rin po chei khungs
lta bui gtam. In Vol. 17 of the Dzamthang Edition of rJe btsun T
ra n thai gsung bum. Cambridge, Mass. Tibetan Buddhist Resource
Centre. Translated as Templeman (1983)
TARA4. (2000) Trantha (1575-1634). gSang ba i rnam thar. In Vol. 1
of the Dzamthang Edition of rJe btsun T ra n thai gsung bum.
Cambridge. Mass. Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre.
TARA5. (2000) Trantha. (1575-1634). sGrol mai rgyud kyi byung
khungs gsal bar byed pai lo rgyus gser gyi phreng ba. In Vol. 12 of
the Dzamthang Edition of rJe btsun T ra n thai gsung bum.
Cambridge. Mass. Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre. Translated as
Templeman (1995)
TARA6. (2000) Trantha. (1575-1634) Dam pai chos rin po che
phags pai yul du ji ltar dar bai tshul gsal bar ston pa dgos dod
kun byung.. In Vol. 16 of the Phun-tshogs-gli Edition of The
Collected Works of Jo-Na Rje-Btsun Trantha. Smanrtsis Shesrig
Dpemzod. Leh, Ladakh. C. Namgyal and Tsewang Taru.
TARA7. (2000) Trantha. (1575-1634) Slob dpon chen po spyod
chang dbang poi rnam thar ngo mtshar snyan pai sgra
dbyangs and the Supplement to the text. In Vol. 17 of the
Dzamthang Edition of rJe btsun T ra n thai gsung bum.
Cambridge. Mass. Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre. Translated
as Templeman (1989)


David Templeman

European language Texts

Aris, M. (1995) Jigs-med-gling-pas Discourse on India of 1789. A
Critical Edition and Annotated Translation of the lHophyogs
rgyagargyi gtam brtagpa brgyadkyi me long. Tokyo.
International Institute of Buddhist Studies. (Studia Philologica
Buddhica, Occasional Paper, Series IX)
Chimpa, Lama and Chattopadhyaya, A. (1990) Tranthas History of
Buddhism in India. Delhi. Motilal Banarsidass.
Huber, T. (2008) The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan
Reinvention of India. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.
Jackson, D. 2005. Spuren Tranthas und seiner Prexistenzen: Malereien
aus der Jo nang pa- Schule des tibetsichen Buddhismus. In Die Welt
des tibetischen Buddhismus. Hamburg: Museum fr Vlkerkunde.
Schiefner, A. (1868) Tranthae De Doctrinae Buddhicae In India
Propagatione. Petropoli (St. Petersburg). Imp. Academia Scientarium
(1869) Tranthas Geschichte des Buddhismus in Indien. St.
Petersburg. Eggers et Co. Commissionire der Kaiserlichen Akademie
der Wissenschaften.
Templeman, D. (1983) Tranthas bKababs bdun ldan; The Seven
Instruction Lineages by Jonang Trantha. Dharamsala. Library
of Tibetan Works and Archives.
(1989) Tranthas Life of K
crya/Kha. Dharamsala.
Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.
(1995) (First published 1981.) Tranthas The Origin of Tr
Tantra. Dharamsala. Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.
Vasilev, N.P. (1869) Buddizm: Ego Dogmaty, Istoriya I Literaturo. Part
III. Istoriya Buddizma v. Indii, Sochinenie Daranaty. St. Petersburg.

The Mongolian Incarnation of Jo nang pa

Trantha Kun dga snying po:
ndr Gegeen Zanabazar Blo bzang
bstan pai rgyal mtshan (1635-1723)
A case study of the Tibeto-Mongolian Relationship
Agata Bareja-Starzynska

The paper investigates the appearance of the Mongolian line of incarnations

of the Jonangpa Jetsundampa. After passing away of Trantha Kunga Nyingpo
(kun dga snying po, 1575-1634) his reincarnation was found among the Mongols
in the son of the powerful Khalkha Tshiyet Khan Gombodorji. Though the
subject was studied by many eminent scholars,1 nevertheless it seems valuable
to look once again at the sources and investigate how the information about
the first Khalkha reincarnation called in Tibetan Yeshe Dorje (ye shes rdo rje),
in Sanskrit Jnavajra, pronounced by the Mongols as Zanabazar, his
enthronement and his early years developed.
It is interesting to see what was written about Trantha Kunga Nyingpos
recognition in Khalkha in the biography of his incarnation, Zanabazar. The
biography completed by 1702 by Zanabazars disciple Zaya Pandita Lobsang
Phrinlei (Blo bzang phrin las, in Modern Mongolian Luvsanprinlei, 16421715) entitled: Blo bzang bstan pai rgyal mtshan dpal bzang poi khrungs
rabs bco lngai rnam thar seems to be the most reliable source, not only on
Zanabazar, but on the whole situation of Tibeto-Mongolian relations of that
time.2 About the Mongolian incarnation it says the following:3
1 Pozdneyev 1879-80, 1896-98, Schulemann 1958, Lokesh Chandra 1963, 1982,
Bawden 1961, Bira 1980, 1995, Somlai 1988, Miyawaki 1992, 1994, Khrelbaatar
1996, Soninbayar 1995, 1998, Byambaa 2004, Kaplonski 2004, Ichinnorov 2005
and many others.
2 I agree in this respect with Sh. Bira (1980) p. 12. For more discussion about
sources on Zanabazars life see Bareja-Starzynska (b, in print): Biographies
of the First Jetsundampa ndr Gegeen Zanabazar Blo bzang bstan poi rgyal
mtshan (1635-1723)Brief Survey of Sources submitted for the Felicitation
Volume dedicated to Veronika Veit.
3 According to the Lokesh Chandra bilingual Tibeto-Mongolian edition of the
biography, 1982, pp. 421-422. All references to this biography in the present
article are made to this edition. The biography was translated into Modern
Mongolian by Sh. Bira (1995).


Agata Bareja-Starzynska
He (i.e. Zanabazar) was born with many propitious
omens on the morning of the 25th day of the ninth hor month
in the year of Wooden Pig shing phag (1635). In the empty
place left after moving the tent in which the Lord had been
born, though it was winter, beautiful flowers appeared, as it
was reported. At first at the age of four, Jampa Ling Nomon
Khan4 was invited to take part in his hair-cutting [ceremony]5
and to renounce his vows of a lay follower genyen.
When he was three years old, though previously not learnt
[by him] by heart, he recited the Chanting the Names [of
Majur] (Majur-Nmasagt)6 about two times a day
as it was reported.
When he was five years old, he was enthroned. 7 Owing
to [his enthronement] auspicious circumstances 8 were
connected properly and the second reincarnation of Kedub
Sangye Yeshe 9 called Bensa Tulku10 acted as his preceptor
of ordination.11 He bestowed him the name: Lobsang Tenpe

4 P. 422-1: Tib. byams pa gling no mon khang, Mong. jamba ling nomon
qa an. Byams pa gling may refer to different Maitreya temples, see more
discussion further in this paper.
5 However, the information about hair-cutting is missing in the Mongolian
version of the biography and in the Modern Mongolian translation by Bira
1985, p. 8.
6 P. 422-3: mtshan brjod, Mong. namaa sanggiri. Full Tibetan title: jam dpal
gyi mtshan yang dag par brjod pa bstod pa glur blangs pai rgyud.
7 P. 422-3: khri don mdzad, Mong. siregen-e arun. Later tradition used this
expression to denote that he was summoned by the four tribes of the Khalkha
to the throne (Bawden 1961, f. 8r, p. 44) or even enthroned as the leader of
Buddhism in Khalkha Mongolia (Kaplonski 2004, p.146). However, it seems
that it meant his enthronement as an ordained reincarnation, i.e. that during
his ordination ceremony he was enthroned. About the growth of the religious
authority of Jetsundampa see Bareja-Starzynska 2008 and 2009.
8 P. 423-1: rten brelin full: rten cing brel bar byung ba; Skt. pratitysamutpdadependent origination, Buddhist theory of causality,
9 P. 423-1: mkhas grub sangs rgyas ye shes skui skye ba, Mong. mergen sidatu
budda zana-yin gegen- qoyitu trl. The second reincarnation was Blo
bzang bstan dzin rgya mtsho (1605-1643 or 1644), see Smith 1969, p. 12.
10 P. 423-2: dben sa sprul pai sku. More information further in this paper and
in Smith 1969 p. 12.
11 P. 423-2: rab byung, Mong. ma ad qar(a)qui. The Mong. term is a translation
of another Tibetan expression: nges par byung ba, Skt. pravrjaka, Lessing
1982, p. 1175a.

The Mongolian Incarnation of Jo nang pa Trantha


Gyeltsen 12 and gave him Mahklas empowerment (rjes

gnang) and explained it [to him].
And then [it was] reported to the masters, the Victorious
Father and Son (i.e. the Dalai Lama and his regent)13 and [they]
identified [Zanabazar] as the reincarnation of Jetsundampa.14
Namkha Snam Drakpa,15 the master of Tantric [college] at the
Drepung monastery was invited to become his (i.e. Zanabazars)
tutor [since] he was the one who prophesied from the bKa gdams
glegs bam.16 He reminded [Jetsundampa] to study and practice and
gave him the grand empowerment (abhieka) of Vajrabhairava
[Yamantaka] and many other teachings.
There is no mention about Trantha or Jonangpa in this part of the
biography. It is well understandable that Zaya Pandita who was educated
in Tibet in the Gelugpa order could omit those facts in the biography of
his teacher which were not convenient for the Gelugpa tradition. This is
the point made by Junko Miyawaki in her article (1994). However,
Trantha is mentioned by his name in another fragment of the biography
by Zaya Pandita:17
12 P. 423-2: blo bzang bstan pai rgyal pai rgyal mtshan. There is an obvious
mistake in the Buryat manuscript which adds rgyal pa between bstan pai
and rgyal mtshan, missing in the Zaya Panditas blockprint edition (Lokesh
Chandra ed. 1982, p. 127-2). In Mong. sumadi sajin-u duvaza.
13 P. 423-3: rgyal ba yab sras kyi sku gzhogs su zhus pa. The Mong.
translation reads: bo da dalai blam-a-yin gegen tan-a ayiladqa san: [it
was] reported to the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. This fragment was
not commented by Bira 1995 (p. 8). Explanation about the term yab sras
follows further in the text of the present article.
14 P. 424-1: rje btsun dam pa.
15 P. 424-1: nam mkha bsod nams grags pa. See more details further in
this paper.
16 P. 424-1: bka gdams glegs bam pha chos bu chosScriptures of the
Kadampas, Father and Sons. Collected Teachings and Stories of Lord Atia
and His Disciples on the Precious Practice for the Kadampa Buddhism [RY].
Mongolian scholar Ngawang Tshultrim Gyatso (ngag dbang tshul khrims rgya
mtsho, Agvaantsultemjamts 1880-1938), wrote in his short biography of
Zanabazar connected with the history of Baruun Khree monastery, translated
into Modern Mongolian by Soninbayar (1995, p. 10), that he was aware of
the fact, that in the 23rd chapter of bKa gdams glegs bam pha chos bu chos
there should have been a fragment referring to the miracles performed by
Zanabazar, though he was not able to confirm it.
17 Lokesh Chandra 1982, p. 430-431, xyl. edition vol. nga, f. 63v, Lokesh
Chandra 1981, vol. IV, p. 128.


Agata Bareja-Starzynska

All-knowing Panchen [Lama] confirmed that he was the

reincarnation of the Lord Trantha.18
Actually, in the Gelugpa writings contemporary to Zanabazar he is
referred to as Jamyang Tulku (jam dbyangs sprul sku). In the
autobiography of the fifth Dalai Lama (b.1617-1682), first (or rather
fourth) Panchen Lama (b.1570-1662), and writings of the regent Desi
Sangye Gyatso (sde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, b.1653-1705), the son
of Tshiyet Khan is called only by the name of the emanation of Jamyang.
It was explained by the fifth Dalai Lama19 and quoted in the later biography
of Zanabazar written in 1839 by Ngaggi Wangpo (in Modern Mong.
Agvantvden Ravjamba),20 that Tshiyet Khans son was regarded as the
reincarnation of Jamyang Chje (jam dbyangs chos rje, 1379-1449), who
was the founder of the Drepung monastery.21
The problem of Zanabazars recognition was raised by the Japanese
Mongolist, Junko Miyawaki in her article (1994, p. 51) where she identified
jam dbyangs as Majur and where she also stated that the recognition
was made several years later, when Zanabazar traveled to Tibet.22
However, other scholars, such as Cyrus Stearns (1999, p. 71) argued
that there was no controversy about the fact, that Zanabazar was called
Jamyang Tulku in the contemporary Tibetan Gelugpa sources. Stearns
maintained that by calling Zanabazar the incarnation of Jamyang Chje
the Gelugpa hierarchs could make their claims over Tranthas estate,
i.e. the monastery Dakden Damcho Ling (rtag brtan phun tshogs gling)
18 P. 430-2: pa chen thams cad mkhyen pas rje tranthai sku skye yin gsung ba.
19 khal kha thu shi ye thu rgyal poi sras jam dbyangs sprul sku ....khong
pa jam dbyangs chos rjei sku skyei dbang du btang ba ..., DL5, vol. 1,
p. 309, Stearns 1999, p.71.
20 Alias Ngag dbang ye shes thub bstan rab byams pa according to Dungkar
2002, p. 309. The biography was entitled: Khyab bdag khor loi mgon po rje
btsun dam pa blo bzang bstan pai rgyal mtshan gyi rnam thar bskal bzang
dang pai shing rta. On this biography see Bareja-Starzyn ska (b, in print).
21 pa chen blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan dang | kun gzigs lnga pa chen po
gnyis kyis zhal mthun par rje bai nyid la jam dbyangs sprul pai sku zhes pai
mtshan gsol bar mdzad pa ..., Byambaa 2006 ed., f. 5a4. Stearns 1999, p. 71.
22 Miyawaki 1994, pp. 51-54. And this was followed by Atwood 2004, p. 267,
who repeated that the story about Zanabazar as the reincarnation of Jamyang
Chje was made up later by the Gelugpas. It seems also that the idea of
Miyawaki (1994, p. 53), that Zanabazar traveled to the monasteries of
Jonangpa while visiting Tibet is a mere speculation. The Mong. biography
(1859) mentions that he received valuable religious texts (such as
Prajpramita in 10 000 verses) and images of Maitreya, Avalokitevara and
Tra, from the monasteries built by his previous incarnations, but it may well
refer to Jamyang Chje. Bawden 1961, f. 8v, p. 45.

The Mongolian Incarnation of Jo nang pa Trantha


justified. 23 Stearns wrote: Clearly the reasons for his (Zanabazars)

recognition as the reincarnation of Trantha were political, enabling the
Geluk establishment to eliminate the possibility of a Trantha rebirth
as the new leader of the Jonang tradition. Then Stearns presents a
passage from Zanabazar s biography to rationalize his rebirth as
Trantha. However, the passage is taken from the late biography of
Zanabazar written by Ngaggi Wangpo (footnote 20) in 1839 which
contains legendary materials. The Mongolian author claimed that in one
of his sources, which is called sKyabs mgon sku gong mai rnam thar
(the biography of the previous refuge lord) there is a statement of
Trantha that he will spread the doctrine of Lord Tsongkhapa in a
barbarian borderland. 24 However, there is no such statement in the
biography of Zanabazar written by Zaya Pandita, contemporary to the
events described and hence more reliable.
Also the quotation from the secret biography of Trantha (Stearns 1999,
p. 72) in which he mentions his dream that he be wearing a yellow hat, and
which actually refers to Budon (bu ston, 1290-1364) rather than to Gelugpa,
is not included in the biography of Zanabazar written by Zaya Pandita. It seems
that this is a legendary material which was included in later biographies of
Zanabazar to justify his embodiment as Tranthas incarnation.
Another interesting information is provided, however, in those late
biographies written in 1839 and 1847 and followed by others. In both texts
it is explained that the reason why the name Yeshe Dorje was given to
Tshiyet Khans son was the result of the divination based on the
Klacakratantra. The biography of Ngawang Lobsang Dondub (1847)
places this event in the fourth year of Zanabazars life. During the
divination the name Yeshe Dorje appeared together with the name Nagpo
Chpa (Nag po spyod pa).25 Nag po spyod pa or Krishnacarin, Krishnacarya
23 About the monastery see TBRC G390.
24 Stearns 1999, p. 72, quotation from Ngag gi dbang po (Lokesh Chandra
edition 1982) p. 278, Byambaa 2006, f. 7a1-2.
25 Biography by Ngag gi dbang po (1839), f. 7a4-6: dus kyi khor loi rgyud
las | lhan gcig skyes pai dga ba las ni ye shes rdo rje la sogs byung
bar byed | ces grub chen nag po spyod pai lung bstan gyi rjes su byung ba dang |
rje nyid gyi mtshan sgra gsol bar thon pas rje dei lung bstan yin par
mkhan chen paau siddhi sogs kyi gsung las byung ba ltar | rgyal bas lung
bstan pai skyabs mgon rdo rje char rang byung ye shes rdo rje zhes ...
Biography by Ngag dbang blo bzang don grub (1847), f. 20b1-2: de nas
dgung lo bzhi pa bru mang po zhes pa sa stag lo na | khal khai yul phul te
dzny na badzraam ye shes rdo rje zhes dus rgyud du | nag po spyod pa
dang lhan du lung bstan pa ltar mtshan gsol bar mdzad | Texts of both
biographies reprinted in Byambaa 2006.


Agata Bareja-Starzynska

(Ka-crya) was one of the eighty four mahsiddhas.26 Trantha was

regarded by his own teacher as the reincarnation of this mahsiddha. This
is why the young son of Tshiyet Khan was treated in turn as the
reincarnation of Trantha and called by the title Jetsundampa. Again it is
explained in the biography of 1847 and stressed that at the same time he
was regarded both as the reincarnation of Trantha and as the reincarnation
of Jamyang [Chje] by the Omniscent Panchen and the all-knowing and allseeing Great Fifth [Dalai Lama].27
It has not been specified in either of the biographies who performed
divination based on the Klacakratantra and gave the name Yeshe Dorje
to Tshiyet Khans son. Perhaps Pau Siddhi, who was mentioned in the
biography by Ngaggi Wangpo (1839, f. 7a5) was responsible for bringing
the information about divination to the author of the biography.28
Junko Miyawaki elaborated, as well, upon the recognition of Zanabazar
by both the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. She translated the expression
rgyal ba yab srasVictorious Father and Son used in his biography of
Zanabazar by Zaya Pandita (p. 424-1) as the Dalai Lama and Panchen
Lama (Miyawaki 1994, p. 49). However, in the Mongolian version of the
biography of Zaya Pandita this expression is translated only as the Dalai
Lama (p. 423-3). The term yab sras may refer to different bodies in a
different context. According to the explanation by Christoph Cppers29 the
expression rgyal ba yab sras in this context should be understood as the
Dalai Lama and his regent and not the Panchen Lama. The Panchen Lama
is mentioned later in the biography, when Zanabazar visited Tibet in 164951 and 1655 (p. 430, 438).
The biography of Ngaggi Wangpo (1839) adds that when Zanabazar
was 10 years old the official letter by the fifth Dalai Lama was sent along
26 Seventeenth on the list of the eighty four mahsiddhas prepared by
Abhayadattar and Vrapraka, TBRC P3299.
27 F. 20b5-621a1 pa chen thams cad mkhyen pa chen po dang kun gzigs
lnga pa chen sogs bla ma rnams dang la mo chos skyong rnams su zhig gsal
gyi lung bstan khus zhugs btsug par | rje btsun tranthai sprul skur ngos
dzin mdzad de | jam dbyangs sprul pai sku zhes snyan pai rol mos nor
dzin kun tu khyab par gyur to|. Byambaa 2006 ed.
28 Lama Ngawang Khedrub (Ngag dbang mkhas grub), later known as the
Twelfth Abbot Wagindra Patu Siddhi, was born in Mongolia in 1779, began
his monastic education at Tashi Gomang College at Urga and completed his
Rabjampa Geshe degree at Drepung in Central Tibet. He received his final
ordination in the presence of the eighth Dalai Lama. He then returned to
Mongolia to become one of its leading teachers of the early nineteenth
century. According to Ladner 2000, p. 81.
29 Personal communication.

The Mongolian Incarnation of Jo nang pa Trantha


with his confirmation of the recognition of Zanabazar as Jamyang Tulku

and embodiment of Kunga Nyingpo i.e. Trantha. The biography says:
[11a3] when he was 10 years old 30 from the all knowing
Great Fifth [Dalai Lama] the message was sent that the
incarnation of Jamyang Chje was born as the reincarnation
of Kunga Nyingpo in the [body] of the son of Tshiyet Khan
and an official letter called the scent of Malaya31 to be spread
to the Vajra ear (rdo rjei rna bar thul bai ma la yai
dri) was sent upon the request.32
In the autobiography of the fifth Dalai Lama it is noted that the
versified letter was sent to Jamyang Tulku.33 Though the information which
dated the letter is given only in the late biography of Zanabazar, and repeated
by the following biographies, nevertheless it may reflect the actual sequence
of events and the fact that the Khalkha Mongols received confirmation from
the Tibetan Gelugpa establishment about the princes recognition in the form
of a letter from the fifth Dalai Lama. We should remember that there were
Tibetan Gelugpa teachers securing Zanabazars proper Buddhist education.
And in 1643 or 1644 Bensa Tulku, who was probably the most important
representative of the Gelugpa interests in the region, died.
It was pointed out by Gene Smith already in 1969 that: The recognition of
Tranthas incarnation as the son of the Tshiyet Khan represents an
extremely complicated bit of political manoeuvering on the part of the First
Panchens disciple, Mkhas-grub III Blo-bzang-bstan-dzin-rgya-mtsho (i.e. Bensa
Tulku). Not all of the great Gelugpa churchmen shared the 5th Dalai Lamas
hostility to Trantha. There was, indeed considerable factionalism within the
Gelugpa church itself. The cleavages often followed provincial boundaries....34
30 It should be 1644 because later the Iron Pig year is mentioned, which was
1647. Also if Zanabazar was born in 1635 his 10th year would be 1644.
31 The expression which was eagerly used by the fifth Dalai Lama. See Ahmad
1995, p. 3, note 37, p. 209.
32 The letter has been preserved under the heading: jam dbyangs chos rje bkra
shis dpal ldan pai skye bar grags pa jo nang sprul sku kun dga snying poi
yang srid khar kha thu she ye thu rgyal poi bu byung ba la springs pa rdo
rjei rna bar thul bai ma la yai dri. It is registered in TBRC under the
number W20448. The letter is not dated, however. It glorifies the Ganden
Phodrang, rule of the fifth Dalai Lama. I would like to thank Christoph
Cppers for making this letter available and for his valuable comments.
33 DL5, vol. 1, p. 228: jam dbyangs sprul skur tshigs bcad kyi phrin yig bsrings.
34 Footnote 9, on. p. 3 of the Introduction to Smith 1969.


Agata Bareja-Starzynska

It seems that scholars who worked on Zanabazars biographies earlier

did not particularly pay attention to the Tibetans who accompanied
Zanabazar in his childhood. The enigmatic person called Jampa Ling
Nomon Khan was invited to give Zanabazar his first vows as genyen.
As to the name Jampa Ling Nomon Khan, the first part, Tib. byams pa
gling (p. 422-1) means the temple of Maitreya and may refer to several
monasteries. The title Nomon Khan, which may be rendered as chos kyi rgyal
po in Tibetan, was a title widely spread in Mongolia and given to lay people as
well as to clergy. Knchok Chphel (dkon mchog35 chos phel, 1573-1646),
who was a tutor (yongs dzin) of the fifth Dalai Lama and became the 35th
Throne Holder (khri pa) of Ganden monastery (1626-1637), was called the
incarnation of Pachen Jampa Lingpa (pa chen byams pa gling pai skye
ba)36 since he was regarded an incarnation of Pachen Jampa Linpa Snam
Namgyal (pa chen byams pa gling pa bsod nams rnam rgyal, 1401-1475).37
There is a biography of Knchok Chphel composed by the fifth Dalai
Lama entitled Jam dpal dbyangs chos kyi rje dkon mchog chos phel gyi
rtogs brjod mkhas pai rna rgyan (TBRC W181) in vol. nya of the Collected
Works (gsung bum) of the fifth Dalai Lama (19 folios). In this biography,
however, there is no mention about the travel of Knchok Chphel to the
Khalkha lands or about any contacts with Tshiyet Khan and his son.38 It
would be quite impossible for such a high personality as the tutor of the Dalai
Lama to travel to the Khalkha Mongols in his late age.
35 Written as cog according to the autobiography of the fifth Dalai Lama
(DL5), vol. 1, p. 13, 87, 268. I would like to thank Christoph Cppers for
his kind assistance in locating the passages.
36 Dungkar, p. 363; Vaidurya Serpo (history of Gelugpa written by Desi Sangye
Gyatso) p. 90. See also TBRC P2565. I would like to thank Ganzorig
Davaaochir for turning my attention to this person and his possible
identification with Byams pa gling pa.
37 Mentioned in the mchod sdong dzam gling rgyan gcig gi dkar chag p.
254 and 504, see TBRC P993.
38 My best thanks go to Christoph Cppers for making the text of the biography
of dKon mchoh chos phel available to me and for his help in finding the
right passages in the Vaidurya Serpo. In the biography there is a mention of
a discussion that dKong mchog chos phel should visit the seat (gdan sa)
of Byams pa gling pa. However, due to the great distance and his advanced
age it was decided that he should not go (f. 17v5-6). The fact that he was
recognized as the incarnation of Byams pa gling pa was proved when dKong
mchog chos phel went to the Lhokha country and was faced with great
drought there. Then he said that if he was the true incarnation of pa chen
Byams pa gling pa, he should be able to cause rain and great rains followed
(f. 16r3), Vaidurya Serpo, p. 90.

The Mongolian Incarnation of Jo nang pa Trantha


Thus, it might be the case that another person was also called Jampa
Lingpa. If the name referred to a monastery, there were several sites
bearing such a name, making connection to Je Tsongkhapa (rje tsong kha
pa, 1357-1419), such as: Chab mdo byams pa gling, dGon lung byams pa
gling and sKu bum byams pa glingthe latter two being famous Gelugpa
monasteries in Amdo. According to the Mongolian scholar Dashbadrakh
the person mentioned in the biography was a famous master from the
Jambaling monastery in Amdo. 39
The sixth abbot of Sku bum monastery, Tashi Dondub (bkra shis don
grub, called also rgyal ba chos rje bkra shis don grub), occupied the
throne (khri chen) between 1638 and 1642. According to the autobiography
of the fifth Dalai Lama he was sent as a residential monk bla mchod to
the Khalkha khan Sechen (Sholoi).40 The same was repeated in the Sku
bum gdan rabs.41 And Sechen Khan was the one who was convinced
about extraordinary qualities of the son of Tshiyet Khan upon his birth
and that he was an incarnation of a Buddhist master. He conferred upon
the boy his name gegen keken, i.e. Brilliant Child. 42 It would be quite
probable therefore, that he sent his chaplain to take first vows of Tshiyet
Khans son. However, since this master was famed among the Khalkha
Mongols as erdene tsorj Tashi Dondub and not as jambaling nomun khan
the identification still requires more evidence.
The name Jampa Lingpa is mentioned again in the biography of
Zanabazar composed by Zaya Pandita when he describes the return of the
first Jetsundampa from Tibet accompanied by 50 monastic specialists sent
by the fifth Dalai Lama in order to help him to establish properly the
monastery in Khalkha. In the biography it is said that a household official
(gsol dpon) of the incarnation of Jampa Lingpa was sent along with them.43
In the Modern Mongolian translation of the biography of Zanabazar
composed in Tibetan in 1912 by Shartsorj Dagvajantsan (shar chos rje
grags pa rgya mtsho, 1855-1927) entitled rJe btsun dam pa rin po chei
39 Dashbadrakh 2001, note 96, p. 96. in his translation of the biography of
Zanabazar of 1915.
40 It says: se chen rgyal poi bla mchod du sku bum chos rje bkra shis don
grub brdzangs. DL5, vol. 1, p. 228.
41 Sku bum gdan rabs, p. 52: rgyal dbang gi bka bzhin se chen rgyal poi
bla mchod mdzad cing phyir phebs nas gdan sa dir bzhugs. TBRC P4463.
I would like to thank Elliot Sperling for providing a copy of the text.
42 Bawden 1961, f. 7v, translation on p. 43.
43 P. 433-3434-1 byams pa gling pai yin sku skye gsol dpon. However,
Soninbayar translated this fragment of the biography by Shartsorj (1912) into
Modern Mongolian as the incarnation of Jambaaling Nomun Khan was sent
as soivon (soivond Jambaalingiiin khuvilgaan), Soninbayar 1995, p. 9.


Agata Bareja-Starzynska

rnam thar bstod tsig skal bzang dad gsos the Tibetan master was called
mergen toin Jambaalin Nomun khan i.e. the wise monk (of aristocratic
origin) Jampa Ling Nomon Khan.44
In the Mongolian biography composed probably in 1859, elaborated further
on in this paper, Jampa Lingpa was mentioned as: jimbalid nom-un qa an
blama, i.e. Lama Nomon Khan of Jimbalid.45 Dashbadrakh, who translated
it into Modern Mongolian explained46 that Jampa Lingpa Nomon Khan, a
Tibetan master from a monastery in Amdo, came to spread Buddhism among
the Khalkha and later Oirat Mongols. He suggested that he might be identified
with the master called Tsagaan Nomon Khan, who was active mainly among
the Oirat Mongols. However, this statement does not seem to be correct.47
Summing up, unfortunately, for the present moment it was impossible
to identify with full certainty the incarnation of Jampa Lingpa who visited
Khalkha in 1638 and who gave genyen vows to the young prince. It will
be, however, quite safe to conclude that he was a Buddhist master of the
Gelugpa order.
There is no doubt, however, that the Tibetan teacher who was brought
to Mongolia to be a tutor to Zanabazar was Namkha Snam Drakpa from
the Gelugpa tradition. He was a teacher both of Zanabazar and of his
biographer, Zaya Pandita Lobsang Phrinlei. The biography depicts him as
the lama of the Tantric college at Drepung.48 The same is said in the
autobiography of the fifth Dalai Lama.49 Perhaps the choice of a lama from
the Drepung monastery as the tutor of Zanabazar also stressed his
connection with Jamyang Chje, the founder of that monastery.
44 Soninbayar 1995, p. 5. The same expression was used by Ichinnorov (2005)
in his monographic study about Zanabazar, p. 21.
45 Bawden 1961, f. 8r6, see Bareja-Starzynska (b, in print) esp. critical edition
of the page with information about Byams pa gling pa where the phrase qalqayin jimbalid nom-un qa an blama should be emended with vajartu on the
basis of other manuscripts: qalqa-yin ajartu jimbalid nom-un qa an blama...
in the Khalkha [lands] Jambalid Nomon Khan... and not Jambalid Nomon
Khan of Khalkha..., see Bawden 1961, p. 44.
46 Dashbadrakh 1995, note 25 on p. 44.
47 The fifth Dalai Lama mentions Tsagaan Nomon Khan in his autobiography
on several occasions, though never as Byams pa gling Nomon Khan. See also
serious doubts of another Mongolian scholar, Terbish, who did not see any
evidence that Tsagaan Nomon Khan had ever visited Khalkha lands (Terbish
2008, p. 68).
48 P. 424-1: bras spungs sngags pai bla ma.
49 DL5, vol. 1, p. 228: bras spungs sngags pa gnyal gung snang chos rje
jam dbyangs sprul skui yongs dzin du byon. Also Soninbayar 1998, 1,
p. 3 refers to him as: a close disciple of the fifth Dalai Lama.

The Mongolian Incarnation of Jo nang pa Trantha


In the biography of Zanabazar by Zaya Pandita it was mentioned that

Namkha Snam Drakpa was the one famed for making prophecies from
the Bka gdams glegs bam.50 He was a learned scholar known for his
commentaries and illustrations (dper brjod) to the Kvydara, called also
gnyal pa chos rje bsod nams grags pa and dka chen bsod nams grags
pa.51 The title dka chen refers to the geshe degree at the Tashilhunpo
monastery. According to TBRC [P 4511] Namkha Snam Drakpas main
seat was the Tashilhunpo monastery.
The very person of Bensa Tulku, who probably was the mastermind
of the recognition of Zanabazar, is mentioned both in the biography written
by Zaya Pandita and in the biography written in 1839 as the incarnation
of Khedub Sangye Yeshe, as well as by his name Lobsang Tenzin Gyatso52
and the title of Bensa Tulku. 53 Gene Smith in the Appendixes to the
autobiography of the first Panchen Lama gave the list of incarnations of
Bensa Tulku, consisting of 3 names. Lobsang Tenzin Gyatso is mentioned
as the last one (Smith, 1969, p. 12.): 1. Khedub Sangye Yeshe (mkhas grub
sangs rgyas ye shes) (1525-1590); 2. Yeshe Gyatso (ye shes rgya mtsho)
(1592-1604); 3. Lobsang Tenzin Gyatso (blo bzang bstan dzin rgya mtsho)
(1605-1643 or 1644).54
Bensa Tulku bestowed in 1639 also the title of rab byam pa Qutugtu
on an important Buddhist scholar and missionary from the Western
Mongolian tribes (otherwise known as Jungars), famed as the Oirat Zaya
Pandita Namkhai Gyatso (nam mkhai rgya mtsho, 1599-1662).55
It shows that Bensa Tulku Lobsang Tenzin Gyatso kept contacts and
perhaps played Gelugpa policy among different Mongolian tribes. And what
also became significant, was that after his death he was embodied by an
Oirat Galdan Boshogtu (1644-1697), who was a grandson of Gshi Khan

50 P. 424-1: bka gdams glegs bam nas lung bstan.

51 Lung rigs ... 2000, p. 7. I would like to thank Magda Szpindler for providing
this information.
52 F. 10b4: mkhas grub sangs rgyas ye shes kyi skui skye ba dpe nas sprul
sku rin po che blo bzang bstan dzin rgya mtsho. According to TBRC P8858
born in 1605, died in 1643 or 1644. Zanabazar is mentioned as his only disciple.
53 Ngag gi dbang po (1839) adds rin po che (Byambaa 2006 ed., f. 10b4).
54 Tashi Tsering informed in February 2007 that presently only the first two
Bensa Tulkus are recognized as such (personal communication).
55 In chapter 4 of the biography of the Oirat Zaya Pandita according to
Hidehiro Okada and Junko Miyawaki-Okada 2008, p. 33. Bensa Tulku is
called there Inzan Qutugtu. In his biography the Oirat Zaya Pandita is styled
as the lama of the Seven-Banner (Khalkha) Mongols and the Four Oirats
altogether, Hidehiro Okada and Junko Miyawaki-Okada 2008, p. 39.


Agata Bareja-Starzynska

(or Gushri Khan, 1582-1655).56 This identification had further ideological

consequences since Galdan Boshogtu felt superior to Zanabazar.57
The biography of Zanabazar best known to the Mongols and Mongolists
was written in Mongolian probably in 1859.58 In comparison with the Zaya
Panditas account written in 1702 it includes many stories and legends which
arose by the time of its composition. The narrative is much closer to the
late Tibetan biographies of Zanabazar composed in 1839 and 1847, though
not identical. However, in the Mongolian biography, names of Tibetan
persons, places, monasteries, texts and religious ceremonies are distorted
by Mongolian pronunciation to such an extent that not all of them were
properly understood by researchers. Perhaps this is also the reason why
scholars like Junko Miyawaki59 insisted that Zanabazar was recognized as
Trantha and educated as Jonangpa and only later, upon his visit in Tibet,
did he become the follower of the Gelugpa order.
In the Mongolian biography there is no mention about Zanabazar as
the incarnation of Jamyang Chje, however. The recognition and the title
of Jetsundamba are referred to in this biography only during Zanabazars
visit in Tibet.60 This fact might have also contributed to the opinion of
the Mongolists.
Through careful reading of the biographies written in Tibetan by Zaya
Pandita (1702), Ngaggi Wangpo (1839) and Ngawang Lobsang Dondub
(1847) it becomes clear, however, that Zanabazar was surrounded from
his early childhood by masters connected with the Gelugpa tradition, such
56 See Smith 1969, p. 12, note 11. Hidehiro Okada and Junko Miyawaki-Okada
2008, Atwood 2004, p. 193-4. He went to Tibet in 1656, became a disciple
of the first/fourth Panchen Lama and then the fifth Dalai Lama. He went back
home in 1666, but when his brother was assassinated, he renounced his vows.
He was given the title of Khung-taiji (viceroy) and in 1678 the title Boshogtu
Khan (Khan with the Mandate) by the fifth Dalai Lama.
57 In the last quarter of the 17th century Zanabazar was building up his position
among Eastern Mongols and Galdan Boshogtu among Western Mongols. Since
Eastern and Western Mongols for the last two hundred years fought for
supremacy over all the Mongols, the clash was inevitable. When the conflict
ripened in 1686-1688, it led to a large scale war between the Eastern and
Western Mongols, in which the Manchu emperor took part. It eventually
brought Galdans death and the Manchu dominance over the Khalkha
Mongols. More about the Oirat-Khalkha conflict of 1686-88 and the
involvement of Buddhist rhetoric in Bareja-Starzynska (c, in print).
58 Bawden 1961. About manuscripts of this biography and the text itself see
Bareja-Starzynska (b, in print).
59 Though she used some Tibetan sources, as well, Miyawaki 1994, p. 50-51.
60 Bawden 1961, f. 8v, p. 44. See also footnote 22.

The Mongolian Incarnation of Jo nang pa Trantha


as Bensa Tulku Lobsang Tenzin Gyatso and educated by Namkha Snam

Drakpa, until he went to Tibet.
Bawden mentions (p. 45, note 8), that Schulemann wrote (p. 219-220)
that the first Qutugtu (i.e. Zanabazar) was the reincarnation of the Maidari
(i.e. Maitreya) Qutugtu, who died in 1635. Schulemann also dismisses the
identification of the Jebtsundamba Qutugtu with the historian Trantha
and says that Trantha is an epithet of Maitreya. In the light of the
writings of the fifth Dalai Lama, however, we can be sure that Zanabazar
was regarded as the incarnation of both, Jamyang Chje (not Majur and
not Maitreya) and of Jetsundampa Trantha Kunga Nyingpo.

The life story of the first Jetsundampa, which is known to us from
the Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhist hagiographies (rnam thar), is told
from the perspective of the Gelugpa tradition. Comparison of the
sources seems to make it possible to conclude that there is no indication
that Zanabazar ever received teachings other than from the Gelugpa
teachers, right from the very beginning of his genyen vows and prior
to his travel to Tibet.
Someone may regard as strange and inaccurate the fact, that the
incarnation of the Jonangpa scholar Trantha was recognized in the body
of a Mongolian prince and accepted by the Gelugpa hierarchs who
secured his Gelugpa education. However, at the same time, one may
observe how the present ninth embodiment of the Khalkha Jetsundampa
(b. 1932) educated in the Gelugpa environment was made responsible
for preserving the Jonangpa tradition, especially the Jonangpa Klacakra,
by the fourteenth Dalai Lama, the most authoritative hierarch of the
Gelugpa order. 61

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Rinpoche. Interview by Agata Bareja-Starzynska, 4.02.2007.


Agata Bareja-Starzynska

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Agata Bareja-Starzynska

Modern thangka depicting the first

Khalkha Jetsundampa Zanabazar
(1635-1723) inside the temple of
Yisn Zilt in vrkhangai, close to
the birth place of Zanabazar (photo
by the author)

Modern statue of the first Khalkha

Jetsundampa Zanabazar inside the
temple of Yisn Zilt in vrkhangai,
(photo by the author)

The Mongolian Incarnation of Jo nang pa Trantha


Lake Shireet Tsagaan Nuur (The White Lake of [Zanabazars] enthronement) where the
first Khalkha Jetsundampa Zanabazar received the vow in 1639 (photo by the author)
Alleged place where the first Khalkha
Jetsundampa Zanabazar received his genyen vows
and where his hair cutting ceremony took place
at Yisn Zilt in vrkhangai (photo by
the author)

The ninth Khalkha Jetsundampa Jampal

Namdol Chokye Gyeltsen (b. 1932) in
his residence Takten House in
Dharamsala (February 2007, photo by
the author)

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Tenshin () l^-d-w(r-]n- 1906 v(c-u-[*d-df-uz#-dN]-dt(n- The Book of Tea
l*n-az#-sXe-[*d-fj[-]n-d;$r-sX-# Xv-x$v-eC^c-dXn-*n-[r-eCen-y*]-[^-d-dc-dX*[! w(re#-u-[*d-]r-! [^n-cdn-dl#-a-[r-V-az#-Ndn-Vc-d([-[r-n(e-a(z#-h-a-fr-a(n-[*r-nrxr-u-v(-[*-[r-p(e-crn-dgn-dXd! [*-]n-eo^]-w$r-]r-e ![*-*n-q*q- (Cake) Vcd;(n! Nc-xr-zdCn-[r-! V-N^e !h! h-v$-fz#-aen-a! N]-N! z(-f-[r-fhfn-c*-dgrxr-dnC*n-]n-dq(v-R#-x([! t*n-dC#n-z[^e!
zdCn-N#-D(]-y*]-nc- tv-n*-zd*v- Sir Charles Bell R#-sXe-[*d-d([-W#-f#-[frn-l*n-az#

Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea, Dover Publication, NY, (?) pp. , ; By the fourth
and fifth centuries Tea became a favourite beverage among the inhabitants of the modern ideograph cha was coined, evidently a corruption of the classic Tou. The prets of the southern
dynasties have left some fragments of their fervent adoration of the froth of the liquid jade
then emperors used to bestow some rare preparation of the leaves on their high ministers as a
reward for eminent services yet the method of drinking tea at this stage was primitive in the
extreme. The leaves were steamed, crushed in a mortar, made into a cake, and boiled together
with rice, ginger, salt, orange peel, spices, milk and sometimes with onions! The custom obtains
at the present day among the Thibetans and various Mongolian tribes, who make a curious syrup
of these ingredients.
Anonymous, On The Tea Cultivation in Western Szeuchuan and the tea trade with Tibet via

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]r-vzr-! nC(r-dg]-Nf-a(z#-N^-hz#-N^-[^n-n$-u-]#-X-]e-]n-d([-[^-[c-ze(-h$en! d([-Xvwd-W#-do^r-dXz#-eg-d(c-R^c-]n-i#]-c*c-u-s(c-n$f-t$-]n-d[^]-t$z#-dc-zp$r-dc-dX*[!

Tachienlu. . London, ; Baber Edward Colborne, On the Chinese tea trade with Tibet,
Royal Geographical Society, Supplementary Papers, I, /, -; Edkins J., Tea in Tibet,
China Review, XXII, , ; Horne Charles, Notes on a Tibet Teapot and on the Tea Used therein, IA, V, , -, fig; Huang Kangxiang, Tea trade between Sichuan and Tibet during
the Qing Dynasty, Dalu zazhi, (The Continent Magazine) Taipei, XLV, , , -;
Hutchinson James, Indian Brick Tea For Tibet, A report on a mission to Szu-chuan. , pl. X,
Calcutta, ; Jin Fei, Tea in the sourthern frontier region and Xikang-Tibet, Kang dao yuekan,
Chengtu, , , , -; Lumsden G. M., Where salt and tea are money, Asia (and the
Americas) Magazine, New York, XXXII, , -; Mitra Sarat Chandra, A note on the
Tibetan method of computing distance by means of tea-cups, Journal of the Anthropological
Society of Bombay, Bombay, XIV, -, -; Roy Sarat Chandra, Report on the progress of
the culture of the China tea plant in the Himalayas, Journal of the (Royal) Asiatic Society, Calcutta
Branch (Asiatic Society of Bengal), XII, , ; Yu Chuan, Tea-drinking Custom in Xikang and
Tibet, Bianzheng gonglun (Frontier Affairs), Ba (Sichuan)/ Nanking, III, , , -; Zhang
Junde, Investigation on the trade of tea between Sichuan and Tibet, Meng-Zang yuebao, VI, ,
, -; P. B. Chakrabarty, Atisha Dipankar, the first Indian to taste Tibetan tea, Tibetan
Review, August , pp. ,; Thomas Manning, Published (?) A paper on the consumption of tea in Tibet, Bhutan and Tartary; Nirmal C. Sinha, Tibetan tea (Letter), Tibetan Review,
November , p. ; Tenzin Trinley (Sherpa Rinpochi) Tibetan Tea (Letter), Tibetan Review,
January , p. .

Sir Charles Bell, The People of Tibet, Oxford University Press, , (First printed in ), p. ;
Song-tsen Gam-pos grandson introduced tea from China, and this has become the national
beverage of the Tibetans, who drink from thirty to seventy cups of it every day. Tea, Chinese,
bricks of, , ; cauldrons of, at monks sports, , ; ceremony of offering to gods before



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dX- uq^]-e;#en-n#-o^-a-y*]-y(n-W#-zdX^r-e]n- () W#-lv-N(d-E#r-N]-dqCzd$f-an-fj[-az#-X^[-dl#z#-[qz-zeC*v-vn! u-]#! X-]e-e#-N[-[^--l*n-d([! [*-;$cye-an-d([-[^-u-l*n-;*c-d-x#]! u-z[#-[r-a(-fp(-c#n-V-x$v-[^-x([-ac-eCen! e]f-]ndX-h -c#r-e#n-v(-z[d-zdCn-d$-sd-a-vn-dc-Nr-]n-et#e-;e-N*-X-]e-N(r-w$]-Xva(z#-nCn-h[-a-dNI^]-az#-ar-[^-V^r-dn-X-*n-er-x#]-]#-f-f*]-Wr-e]f-R#-Vn-e]rd-x#]-a-z[}-dnf-]n-v(-f-lv-[^-s$v-dn-h-d(-][-vn-eC(v-dc-R^c! wc-fXr-dn-dC(-deating, ; import of, , ; preferred by Tibetans to Indian tea, , ; consumption of, ,
, , , , -; introduced into Tibet, ; kinds of, five, ; as medium of exchange, ;
preparation of, , ; substitutes for, .

Brtag Thabs Padma Dkar Poi Chun Po, By Sn

Hum-Ka-Ra-Dza-Ya, With an
introduction to the manuscripts by Tashi Tsering, Published by Tashi Dorji, Dolanji,

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Patrick Booz, A Chinese Bogeyman: Fear of Indian Tea and the Failure of British India to
Break the Chinese Tea Monopoly in Tibet. Buddhist Himalaya: Studies in Religion, History
and Culture, The Golden Jubilee Conference of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology,
Gangtok, October .
Patrick Booz, How the Tibetans Got Their Tea: Desperate Coolies and Clever Women, The
Second International Seminar of Young Tibetologists, Paris, September .

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Brtag Thabs Padma Dkar Poi 'Chun Po, By Sn

Hum-Ka-Ra-Dza-Ya, With an
introduction to the manuscripts by Tashi Tsering, Published by Tashi Dorji, Dolanji,

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Brtag Thabs Padma Dkar Poi 'Chun Po, By Sn

Hum-Ka-Ra-Dza-Ya, With an
introduction to the manuscripts by Tashi Tsering, Published by Tashi Dorji, Dolanji,

[dX#]-u#z#-b(e-eCrn- 8687
zu#e-*]-Q^-[dr-fz#-#-q-dl^en! (u-fy([-) V-[dr-D(-eC(n-W#n-fj[-a! Brug pai khyad chos
man ngag skor phyogs gcig tu sgrigs pa, Kunsang Topgay, Thimphu, , pp. -

1 *-dg$]-pfn-t[-f*]-a-[e*-z[^]-X-fh-[av-d;r-a(z-# en$r-zd$f-t-a-dl^en-n(!!

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Vol b(e-eC rn- 659662
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Published by Pema Norbu Rinpoche, Delhi, 1984 b(e-eC rn- 531
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of Tibetan Works & Archives, Dharamsala, b(e-eC rn- 370372
q*z$-hr-N&v-N^-D(-d;r-zuf-[dXrn-N(]-vf-R#-en$r-zd$f! a([-ei#n-a! u-fy([-z[([Published by Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, Dharamsala, , pp. -. (



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b(e-eCrn- ::
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Champa Oser, New Delhi, fwz-N([-fz#-u-fy([! b(e-eC rn- 264 u-fy([-#[x#e-f]-re-env-N(]! b(e-eCrn- 472479
fwn-az#-[dr-a(-,-ve-b-dN]-[c-V-cfn-az#-en$r-zd$f! E*en-df-[r-a(!
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*-dg$]-D(-d;r-h$v-#fn-[av-d;r-a(z#- (zdC(r- -x(rn-zj]-) en$r-zd$f! [*d-ei#na! Published by Chophel Legdan, Delhi, u-fy([-z[}*]-a-fif-f*[-fz#-zeC*v-a!
b(e-eCrn- 431437 eC-hr-p(n-dnf-E#r-e#-u-fy([-ern-t]-fz#-zeC*v-a! b(eeCrn- 437443 u-fy([-cr-v$n-Xv-d-f! b(e-eCrn- 443445 u-fy([-dn([]fn-e;#-dX#]-f! b(e-eCrn- 445446



d;r-a(z#-en$r-zd$f! t! [*d-dl#-a! Published by V-fwc-x(rn-zj]-dN]-a-Xv-fh]!

New Delhi, u-fy([! b(e-eC rn- 629631
12 y(n-eC-y*]-a(-dqC-b#n-V^]-a(z#-zsen-hen-z[^n-N*-c#]-a(-y*z#-lv-z[(]-y(n-N([-cdenv-dl^en-n(! !X-ec-Nc-enc-[a*-c#r-! b(e-eCrn- 299200
13 [d$n-zR^c-y(n-N*-y*]-a(-[av-V]-zdCn-N^rn-hen-y*]-[r-! [av-V]-dqC-b#n-N(-freC-hr-dtn-W#-hen-z[(]-y(n-N([-W#-c#f-a-dNv-d;r-feC#]-X]-l*n-dX-d-dl^en-n(!
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m(c-;- 2 hn- 5 Xv-fy(e-N^-sC*r-V-a-y*]-a(z#-N^-fy([!
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m(c-;- 2 hn- 3 Xv-fy(e-N^-sC*r-d[^]-a-dNv-d;r-X-fhz#-N^-fy([-v! u-fy([! dNvd;r-f-z[}]* ! b(e-eCrn- 153
m(c-;- 10 hn- 18 Xv-fy(e-N^-sC*r-dX[-a-zuf-[av-X-fhz#-N^-fy([!
m(c-;- 2 hn- 16 Xv-fy(e-N^-sC*r-[e^-a-v$r-(en-X-fhz#-N^-fy([-v! u-fy([! D(-eC(nwr-d;r-! b(e-eCrn- 166
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re-e#-[dr-sXe^ !b(e-eCrn- 171
m(c-;- 3 hn- 20 Xv-fy(e-N^-sC*r-dt$-ei#n-a-zsC#]-vn-X-fhz#-N^-fy([-v! u-fy([!
re-[dr-D(-d;r-! b(e-eCrn- 174 e(r-env-zdCn-N^rn-N(-fr-y(n-N([-]r-e#-ufy([-u#-x([-]-l#r-eb*en-re-[dr-v$r-(en-ven-]n-r(-N([-e]r-dX^r-!
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b(e-eCrn- 343349
N*-el^r-zuf-[dXrn-q^]-[ez-dN]-az#-i#-fz#-en$r-p(c-d$-sX(en-dN^n-dl^en-n(! !d([W#-[a*-fj[-wr-! {-cf-n-v! 2005 u-fy([-y*]-f(-[r-! s$[-fy([-[e(n-z[([-q^]-zdX^rdl^en-n(! !b(e-eCrn- 667676
ce-fe(-fy(e-N&v-p$d-dN]-db[-N&d-X-fhz#-en$r-zd$f! a([-dl#-a! V#-v#! D-f-Nvd;r-! 1985 u-fy([! b(e-eCrn- 247248
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1981 u-[r-a(! b(e-eCrn- 714
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zuf-az#-[dXrn-fwn-[dr-nrn-Xn-(-*z#-en$r-zd$f-c#]-a(-y*-E*en-df-en$f-adl^en-n(! !V#-v#! ,-tcX-db[-N&d-dN]-zj]! 1995 u-fy([-W#-q-c#-qz#-[(]-f[(-gfdb[-a-[e*-v*en-W#-z[([-zu(-l*n-dX-d-dl^en-n(! !b(e-eCrn- 129142
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b(e-eCrn- 463467
eo*c-y*]-b*n-cd-z([-;*c-R#-en$r-zd$f! V-# v#! 1977 u-fy([-d[^[-z#-N#]-s$r-! b(eeCrn- 397
fw]-a(-p$d-dN]-d]-zeC^n-W#-en$r-zd$f-a([-,*! V#-v#! a{-](c-d$-c#]-a(-y*! 1985 ufy([-nrn-Xn-fX^c-zeC^d! b(e-eCrn- 631636
fwn-eC^d-nrn-Xn-x*-b*n-W#-dqz-zd$f-[r(n-eC^d-q^]-zdX^r-! [*d-ei#n-a! V#-v#! [(]zeCd^ -(-*! 1976 u-fy([-d[*-y*]-q^]-d;r-! b(e-eCrn- 45
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(-[fc-ldn-[}^r-f#-zR^c-(-*z#-en$r-zd$f! V#-v#! re-[dr-N(dn-Xn! 1981 u-fy([z[([-x(]-s$]-hen! b(e-eCrn- 302304
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[av-V]-q-dqz-dX^[-W#-*n-n$-zdC r-dz#-[e*-z[^]-fn-W#-p%]-f(r-hen-n$-lvz[(]-[^-dX-dz#-y(n-N([-W#-c#f-a-v*en-vf-cd-env-l*n-dX-dl^en-n(! ![av-N^rn-p%ddN]-y(n-zw(c-E#r-e#-Nc-f! b(e-V*dn- 85d287d2 dc! [*-]n-u-e(r-e#-en(v-z[*dn[r-u-fy([-n(en-W#-N(c-]#! l*n-env!
eo#r-N*n-[e(]-dXr-a{-y(n-zs*v-R#-en$r-zd$f! Published by Ngawang Sonam, Tezu,
, Volume b(e-eC rn- 279281 u-fy([-q^]-d;r-fy([-az#-[ez-N(]-dl^en-n(! ![[^r-a{-dq([-W#-u-fy([-d[^[-z#-c(v-fh! dqz-eo*c-W#-u-fy([! u-fy([-X-y*]-[dX#dnv*en-f-dtn-x([-N[! z[#-fn-]#-[a*c-fh]-gf-x#]! [-[^r-ex$r-[}^r-d(]-[r-! n[e*-dqz-#r-n(-n(z#-]r-vzr-u-fy([-N-b(n-n$n-fj[-n(en-l#d-a-*n-n(c-p$en-Nrt]-hn-w-N(r-x(r-d-l^-ven!


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dg]-dX(v-d([-el^r-[r-p(e-f#-y-[q(]-l#r-ve-zjrn-y*-Nr-d([-W#-d[*]-[(]-[r-y(n-c#ef#-ifn-Nc-en(z#-vn-ze^v-]r-w-l*-ei#n-f*[-dl^en-fw]-7f#-*-dqz-D(]-sXe-c(en;$c-a! d([-W#-[a*-fj[-wr-p(e-fc-zyc-el#-eo#r-fw]-eCn-[r-ve-dNc-e]r-f#! fpcze]-zj]-sXe-N*v-[r-N#-d-ze]-zj]-f#-v(-i*c-d[^]-e]r-c#r-d([-W#-[a*-fj[-wr-l*n*

e^n-y$r-d([-W#-[a*-fj[-wr-e#-c#e-el^r-ifn-l#d-a-[r-d([-x#e-Nc-dN&]-N*-h]-R#-[(-[f-aet#e-V(en-l^-Ndn- 1665 v(z#-zdCn-N^rn-[ez-V]-s(-dCr-e#-Nc-f-[a*-#r-(en-d([[ae-dnf-z#-b#r-N[-ei#n-b]-Nc-l*n-a- 1998 v(c-Nc-N&]-l^-[^n-dN(-N(]-y*[-[f#enebf-env-Vc-l^n-a- This edition is dedicated to Mr. Gyatsho Tshering, Director of the

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zjf-d$-E#r-z[#c-fh]-NI]-zdc-l#r-! d([-[a*-[r-sX#-Xv-N[-x#e-p(e-]r-y(n-[r-d([zdC*v-[a*-[*d-W#-e]-fj[-y*-b(n-n$-R^c-a-[r-! sX#-f#-]r-y(n-ifn-dl*n-n$-zu$e-a! sX#]r-fwn-[dr-fr-a(-zhc-v(r-dN*[-dnC#r-zdX^r-w$rn-W#-dN#-e]n-n$-dq([-fw]-Nnx$v-zdCn-f(-V(rn-a-,-X-X-fh-h -c#r- (////) fy(e-e#n-fj[-a-sXec#n-t#-fy#n-v-*n-[}]-e^n-do^[-[r-! dXn-a-[}#]-e;(z#-y*[-[^-[aX[-f-p$r-r$-z[#-dN(-dven-n(! !el]-[^-]-[*r-nr-N#-N*c-D-[a(]-hr-f-,-enc-y*-v-NI]-t(e-X-b(e-vn-nCdt#r-! sX#-pe-p$r-Ndn-N#-hn-dXn-a-t]-R#-f#c-r(-en(-e;*rn-dN([-f*[-ac! r(-[ez-wene-t]-v-d-fp(r-dX*[-az#-[^n-r]-hn-]n-y(n-zu#e-*]-er-vzr-s]-N*dn-f*[-acN#-[(]-;(f-dN&c-[r-X-z$dn-f#-z[^n-a! f#-;[-p*dn-a! dV-d;(-z[#-w$rn-f*[-az#-e]nn$-V^r-z[#c-W*-f-W*-m^[! ,-g-f! ]f-fwz#-D-f-[q(]-fy(e ![e(rn-b#e !e;#en-b#e


Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea, Dover Publication, NY,

Sir Charles Bell, The People of Tibet, Oxford University Press, , (First printed in

Brtag Thabs Padma Dkar Poi Chun Po, By Snags-Chan Hum-Ka-Ra-Dza-Ya, With
an introduction to the manuscripts by Tashi Tsering, Published by Tashi Dorji,
Library of Tibetan Works & Archives for over twenty seven years, by his many loving colleagues.

[r-! E*r-d([-]r-vzr-ebf-zw([-Vc-l^n-a-x#]-ven! This volume is dedicated to

the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives beloved director, Mr. Gyatsho Tshering, in the year
of his retirement.



4 e(-zu(-[dr-z[^n! en(-d-c#e-az#-he-fj[-ex$-p(e-[e(rn-X]! a*-t#r-f#-c#en-[a*N&]-wr-! 1983

5 N*-nC#[-nrn-Xn-X-fhn-fj[-a! en(-d-c#e-az#-dN]-dt(n-N]-Dz#-[e(rn-X]X^[-dl#z#-env-dX*[-dZ^c-N(]-a(z#-fV#-qz#-sC*r-d-vn-[^f-d$-dl#-a-sX#-f-X^[-W#-fdb[-t*n-dX-d-dl^en-n(! !d([-el^r-N]-n-wr-! {-cf-n-v! 1994
6 X^[-W#-dqz-N&d-[}r-nC(r-dqC-b#n-[av-d;r-e#n-fj[-a! d([-W#-N]-#n-y*[-(fsX(en-dN^n! d([-cr-N(r-V(rn-N]-#n-wr-e#n-dfn! d([-V(rn-f#-[frn-[a*N&]-wr-! 1986
7 [^r-[qc-he-fj[-y*]-f(! qC^r-e(z#-d([-c#e-a-[a*-N&]-wr-! 2002
8 [av-zdX(c-d;r-a(n-dfn! X-d([-x#e-hr-y*]-f(! n#-(]-f#-c#en-[a*-N&]-wr-!
9 u-yr-V-f(z#-dN]-dt(n! d([-V(rn-f#-[frn-[a*-N&]-wr-! 2000
10 Ve-,(-X]-y(n-zs*v-R#n-dfn! u-x#-dN]-dt(n-l*n-dX-d-dl^en-n(! !f#-c#en-[a*N]& -wr-! 2005
11 [az-d(-eg$e-ve-sC*r-dn-dfn-a! y(n-zdX^r-fwn-az#-[ez-N(]! N([-y! !f#c#en-[a*-N&]-wr-! 1986
12 [^n-en$f-nrn-Xn-pfn-t[-W#-p$en-*z#-f-c(v-[av-V]-se-eC^-(-*-Xv-a(fy(e-e#-en$r-zd$f-c#]-a(-y*-E*en-df-ei#n-a-dl^en-n(!! Published by Khenpo
Shedup Tenzin & Lama Thinley Namgyal, Shri Gautam Buddha Vihara,

13 ,(z(-ven-W#n-dC#n! d([-x$v-R#-u-vn-dX^r-dz#-eof! Nr-X]-f*-o(e 2004 (3)

14 d([-W#-nC#[-[(]-Xv-cdn! l-Nd-a-[dr-sX^e-d[*-V]-R#n-Nc-dz(! !E*en-df-[r-a(!
Ee* n-df-ei#n-a! q-D(]-N^e-l-Nd-be 1976
15 u(-d(-*-V-et#e-[av-V]-,-o#-bz#-f-pc-D-fz#-x(]-o]-y(n-W#-zdX^r-e]n-n(en-


u(-nCn-dqC-b#n-h -c#r-!

dqz-e[fn-c#]-a(-y*z#-E*en-df! zdC(f-N(]-R#n-en$rn! [ez-V]-s$]-hen-E#re#-Nc-f!

16 [*-Nz#-d([-n-e]n-nC#[-el^r-e#-nC#[-zj]-N#e-el#! db[-N-[ez-V]-[av-zdX(c-[r-!
yd-hf-zy#-f*[-Xv-a(! nC*e-b#r-D(-d;r-[(]-eC^d! d([-cr-N(r-V(rn-nC#[-eC(n-v(-X^nc#e-e]n-[aX[-el#z#-X^-y-,$-x(]-V]-wr-e#n-f-N#e-dXn-a! d([-W#-v(-X^n-c#ee]n-[aX[-el#z#-X^-y-d[fn-dN#en! f#-c#en-[a*-N&]-wr-! 1991
17 dqz-;$c-b]-w-d-zR^c-f*[-dn([-]fn-N(dn-Xn-W#n-dfn-a! q 21 N*c-db[-Nz(e-az#-f#-cdn-zez-l#e-dX^r-h$v-v! z^e-dC#n!

Some Preliminary Remarks on

the Influx of New World Silver into Tibet
during Chinas Silver Century
Elliot Sperling

The economic history of Tibet is an excruciatingly difficult subject to deal

with, in large part because of the dearth of sources that directly deal with large
economic issues. As a result, one must work with materials that are generally
anecdotal where economic matters are concerned and draw what inferences
may seem reasonable. This paper is intended as a preliminary attempt at understanding one element of Tibets place in the economy of the Post-Columbian
world. Indeed, the main thrust of what I have to say is that Tibet has always
been a part of the larger world, not simply physically, but economically and
culturally. Much as I see the demographic center of gravity of Tibetans shifting to the east after the 13th and 14th centuries as a result of global forces (the
decline of Buddhism in India and the resulting hazards of pilgrimage, as well
as the resurgence of the Mi-nyag/Tangut population in Khams, enhanced by
the diaspora from the crushed Tangut state), so too I recognize a role for the
effects of global trade in Tibet in the wake of the flood of silver into China
after massive silver and gold deposits were discovered in the New World following the post-1492 Spanish exploration and colonization of the Americas.
The question, though, is what the actual effects of this aspect of globalization had in Tibet. This paper represents an opening of the subjecthence it
is termed preliminary. Ultimately it will be necessary to attempt to gather
figures about the relative value of goods and metals in Tibet over the course of
the 16th and 17th centuries before we can advance beyond what I see here as
the mere broaching of the subject for research.
The significance of New World silver cannot be underestimated: from
approximately 1550 to 1800, more than 80% of the worlds silver came from
the Americas. The Spanish took control of mines that had been producing silver before 1492 and began minting coins in the Americas; first in Mexico in
1535 and a few decades later in Peru. 1 With the Spanish occupation of the

Harry E. Cross, South American bullion production and export 1550-1750, in

J.F. Richards (ed.), Precious Metals in the Later Medieval and Early Modern
Worlds, Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 1983, pp. 397-398.


Elliot Sperling

Philippines in 1565 large scale trade between Asia and the new world commenced almost immediately with this archipelago as its base.2 Precious metals mined in the Americasgenerally in the form of minted coins3 quickly
became the primary items that Spanish traders used in trade with Asia and
over the space of a few decades the transshipment of New World silver via
the Philippines had a major effect on Asian trade. A disproportionate amount
of that silver wound up in China where the foreign demand for Chinese goods
was met by a Chinese demand for silver, and during the period from approximately 1550 to 1650 the amount of silver in China grew with exceeding rapidity. The percentage of New World silver that ended up in China was certainly
enormousit is variously estimated at a third or more4 and there is no doubt
that it affected tremendous changes in Chinas economic life. Indeed it was not
simply the desire for the China trade that produced this situation: internally,
post-Yuan China began a new monetization policy that ultimately made silver
the monetary standard. This Chinese desire did mitigate the relative value of
the metalthere was not simply a deluge that no one knew how to handle. But
over a period of several decades there were a variety of studies that produced
different interpretations of the situation.5
None of this is to say that there was little or no silver in China prior to the
16th century, or in Tibet, for that matter. Far from it; silver had been mined in
Asia for millennia. We also find silver used in various forms of exchange and
commerce well before the European discovery of the New World. Japanese
silver, we may note, was also important during the Ming period. But previous
indigenous production was swamped by the amount that came from the Americas, a development that had a dramatic and unprecedented effect; indeed, a
revolutionary one. And Tibet could certainly not have been exempt from its
effects. Although I propose this at the outset, I must also tamp down excessive
expectations of what may be proven here. Whereas we have a certain amount
of quantifiable data from which to estimate the circulation of silver in general
and New World silver in particular in China, we have a rather opposite situation in Tibet, where we are forced to make suppositions based on Chinese
sources, which in this case are crucial, and from anecdotal evidence in Tibetan
materials. Thus, while it has been possible for scholars to estimate the relative
value of silver vis--vis copper, for instance, in China (though not without disagreements), we have no Tibetan source materials from which to draw similar

John J. Tepaske, New World silver, castile and the Philippines 1590-1800, in
J.F. Richards, op. cit. p. 435.
Cross, op. cit., p. 398.
Richard von Glahn, Fountain of Fortune: Money and Monetary Policy in China,
1000-1700, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996, p. 113.
Ibid., pp. 3-7, which discusses the varied interpretations of the silver influx into China.

Tibet and New World Silver


inferences. All that we can say is that there was a definite increase in the flow
of silver from China into Tibet in the period in question. And while Tibet, like
China, had a long prior history of using silver in ways similar to its neighbors,
this flow must certainly have affected the value and use of the precious metal
on the Plateau through a process similar to what is found in China: as the supplies increased it would likely have become more commonly used. It is as a
result of this excess that I believe we see the increased appearance of silver in
presentations by the court to Tibetans, lay and secular, who paid tribute.
In addition, there is the added issue of silver flowing into Tibet from another source: India. But here it should be borne in mind that India at this time
was likely a lesser source for the increased supply. For one thing, New World
silver made its way to China much earlier, due to the utility of the Philippines
as a way-station. The New World silver which entered Indiamost notably
at Suratwas largely a result of the Indian Ocean trade, which brought European ships around Africa from the metropole. In addition, New World Silver
also entered Indian Ocean commerce via the overland route from the Ottoman
Empire. Given that the entry of silver from the Americas into Mughal India
was related to trade with the Ottomans and with Persia; it consequently took a
longer time to develop as compared to its course in China.6
In attempting to gauge the frequency of silver being sent into Tibet it is
useful to look at the various relevant transactions recorded in the Ming shilu
. Most importantly these include the presentations made to Tibetans coming to court and to others presenting tribute. But before turning to the shilu we
ought to look at the Ming huidian , the important compendium of governmental statutes. The work was first completed in 1503, and revised in 1510
and 1587.7 The contents make it clear that the bulk of information in it reflects
the situation before the effects of the Silver Century made themselves felt.
Within this compilation we find clearly articulated imperial regulations relating to presentations to Tibetan lamas:
Xifan [i.e., Tibetan areas in the West], Dbus-Gtsang. Since the
Hongwu [1368-1398] and Yongle [1403-1424] periods
presentations have not been ranked. We have restored the set ranks for
lamas and Fan [i.e., Tibetan] monks. Those who arrive at the capital
after being sent on from Sichuan are each to be given one lined multicolored satin robe (caiduan biaoli ) and a set of fine silk

Joseph J Brennig, Silver in seventeenth-century Surat: Monetary circulation and

the price revolution in Mughal India, in J.F. Richards, op. cit., pp. 478-482.
See the prefaces, which can be dated respectively to January 8, 1503, January
28, 1510, and March 24, 1587: Ming Huidian (Taipei, 1968), 1-6.


Elliot Sperling
(zhusi ) garments uniformly of natural color. Those left behind
on the frontier are to be rewarded similarly: for the multi-colored satin
robes, an extensive gift of four rolls of raw coarse silk (zhe yukuo
shengjuan );8 for the set of fine silk garments comprising
two garments with one given with natural color, three rolls of raw
coarse silk. All are to be rewarded with fifty ingots worth of paper
money, boots and stockings equivalent to paper money valued at 50
ingots, and sixty jin of food and tea.

Each lama and Fan monk among those who arrive at the capital after being sent on from Taozhou and Hezhou are to be given as their
equivalent garments of one lined multi-colored robe (subsequently augmented
by one inner and outer lining), two pieces of fine silk with damask added as
lining (lingtie liyi ). The Fan monks, etc., who remain at the border
are to be similarly rewarded. As an equivalent to the multi-colored satin robe
they are to receive four rolls of raw coarse silk. All are to receive fifty jin of
food and tea, and boots and stocking equivalent to paper money valued at 50
ingots. Those who come and present middle-grade military horses are to receive for each horse one roll of fine silk and paper money worth 300 ingots.
For woolen serge and similar items the precedents have given no prices. For
those who present local products the return presentations are four lined multicolored robes. If the Fan violate the regulations and dispatch too many people,
for each person there is to be a reduction of two, one, or three rolls of coarse
silk, or a reduction of the damask-lined garments.
Following the Zhengde [1506-1521] period, two dharmarja violated the regulations in sending tribute and for many years sent as many as a
thousand people.9 And so the regulations were followed and rewards reduced.
Those who came to the capital received a lined multi-colored satin robe and
those left at the frontier received three rolls of coarse silk.
In the sixth year of Jiajing [1526/1527] a memorial was accepted
that effectively regularized the rewards for Fan [lay] people and monks from
Dbus-Gtsang, Chang Hexi , Mdo-khams (Duo-Gansi ), Dongbuhanhu , Rgyal-rong (Jinchuan ), Rdza-yul (Zayu ), the

Taiwan edition reads zhe kuo shengjuan .

This would appear to be a reference not to dharmarja (Ch. Fawang ), but
to the two wang , the Fujiao wang (Stag-tshang Sa-skya-pa) and the
Chanjiao wang (Bri-gung-pa) who are mentioned in the Mingshi
with several other, otherwise unnamed wang, as sending excessive numbers of
people to court on tribute missions. See Zhang Tingyu , Mingshi (Beijing,
1974) 331:8576.

Tibet and New World Silver


Dasi man (barbarians) , the Jiakewa monastery , Songpan , Tao[zhou] and Min[zhou] and other places and as the equivalent of a multi-colored satin robe all were given one roll [of silk]. As the
equivalent for those who presented horses, the horses would be calculated and
the equivalence given.10
[For] rewards the Branch Ministry of Personnel (Xing Libu ) of the
Ministry of Rites (Libu ) requested the bestowal of letters patent. Each yamen of the imperial storehouses, kept two pieces of crafted brocade work,
ten lined garments of fine silk, a set of kaya (jiasha ) monks robes,
one high-peaked monks hat, one crystal ml, two pairs of cymbals, two pairs
of bells and sticks, two white porcelain tea bowls, one maala (mandala
), one phoenix ribbon (luandai ) belt, one pair each of boots and
stockings, 100 jin of food and tea, and a stick of sandalwood. Imperial orders
were requested to have the the Dacien Monastery put forward two
lamas as Commissioner and Vice-Commissioner (zheng-fushi ), bringing with them ten others. They, like the original lamas who had come asking
for appointment, with hands raised to receive it, went out to the Fan region to
confer the appointments. A translator was dispatched with them. They were
escorted halfway. When they reached the Sichuan Provincial Administration
Commission (Buzhengsi ) it was delivered. They exited the country at
Lizhou or Tianquan . The Commissioner and Vice-Commissioner
were each rewarded with eighty ingots worth of paper money. The lamas received sixty ingots worth. All were given one set of Fan monks clothing, each
a pair of boots and stockings. The Zanshan wang [Gling-tshang] was
given his appointment. He exited the country via Taozhou in Shaanxi .
The Chanhua wang [Phag-mo gru] and three other wang exited the
country from Sichuan.
In the 5th year of Chenghua [1469/1468] the Chanhua and Fujiao
[Stag-tshang-pa] wang were appointed. A Commissioner and others were dispatched, carrying with them goods with which to secure safe passage: 25,000
jin of food and tea, 300 rolls of fine silk, 100 rolls of gauze, 1,000 rolls of
coarse silk, 3,500 rolls of blue and red cotton, 10,000 strips of gold leaf, and
100 jin of pepper.11
10 This was the result of a memorial from the Ministry of Rites and is alluded to in
an entry in the Ming shilu. See Ge Zucheng et al., Ming shilu Zangzu
shiliao (Lhasa, 1982), p. 982. The areas named seem to be
centered in the eastern Khams region.
11 On February 7, 1469, appointments were made which allowed the appointees
to inherit the titles which had been held by their fathers. See Gu Zucheng op.
cit., p. 674.


Elliot Sperling

In the 16th year [1480/1481] rewards were given to the Chanhua wang and
to thirty returning appointees including a lama Buddhist rectifier (jueyi ),
etc.12 The Commissioner, meditation master (chanshi ) and Buddhist rectifier each received 80 ingots worth of paper money, three lined multi-colored
satin robes, and three rolls of coarse silk. The vice-commissioner and clerical
supervisor (dugang ) received 60 ingots worth of paper currency and one
lined garment. The lamas who were dispatched each received 40 ingots worth
of paper currency and one lined garment. All were given one set of fine silk
clerical garments, one pair of boots and stockings. Those bringing groups each
received 20 ingots worth of paper currency and one lined garment. For the
presentation of serge and other such objects no value was assigned.13
12 This seems to refer to a mission from the Chanhua wang and others recorded in an
entry in the Ming shilu for October 2, 1480. See Gu Zuchengt op. cit., p. 753.
13 Ming Huidian (Taipei, 1968) 112:2380-2381:

I have cited here the Taiwan edition (a reprint of an earlier Shangwu yinshuguan
version originally printed on the mainland) of the Ming huidian,
which places the passage in juan 112. The electronic Siku chuanshu
(Wenyuange edition) has this passage (with significant omissions and
differences) in juan 102 (102: 9a-11a). Elsewhere, the passage is found in juan
111. Cf., Wang Lixiong , Shousuo neixiang de MingchaoXixang yu
Zhongguo de lishi guanxi (3) (3)

Tibet and New World Silver


This long passage is useful in that it allows us to understand at a glance

the general types of items that were used in transactions between the Ming
court and Tibetans. To sum up what we have just seen, the goods provided to
Tibetans in the description in the Ming huidian are as follows:
Boots and Stockings
Coarse silk
Cymbals and bells
Fine silk
Food and Tea
Gold Leaf

Monastic robes and hats
Paper Money
Satin robes
Various garments

This list is naturally not exhaustive and a few caveats are in order; most
importantly the fact that silver was used in some presentations (not described
here), having been part of the Chinese and Tibetan economies before the massive influx of New World silver. What is striking and significant is that there is
no silver included among the presentations described in the Ming huidian. The
equivalent of silver ingots in paper money is mentioned, but not actual silver.
Gold is also absent, we may note. Still, what makes this particularly interesting
is that when we begin to look more closely at actual records of valuables being
presented and traded to Tibetans we do notice a change. Again, it is not that we
dont find silver mentioned in dealings with Tibetans during the first two centuries of the Ming. But it is far more infrequent than later. This is what I find
when I looked at records of presentations similar to those recorded in the Ming
huidian as they occur in the Ming shilu. The number of such presentations is
enormous, but a glance at those earlier in the dynasty bears out the impression
given by the Ming huidian of the relative infrequency of silver presentations.
Zeroing in with more precision, we can look at the figures from 1550 until the
end of the dynasty, relating to presentations made to Tibetan hierarchs, the sort
of presentations that the Ming huidian discusses. In doing so, we must bear in
mind the chronology of Spanish commerce between the Americas, the Philip(

111 69 2).

Elliot Sperling


pines, and the Asian mainland; specifically, the establishment of Spanish

control over the Philippines in 1565 which turned Manila into the main entrept
for the commerce in new World silver for Asian goods. Indeed, Manila also
came to support a substantial Chinese trading population as well. The success
of trade in the Philippines produced substantial profits: it is estimated that
Spanish merchants based in the New World who sent out silver to buy Asian
goods in Manila may have even quadrupled their initial outlays when the items
purchased with that silver were brought and sold in the Americas.14 The incentive for shipping silver to Asia was enormous, but it was matched by Chinas
need for silver.
If we begin looking at transactions from the 1550s (before the commerce
in silver from the Americas burgeoned) of the sort just described, we find
throughout a few shilu entries with no mention of specific return gifts,
simply a note that visiting Tibetans were rewarded, or else feted at a banquet.
Some of these entries are interesting for their own sake, as when the Chanhua
wang, i.e., Phag-mo-gru, in an entry for January 2, 1562, is said to have presented particularly crude and awful (cue ) regional products,15 or when,
on August 17, 1584, Tibetans offer a silver maala. 16 When we do
find indications of specific gifts, we notice a dearth of silver presentations at
firstand we do need to bear in mind the absence of silver in the Ming huidian statutes on prescribed gifts for Tibetans. Even just beginning in the crucial
year 1565 there is little disbursement of silver. But after a few years, we note
shilu entries describing the following gifts sent off with Tibetans (entries
mentioning silver are in bold):


July 22, 1572: the equivalent of satin, clothing, money, given

as 542 liang of silver.17
October 15, 1572: satin, coarse silk, silver and paper money.18
December 2, 1572: satin, coarse silk, ingots valued in paper
money, silver liang.19
December 26, 1572: satin, coarse silk, silver and paper money.20
May 6, 1573: lined multi-colored satin robes, coarse silk, paper
money and silver liang.21
Tepaske, op. cit., p. 435.
Gu Zucheng op. cit., p. 1052
Ibid, p. 1122.
Ibid, p. 1075.
Ibid, p. 1076.
Ibid, p. 1078.
Ibid, p. 1079.
Ibid, p. 1081.

Tibet and New World Silver



October 6, 1573: coarse silk and paper money.22

October 29, 1573: satin. coarse silk, silver and paper money.23
December 6, 1574: coarse silk and paper money.24
November 18, 1575: paper money and coarse silk.25
February 20, 1576: coarse silk, paper money and silver.26
March 10, 1576: silver and money.27
June 9, 1576: silver and money.28
December 21, 1578: silver.29
July 27, 1579: silver and coins.30
January 7, 1581: coarse silk and paper money.31
July 8, 1582: satin and paper money.32
June 8, 1585: multi-colored satin and rolls of coarse silk.33
April 9, 1588: multi-colored silk (caibi ), silver and paper money.34
January 28, 1594: coarse silk, silver, paper money and coins.35
February 18, 1596: satin, coarse silk and ingots valued in paper money.36
July 19, 1596: clothing and compensation for horses (cf. the
Ming huidian).37
February 26, 1597: satin and paper money.38
April 14, 1597: compensation for horses, rolls of coarse silk
and ingots valued in paper money.39
February 15, 1598: multi-colored satin, coarse silk and ingots
valued in paper money.40
June 11, 1600: satin and silks, boots and stockings.41



1107. Note here bi is used for coins, not silk.

Elliot Sperling


July 9, 1603: satin, paper money, food and tea.42

March 25, 1604: silver ingots and rolls of satin.43
June 9, 1605: satin, paper money, boots and stockings.44
July13, 1605: food and tea, coarse silk and paper money.45
October 13, 1605: satin, coarse silk, silver and paper money.46
March 13, 1608: coins and paper money.47
March 18, 1608: satin and paper money.48
February 21, 1609: satin and paper money.49
February 14, 1610: satin, coarse silk, silver and paper money.50
July 9, 1610: satin, coarse silk, silver and coins.51
March 20, 1611: boots and stockings, coarse silk and paper money.52
June 30, 1611: satin, coarse silk, silver and paper money.53
July 14, 1611: paper money and coarse silk.54
August 28, 1611: satin, coarse silk, silver and paper money.55
April 6, 1613: gold-brocade flowered silk (zhijin wenji )
and ingots valued in paper money.56
January 2, 1614: satin, paper money, and food and tea.57
April 27, 1614: rolls of coarse silk, silver liang valued in satin.58
December 21, 1614: silver liang valued in coarse silk.59
May 23, 1615: satin rolls and silver liang.60
May 8, 1617: coarse silk and paper money.61
October 30, 1617: compensation for horses in rolls of satin and
silver liang.62




Tibet and New World Silver



December 1, 1617: coarse silk and paper money.63

August 4, 1618: satin and coarse silk. 64
August 10, 1618: silver liang valued in satin.65
September 26, 1618: rolls of satin and silver liang.66
October 2, 1618: satin and coarse silk.67
August 26, 1619: multi-colored silk.68
September 4, 1619: multi-colored silk.69
November 24, 1619: multi-colored silk. 70

We have here a very interesting illustration, I think, of the spread of New

World silver into Tibet. Of the 54 recorded specific reciprocal presentations
made to Tibetan hierarchs by the Ming court in the period after 1550, fully 22
can be said to have involved silver. The number of entries that have been omitted because no items (or only banquets) are specified is small. Among the rest,
almost all of the other items for presentations are easily recognizable from the
recorded statutes in the Ming huidian. But silver, which is not mentioned there,
is extremely prominent in the list just given; considering its relative absence
from the records before the middle of the sixteenth century must be considered
to have acquired its place through the disproportionate amount of silver flowing into China. As already noted, more than 80% of the worlds silver came
from the Americas in the period between 1550 and 1800; one third of that, it is
estimated, ended up in China.71 Clearly, a portion that silver travelled further
and ended up in Tibet.
In the same period for which we have looked at court presentations to
Tibetans we have references to the trade in tea for horses which are less clear
in indicating an influx of silver. Tea remained a viable commodity (and this
continued into modern times). So while there are intermittent references to
silver in some of these entries, the issue is complex and the tea-horse trade is
more difficult to analyze because of the prevalence (admitted in various shilu
entries) of private, illegal commerce in horses along the frontier.72
From the Tibetan side we can adduce some unsystematized information.

Ibid, p. 1234.
Ibid, p. 1236.
Ibid, p. 1236.
Ibid, p. 1236.
Ibid, p. 1236.
Ibid, p. 1237.
Ibid, p. 1237.
Ibid, p. 1238.
von Glahn, op. cit., p. 113.
This difficulty in asserting government control over the tea-horse trade started
quite early; see the Ming shilu entry for March 13, 1397, bemoaning the problem
in Gu Zucheng, op. cit., p. 106.


Elliot Sperling

When the 5th Karma-pa arrived at the Ming court in 1407, among the presentations from the emperor recorded in a Ming shilu entry for February 2, 1407,
are one hundred liang of gold and one thousand liang of silver.73 In addition,
there were recorded presentations of silver for members of his entourage as
well. The Zla-ba chu-shel-gyi phreng-ba also mentions presentations during
the same period (but not on the same day): seven bre of gold and thirty-seven
bre of silver.74 Similarly, we know of presentations of silver for other hierarchs
honored by the Ming emperor during this period. If we move forward into the
17th century, we find that the 10th Karma-pa, Chos-dbyings rdo-rje (16041674), during his stay in Jang-sa-tham is the recipient of offerings from the
king that included on one occasion in 1633, various valuable gifts including
200 srang of silver and in ca 1640-1642 much silver in return for five days
of ritual.75 It is not unexpected for us to find ample silver at the disposal of the
emperor for honored hierarchs who are specifically invited to court. However,
I would once again note that in the general statutes, ordinary visiting clerics
were not prescribed silver as presents; yet later on that is indeed what we see.
Similarly, in the presentations of silver by the king of Jang-sa-tham we may
conjecture that by the 17th century what was previously a relatively luxurious
gift was available to the extent that a petty king could make use of it. This is, of
course, anecdotal, and the conclusions to be reached are limited. But we are in
fact looking at records from a time before the influx of New World silver and
a time after it. The explanation might just be as simple as that.
Of course, silver also likely reached Tibet via India. But the influx of New
World silver came to India later than it did to China. As already noted, much
of the silver reaching India came via Europe (i.e., Spain) and was an extension of European trade with the Ottoman Empire and Persia. Silver shipped to
Surat, the most important entrept for it, came via Spain, not the Philippines,
although some did arrive via the trade with Southeast Asia as well. Significant
Indian imports of silver from the Americas really begin only at the beginning
of the 17th century. Did these imports reach Tibet? Undoubtedly a certain
amount did, but we have little documentation with which to attack this

Gu Zucheng, op. cit., p. 130.

Ti Si-tu-pa Kun-mkhyen Chos-kyi byung-gnas bstan-pai nyin-byed [=Si-tu
pa-chen Chos-kyi byung-gnas], Bsgrub-brgyud Karma ka-tshang brgyud-pa
rin-po-chei rnam-par thar-pa rab-byams zla-ba chu-shel-gyi phreng-ba, in Ti
Si-tu-pa Kun-mkhyen Chos-kyi byung-gnas bstan-pai nyin-byed, Ti Si-tu-pa
Kun-mkhyen Chos-kyi byung-gnas bstan-pai nyin-byed-kyi bka-bum (Sansal,
Himachal Pradesh, 1990), vol 11, f. 229v.
75 Unpublished biography of Chos-dbyings rdo-rje from ff. 172a and 176a, quoted
in Karl Debreczeny, Ethnicity and Power: Negotiating the Sino-Tibetan Synthesis
in Ming Buddhist Painting, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Chicago, 2007, pp.
300 and 342.

Tibet and New World Silver


question. We do have for the late 17th century the well-known, detailed journal
of the Armenian merchant Hovhannes Joughayetsi, who travelled to Tibet to
trade. By the time of his trip silver is the common currency. This is important,
since much earlier in the century Portuguese imports of copper had been one
of the major sources for what was then the primary material used in Indian
coinage.76 But Hovhanness daily living expenses in Tibet are recorded and
measured in silver and indicate average daily expenses of 3.79 grams of silver
as opposed to 8.18 grams when he was in India.77 This does demonstrate the
ascent of silver as a currency in India; however, we still lack the sort of detailed
information that will permit a substantive analysis of the discrepancy in daily
expenses that might say something more about the relative cost of living in
Tibet as compared to India, and the actual circulation of silver inside Tibet.
The fact that Hovhannes considered silver a common currency in Tibet
underlines the observation that Tibet had been affected by the global trade in
silver and, to carry the connection further, by the expansion of Europe into
the Americas. In brief, Tibet was a part of the world. It was never other than
that, of course, but it is important to understand that it was an active part of
the world and of the world system whose creation was set in motion by the
Columbian voyages.
The present paper represents a very small step in elucidating the details
of Tibets place in the post Columbian world. The basic elements explored
here have only been examined in the most basic way possible. Following
from this it remains for us to expand upon this work and begin an analysis of
all the Chinese data that we have about interchange and exchange between
Tibet and post-Columbian China, whether these be incidents of commerce,
tribute, or anything else. And then there is a need to undertake the difficult
and painstaking work of examining Tibetan materials for the accounts of such
incidents that they contain. It is a considerable task, but it should yield valuable information for the study of both Tibetan history and world history.

76 Joseph J Brennig, op. cit. p. 478.

77 Levon Khachikian, The Ledger of the Merchant Hovhannes Joughayetsi, Journal
of the Asiatic Society of Bengal VIII (1966), p. 168.

Significance of Ming Titles Conferred upon

the Phag mo gru Rulers:
A Reevaluation of Chinese-Tibetan Relations
during the Ming Dynasty
Peter Schwieger

Although modern Chinese official history claims that in the Ming
dynasty the Chinese policy towards Tibet merely continued that of the
previous Yuan dynasty1, it is elsewhere generally accepted that ChineseTibetan relations underwent a total change from Yuan to Ming2. In my
article I will try to reevaluate these views on the basis of Chinese-Tibetan
diplomatics. We will look briefly at the differences between imperial
decrees issued in favour of Tibetan hierarchs and rulers during the MongolYuan rule and the Ming dynasty. And we will then inquire as to the
importance of the seals bestowed and titles conferred upon Tibetan rulers
by the Ming emperors from the Tibetan point of view. Several Ming
decrees concerning the conferment of titles upon Tibetan rulers and
hierarchs have been made available. The question is whether the granting
of such imperial favours had only significance for the Chinese-Tibetan
relations or did these favours also have some importance to the internal
Tibetan affairs. To my knowledge no Tibetan document demonstrating such
an importance by showing one of the Ming seals and titles has been
published so far. And of course I want to put the question whether the
acceptance of the seals and titles implicates the acknowledgement of Ming

Chinese-Tibetan relations during the Yuan dynasty as reflected in

official documents
When Tibet was part of Khanat China and later of the Yuan empire
the decrees issued by the Mongolian rulers or the imperial tutors do not
1 See for example Jin Hui 1995: 20.
2 See for example Sperling 1983: 194.


Peter Schwieger

only document the appointment of Tibetan clerics to official positions but

also the affording of protection for specific monasteries and their
properties and the granting of excemption from tax obligations, socage
works and military services. Until now no such document from the Ming
period has shown up. Furthermore the decrees from the period of the
Mongolian rule over Tibet are all based on a formulary including a
publicatio and a sanctio as essential elements. The publicatio mentions
all the officials and leaders of different levels who have to respect the
privileges granted to the destinator and the sanctio makes aware of the
consequences to be feared if someone dares to contravene the disposition.
Both elements indicating real authority are missing in the Ming documents
issued in favour of Tibetan hierarchs.3

Imperial seals and titles for Tibetan rulers during the Ming
The Yuan dynasty was overthrown in 1368. Already in the fourth year
of his reign the first Ming emperor Hongwu (1368-1398) started to
recognize and reconfirm former Yuan status and titles of Tibetan hierarchs
and headmen.4 So far the oldest edict in this regard published in China is
from 1373. The latest document known to me dates 1562 (see below).
According to the Ming Shilu Tibetan tribute missions to the court went
on afterwards as well - at least until 1626.5
However, the titles and positions granted to Tibetan hierarchs by the
Ming emperors played quite a different role than those granted by their
predecessors. As pointed out by Shen Weirong: These titles were mostly
granted to Tibetan monks and headmen in Tibet just as an honour and not
included in the civil official system of the Ming dynasty. They were not
regular governmental officials in strict sence. And he adds that the
Motivation behind this kind of policy was to have these barbarian kings
maintain peace and order in the frontier areas. Therefore the Ming court
implemented its so-called Divide and Rule policy towards Tibet mainly
by granting official titles to everybody who came to the court. As gratitude
the court expected the Tibetan barbarians to pledge their loyality to the
3 See the documents from the period of the Mongolian empire in Everding
2006a, Everding 2006b, Sgrolkar 1995. For documents from the Ming dynasty
see Sgrolkar 1995, Schwieger 2007.
4 Shen 2007: 248.
5 See Sgrolkar 1995: no. 23, Deng Ruiling 2003: 15, Shen 2007: 254. The Ming
Shi reports still for the year 1579 the conferment of the title guanding guoshi
chanhua wang to an otherwise unknown Phag mo gru administrator called
bKra shis bzang po (Tucci 1949: 692-693).

Significance of Ming Titles Conferred upon the Phag mo gru


court and to render services like the restoration of the postal stations to
ease the courts communication with the Tibetan areas.6

Ming titles conferred upon the Phag mo gru administrators

Among the different monks and headmen of Central Tibet upon whom
official titles were conferred by the Ming emperors was the administrator
of Phag mo gru, the Phag gru sde srid. Phag mo gru was one of the
alltogether thirteen myriarchies of the Yuan times administrative division
of Central Tibet. Beginning with Byang chub rgyal mtshan (1302-1364,
reign since 1342) its administrator had inherited the political power of the
Sa skya pa in Central Tibet. In 1372, only four years after the fall of the
Yuan dynasty, kya rgyal mtshan (reign 1364- 1373), the successor of
Byang chub rgyal mtshan, received an envoy of the first Ming emperor
who conferred upon him the title of guanding guoshi (
)7 and
sent him the jade seal.8 This title had been first granted to the Sa skya
abbot mkhas btsun Nam mkha legs pai rgyal mtshan (1305-1343, in office
1325-1341?) in 1325 by the Yuan emperor Yesun Temur (reign 13231328).9 Later also the fourth administrator of Phag mo gru, bSod nams
grags pa (reign 1381-1385), received this title. 10 And in 1388, this title
was also conferred upon the fifth administrator of Phag mo gru, Grags pa
rgyal mtshan (reign 1385-1432), by the Hongwu emperor (reign 13681398).11 In 1406 the Yongle emperor (reign 1403-1424) confirmed this title
together with the conferment of the additional title of chanhua wang
), the prince who spreads magical transformations as Sperling
translates or the king who spreads the teaching of good conduct as
Ahmad translates. Following the chronicle of the fifth Dalai Lama the
emperor sent him in regard to both titles two separate seals, a crystal and
a gold one. However, according to the Ming Shilu he was presented with
a jade seal with a dragon handle.12
6 Shen 2007: 261, 264, 262, 265.
7 For an explanation of the title see ag-dba Blo-bza rGya-mtsho 2008: 201
note 734.
8 Petech 1990: 137, Tucci 1949: 691 note 255, according to the Ming Shilu
and the Ming Shi.
9 Petech 1990: 82, Dung dkar 2002: 185.
10 According to the Ming Shilu and the Ming Shi (Sperling 1983: 158, 194;
Tucci 1949: 691 note 255).
11 Sperling 1983: 158; Dung dkar 2002: 185.
12 Sperling 1983: 158f; ag-dba Blo-bza rGya-mtsho 2008: 115, 227 note
1162. The gold seal is also confirmed by Dpal byor bzang po 1979: 174r.


Peter Schwieger

Figure 1: Gold seal and its imprint showing the words chanhua wang.13
Regarding the later administrators of Phag mo gru the titles apparently
have been confirmed by the respective emperor. The chronicle of the fifth
Dalai Lama as well as the Deb ther dmar po gsar ma mention the
confirment for the title dbang, which here seems to be the abbreviation
for the full title guanding guoshi chanhua wang, in regard to the sixth
administrator Grags pa byung gnas (reign 1432-1445) 14 , the seventh
administrator Kun dga legs pa (1433-1483, reign 1448-1454)15, postum
13 Jin Hui 1995: 22. The explanation given ibid. says this would be a seal granted
to the Phag mo gru administrator Grags pa rgyal mtshan in 1406 by the Yongle
emperor. Until now I havent seen any document showing the imprint of this seal.
14 Bsod nams grags pa 1971: 219, 221. Ibid. 220 also the conferment of the
title dbang by the emperor is confirmed. Dung dkar (2002: 1524) gives for
the conferment the year 1440.
15 Bsod nams grags pa 1971: 226, 221. Ibid. 222 also the conferment of the title
dbang by the emperor is confirmed. He lost most of his power over the area of
gTsang to the Rin spungs rdzong dpon Nor bu bzang po. At the age of 34 his
son Rin chen rdo rje was appointed to the seat in rTsed thang. Dung dkar (2002:
2315) mentions erroniously the enthronement of Kun dga legs pa for the year
1483. Dung dkars source, the Deb ther dmar po gsar ma, mentions for this
year the death of Kun dga legs pa (Bsod nams grags pa 1971: 226). Shakabpa
(2010: 272) gives 1446 as the year of his enthronement. Dung dkar (2002: 1522)
mentions the year 1469 for the conferment of the title.
There is a gap of three years between the sixth and the seventh
administrator. The Ming shi mentions as administrator for this period Sangs
rgyas rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po (reign 1445-1448). The chronicle and the
Deb ther dmar po gsar ma do not mention him in this position. The Deb ther
dmar po gsar ma gives his death for 1457 (Bsod nams grags pa 1971: 222).
See also ag-dba Blo-bza rGya-mtsho 2008: 229 note 1191; Tucci 1949:
692, 693 note 255q.

Significance of Ming Titles Conferred upon the Phag mo gru


to the eigth administrator Ngag gi dbang po (born 1439, reign 1454-1491)16

and finally to Ngag dbang bkra shis grags pa rgyal mtshan ( reign 14991564) 17. For the last one the chronicle quotes the full title guangding
guoshi chanhua wang.18
Dung dkar rin po che states that in the year 1565 the Jiajing emperor
(reign 1522-1567) still conferred the titles of chanhua wang and guanding
guoshi upon bKra shis grags pa respectively Ngag dbang bkra shis grags
pa rgyal mtshan.19 However, based on the biography of the third Dalai
Lama bSod nams rgya mtsho (1543-1588) Dung dkar rin po che also notes
the death of Ngag dbang bkra shis grags pa for the year 1564.20 Presumably
there is a confusion between two different persons because there existed
several persons with similar names at that time in gNe gdong. Following
the Tshig mdzod chen mo the Phag mo gru administrator Ngag dbang bkra
shis grags pa rgyal mtshan was directly succeeded by zhabs drung Ngag
dbang grags pa.21 According to the chronicle of the fifth Dalai Lama the
latter was a grandson of the former one.22 The chronicle is not very clear
about the transitional period between both persons. Dung dkar rin po che23
dates the inthronisation of Ngag dbang grags pa 1580 which would leave
a considerable gap between their respective periods of office.
There exists a letters patent (gaoming
) issued by the Jiajing emperor
in 1562 in favour of a man called Grags pa bkra shis rgyal mtshan,
specified as the son of Ngag gi dbang phyug bkra shis grags pa rgyal mtshan
dpal bzang po. The chronicle of the fifth Dalai Lama does not know a son
by this name, but mentions only two sons named Gro bai mgon po and
Grags pa byung gnas.24 As actual successor on the seat in sNeu gdong
the chronicle lists his grandson Ngag dbang grags pa. I have seen no hint
that Grags pa bkra shis rgyal mtshan and Ngag dbang grags pa are one
and the same person. So there was either another son of the ninth
administrator or Grags pa bkra shis rgyal mtshan was one of the
16 ag-dba Blo-bza rGya-mtsho 2008: 119; Bsod nams grags pa 1971: 224,
227, 228.
17 Dung dkar (2002: 1525) gives for the cenferment the year 1512, obviously
based on Deb ther dmar po gsar ma (Bsod nams grags pa 1971: 230).
18 ag-dba Blo-bza rGya-mtsho 2008: 118-122.
19 Dung-dkar 1991: 61, Dung dkar 2004: 89.
20 Dung dkar 2002: 2324.
21 Zhang 1993: 1699. Here he is numbered as the 10th because in between there
is listed as additional administrator Sangs rgyas rgyal mtshan. He is mentioned
in this position in the Ming Shi. See above note 15.
22 ag-dba Blo-bza rGya-mtsho 2008: 123f.
23 Dung dkar 2002: 2326.
24 ag-dba Blo-bza rGya-mtsho 2008: 123f.


Peter Schwieger

halfbrothers of Ngag dbang grags pa mentioned by the chronicle and the

Deb ther dmar po gsar ma without name. 25
The publication of the document only makes its Chinese text available,
from the Tibetan translation we can just see a few syllables (Fig. 2).26

Figure 2: Letters patent issued in favour of Grags pa bkra shis rgyal mtshan.
Transcription of the Chinese text:
feng tian cheng yun huangdi zhi yue, foshi zhi er dasiba dashi jiancan
nai wusi cang pamuzhuba guanding daguoshi chanhua wang aji
wangshu dashi daba jiancan bacangbu zhi nan, fu ji nianlao you ji,
buneng guanshi, teming er xi shou chan hua wang zhi zhi er. jiajing
si shi yi nian wu yue er shi ri.
Translated into English the document reads as follows:
[Invocatio:] Having received from heaven the destination to the
(imperial) succession,
[Intitulatio with proclamation noun:] the Emperors order states:
[Inscriptio and Narratio:] You, follower of the Buddha, Grags pa bkra
shis rgyal mtshan, are the son of the Phag mo gru pa guanding
daguoshi chanhua wang Ngag gi dbang phyug bkra shis grags pa
rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po from dBus gtsang. Since your father
is old and sick he is not able to run things anymore.
[Dispositio:] I order that you inherit the position of chanhua wang.
[Final protocol:] Jiajiang, 41st year, 5th month, 20th day.
Not only appears this decree to be the last preserved document issued
by the Ming emperor in favour of the Phag mo gru pa, but until now there
turned up no later Ming document for a Tibetan recipient in general either.
However, also afterwards the Phag mo gru pa apparently kept on using
the title chanhua wang and continued to send tribute missions to the Ming
court.27 Later the regent (sde pa) of the Dalai Lama took possession of
25 Bsod nams grags pa 1971: 232f.
26 Jin Hui 1995: 22f. For more information on gaoming as well as on the
Chinese-Tibetan relations during the reign of the Jiajing emperor (1522-1567)
see Schwieger 2007.
27 Deng Ruiling 2003: 15-18. Cf. Shakabpa 2010: 275.

Significance of Ming Titles Conferred upon the Phag mo gru


the seal of the chanhua wang and sent tribute missions to the Qing court
in the name of the chanhua wang. In 1657 the Qing court regarded this as
improper because the Phag mo gru pa were now under the rule of the Dalai
Lama and the regent (sde pa). Finally in December 1693 sde srid Sangs
rgyas rgya mtsho delivered the seal of the chanhua wang to the court.28

The use of Ming titles and seals in the office of the Phag mo gru administrators
For the Yuan period we have quite a few documents issued by Tibetan
officials which clearly refer to the emperor as their source of authority.
They all start with the classical wording of authorisation rgyal poi lung
gis, by the order of the emperor. And also later, during the time of the
Qing dynasty, we find similar phrases, for instance in the beginning of
documents issued by Pho lha nas in 1744 and 1745 (cf. Fig. 3).29
The few documents of Tibetan rulers I have seen from the time
corresponding to period of the Ming dynasty do not show such a phrase.
Furthermore we have numerous examples of documents issued by Tibetan
rulers from the Sa skya-Yuan period and from the time of the dGa ldan pho
brang government which demonstrate their use of titles and seals granted by

Figure 3: Intitulatio of a decree issued by Pho lha nas in 1745 (ID 1122)
28 Ahmad 1970: 188f, 295f; Deng Ruiling 2003: 18f, 21f.
29 There we read phrases like gong ma bdag po chen poi lung gis, gnam bskos
jam dbyangs gong ma bdag po chen poi lung gis respectively jam mgon
mii rnam rol gong ma chen poi lung gis (Schuh 1981: 80, Bkra shis dbang
dus 1989: 78; ID 1122: see Fig. 3).


Peter Schwieger

the emperor or a Mongolian Khan. So I always wondered what the Tibetan

administrators of the Ming period have done with the titles and seals received
from the emperor in such a great number. Were they only of importance for
the Tibetan-Chinese relations? The majestic seals are quite impressive. Some
are nowadays preserved by the Historical Relics Administration of the Tibetan
Autonomous Region, others by the Tibet Museum in Lhasa.
Among the documents we digitized in the Tibetan Archives in Lhasa
I found five which had been attributed to Phag mo gru administrators
by the staff of the Tibetan Archives. I am not able to comprehend two
of the attributions so far because the documents themselves do not have
the name or title of the issuer. The other three were all issued by Ngag
gi dbang phyug bkra shis grags pa rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po. The
Tibetan Archives identified him as the fifth Phag mo gru administrator
Grags pa rgyal mtshan (reign 1385-1430) and are therefore mistaken in
dating the documents. Not only from the name but also from hints in
one of the document itself it is obvious that the issuer is identical with
the ninth administrator Ngag dbang bkra shis grags pa (reign 1499-1564).
It is said in the document that the issuer reacted upon an intervention
(zhu ngo) of Don yod rdo rje from Rin spungs (1462-1512). Therefore
the earth-dragon year given at the end of the document can only refer
to the year 1508. 30
A reason for the wrong dating might have been the circumstance that
in the document of 1508 the issuer already bears the title guanding guoshi
chanhua wang, transcribed in Tibetan as kon ding gu shri chen hra wang
(Fig. 4). The Deb ther dmar po gsar ma confirms the conferment of the
dbang title only for the year 1512.31

Figure 4: Intitulatio of the decree issued by Ngag dbang bkra shis

grags pa in 1508.
30 1567 seems to be too late not only because it would be later than the reported
death of Ngag dbang bkra shis grags pa (see above) but also because the third
document would then be dated 1593 (provided the copy is correct in giving
the full title guanding guoshi chanhua wang). Cf. fig.9 (ID 989).
31 Bsod nams grags pa 1971: 230.

Significance of Ming Titles Conferred upon the Phag mo gru


The other two documents of the ninth Phag mo gru administrator should
be dated 1502 (chu khyi) (Fig. 5) and with some reservation 1533 (chu
sbrul) (Fig. 6).32 In the oldest one he does not bear any title and in the latest

Figure 5: Decree issued in 1502.

32 ID 1024 and ID 995.

Figure 6: Decree issued in 1533.


Peter Schwieger

one the whole beginning of the document is damaged so that the name or
title of the issuer is missing.
Nevertheless I presume that the damaged document comes from the
same issuer because the archives preserve a copy which shows in the
beginning the full name Ngag gi dbang phyug bkra shis grags pa rgyal
mtshan dpal bzang po together with the title guanding guoshi chanhua
wang (Fig. 7).33 It is strange that the year and month, but not the calendar
date, given in the final protocol of the copied version are different: the
11th day of the first month of the wood-snake year instead of the 11th
day of the third month of the water-snake year. Of course this leaves some
doubts regarding the correctness of the copy.
More interesting for our context is the document of 1508 (Figs. 8 and
9). It not only has the full Chinese title in its original version, but it is
also the only document which shows the imprints of a Chinese seal. The
document grants privileges like the exemption from tax obligations and socage
works and the protection of the property to two families and their lineages.
The publicatio makes the decree known to all persons in charge in the area
of dBus gtsang. Alltogether the document shows four red imprints of a large
square seal and one additional smaller red imprint below the text.
Both seals imprints have a Chinese ornamental lettering. Regarding
the small one I know no further reference. The large one gives the full
title of guanding guoshi chanhua wang bestowed by the Yongle emperor
in 1406. The text can be seen on an ivory seal with a dragon knob
preserved by the Tibet Museum in Lhasa (Figs. 10 and 11). 35
However, the measurements are not the same: According to catalogues
published in China the sides of the seal have in its base a length of 4,3 or 4,4
cm.36 The imprints on the document have a length of about 10 cm at each side.
Furthermore there are small differences in the lines and the pattern between the
imprint of the ivory seal and those on the decree of 1508 (Figs. 1237 and 13).
The commentaries in Chinese publications are a bit confusing. In one
of the Chinese publications38 it is said that the ivory seal was granted by
the Jiajing emperor to Grags pa rgyal mtshan. Grags pa rgyal mtshan is
not to be confused with the fifth Pha mo gru administrator contemporanous
with the Yongle emperor. He should be identical with the Grags pa bkra
shis rgyal mtshan mentioned in the imperial edict of 1562. In another
33 ID 994.
34 ID 989.
35 For the full pictures see Zla-ba-tshe-ring 2000: 92-93. Cf. also Namgyal
2001: 33.
36 Namgyal 2001: 33; Zla-ba-tshe-ring 2000: 93.
37 Ou Chaogui 1991: 29.
38 Zla-ba-tshe-ring 2000: 93.

Significance of Ming Titles Conferred upon the Phag mo gru

Figure 7: Copy of the decree of 1533.



Peter Schwieger

Figure 8: decree of 1508

(first part)

Figure 9: decree of 1508

(second part)

publication39 a black and white photograph of the same ivory seal has a caption
saying this would be the gold (!) seal granted by the Ming emperor Jia Jing
to the Eleventh Phag-mogrub- pa Sde-srid. This statement is obviously based
on an alternative list of the Phag mo gru adminstrators to be found in the Tshig
mdzod chen mo which has alltogether eleven administrators following upon
eachother.40 However, according to these explanations the ivory seal was
granted much later than 1508. Therefore Ngag dbang bkra shis grags pa must
have been in the possession of a another version of that seal. The seal of the
guanding guoshi chanhua wang seems to have been different in size and
material depending on the respective emperor who had granted it.
39 Dung-dkar 1991: See the plates in the beginning of the book.
40 Zhang 1993: 1699.

Significance of Ming Titles Conferred upon the Phag mo gru


Figure 11: punch of the ivory seal

Figure 10: ivory seal

Figure 12: imprint of the ivory


Figure 13: cutting of the decree

of 1508

From the material presented here I would draw the following
1. Imperial titles together with the respective seals have been bestowed
on the Phag mo gru administrators from the beginning until the very
end of their rule in Central Tibet.


Peter Schwieger

2. The imperial titles and seals were not regarded by the Phag mo gru
administrators as mere prestigous presents from the Ming emperor
being nothing more than a side effect of the lucrative commercial
relationship with the court. I have presented a clear example of its use
by the Phag mo gru administrators for legal acts in their dominion. I
suppose that more examples will show up in the future.
3. We can assume that during the whole Phag mo gru rulethat is to say
even in the period when their power was reduced to nothing more than a
shadowimperial titles and seals had not lost their function to legitimize
political rule and authority in the eyes of many Tibetan nobles and hierarchs.
Perhaps the Tibetan headmen were even more eager to ask for imperial
seals than that the emperor was interested in granting them. This seems
also to be the reason why later, under the rule of the dGa ldan pho brang,
the regent was eager to seize the seal of the chanhua wang.
4. The use of imperial titles and seals by a Tibetan headman with regard
to legal acts implicates an acknowledgement of the emperor as the
source of his own authority, and that is to say: an acknowledgement
of the imperial suzeraintywithout the use of any military force on
the Chinese side and also without the expectation of effective military
support on the Tibetan side. The other way round the Chinese emperor
never would have accepted and used seals and titles of a foreign ruler.
5. As long as we do not have any legal document demonstrating that Tibetan
headmen were acting directly by order of the Ming emperor respectively
were only carrying out imperial orders the mere acknowledgement of
imperial suzerainty does not indicate a direct imperial influence on Tibetan
affairs and by no means an effective Chinese rule in Tibet41. Until now
there are no sources available proving a de facto Chinese control of
Tibetan affairs during the Ming dynastyneither a great nor a small one.

Ahmad, Z. 1970. Sino-Tibetan Relations in the Seventeenth Century. Roma:
Is.M.E.O. (= SOR XL).
Bkra shis dbang dus 1989. Bod kyi lo rgyus yig tshags dang gzhung
yig phyogs bsdus dwangs shes me long. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun
Bsod nams grags pa 1971. Deb ter dmar po gsar ma. Tibetan Chronicles.
Ed. and transl. by G. Tucci. Roma: Is.M.E.O. (= SOR XXIV).

41 This is for instance claimed in Wang Jiawei 2003: 33.

Significance of Ming Titles Conferred upon the Phag mo gru


Deng Ruiling 2003. The Story and Significance of Prince Chanhua Offering
Tribute to and Requesting a New Title from the Qing Court in the
Early Qing Period. China Tibetology 2003 (no.1 September), 15-23.
Dpal byor bzang po, g.Yas ru sTag tshang rdzong pa 1979. rGya bod
kyi yig tshang mkhas pa dga byed chen mo dzam gling gsal bai
me long [1434]. 2 vols. Timphu 1979.
Dung-dkar blo-bzang phrim-las (!) 1991. The Merging of Religious and
Secular Rule in Tibet. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.
Dung dkar Blo bzang phrin las 2002. Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo.
Beijing: China Tibetology Publishing House.
Dung dkar Blo bzang phrin las 2004. Bod kyi chos srid zung brel lam
lugs skor bshad pa. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang (= mKhas dbang
dung dkar blo bzang phrin las kyi gsung bum, vol. Nga).
Everding, K.H. 2006a. Herrscherurkunden aus der Zeit des mongolischen
Groreiches fr tibetische Adelshuser, Geistliche und Klster. Teil
1: Diplomata Mongolica. Mittelmongolische Urkunden in Phags paSchrift. Halle (Saale): IITBS GmbH.
Everding, K.H. 2006b. Herrscherurkunden aus der Zeit des mongolischen
Groreiches fr tibetische Adelshuser, Geistliche und Klster. Teil
2: Diplomata Tibetica. Die vierzehn Urkunden fr die Tausendschaft
Mus. Halle (Saale): IITBS GmbH.
ID 989: see URL.
ID 994: see URL.
ID 995: see URL.
ID 1122: see URL.
ID 1024: see URL.
Jin Hui, Ren Yinong and Ma Naihui (eds) 1995. Social History of Tibet, China,
Documented and Illustrated. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press.
ag-dba Blo-bza rGya-mtsho 2008. The Song of the Queen of Spring
or A History of Tibet. Revised translation by Z. Ahmad. New Delhi:
Internat. Acad. of Indian Culture and Aditya Prakashan (= Sata-Pitaka
Series; vol. 623).
Namgyal, T., Ma Yigang, Da drak and Sonam Wangden (eds) 2001. Tibet
Museum. Compiled by Tibet Museum. Beijing: Encyclopedia of China
Publishing House.

Ou Chaogui (

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) et al. 1991 (eds), Xizang lidai zang yin
. Lhasa: Xizang renmin chubanshe, 1991.

Petech, L. 1990. Central Tibet and the Mongols. The YanSa-Skya Period
of Tibetan History. Serie Orientale Roma LXV. Roma: Is. M.E.O.
Schuh, D. 1981. Grundlagen tibetischer Siegelkunde. Eine Untersuchung
ber tibetische Siegelaufschriften in Phags pa Schrift. Sankt
Augustin: VGH Wissenschaftsverlag (=MTH 13 III,5).
Schwieger, P. 2007. A Document of Chinese Diplomatic Relations with East
Tibet during the Ming Dynasty. In P. Maurer & P. Schwieger (eds)
Tibetstudien. Festschrift fr Dieter Schuh zum 65. Geburtstag.
Bonn: Biersche Verlagsanstalt, 209-226.
Sgrolkar, Xiao Huaiyuan, Vodzer et al. (eds) 1995. Bod kyi lo rgyus yig
tshags gces btus. Xizang lishi dangan huicui. A Collection of
Historical Archives of Tibet. Beijing: Wenwu chuban she (Cultural
Relics Publishing House).
Shakabpa, Tsepon Wangchuk Deden 2010. One Hundred Thousand Moons.
An Advanced Political History of Tibet, vol. 1. Transl. and annoted by
Derek F. Maher. Leiden: Brill (= Brills Tibetan Studies Library, vol. 23).
Shen Weirong 2007. On the history of the Gling tshang Principality of mDo
khams during Yuan and Ming Dynasties: Studies on Sources
concerning Tibet in Ming Shilu (I). In P. Maurer & P. Schwieger (eds)
Tibetstudien. Festschrift fr Dieter Schuh zum 65. Geburtstag. Bonn:
Biersche Verlagsanstalt, 227-265.
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. Dissertation at Indiana University.
Tucci, G. 1949. Tibetan Painted Scrolls. Roma: La Libreria dello Stato, 2 vols.
Wang Jiawei and Nyima Gyaincain 2003. Historische Koordinaten Chinas
Tibets. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press.
Zhang, Y. et al. 1993 [1985]. Bod rgya tshig mdzod chen mo / Zang-Han da
cidian. 2 vols. Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang / Minzu chuban she.
Zla-ba-tshe-ring, Suo Wenqing, Xiao Shiling et al. 2000. Precious Deposits,
Historical Relics of Tibet, vol. 3. Beijing: Morning Glory Publishers.

URL Digitized Tibetan Archives Material at Bonn University: http://

Krishnakanta Basu, Rammohan Ray and

Early 19th Century British Contacts
with Bhutan and Tibet
John Bray

In mid-1815 Krishnakanta Basu1 and Rammohan Raylater famous as

one of the leading figures of the 19th century Bengali renaissanceset out
from Rangpur in northern Bengal on a sensitive diplomatic mission. In late
1814, the East India Company had declared war against the Gorkha state
in Nepal: the task of the two emissaries was to brief Bhutans Deb Raja
(Brug sDe srid)2 on the background to the war, and to assure him that the
Company had no designs on his own country. If possible, they were to
convey a similar message to the Tibetan authorities in Lhasa.
In the event, the main military theatres of the 1814-1816 war with
Nepal took place far to the west, and the mission to Bhutan proved to
be of no more than minor diplomatic significance. It is therefore
mentioned in standard accounts of the war, 3 but in a peripheral manner.
The purpose of this paper is to bring the mission and its two main India
protagonists to centre-stage, and to place them in their wider political and
cultural context.
Rammohan Ray returned to India after delivering the initial message to
the Deb Raja, and had no further contact with Bhutan, but Krishnakanta
Basu stayed on for more than a year. Although he had scant success in
his diplomatic role, he used his time to good effect by collecting
information on the language and culture of Bhutan. His literary legacy
includes a detailed Account of Bhtn, which was first published in 1825
1 In contemporary texts his name is transliterated as Kishen Kant Bose.
2 The Deb Rajas or Brug sDe srids were the senior lay officials of Bhutan
during this period in contrast to the Zhabs drungs, or Dharma Rajas in
British parlance, who were the main source of spiritual authority. The Deb
Rajas typically were chosen from among the regions ruling families, and
served for a defined period of years. In this paper I have chosen to stick to
the term Deb Raja as this was the term most used in contemporary British
archival sources.
3 E.g. Pemble (1971), Lamb (1986), Singh (1988). The mission likewise appears
in historical accounts of Bhutan such as Gupta (1974), Deb (1976) and Aris
(1994), but again in a somewhat peripheral manner.


John Bray

in Asiatic Researches, the journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal; as well

as a manuscript Grammar and Vocabulary of the Bhotan Language.
Although his main role was to serve as a Company official, he arguably
can be regarded as an early forerunner of modern Indian scholarship on
Bhutan and Tibet. His struggles and achievements deserve to be more
widely recognised.
This paper draws on archival sources at the British Librarys Oriental
and India Office Collection in London. 4 It begins with an introductory
review of the Companys relations with Bhutan in Tibet in the late 18th
and early 19th centuries, with a particular focus on the Indian
intermediaries who facilitated communications on both sides. The second
part of the paper analyses the political circumstances of the 1815 mission
to Bhutan in some detail. The paper concludes with a discussion of
Krishnakantas contributions to Western knowledge of the Himalaya.

British diplomacy and Indian intermediaries

The 1815 mission took place some 40 years after the opening of the
first substantive British contacts with Bhutan and Tibet, and the challenges
that Krishnakanta and Rammohan faced reflect the legacy of this period.
The common themes include first a continuing sense of suspicion on
the part of both Bhutan and Tibet concerning British ambitions in the
region. The leaders of both countries feared that the Companys
commercial expansion might serve as a prelude to political and military
intervention, as had already happened in Bengal. A second theme is the
role played by Indian intermediaries. No more than a handful of British
emissaries were able to visit Bhutan and Tibet in person. During these
visits, and still more in the long intervals when no British official was
able to visit either country, Indian intermediaries played an essential
interpreting role to both sides. These intermediaries fell into three
categories: Gosains, Kashmiris and, in due course, the two Bengali
officials that are the main subject of this paper.

Hastings, Bogle and Purangir

The first diplomatic opening came in 1774 when the Company
intervened on behalf of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar in a conflict with
Bhutan. The Third Panchen Lama, Blo bzang gpal ldan ye shes (1738-1780),
4 More detailed records may be available at the National Archives of India in
New Delhi, but I have not to date been able to consult them. It is conceivable
that still further records survive in Bhutan and in Rangpur, which is now
in Bangladesh.

Krishnakanta Basu and Rammohan Ray


sought to mediate on Bhutans behalf. Governor-general Warren Hastings

(1732-1818), took advantage of the opening to send George Bogle (17471781), a young Scottish official, via Bhutan to Tashi Lhunpo where he was
to make direct contact with the Panchen Lama.
Hastings had two broad strategic objectives. The first was to develop a
trade route from India via Bhutan to Tibet: this was to serve as a replacement
for the hitherto more important route via Kathmandu which had been
blocked as a result of the expansion of the Gorkha state under Prithvi
Narayan (1723-1775). His second, more distant aspiration was to explore
the possibilities of establishing communications via Tibet with China.
Bogles main guide and mentor in Tibet was Purangir, a member of
the north Indian Gosain community, which had an extensive network of
contacts on both sides of the Himalaya. 5 The Gosains were religious
devotees, who combined regular pilgrimages with trade, and were of
service to the Tibetansas well as the Britishas a source of knowledge
and advice on developments on either side of the Himalaya. As Bogle
reported following his return from Tibet:
The Gosseines, the Trading Pilgrims of India, resort
hither [i.e. to Tashi Lhunpo] in great numbers. Their
humble deportment, and holy character heightened by the
merit of distant Pilgrimages, their accounts of unknown
countries, and remote Regions, and above all their
possession of high veneration for the Lamas, procure
them not only a ready admittance but great favours. Tho
clad in the garb of poverty there are many of them
possessed of considerable Wealth. Their trade is
confined to articles of great value and small bulk. It is
carried on without noise or ostentation, and often by
Paths unfrequented by other merchants. 6
The Kashmiri community, many of whom had intermarried with Tibetans,
constituted a second group of Indian origin that was well-represented in Tashi
Lhunpo. Kashmiri traders operated an extensive personal and commercial
network from Ladakh, Nepal, and Bengal right across Tibet as far as Xining
and beyond.7 According to Bogle, the Tibetan merchants of Tashi Lhunpo
believed that the Kashmiris and Gosains had an advantage over them in that
they were better suited to the Indian climate:
5 On the Gosains see in particular Cohn (1963).
6 Bogles report of 1775-1776.Cited in Sarcar (1931).
7 On the Kashmiri network in Tibet see in particular Gaborieau (1973) and Bray (2010).


John Bray
They [the Tibetans] said that being born in this country
they were afraid of going into a hot one; that their people
would die in Bengal; that they had heard from tradition that
about eight hundred years ago the people of this country
used to travel into Bengal, but that eight out of ten died
before their return; that the Kashmiris and Gosains
travelled into different countries, but that they could not.8

Bogle himself had to contend with suspicions that he had come to spy
out the nakedness of the land,9 but he was nonetheless able to establish
a warm personal relationship with the Panchen Lama. Both he and
Hastings hoped that these beginnings would prepare the way for an
eventual expansion of British trade with Tibet, and in due course for a
new communications route with China.
On Bogles return journey from Tashi Lhunpo, he opened negotiations
with the Deb Raja of Bhutan on a possible trade agreement with the
Company. Bogle reported that:
Foreign merchants have always been excluded [from
Bhutan] except the Kashmiri houses who in consideration of a
large sum of money are permitted to transfer otter skins, chank
[conch shells] and a few other articles through the country.10
He added that, having been cut off by the mountains from the rest of
the world, the Bhutanese were averse from innovations and ignorant of
all the advantages which flow from a free and extensive commerce.11
As in Tibet, a major factor impeding the negotiations was the Deb
Rajas fear that the presence of British merchants in his country might
turn out to be a precursor of military conquest. The eventual compromise
was that the Deb Raja agreed to allow Hindu and Muslim traders to pass
and repass through his country between Bengal and Tibet. At the same
time Bhutanese traders were to be allowed special privileges at an annual
fair in Rangpur, and the Deb Raja sent the first of a series of vakils
(envoys) to represent his interests in Calcutta. However, he did not
reciprocate to the extent of allowing the Company to station its own vakil
in Bhutan, and the country remained closed to European merchants.

8 Bogles journal, 29 March 1775. In Lamb (2002), p. 260. On Bogle see also
Teltscher (2007)
9 Lamb (2002), p.238.
10 Bogle to Hastings, 9 June 1775, Cooch Behar. In Lamb (2002), p. 315.On
the treaty see also Deb (1971).
11 Ibid.

Krishnakanta Basu and Rammohan Ray


The late 18th and early 19th centuries

Despite these promising beginnings, the Companys relationship with
Bhutan and Tibet did not develop as had been hoped. One factor was the
demise of two of the most important personalities: in 1780 the Panchen
Lama died of smallpox while on a visit to Peking (with Purangir in his
entourage). Bogle, who meanwhile had been appointed Collector of
Rangpur, died in a drowning accident the following year. Hastings sent
Samuel Turner to Bhutan and Tibet in 1783, and he was able to meet the
infant Fourth Panchen Lama in Tashi Lhunpo. Turner was greatly taken
with the childs dignity and composure but was unable to enter substantive
diplomatic negotiations either with the new Panchen Lama or his regent.
A second, even more serious factor was a shift in overall policy under
Lord Cornwallis, who succeeded Hastings as Governor-General in 1786.
Cornwallis was more preoccupied with developments in southern India than
with the Himalaya, and may have missed diplomatic opportunities as a result.
In 1788, the Regent in Tashi Lhunpo sent two Kashmiris, Mohammed Rajeb
and Mohammed Wali, to carry letters to Cornwallis in Calcutta seeking
British assistance to repulse a Gorkha assault on Tibet.12 Cornwallis refused
to intervene, and his offer of mediation following a second Gorkha war with
Tibet in 1792 came too late to be of practical assistance.
The outcome of the 1788 and 1792 Gorkha wars with Tibet was a
strengthening of Manchu authority over Lhasa, and the tightening of border
controls of the Himalayan passes, making it all but impossible for Europeans
to visit the country.13 Cornwalliss slow and heavily-qualified response to
Tibetan appeals for assistance had raised suspicions in Lhasa that the
Company had actually supported the Gorkhas, and it seems that the Gosains
were caught in the backlash against the British. In 1800 Turner wrote of
Tibet that:
A most violent prejudice prevails even against the Hindoo
Goseins, who are charged with treachery against their
generous patrons, by becoming guides and spies to the enemy
[i.e. the British], and have in consequence, it is said, been
proscribed their accustomed abode at Teshoo Loomboo,
where they had been ever patronised in great numbers by the
Lama, and enjoyed particular favour and indulgence.14
12 Sarcar (1931), p. 126; Lamb (2002), p. 470. On the diplomatic
repercussions of the 1788 and 1792 conflicts between Nepal and Tibet, see
also Engelhardt 2002.
13 The one exception was Thomas Manning who managed to visit Lhasa in 1811.
14 Turner 1800, p. 422.


John Bray

Meanwhile, the Companys relations with Bhutan fared little better. Again,
the main underlying reason is likely to have been fear of possible British
military expansion. The annual fair in Rangpur continued to take place but
was poorly attended, and overall trade with India was limited in scale. For
example, in 1796, the Baptist missionary Dr John Thomas reported:
I went to a great Fair toward Bootan where the
natives come down yearly & having found only two real
Bootanese, I enquired the reason & find, they have
suffered losses by thieves which have discouraged them
from coming to the Fair. These 2 Persons were a Merchant
and his servant, with woollen Blankets, Elephants Teeth
etc for sale 15
A further reason for poor relations was a series of disputes along the
boundary between Bhutanese territory in the Duars and the princely state
of Cooch Behar which had been under British protection since 1774. 16
Hastings had tended to favour Bhutan in these disputes, perhaps taking the
view that minor territorial concessions were worthwhile if they served the
Companys wider diplomatic and commercial interests. However, Hastings
successors and their local representatives tended to take a more legalistic
view, and frequently ruled against Bhutan.

British and Indian officials in Rangpur

On the British side, the frontline management of these boundary disputes
fell to the Commissioners in Cooch Behar and the Collectors in Rangpur.
The key protagonists in the early decades of the 19th century include: James
Morgan, who was Collector of Rangpur from 1807 to 1809; John Digby,
who succeeded him from 1809 until 1814; and David Scott who was
successively Collector in Rangpur from 1814 to 1816, and then
Commissioner in Cooch Behar.17
15 Thomas to the Society. 25 April 1796. Baptist Missionary Society Papers.
IN/16. Regents Park College Archives, Oxford. On the Baptists in early 19th
century Bengal, see in particular Potts (1967).
16 The Duars were lowland tracts analogous to the Nepali terai that were then under
Bhutanese control. They were annexed by the British after the 1865 war with
Bhutan. On the boundary disputes, see in particular Gupta (1974), pp. 57-69.
17 On David Scott (1786- 1830) see in particular White (1832) and Barooah
(1970). Scott came from Dunninald, near Montrose in the north-east of
Scotland. His connection with India came via his uncle, another David Scott
(1746-1805) who had served in the East India Company and eventually became
its Chairman. The younger David came to India in 1802 and served first in
Gorakhpur and Purnea. By the time he reached Rangpur he was still only 28.

Krishnakanta Basu and Rammohan Ray


All three men were of course supported by an extensive Indian staff.

Among these were Krishnakanta Basu who joined government service as a
junior official in the Rangpur Faujdari Adalat (criminal court) in 1807,18
and Rammohan Ray who first came with Digby to Rangpur in 1809.
Rammohan had been born into a wealthy Bengali family in 1774, and had
entered Digbys service in 1805, initially as a private munshi (secretary)
and then as temporary sar-ristadar (head clerk) of the Ramgarh Faujdari
Adalat in northern Bihar.19 He moved with Digby successively to Jessore
(Bengal), Bhagalpur (Bihar) and finally to Rangpur.
Digby evidently held Rammohan in high regard. In November 1809 he
wrote to the Board of Revenue describing Rammohan as a man of very
respectable family and excellent education and seeking the Boards approval
of his appointment as his diwan. 20 However, the Board rejected the
appointment, arguing that Rammohan was insufficiently qualified. When
Digby sought to protest, citing Rammohans excellent qualifications and
references, the Board confirmed its original decision and reproved him for
the style in which he had addressed them.21 Despite this setback, Rammohan
remained in Rangpur. Two Bengali-language letters from 1812 and 1814 refer
to him as diwan,22 and it therefore appears either that he was reappointed
to the post, or that he continued to hold the title unofficially.

The Maraghat boundary dispute

The most important of the Bhutan/Cooch Behar boundary disputes in
the period under review concerned the Maraghat district, some 25 miles
from Jalpaiguri. Maraghat was awarded to Bhutan in the 1774 treaty with
the Company, and this was confirmed by a Council at Dinajpur in 1777.
However the Raja of Cooch Behar claimed the southern part of the district,
which was known as Gird Maraghat.23 In 1807 Morgan conducted an onthe-spot enquiry and decided in favour of Cooch Behar. In 1809 Digby
confirmed Morgans ruling awarding Gird Maraghat to Cooch Behar, and
the Maharaja took possession of the territory two years later.

18 The Petition of Kishun Kunt Bose inhabitant of Baluakoudee purgannah

Kassinnuggur in Zillah Idalopore. OIOC. F/4/810/21274, p, 17.
19 Robertson 1995, p. 20
20 Digby to Board of Revenue, 5 November 1809. In Chanda & Majumdar 1938, p. 41.
21 Board of Revenue to Digby, 8 February 1810. In Chanda & Majumdar 1938, p. 44
22 Letter from the Deb Raja, received 18 August 1812, in Sen (1942), p. 50; letter
from the Raja of Cooch Behar to the Commissioner, received 9 May 1814, in
Sen (1942) pp. 55-56.
23 Gupta (1974), p. 63.


John Bray

The Bhutanese never accepted these decisions. For example, in 1811

a letter to the Company from Penlow Sahib, a chief of Bhutan,
complained that an officer of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar had been
causing trouble over the boundary for the previous three years, and
expressed fears that war might ensue. 24 Similarly in 1812 a letter from
the Deb Raja again referred to Maraghat, appealed for assistance in
resolving the dispute, and said that Diwan Rammohan knew all the facts
of the case. 25 In May 1814 the Maharaja of Cooch Behar appealed to
Norman McLeod, the Commissioner of Cooch Behar, asking him to
arrange for the deployment of 50 sepoys to protect the Maraghat frontier
from Bhutanese infringements. 26
The Maraghat dispute was therefore far from being resolved in late 1814
when it was overtaken by the outbreak of the Companys war with Nepal.
At that point Maraghat became one factor in a much wider set of strategic
calculations on the part of the British, and it was these that in due course
led to Krishnakantas and Rammohans mission to Bhutan.

The Nepal war and the mission to Bhutan

In the course of the 18th and early 19th centuries both the East India
Company and the House of Gorkha had extended their control over vast new
swathes of territory. In the Gorkha case these included much of Sikkim as
well as Kumaon, Garhwal and the Himalayan foothills as far west as the river
Sutlej. The immediate cause of the Nepal war was a boundary dispute in
northern Bihar. However, the rival interests of these two expanding South
Asian powers arguably were bound to lead to conflict sooner or later.27
British policy in the war was formulated in Calcutta by the GovernorGeneral, Francis Rawdon Hastings (1754-1826), who was then known as
Lord Moira and from 1817 became the First Marquess of Hastings. Moira
had two concerns with regard to Sikkim and Bhutan. The first was to
ensure that they either remained neutral or joined the Companys cause.
Sikkim was to be encouraged to join forces with the Company in the hope
of regaining territory that had earlier been lost to the Gorkhas.28
24 Letter from Penlow Sahib, received 26 November 1811. In Sen (1942),
pp. 48-49.
25 Letter from Deb Raja, received 18 August 1812. In Sen (1942), p. 50.
26 Raja of Cooch Behar to McLeod, received May 1814. In Sen (1942), p. 58
27 This argument was in fact made by Henry Prinsep, one of Moiras senior
officials. See his account of the Nepal war in Prinsep (1825). On the events
leading to the war, see also Pemble (1971), Stiller (1995) and Michael (1999).
28 For Sikkims role in the war, and the eventual success of Moiras strategy,
see Bray (forthcoming)

Krishnakanta Basu and Rammohan Ray


At a wider geostrategic level, Moira was concerned about the potential

conflicts impact on British relations with China, which since 1792 had
claimed Nepal as a tributary.29 He therefore hoped that it would be possible
to send a message via either Sikkim or Bhutan to the Chinese authorities
in Lhasa, emphasising that the Companys quarrel was solely with Nepal.
The Companys prospects of achieving these objectives were impeded
by its weak diplomatic connections and poor intelligence sources for all
the Himalayan kingdoms, including Nepal as well as Bhutan and Tibet.
One of its first tasks was therefore to review the sources that were in fact
available. Eager to be of service, the veterinary surgeon and explorer
William Moorcroft (1770-1825) reviewed his own contacts at the outset
of the war, and these evidently included fakirs (Gosains) as well as a
Kashmiri merchant named Ahmed Ali.30 However, none of these traditional
sources were available for Bhutan and Tibet, and the Company therefore
had to find other means of making contact.

Alarms in the north-east

In the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of war, British officials in
the north-east were primarily preoccupied with local concerns. In early
November 1814, Norman McLeod, the British Commissioner in Cooch
Behar, reported rumours that the Gorkhas had sent a vakil to incite the
Deb Raja to join forces with them against the British, and that he was
mobilising armed forces along his western frontier.31 Captain Barr Latter,
who commanded the Company forces in the north-east, expressed the
decided opinion that no time ought to be lost in preparing to repel the
first aggression on the part of the Deb Raja.32 If he had possessed any
firm information regarding the reported Bhutanese mobilisation, he would
on his own initiative have occupied the Bhutanese post of Kyrantie.33
Scotts view from Rangpur was more balanced: on 28 November he
wrote to Calcutta suggesting that the Deb Rajas deployment of troops on
the Western Passes might be merely precautionary, to prevent our
attempting to enter Nepaul [i.e. the parts of Sikkim then controlled by the
29 Nepals quinquennial tribute missions to China continued until the early 20th
century. See Mandhar (2004).
30 For a far-ranging analysis of the Companys intelligence limitations see Bayly
(1996). On Ahmed Ali, see Bray (2010).
31 See Papers Respecting the Nepaul War (hereafter PRNW), pp. 410-412.
32 Latter to MacLeod, Titalia, 19th November 1814, PRNW, pp. 411-412. See
Bray (forthcoming) for an account of Latters part in the Nepal war and his
alliance with Sikkim.
33 Ibid.


John Bray

Gorkhas] by the roads leading from Bhutan.34 In any case, he thought that
Bhutans lack of military capability rendered it highly improbable that the
Deb Raja should seriously think of engaging in a war, in which he can gain
nothing, and may lose, without an effort on the part of his enemy, the whole
his territories below the hills [i.e. the duars].35 Two days later he reported
that a party of Bhutanese merchants had arrived with horses and other
products of the hills for sale. He had made secret enquiries but could not
find any evidence of preparations of a warlike nature in Bhutanese territory.36
The British authorities in Calcutta ultimately agreed with Scotts
assessment, noting that Latters proposed occupation of Kyrantie might have
involved the British Government in a state of hostility with an
unoffending, friendly neighbouring chief.37 The conflict with Nepal made
it all the more important to maintain good relations, and on 26th November
1814, John Adam, the Secretary to the Government of India, wrote to Scott
requesting him to make contact with both Tibet and Bhutan:
His Excellency [the Governor-General] further desires that
you will be pleased to endeavour to open a channel of
communication with the administration of Lassa, in order to
afford the means of conveying to the authorities there such an
intimation of the origin and objects of our proceedings towards
the Nepaulese, and the encouragement which it is proposed to
afford to the Raja of Siccim, as shall enable them to appreciate
the justice and moderation of our conduct. A similar
communication might also be conveyed to the Deb Raja.38
He added that the deputations to these countries need not be
particularly grand:
It is not necessary that either of these communications
should assume the appearance of a regular mission. The
deputation of a decent person to each court, furnished with
the necessary information, and known at the same time to
proceed from an English authority, will enable you to
convey the communication in an authentic and satisfactory
manner, without the parade of a formal mission.39
34 Scott to J. Monckton, Acting Secretary to Government in the Political
Department, Rangpur, 28th November 1814, PRNW, pp. 411-412.
35 Ibid.
36 Scott to Monckton, Rangpur, 30th November 1814, PRNW, p. 412.
37 Monckton to Scott, Fort William, 6 December 1814. PRNW, p. 413.
38 Adam to Scott, 26 November 1814, Papers relating to the Nepaul War
(hereafter PRNW), p. 266.
39 Ibid.

Krishnakanta Basu and Rammohan Ray


The letter to the Deb Raja, which was composed by the Governments
Persian Department,40 duly emphasised that:
The utmost harmony and friendship have always subsisted
between the British Government and you; and I am perfectly
satisfied of your disposition to maintain those relations in the
true spirit of cordiality.41
The letter went on to request the Deb Raja to refuse entry to any
Gorkhas seeking to enter his country for the purpose of exciting
disturbance in the British territories.42
Scott initially had difficulty in forwarding the letter. On 10 January
he reported that he had had to apply for permission to the Deb Raja for
permission to send a person to his court because of the jealousy of the
Bootan government inducing it to refuse admission to strangers into the
interior of the country.43 He commented:
The precautions taken to prevent the entrance of
strangers into Bootan rendered it necessary for me to
choose between making a formal application of this nature,
and sending a person in disguise; and the latter was a mode
of procedure which was neither likely to prove agreeable
to any person duly qualified for the duty in question, nor
appeared to me to be compatible with the dignity and views
of the British Government.44
While waiting for the Deb Rajas response, he had sent a message to
Bhutan via the Raja of Bijni, a small territory on the borders of Bhutan.45
Meanwhile, he also reported difficulties in opening communications with Tibet:
I have hitherto been prevented from forwarding a letter
to the Court of Lassa, from not being able to find a person
who could write it in the language of Tibet. I however
expect that a man who understands that dialect will arrive
in the course of a few days, and his Lordship may depend
40 Persian was still the main language of diplomatic exchange in South Asia,
although it seemsas will be seen belowthat the Deb Rajas response was
in Bengali.
41 To the Deb Raja, from his Excellency the Vice-President, 29th November
1814. PRNW, p. 414.
42 Ibid.
43 Scott to Adam, Rangpur, 10 January 1815, PRNW, pp. 430-431.
44 Ibid.
45 On the status of Bijni see Deb (1972), pp. 49-51.


John Bray
upon every precaution being taken to ensure its safe and
speedy conveyance to that Capital.46

Scott added that if the Deb Raja agreed to his request to send a person
to his court, then the obstacles which at present oppose themselves to
the journey to Lassa will be removed.
The Deb Raja eventually replied to Scott in a letter received on 20
March 1815. 47 He insisted that there was no truth in the report that the
Gorkhas had sent a request for military aid. At the same time, he referred
to the continuing boundary disputeswhich evidently were his own
principal concernand duly enclosed a passport for a trustworthy British
representative to come to Bhutan so that both sides should be informed
of each others affairs.

Selecting the messengers

Scott now had the task of selecting a suitable representative, and
eventually decided on Krishnakanta Basu. Krishnakanta himself described
the background in an application for a pension (translated from Bengali
by Scott) which he wrote in 1821. Like Bogles Tibetan merchants, he
observed that the contrasting climates of the plains of India and the
Himalaya presented a major obstacle:
.no person at Rungpore could be found to undertake
the duty, the Climate of the hilly Country being from the
snow and extreme cold exceedingly hostile to the
Constitutions of the natives of Bengal 48
Religious ritual concerns were another major factor. Bengali Hindus were:
further deterred from proceeding into those Countries
by the difficulty and occasional impossibility they
experience in getting those articles of provision to which
they are accustomed, as well as by the manners and impure
habits of the people which are so repugnant to the customs
of the Hindoos that few persons of the latter religion will
venture into Bhootan from fear of losing their Caste.49
46 Scott to Adam, Rangpur, 10 January 1815, PRNW, pp. 430-431.
47 Sen 1942, pp. 60-61.
48 The Petition of Kishun Kunt Bose inhabitant of Baluakoudee purgannah
Kassinnuggur in Zillah Idalopore. OIOC. F/4/810/21274, p, 17.
49 Ibid., p. 8. The Gosains evidently did not share these ritual concerns.
However, it is interesting to note an echo of similar preoccupations in the
case of early 20th century Newar traders returning from Tibet to Nepal.

Krishnakanta Basu and Rammohan Ray


Krishnakanta nevertheless decided to take on the task, partly for

material reasons:
Notwithstanding the above considerations your
petitioner being grateful for the subsistence afforded by the
Government and hopeful for future advancement and
eventual benefit, bound himself with the girdle of courage
and regardless of the consequences, not to say despairing
of returning alive, agreed to undertake the journey.50
It seems that he received an immediate benefit in that his salary was
raised from Rs. 14 per month as a Mohurrer (a writer in local languages)
to Rs. 70 when he was in Bhutan. However, Scott confirmed that
Krishnakanta had not been exaggerating when he referred to the difficult
of finding someone to undertake the journey:
For the accuracy of such parts of his petition which relate
to the unwillingness displayed by the natives at Rungpore
to undertake the journey to Lhassa and the danger attending
to it, I can safely vouch, as no capable person but himself
could be found to undertake the business and the risk from
the climate at the particular season was such that thinking
it not improbable that the petitioner who was ill at the time
of his departure might die on the way, I sent another man
to go along with him as far as Bhootan in case of the
occurrence of such an accident.51
From the Deb Rajas subsequent correspondence, it is clear that
Rammohan Ray was this other man andparticularly since he would
have been senior to Krishnakantait is odd that Scott does not mention
him by name. Very speculatively, one wonders whether this was because
he was no longer in formal government service by the time he travelled
to the Deb Rajas court, and therefore had no official status.52
According to Taladhar (2004, p. 18), returnees were kept in ritual quarantine
for two weeks. He adds: The family kitchen and chapel were off-limits to
them. They had only one meal a day and washed the dirty dishes themselves.
They had to get a note from the royal priest detailing the procedure they had
to follow to cleanse themselves. At the end of the period, they performed a
purification ceremony and invited their relatives and friends to a feast.
50 Ibid, pp. 18-19.
51 Ibid, pp. 12-13.
52 For a discussion of Rammohans status during this period see also pp. 39-41
of the supplementary notes by Biswas and Ganguly in Collet (1962).


John Bray

Krishnakantas stay in Bhutan

Krishnakanta gives a vivid description of the journey in his Account
of Bootan. Before reaching the hills, he had to pass through the Bhutanese
Duars, and he describes a series of perils in the jungles:
The jungle is of such height that an elephant or
rhinoceros cannot be seen in it when standing up, and it
is so full of leeches that a person cannot move a hundred
yards without having his body, wherever it has been
scratched by the grass, covered with these animals, so that
a single man cannot get rid of them without assistance. In
this jungle, when the sun shines, the heat is intolerable,
and when the sun ceases to shine a person cannot remain
in it without a fire on account of innumerable musquitoes
[sic] and other insects with which it is filled. 53
His account of the terrain once he reaches the hill is more matter-offact, noting the various habitations that he encountered en route, the degree
to which they were cultivated, and the extent to which the roads would
be passable for horses or elephants.
At all events, the two men duly arrived in Wandipoor (Wangdi
Phodrang), and presented their credentials. The Deb Raja responded by
sending a letter to Scott in Rangpur in which he acknowledged a present
of five pieces of broadcloth, five coats and a telescope.54 He said that
Scotts letter to the two representatives of Chinapresumably the two
Ambanshad been forwarded to Lhasa. The two emissaries had explained
that one of them was to stay in Bhutan while the otherRammohan Ray
was to return to Rangpur.
The rest of the letter is a clear indication of the Deb Rajas priorities
inasmuch as it mainly concerns his grievance over the continuing boundary
disputes with Cooch Behar and Baikunthapur. He only refers to the Nepal
warwhich from Scotts point of view was by far the most important
matter at a handin a postscript. There he notes the Gorkhas had wronged
the Company, according to what he had learnt from Rammohan and
Krishnakanta, and he will therefore reject any Gorkha approaches in
connection with the war. He then returns to the boundary disputes,
requesting that Scott either come to the frontier for a local enquiry, or send
Rammohan back with a clear decision in the matter.
53 Kishen Kant Bose [Krishnakanta Basu], Account of Bootan, 1865 edition,
p. 203.
54 Deb Raja to Scott, received 12 November 1815.In Sen (1942), pp. 64-65.

Krishnakanta Basu and Rammohan Ray


In the event, rather than returning to Bhutan, Rammohan moved to

Calcutta where he soon achieved prominence as the founder of the
Brahmo Samaj, and one of the leading Bengali intellectuals of his
generation. 55 Krishnakanta was therefore left to fulfil his role as the
resident Company vakil in Bhutan as best he could. According to his own
account, this was far from being a pleasant experience:
During the period of your petitioners residence in Bhootan,
he as well as all the people who accompanied him, remained
almost constantly sick, and one of the latter died from the cold
and unhealthiness of the climate and owing to the want of their
accustomed food, and on account of the impure habits of the
people and their hostility to the Hindoo Religion, your petitioner
also passed the time in a most disagreeable manner.56
Scott later noted that Krishnakanta did not seem to possess all the
discretion requisite for such an employment.57 However, he went on to
say that Krishnakantas diplomatic role was in any case limited by the fact
that the Bhutanese watched him with extreme jealousy, and he therefore
had little opportunity of learning anything except what the Bootan
Government wish him to know, and which they would probably
communicate at any rate. 58 The Deb Raja had repeatedly prevented
Krishnakanta from sending messengers to India, a practice which naturally
limited his value as an intelligence source.59
While Krishnakanta was in Bhutan the main events of the Nepal war
unfolded elsewhere. The Companys armies met fierce Gorkha resistance
in the first campaign which took place in late 1814 and early 1815. 60
However, the British General David Ochterlony had rather greater success
in the second campaign which began in the autumn of 1815. By early
November British and Gorkha representatives were negotiating a draft
treaty at Segauli. Fighting briefly resumed in early 1816 before the treaty
was signed and ratified in March, thus bringing the conflict to an end.
Krishnakanta spent all this time in Bhutan. In June 1816 Scott reported
to his superiors that he was now exceedingly desirous of returning home
in consequence of continued and severe sickness, and requested
55 There is of course an extensive literature on Rammohans subsequent career.
Classic texts include Collet (1962), and Chanda & Majumdar (1938). For a
more recent study, see Robertson (1995).
56 OIOC. F/4/810/21274, pp. 19-20.
57 Scott to Adam, Rangpur 24 Sept 1816. OIOC. F/4/552, p. 112.
58 Ibid.
59 Scott to Adam, Rangpur 24 Sept 1816. OIOC. F/4/552, p. 110.
60 For a detailed account of military developments in the war see Pemble 1971.


John Bray

instructions as to how he should respond.61 John Adam, the Government

Secretary, duly replied that Krishnakanta could now return from Bhutan
agreeably to his own desire. 62 However, it seems that the Deb Raja
prevented Krishnakanta from receiving Scotts message, which was sent
via a Bhutanese official since it did not contain anything of consequence,
and he was still in Bhutan two months later.
After Scott had sent a further message in August, the Deb Raja
responded on his own account, explaining that Krishnakanta had now
recovered from his illness. Since the roads were now impassable anyway
because of the rains, he requested that Krishnakanta should stay a little
longer until the Maraghat border dispute had been settled.63

A Chinese army in Tibet

By this time a new diplomatic crisis was beginning to unfold following news
that a Chinese army led by Sai-Chung-a, a senior Manchu official from
Sichuan, had arrived in Tibet with orders to investigate the outcome of the
Nepal war.64 Lord Moira had been long feared that the conflict might lead to
a dispute with China, which claimed Nepal as a tributary, thus imperilling
Britains growing economic interests in East Asia. Now it seemed as though
his worst fears were about to be realised. The crisis therefore reinforced the
need for accurate intelligence from the Himalayan states, and the information
that Krishnakanta might be able to gather in Bhutan took on a new importance.
Krishnakantas main contribution was a detailed report of a
conversation in September 1816 with the Deb Rajas brother which
touched on developments in Tibet. The conversation was wide-ranging,
but selective in thatto echo Scotts earlier observationthe brother was
presumably telling Krishnakanta what he wanted the British to know. He
began with the ingratiating observation that the Goorkha Raja was a
Villain who had wantonly made war on the British Government. Having
found himself unsuccessful, the Raja had appealed to China for assistance,
and the commander of the Chinese army had in his turn called on Bhutan
to provide aid.
The Deb Rajas reply was reportedly to the effect that his army
consists of Bhotiahs who would die if they were sent into the plains, and

Scott to Adam, Rangpur, 10 June 1816. OIOC. F/4/551 13382, p. 110.

Adam to Scott, 22 June 1816. OIOC. F/4/551 13382, p. 115.
Scott to Adam, Rangpur 24 Sept 1816. OIOC. F/4/552, p. 111.
Fu (1966), pp. 401-402 and pp. 618-619. This episode is also discussed in
Rose (1971), pp. 75-95; Lamb (1986), pp. 34-38; Richardson (1973) and
Manandhar (2004), p. 196 ff. British archival sources refer to Sai-Chunga
variously as Sheo Chanchoon, Teo Chang Chan and Thee Chanchan.

Krishnakanta Basu and Rammohan Ray


that his Country is quite destitute of supplies.65 He went on to suggest to

the Chinese general that it is not proper to make war on the Company as
many lives will be lost on either side, and that is therefore advisable for
him to make peace. 66 In his own analysis, the Deb Rajas brother
commented that:
We will give not assistance at all for there is a close friendship
between the Company and Dhurum Raja, & as our country
affords no supplies we are enabled to subsist only by means of
the traffic carried on with the Companys territories.67
If the Chinese tried to exact Bhutanese assistance by force, he would
appeal to the British for aid. Playing the diplomat in his turn, Krishnakanta
assured him that such aid would be forthcoming, although it is highly
unlikely that the Company would in fact have risked a confrontation with
China over Bhutan.
Krishnakantas despatch also contained an amalgam of information on
Chinese forces in Tibet compiled from various persons of credit.
According to his sources, the Chinese had designs on both Calcutta and
Assam. Indeed, an army of about ten or twelve thousand men had already
set out from Lhasa in the direction of Assam. Another army of nearly
twenty thousand men had advanced towards Nepal. Making the most of
all available information, he concluded with an analysis of the military
implications of local market prices:
In consequence of the number of troops which have
marched from Lassa to the westward, Tea has become scarce
here, for this place is supplied from Lassa, and the
consumption there has been greatly increased. The price is
accordingly double what it was before. From this circumstance
I infer that the army is of considerable strength.68
In forwarding the report to Calcutta on 24 September, Scott commented
that there was no doubt that there had been a great increase in the strength
of the Chinese army in Tibet.69 However, he rightly added the cautionary
note that Krishnakantas accounts do not appear to be probable or
consistent in all respects, and he doubted that China really had designs
65 Translation of Enclosure in a letter from the Magistrate of Rungpore to the
Political Department, dated 24th September. OIOC. F/4/552, pp.121-123.
66 Ibid.
67 Ibid., pp. 123-124
68 Ibid., .p. 128
69 Ibid, p. 110.


John Bray

in Assam. He nevertheless observed that there had recently been a dispute

between the Dharma and Deb Rajas, and there was still a risk that this
would lead to civil war. If that happened:
it seems not improbable that that one or other of the
parties may call in the Chinese to their assistance and that
the authority of that Government may finally be established
in Bootan to the same extent as it is at present in Thibet.70
Fortunately for all parties, the threat of Chinese intervention in both Nepal
and Bhutan was soon averted. Already on 13 September, Captain Latter had
been able to report that he had received favourable news from Lhasa via
Sikkim to the effect that the Gorkha envoys to Sai-chunga had been put
under constraint and were now in close confinement.71 It seems that the
Chinese general took a sceptical view of Gorkha claims, and blamed them
rather than the British for the outbreak of the conflict. The British were
able to send a series of messages explaining their view of the war, and Saichunga in due course responded that he was perfectly satisfied with the
British response.72
In those circumstances there was from the British perspective no
further need for Krishnakanta to remain in Bhutan, and in October 1816
no doubt much to his own reliefhe was duly recalled.

The settlement of the Maraghat dispute

There remained the unfinished business of the Maraghat dispute. In
1816 the Deb Raja sent agents to Rangpur to explain the nature and ground
of his claims to the territory.73 At the same time, the authorities in Calcutta
instructed Norman McLeod, the British Commissioner in Cooch Behar to
conduct an enquiry concerning his claims.
The enquiry was eventually carried out on the orders of Scott who by
that time had succeeded McLeod as Commissioner. In 1817 he decided
the main part of the disputed territory hadwith the exception of twentysix isolated and very inconsiderable villagesbeen in the undisturbed
possession of Bhutan from 1780 to 1811. Important government
documents from the 1770s, which were not taken into account in 1809,
expressly stated that the territory belonged to Bhutan, and it was duly
returned to the Deb Raja. 74 This relatively generous attitude may in part

Ibid. pp. 114-115.

Latter to Adam, Titalia, 13 September 1816. OIOC F/4 552.
Latter to John Adam, Titalia, 30 October 1816. OIOC, F/4/552, p. 175
OIOC F/4/771/20906.

Krishnakanta Basu and Rammohan Ray


have been a reflection of the Companys gratitude at Bhutans neutrality

during the Nepal war.
In 1818 year Krishnakanta was given the task of staking out the new
Maraghat boundary with bamboos and transferring the disputed land to a
Bhutanese official, thus bringing the affair to a close.75

Krishnakantas contribution to Himalayan studies

Krishnakanta remained in the service of the East India Company until
1821, still working for Scott in his capacity as Commissioner in Cooch
Behar. At this point he announced his desire to resign on account of urgent
private affairs and, as noted above, applied for a pension.76 Scott duly
forwarded Krishnakantas application to Calcutta along with two of the
products of his stay in Bhutan. These were his Account of Bootan, which
Scott had himself translated from Bengali, and his Grammar and
Vocabulary of the Bootan Language. Scotts accompanying letter vouched
for the facts of the case, as represented in Krishnakantas letter.
The Governor-General in Council eventually decided that
Krishnakantas length of service did not entitle him to a pension. However,
the Council nevertheless decided to present him with a pecuniary
donation as a recompense for his trouble and in consideration of the
zeal and industry displayed by him in compiling the vocabulary and
interesting account of Bhootan.77

The Account of Bhutan

Krishnakantas report gained a wider audience in 1825, when it was
published under the title Some Account of the country of Bhtn in
Asiatic Researches, the journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. The
Asiatic Society was the leading learned society in India, and played a
major role in the development of Western scholarship on the region.78
The only previous published description of Bhutan in English had
appeared in Turners Account of an Embassy to the Court of the Teshoo
75 Gupta (1974), pp. 67-70.
76 Scott to George Swinton, Cooch Behar, 21 September 1821. OIOC. F/4/810/
21274, pp. 15-16.
77 Swinton to Scott, Calcutta, 24 November 1821. Ibid, pp, 130-131. Scott was
invited to state his opinion as to the extent of the remuneration which it might
be proper to grant him. I have not been able to find Scotts answer in the
British Library archives but Gupta (1974, p. 68), perhaps drawing on records
available in India, says that the figure was Rs 2,000.
78 On the scholarly contributions of the Asiatic Society see Kejariwal (1988).


John Bray

Lama in Tibet, which had come out in 1800. Turners book is written with
a degree of literary flourish, and represents one of the earliest examples
of Western romantic travel writing on the Himalayan region. Krishnakantas
Account on the other hand is a much more workaday document, crammed
with economic and political detail: it is more of a proto-gazetteer than a
literary text.
The Account begins with a short summary of the arrival from Tibet
of the first Dhurma Raja (Zhabdrung), the foundation of the Bhutanese
state, and the Zhabdrungs subsequent reincarnations. The descriptions of
the court summarise the roles of the main officials, together with their
sources of incomeinformation that would have been important to
Krishnakanta in his official capacity. Examples include the specialists who
are responsible for the courts external correspondence in Bengali and
Persian, and are seen as people of high status:
Kaiti are the Bengal and Persian Secretaries. They get
each 2 lbs of rice and have each two Poes [described
elsewhere as fighting messengers], and receive from the
Soubahs and Pillos about 1,000 Rupees, and also
something for causes and liberty in the lowlands.79
Krishnakanta took a critical view of Bhutanese politics noting that:
The intestine broils, which so frequently occur in
Bootan, are usually occasioned either by the Deb Raja
doing something contrary to custom, or by his remaining too
long in his office, in which case the Zimpens, Pillos, & c.,
assemble and require him to resign, and in the event of
refusal a battle ensues.80
As Scott had noted, these internal disputes at the top of the government
made Bhutan potentially vulnerable to Chinese intervention. The lower
ranks of the administration were unstable for similar reasons:
When a person gets a good appointment he is not allowed
to keep it long, but at the annual religious festivals frequent
removals and arguments take place. The Deb Raja himself
after a time is liable to be thrust out on some such a pretence
as that of his having infringed established customs, and
unless he have either Tongso or Paro Pillo on his side, he
must, if required to do so, resign his place or risk the result
of a civil war: on this account the Deb Raja strives, by
79 Account (1865), p. 192.
80 Account (1865), p. 196

Krishnakanta Basu and Rammohan Ray


removals and changes at the annual festivals, to fill the

principal offices with persons devoted to his interest. The
Booteahs are full of fraud and intrigue81
In his capacity as a Company official, Krishnakanta naturally was
interested in the countrys imports and exports:
Bootan produces abundance of tangun horses, blankets,
walnuts musk, chowries or cow tails, oranges and manjeet
(madder) which the inhabitants sell at Rungpore; and
thence take back woollen cloth, pattus, indigo, sandal, red
sandal, asafoetida, nutmegs, cloves, nakhi and coarse
cotton cloths, of which they use a part in Bootan and send
the rest to Lhassa, and from the latter country they import
tea, silver, gold and embroidered silk goods Besides the
Officers of Government and their servants no person can
trade with a foreign country, nor can any of the inhabitants
sell tangun mares without the Deb Rajas permission.82
As discussed above, Krishnakanta felt that the Bhutanese lifestyle was
incompatible with Hindu ritual requirements, but he nevertheless thought
that he detected similarities with his own religion:
The religion of the Booteahs assimilates in some points
with that of the Hindoos; they worship the images of the
deities, count their beads at prayers, and offer clarified
butter to the gods by throwing it on the fire The image
of Laberem buche [Lama Rinpoche?] resembles that of
Ram; his countenance is similar, and he holds in his hands
a bow and arrow; the Bootan deity is, however, made of
copper and gilt. There are also many images of deities with
four arms, the manufacture of which is constantly going
on in the palace, and together with the subsequent
ceremonies, occasion the chief expense of the government.
Overall, the Account naturally reflects the time at which it was written,
and must be read with the particular political and religious preoccupations
of the author in mind. At the time, it represented a significant advance of
Western knowledge of the Himalaya. In 1865, some 40 years after it was
first composed, it was still considered to be of sufficient merit to justify
republication under the slightly different title Account of Bootan in a
collection of reports on Political Missions to Bootan. Clearly it needs to
81 Account (1865), pp. 201-203.
82 Account (1865), p. 198.


John Bray

be balanced by additional sources from Bhutan itself,83 but it is still of value

as an important historical record.

The Grammar and Vocabulary of the Bootan Language

Scott placed a high value on Krishnakantas Grammar and Vocabulary
commenting that:
The chief merit of the performance is the perfect
accuracy with which the pronunciation of the Letters and
words has been marked, being likely to be impaired by
being transposed into the European Character by a person
not conversant in such matters.84
At the time Tibetan studies was in its infancy, and Krishnakanta was
studying the language entirely on his own. However, rudimentary his
researches may have been, they amounted to a work of true originality.
A manuscript copy of the Grammar and Vocabulary survives in the
National Library in Calcutta.85 It bears the title in Bengali, Bhot Deshiya
Bhashar Vyakarana O Shabda, and consists of 216 pages, of which the
first 40 are an introduction to the Tibetan alphabet and grammar. The
remainder list Tibetan words in Tibetan script with their equivalent in
Bengali. A bibliographic note at the library states that this version was a
copy made under the superintendence of the Baptist missionary William
Carey (1761-1834) in 1821/22. The original had been sent back to the
Political Department in 1834, and may therefore still exist in the Indian
National Archives.
According to Scott, an earlier copy had been sent to Rev Friedrich
Christian Gotthelf Schroeter.86 Schroeter was a German Lutheran in the
service of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) who studied Tibetan in
Titalia from 1816 until his death in 1820, and started work on a Tibetan
dictionary. 87 His main source was an earlier manuscript Tibetan-Italian
dictionary prepared in Lhasa by the Capuchin missionary Orazio della Penna
83 For a study making use of such sources see Aris (1994).
84 Scott to Swinton, Cooch Behar, 21 September 1821. OIOC. F/4/810/21274,
pp. 13-14.
85 Chattopadhyaya 1984, p. iii. I am grateful to Gza Bethlenfalvy for drawing
this reference to my attention. I have not myself been able to examine the
manuscript, and the details that follow come from the same reference.
86 Swinton to Captain Lockett, Secretary to the Council of the College of Fort
William, 24 November 1821. OIOC. F/4/810/21274, pp. 132-133.
87 On Schroeter and the Serampore dictionary, see Bray 2008. Titalia is now
known as Tetulia, and is in northern Bangladesh.

Krishnakanta Basu and Rammohan Ray


(1680-1745). However, he supplemented della Pennas work with his own

enquiries, and therefore presumably made use of Krishnakantas vocabulary.
After Schroeters death his unfinished manuscript came into the hands
of the government, which had paid his salary while he was working on the
dictionary. The Governor-general in council appointed Carey to evaluate
Schroeters draft: he duly recommended publication, and was given the task
of revising the text for the press together with his younger colleague John
Clark Marshman (1794-1877). In 1826 the final version was published in
Serampore with the title A Dictionary of the Bhotanta, or Boutan Language.
Despite the title, the work is explicitly a dictionary of Tibetan.
The Serampore dictionary is a composite work bearing the mark of at
least four contributors: della Penna, Schroeter, Carey and Marshman. It
is entirely possible that at least some of Krishnakantas contributions may
have found their way into the final text either via Schroeter or via Carey,
both of whom had copies of his manuscript.
One feature of the Serampore dictionary is that it contains repeated
references to the Hindu equivalents of Buddhist deities. To take a
random example, page 142 contains the definitions Krishna for dgra
po, Indra for dgra mtshing dzin and Ganesha for dgra lta can.
These definitions could scarcely have come from della Penna from his
time in Lhasa. It is possible that they might have been introduced by
Schroeter, Carey or Marshman, all of whom worked in India. However,
since Krishnakanta was a devout Hindu, he is perhaps the more likely
candidate. A definitive answer can only come from a careful comparison
of Krishnakantas manuscript with the Serampore dictionary. At all
events, it is clear that his pioneering linguistic researches deserve
further study.

In his 1821 pension application, Krishnakanta presented his own
achievements in the self-effacing manner of a lowly supplicant seeking
the munificence of his superiors. Even if we take this humility at face
value, it is clear that he deserves respect foras he puts itbinding
himself with the girdle of courage and travelling to territories that were
then considered remote and inhospitable. Despite the apparent discomforts
of his stay in Bhutan, he proved to be a keen and diligent observer. He
merits an honourable place in the lineage both of officials and of scholars
who worked in the Himalayan region.
In placing him within this lineage, it is appropriate to look both
forward and back. As a source of intelligence, Krishnakanta was in many
ways a successor to the 18th and early 19th century Gosains and Kashmiri


John Bray

merchants who travelled between India and Tibet, and provided news and
information to officials, traders and ordinary people on both sides of the
Himalaya. However, he contrasts with them in that he had no previous
experience or personal contacts in the region, and was a full-time
government servant. In many respects, he was as much of an outsider in
Bhutan as a British official would have been.
His Account, though originally written in Bengali, addressed the
kinds of question that a European observer would have asked, and was
readily adapted to the purposes of the Asiatic Society. Similarly, his Grammar
and Vocabulary was compiled at a time when Western scholars, officials
and missionaries were in the early stage of developing a more systematic
understanding of other Asian languages. Like Rammohan Ray, he belonged
to the first generation of Bengali intellectuals who were both influenced by
and contributed to Western learning.

Archival sources
British Library, Oriental and India Office Collection (OIOC). Records of
the Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India: Boards
Collections. F/4/551/13382. Narrative of Proceedings connected with
the advance of a Chinese force towards the frontier of Nepaul. June
1814-November 1816.
OIOC F/4/552. Papers regarding the advance of a Chinese force
towards Nepal.
OIOC F/4/771/20906. The Bengal Government sanction the claim of the Deb
Raja of Bhutan to the district of Maraghat, which had been occupied
by the Raja of Cooch Behar.
OIOC. F/4/810/21274. Grammar and Vocabulary of the Bootan Language
compiled by Kishun Kunt Bose. Remuneration to him on this account
and for his Services in 1815/16.
Regents Park College, Oxford. Baptist Missionary Society papers. IN/16.
Letters to the Society from Dr John Thomas.

Published primary sources

Bose, Kishen Kant [Krishnakanta Vasu]. 1825. Some Account of the
country of Bhtn, by Kishen Kant Bose. Translated by D. Scott,
Esq. Asiatic Researches 15, pp. 128-156.

Krishnakanta Basu and Rammohan Ray


Bose, Kishen Kant [Krishnakanta Vasu]. 1865. Account of Bootan. In

Political Missions to Bootan. Comprising the Reports of the
Honble Ashley Eden etc. pp. 187-206. Calcutta: Bengal
Secretariat Office. Reprint ed.: New Delhi: Asian Educational
Services, 2001.
Chanda, Rai Bahadur Ramaprasad & Majumdar, Jatindra Kumar. Eds. 1938
Selections from Official Letters and Documents relating to the Life
of Raja Rammohun Roy. vol. 1. 1791-1830. With an introductory
memoir. Calcutta: Calcutta Oriental Book Agency.
Papers Respecting the Nepaul War [PRNW in footnotes] 1824. Printed
in conformity to the resolution of the Court of Proprietors of East
India Stock of 3rd March 1824. London, 1824.
Political Missions to Bootan, Comprising the reports of The Honble
Ashley Eden, 1864; Capt. R.B. Pemberton, 1837, 1838, with Dr
W.Griffiths Journal and the Account by Baboo Kishen Kant Bose.
Calcutta: Printed at the Bengal Secretariat Office, 1865; reprint ed.,
New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 2001.
Prinsep, Henry Thoby. 1825. History of the Political and Military
Transactions in India during the Administration of the Marquess of
Hastings. London.
Sen, S.N. (Ed.) 1942. Prcin Bgl Patra Sakalana. A Collection
of Old Bengali Letters. Records in Oriental Languages. Vol. 1.
Calcutta: Calcutta University Press.
Schroeter, Frederic Christian Gotthelf. 1826. A Dictionary of the
Bhotanta, or Boutan Language. Serampore.
Turner, Samuel. 1800. An Account of an Embassy to the Court of the
Teshoo Lama in Tibet. London: Messrs G. and W. Nicol.
White, Adam, 1832. Memoir of the Late David Scott, Esq. Agent to the
Governor General, on the North-east Frontier of Bengal, and
Commissioner of Revenue and Circuit in Assam. Edited by
Archibald Watson. Calcutta: Printed at the Baptist Mission Press.

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Barooah, Nirode K. 1970. David Scott in North-East India, 1802-1831. A
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Bray, John. 2005. Early Protestant Engagement with the Himalayan Region
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Bray, John. Forthcoming. Captain Barr Latter and British Engagement with
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and Anna Balicki. Gangtok: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology.
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Notes on the
Thirteenth Dalai Lamas Confidential Letter
to the Tsar of Russia
Jampa Samten

This important piece of historical document is one of the 15

correspondences between the 13th Dalai Lama and Agvan Dorzhiev,
popularly known by the Sokpo Tsansheb Ngawang Lobsang to the Tibetans,
preserved in the M. N. Khangalov History Museum of Buriatia, Ulan Ude,
Buryatia, Russian Federation. Except for this letter under discussion, all
others are dated 1924 and 1925. Though the letter itself carried no dispatch
date, Dorzhiev, the key person in the Russia-Tibet relations, met the 13th
Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso at Phagri Dzong in 1912, when the latter was
returning to Lhasa after his two years stay in Kalimpong. They traveled
together as far as Samding Dorjee Phagmo Monastery. According to a British
Viceroys report to the Secretary of State, the Dalai Lama started his journey
for Tibet from India on 24 June 1912 1; and was at Ralung on 15 July; and is
proceeding to Samding monastery. The Dalai Lama, halted at Samding for
three months and Choskhor Yangtse monastery in Chushur for four months,
before he finally returned to Lhasa on 17 January 1913.
Having spent some times in Lhasa, Dorzhiev again paid a short visit to
Samding monastery in August 1912 and met the 13th Dalai Lama Thubten
Gyatso for last time. According to the testimony of Dorzhiev himself2, the
Dalai Lama bestowed funds for the ongoing construction of a Buddhist
temple (begun in 1910) at St. Petersburg and some ritual objects for the
interior of the temple during their meeting. It was probably at this time that
the Dalai Lama handed over the letter for the Russian Tsar and gave an
additional credential letter to Dorzhiev and his associates authorizing them
to execute any unrevealed tasks and negotiate with external powers for the
sake of Buddha doctrine, as mentioned in the letter. On his way back to
Russia, Dorzhiev entered Mongolia and concluded the Tibet-Mongol treaty
of friendship on 11 January 1913.
1 Shakabpa sets the departure date to 10th day of the fifth lunar month of the Tibetan
calendar in 1912 (Shakabpa, W.D. Bod kyi srid don rgyal rabs [=Political History
of Tibet], 2 Vols. Kalimpong, India: Shakabpa House, 1976. p.206.
2 Tubten J. Norbu and Dan Martin (trans. and eds.). Dorjiev: Memoirs of a
Tibetan Diplomat, Tokyo: Hokke Bunka Kenkyu, 1991, p.39.


Jampa Samten

A month later British authorities informed the 13th Dalai Lama through
their trade agent at Gyantse Basil Gould that they would henceforth consider
any contacts with Dorzhiev undesirable. In view of increasing Chinese
pressure on Tibet, the concluding of the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907,
and Tibetan interest in seeking British protection, the Dalai Lama found
himself forced to reject Dorzhievs services as his political advisorat least
outwardly. In Samding, the Dalai Lama and Agvan Dorzhiev hardly supposed
that they would never see each other againyet this proved to be the case.
However, John Snelling writes:
Any British official, however lofty, who... believed that [the
relationship between Dorzhiev and the Dalai Lama] could be easily
terminated, was deluding himself. Though they never saw each
other again, these two powerful personalities remained in touch
until the Dalai Lama died in 1933. 3
Thereafter, Dorzhiev journeyed back to Russia with two letters of the 13th
Dalai Lama addressed to the Tsar and the Russian Government.4 The letter
in discussion can be the true copy (ngo bshus) of the 13th Dalai Lamas
original letter to Russian Emperor Nicolas II, as indicated by the letter itself.
The letter bears the title Nang gnad zhu zin ngo bshus (Lit. true copy
of the confidential and significant appeal note) on its top flat. The letter, of
course, does not carry the authors signature, but there are two instances,
where references are made in the first person as ngos ta lai bla ma
(I, the Dalai Lama), which confirms the author of the letter.
The Russian translation of the Dalai Lamas letter to the Russian Tsar
by Agvan Dorzhiev preserved in the Archives of Foreign Affairs of the
Russian Empire has been published in the collection of 122 Archival documents
on Russo-Tibet relations and edited by Tatiana Shaumian.5 The essential content
of the Russian translation by Dorzhiev and the letter in discussion are similar.
However, in a stricter sense, the Russian translation by Dorzhiev is a paraphrased
summary of the letter, which can be rendered as follow:
1. On the establishment of friendly relations between Tibet and
England, and on the protection and acknowledgement of Tibetan
independence by Russia and England;
3 John Snelling. Buddhism in Russia: The Story of Agvan Dorzhiev, Lhasas
Emissary to the Tsar. Shaftesbury: Element, 1993. p.149.
4 Alexandre Andreyev. Soviet Russia and Tibet: The Debacle of Secret
Diplomacy, 1918-1930s, Leiden: Brill, 2003, p.57.
5 Shaumian, Tatiana. et al. Rossiia I Tibet: Sbornik Russkikh Arkhivnykh
Dokumentov, 1900-1914 by Institut Vostokovedeniia (Rossiiskaia akademiia
nauk), Vostochnaia Literatura. 2005. pp.194-195.

The 13th Dalai Lamas Letter to the Tsar of Russia


2. On the dispatching of diplomatic representatives of Russia and

England to Lhasa, or, if the institution of diplomatic representation
in Tibet will be found to be impossible according to the terms set
by the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907, then On finding other
means for establishing new guarantees of Tibets inviolability and
neutrality, via negotiations with England or other world powers;
3. On the selling of arms and the command of military instructors,
or, On permission to transport them through her territory and on
her roads if for some reason the acquisition of arms in Russia will
be found unacceptable;
4. On the increase of a loan from the Peking Department of the
Russo-Asian Bank up to 1 million rubles;
5. On the legalization of the status of our representative, Tsannid
Khanchen Agvan Dorzhiev; and on the swift resolution of these
urgent issues, on the preservation of eternally unshakeable friendly
relations between Russia and Tibet, and on the establishment
between them of lively trade and economic ties by means of a
special treaty agreement, I, remembering your former favor and
protection, rely on Your Imperial Majesty.
The letter in discussion expresses gratitude and appeals for the Russian
support on following matters:
1. Expression of gratitude for Russian help extended particularly
during the period of the Dalai Lamas exile to Mongolia (from
1904-1906) due to the British military expedition and his second
exile to India (from 1910-1912) due to the Tibet-Chinese military
conflict. However, it is important to note that the Russian supports
extended to the Dalai Lama during these periods of time are within
the purview of its Tibet policy.
2. Proposal for conclusion of Russia-Tibet treaty that would guarantee
the Russian protectorate over Tibet.
3. Support for the declaration of independence of Tibet, for which
the Dalai Lama and his Government are geared up not to leave
any tasks unaccomplished. The letter expresses the Dalai Lamas
disappointment to British attitude of insisting the acceptance of
Chinese suzerainty over Tibet. Furthermore, the letter expresses
Tibets fear and suspicion that, the British with an intention to
conquer Tibet might create a military conflict by instigating China,
Bhutan and Nepal. The letter requests the Russia to discuss the
Tibets issues with the British and guide Tibetan envoys for
immediate declaration of the independence of Tibet.


Jampa Samten

4. Opening of Russian and British office of representative in Lhasa.

The letter suggests Russia to discuss with other countries such as
Germany, France, Japan etc. who are not bound by the treaty and
persuade them to depute their representatives to Tibet, if it is
inconvenient for Russia to do so, because of the terms of the
Anglo-Russia treaty,
5. Implementation of Anglo-Russian treaty and for assurance that
foreign countries would only help and support Tibet and refrain
from taking over of the land and people of Tibet. The appeal for
assurance most probably alludes to the first article of the AngloRussian Treaty signed in 1907, which states that both British
and Russia shall engage and respect territorial integrity of Tibet
and abstain from all interferences in internal administration.
6. Sale of guns and ammunitions.
7. Sending of military trainers from the Russian Buddhist
8. Loan of one million dNgul (Rubles) in addition to the earlier loan
of one hundred thousand dNgul.
9. Permission for transport of weapons through Russian territory, in
case acquired from other Countries.
10. Dalai Lamas confirmation over his issuance of an additional
credential letter to Dorzhiev and his associates authorizing them
to execute the secret task and negotiate with external powers for
the sake of Buddha doctrine.
In 1912, prior to his return to Tibet from exile, the 13th Dalai Lama
formally appointed and dispatched Tsarong Dasang Dadul as the Commander
General of the Tibetan army to Lhasa. This is indicative of the emphasis the
Dalai Lama has begun to lay on the need for a strong military force. His
proclamation of 1913 also stresses the need for a strong military force to
protect Tibet from any external aggressions. Thus the appeals made under
points 6-9 in this appeal letter reflects the Dalai Lamas strong concern over
the militarily and strategically prone nature of the Tibetan plateau and the
imminent foreign aggressions.
For long, modern academicians and scholars have raised questions and
held reservations over the legality of the Mongol-Tibetan Treaty signed in
1913. Reasons cited primarily include scarcity of documented evidence and
the authority of Dorzhiev, the signatory representing the Tibetan side. This
letter of appeal addressed by the 13th Dalai Lama to the Tsar of Russia
serves as important evidence that sheds light over the Treaty, which is
historically significant to both Mongolians and Tibetans. The tenth point
enumerated herein records the conferment of authority by Tibets spiritual

The 13th Dalai Lamas Letter to the Tsar of Russia


and temporal ruler, the Dalai Lama, to Dorzhiev in executing any secret tasks
or negotiating with Russia and other countries.
About three months after Dorzhiev left Tibet for Russia via Mongolia,
he reached Urga, where he concluded a Mongol-Tibet agreement with the
Autonomous Mongolian Government on 29 December 1912 and later signed
by the representatives of both Countries on 11 January 1913.

Background and Drift in Russias Tibet Policy

The letter was written at a very significant time in 1912, when the
period of over two century Tibet and Mongols dependency on Manchu
Chinese ended with the collapse of Manchu dynasty in February 1912.
Khalkha Mongols had proclaimed independence of Outer Mongolia and
ceremonially enthroned Jetsun Dampa, the Grand Lama of Urga, as
Mongolias sovereign ruler on 29 December 1911. The Dalai Lama and his
government too geared up to declare the Independence of Tibet.
Nevertheless, Tibet being caught up in the Great Game of Three Asian
Powers; Britain, Russia and China with conflicting interests in Tibet, Tibets
future political status particularly in relation to China could only be settled
with support of either Britain or Russia. However, the Dalai Lama was
very skeptical and disappointed by the Britishs Tibet policy, as he mentions
in the letter that the British continue to insist the acceptance of Chinese
suzerainty over Tibet. Since the day, the Dalai Lama had set his foot on
Indian soil on 24 February 1910 the British Government was not supportive
and helpful to Tibets issue.
British government was theoretically bound by the terms of the treaty,
particularly the second clause in 1906 treaty6 and a few clauses in 1907
treaty 7 with China and Russia respectively, which precludes her from
interfering in Tibetan affair. However, from the point of view of Indias
security in Northern frontiers, the British has special interest in Tibet.
However, the British Government maintained a policy of non-involvement
in Tibetan affair.
On 25 February 1910, only 12 days following the Dalai Lamas flight to
India, the British Government accepted a Chinese declaration, which called
6 The Government of Great Britain engages not to annex Tibetan territory or to
interfere in the administration of Tibet. The Government of China also
undertakes not to permit any other foreign State to interfere with the territory
or internal administration of Tibet.
7 The Government of Great Britain and Russia, both engages to respect
territorial integrity of Tibet and to abstain from all interferences in internal
administration and also both parties recognizing the suzerain rights of China
in Tibet.


Jampa Samten

for the deprivation of the Dalai Lama of both his title and position. On May
4, 1910 a telegraphic message transmitted by the Secretary of State to the
Viceroy of India read: definite information should now be communicated
to the Dalai Lama that his Majestys Government cannot interfere between
them and the Chinese Government.8 The British Minister in Peking also
made it clear to Chinese that the British Government would absolutely
refuse to influence the Dalai Lama, one way or the other or to take any
responsibility. It is also notable that after the Chinese declaration regarding
the removal of the Dalai Lama, the Viceroy of India refused to
communicate with the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lamas letters to Viceroy
were re-routed and replied through a political officer in Sikkim.
In August 1910, the Dalai Lama was even told that his presence near
the frontier would not be tolerated unless he commits himself to the cause
of peace. In January 1911, the Secretary of State again advised the Viceroy
to inform the Dalai Lama that His Majestys Government regrets that she
is unable to interfere between the Dalai Lama and his suzerain.9
After the downfall of Manchu Emperor in February 1912, the Chinese
troops in Tibet faced internal unrest and defeat from Tibetans. The Indian
government and the British foreign office concluded that the Dalai Lamas
return to Tibet with the consent of Chinese would be the best possible
solution, but the British mediation suggested by both parties was turned
down by the British policy makers.10
Neither the Dalai Lamas rejection of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet
and declaration of independence of Tibet nor the Republic of Chinas
policy of considering Tibet a province of China suited the British. The
objective of concluding Anglo-Tibet Convention of Lhasa in 1904, the
Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1906 and Anglo-Russian Convention of
1907 was to assure the territorial integrity of Tibet and safeguard her
existence as a peaceful autonomous buffer state between the three
Asiatic powersRussia, India and China.
Britain had ignored the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan assemblys
declaration of independence of Tibet, and even informed the Dalai
Lama on his return from India to Tibet in June 1912, that Government
of Britain desires to see the internal autonomy of Tibet under the
Chinese suzerainty maintained, without Chinese interference, so long
as the treaty obligation were performed and cordial relation preserved
between Tibet and India.
8 Foreign Department Secret, External Proceedings, No.532 (Secretary of State
to Viceroy, 4 May, 1910).
9 Foreign Department Secret, External Proceedings, No.647 (Secretary of State
to Viceroy, 17 January, 1911).
10 Foreign Department Secret, External Proceedings, No.245.

The 13th Dalai Lamas Letter to the Tsar of Russia


On the other hand, the Russias Tibet policy particularly after October
1911 was not either in favor of Tibet. According to Andreyev, in one of the
Dalai Lamas earlier letter to Tsar (in between March 1911 and February
1912) the Dalai Lama expressed his disappointment over the British attitude
and appeals for Russian support. The part of the letter reads:
Charles Bell informed me categorically that it was fruitless to refer
the issue of Tibet to the British Government, and the viceroy, too,
could not help in this matter. Since it appears unlikely that our cause
will be taken up by the British. We are left with no choice but to
place the hope of Tibet at the doorsteps of your palace, where I
intend to lead a small entourage as soon as possible.
The response to this letter by Tsar Nicholas delivered by a Russian
diplomatic agent Reveliotti to the Dalai Lama in Kalimpong was not good
news either. The Tsar advised the Dalai Lama to pursue a policy of good
consent with the British government concerning the Tibetan affair11 which
is a clear reflection of Russian policy of not intervening in Tibetan affairs
since the formulation of Mongolian agenda in 1911.
Despite the Tsars refusal of support, major political developments
in Outer Mongolia, such as the proclamation of independence of Outer
Mongolia by the Khalkha Mongols on 1 December 1911 and ceremonially
enthronement of Jetsun Dampa, the Grand Lama of Urga, as Mongolias
sovereign ruler on 29th December of the same year; expulsion of Chinese
Ambans, together with their escorts from the four main Khalkha
Mongolian provinces took place. Though the Russian government did
not advocate full independence of Mongolia, as strongly insisted by the
new leaders of the Mongolia, they formulated the Mongolian agenda in
1911 and envisaged Russian diplomatic support to Khalkha Mongolia
within the framework of broad autonomy, however, without breaking
up from China, which perhaps prompted the Dalai Lama and his
associate Dorzhiev to re-appeal the Russian, hoping for a similar support
to Tibet too.
Despite of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Governments repeated
request for support for declaration of the Independence of Tibet, British
policy of non-involvement in Tibetan affair and continuous insistences
on acceptance of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, left the Dalai Lama
with no choice, but to place the hope of Tibet at the Russian Tsar and
his Government.

11 Alexandre Andreyev. Soviet Russia and Tibet: The Debacle of Secret

Diplomacy, 1918-1930s, Leiden: Brill, 2003, pp.53-54.


Jampa Samten

Was the Dalai Lama and Dorzhiev, the key person in Russia-Tibet relation,
not aware of the fact, that the Russian government had drifted away from
Tibetan affairs as she now concentrates more on the Mongolian agenda after
October 1911 and Tibet is no more interest sphere of Russia and adopted a
policy of not interfering Tibetan affair? Or did the Dalai Lama consider it his
last resort to placing the hope of Tibet at the hands of the Russian Tsar and
his Government? There is more probability for the latter, as there was no
way out other than this.
Russian government concluded a treaty with the Mongolian leaders on
3 November 1912. The terms of the agreement Russia recognized Outer
Mongolia as an Autonomous State and engaged to help the country to maintain
its self-sustained existence under Russian protection. One month after the
conclusion of Russo-Mongolian treaty of 3 November 1912, Sazonov, Foreign
minister of Russia wrote a letter to Russian ambassador in London on 16th
December, 1912 which reads:
We would regard as advantageous the conclusion of a direct
agreement between the British and Dalai Lama, provided it does
not infringe on our Tibetan convention, since such a treaty would
establish parallelism vis--vis the Chinese government between the
our stand on the Mongolian question and that of British on the
question of Tibet.12
This supports the belief, that under Sazonov, the Russian and British
government had made a secret understanding regarding their special interest
in Outer Mongolia and Tibet. In their correspondence, London acknowledged
the Outer Mongolia as a sphere of Russian interest and St. Petersburg, and
the Tibet as a British sphere of interest. It also clearly indicates that the
Russian will not interfere on any issues relating to the British sphere of interest.
Dorzhiev submitted his notes on Tibetan issue dated April 6, 1913
suggesting among many other things, the joint Russia-British protectorate
over Tibet, revision of Anglo-Russian treaty of 1907, Russia entering into
friendly agreement with Tibet and the Dalai Lamas letter with Russian
translation to Kokovtsev, the head of the Council of Minister. Kokovtsev,
then forwarded Dorzhievs notes on Tibetan issue to Sazonov for his remark
and suggestion. The Russian Tibet policy as T. Shaumian puts lack of any
wish intervene in Tibetan affairs and placing responsibility for these on the
Great Britain13 is clearly reflected in Sazonovs letter to Kokovtsev, the
head of the Council of Minister written on 25 April, 1913.
12 Ibid., p.59.
13 Shaumian, Tatiana. Tibet. The Great Game and Tsarist Russia. New Delhi,
2000, p.176.

The 13th Dalai Lamas Letter to the Tsar of Russia


Regarding the Dorzhievs suggestion for joint Russia-British protectorate

over Tibet, Sazonov writes:
Russia has no interest in Tibet other than those of her Buddhist
subjects, the Buryats and Kalmyks, who see in the Dalai Lama
their spiritual leader. But, even this purely religious concern should
not be encouraged as might provoke separatist tendencies among
the Russian Buddhists. In contrast to Russia, Britain through her
Indian possessions is contiguous to Tibet, has long been trading
with that country and had concluded a series of international acts
with both the Tibet and Chinese government.14
Concerning the revision of Anglo-Russian treaty of 1907, Sazonov writes:
In 1907 the Imperial government concluded a special agreement on
Tibet with the British, by the terms of which Tibet was recognized
as a part of China, and both the Russia and England engaged
themselves not to attempt to include Tibet into their sphere of
influence. Thus, without sacrificing seriously any of her interests,
Russia put a limit to British attempt to gain a foothold in Tibet. Any
revision this agreement in the direction desired by Dorzhiev is clearly
impossible. The British could agree to the revision only with a view
to expanding their influence in Tibet and further restricting our
possibilities of gaining influence there...If, however, the British
government, while revising the 1907 agreement, would offer us a
compensation in other regions, then I would not certainly raise any
objection to such a revision.15
On 24 May 1912, the British government protested against the Republic
of China headed by Yuan Shih Kais declaration of Tibet as a province of
China and further demanded that the status quo be maintained. Britain
expressed her desire to see an autonomous Tibet lying in between the two
powersBritain and China. The Chinese republican government paid no heed
to the British protest against Chinese Tibet policy and the governor of Szechuan
set out on a military expedition to Tibet under General Yin Chang-heng and
retook Batang, Chamdo, Drayab, Markham and some other areas in Kham.
The British government was aware of the fact that Chinese attempts to
exercise its rule in Tibet would excite Tibetan and cause disturbance on the
14 Alexandre Andreyev. Soviet Russia and Tibet: The Debacle of Secret
Diplomacy, 1918-1930s, Leiden: Brill, 2003, p.60.
15 Ibid., p.60.


Jampa Samten

northern frontiers of India. The British said to the Tibetan that she would
not give support to any attempts to throw off Chinese suzerainty, but that
she meant to maintain the Tibets territorial integrity stipulated in AngloTibetan and Anglo-Chinese treaty of 1904 and 1906 respectively.
Charles Hardinge, the Viceroy of India, viewed that British recognition of
the Republican Government of China should be conditioned on Chinese settlement
of the Tibet question. London, still hesitant, but issued five point protest
memorandum to Chinese government on August 17, 1912 against the Chinese
action in Tibet. The memorandum clearly demands for the conclusion of a
written agreement as a condition precedent to extending their recognition to the
Chinese Republican Government. It was on the basis of this memorandum that
negotiation between the British, China and Tibet were opened at Simla in 1913.
By the year 1913, both the Russian and British diplomats unanimously
concluded that the future of Tibet depends solely on the agreement between
the British and China. The Tripartite Simla agreement with the consent of
the Russian Government was signed by the British and Tibetan
representatives and initialed by the Chinese representative however was
subsequently repudiated by the Peking government. So, this attempt to solve
Tibet issue too failed.
On the other hand, in case of Outer Mongolia the new Chinese Republican
government under President Yuan Shi-kai failed in her attempt to reclaim
Outer Mongolia as integral part of China and confirm the Russo-Mongolian
treaty of 3rd November, 1912 in Sino-Russian Declaration of 5th November,
1913 and subsequent Kiakhta Tripartite Sino-Russo-Mongolian agreement of
1915 legitimized the Russias diplomatic victory over the Mongolian issue.
To some extent, this letter of appeal reveals a significant degree of
suspicion and distrust the 13th Dalai Lama holds against the British. Such
views were also shared by high Tibetan officials including the Commander
General of Tibet Tsarong Dasang Dadul, who terms the Anglo-Tibetan
relationship as forming from merely the geographical necessity of the
two parties. This is also reflected from the Dalai Lamas frequent contacts
with Russia through his representative Dorzhiev. On the other hand, Tibets
inclination towards Russia contributed to the deterioration of the AngloTibetan relationship. Consequently, the British strove to bind Tibet with China
by employing the politically and legally vague concept of suzerainty, thereby
simultaneously disassociating and delinking Tibet from the Russians.
Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama wrote this letter to the Tsar with great
hope and aspirations. However, owing to the drift in the Russias Tibet
Policy, the Dalai Lamas appeal letter to the Tsar of Russia remained
unacknowledged, as neither any letter nor dispatch of envoys took place in
the following years. This obviously marked the ending of the long and cordial
relationship between the Tibet and the Tsarist Russia.

The 13th Dalai Lamas Letter to the Tsar of Russia


Translation of the Letter
[Title on the top flat]

Copy of the confidential and significant appeal note

I [hereby] submit before the Supreme Russian Emperor who peacefully

governs the vast, great country about [the most] confidential and significant
issues [relating to Tibet]. In accord with the intention to assist Tibet
expressed in the letter sent by the Emperor the past year of 190116, during
the period of my, the Dalai Lamas flight to Mongolia due to the British
invasion in Tibet,17 you had provided me with as many as possible armed
guards, doing thus an honor to me, helped with the advice about my
subsequent movements; signed the treaty with the British about the help to
Tibet; during the period of my travel to Peking rendered me the assistance
for which I am obliged and, the most important, carried out the negotiations
with the Chinese side during the period of my flight to India. 18 According to
the general opinion of the high Government officials, a commemoration of
[your] gracious help to me, the Dalai Lama, and to the Tibetan Government
is to be recorded in the state annals and should subsequently be repaid. To
firmly establish friendly relations between Russia and Tibet, we have decided
to draw up a treaty.
Although we greatly wish to declare as soon as possible the independence
of Tibet in consultation with you, but the British continue to insist on the
acceptance of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet.
Before Tibet possess sufficient troops, armor and ammunition there is a
danger that the British may find a pretext to unleash a conflict aimed at
annexing [Tibet] by antagonizing the Chinese, Nepalese, Bhutanese and
[those in] other countries. Thus, Tsenshap Khench [Agvan Dorzhiev] and
other envoys19 have been dispatched with the specific purpose of seeking
your advice on significant and confidential issues.

16 The letter of Nicolas II was a reply to the Dalai Lamas letter, the full text of
which is published in Rossiia i Tibet. Sbornik russkikh arkhivnkh
dokumentov 1900-1914. Sostaviteli E.A. Belov, O.I. Sviatestkaia,
T. Shaumian. Moskva, 2005. p. 35-36. Russian Emperors reply dated by
July 4, 1901, is kept in Arkhiv Vneshnei Politiki Rossiiskoi Imperii
(AVPRI), F. Kitaiskii stol, d. 1448, l. 100.
17 The Younghusband military expedition in 1903-04.
18 From February, 1910 to June, 1912.
19 Most probably rTsedron Ngawang Choezin, rTsedrung Yeshi Gyatso and Drungyig
Gedun Kalsang who were signatory of Tibet-Mongol treaty of 1913, together
with Dorzhiev as a representative of Tibet were the members of the envoy.


Jampa Samten

[We wish] the Russians to discuss [issues concerning Tibet] with the
British and direct the envoys to immediately declare Tibets independence.
It would be best if both Britain and Russia could establish the [office of
their] representatives in Lhasa. If it is difficult for Russia [to act on above
stated request, because of the] terms of Anglo-Russia treaty, Russia may
discuss [with other influential countries] such as Germany, France and Japan
not bound by the treaty terms and persuade them to establish their
representative [office] in Lhasa.
Tibet is now Self-governed [independent] State. Foreign countries are
requested to render assistance in accordance with the Russo-British Treaty20,
without causing harm to the people and the territories. The sale of some
guns, sufficient armor and ammunitions by the Russian government [in the
past] had been very useful. If you would dispatch a few military instructors
from the Buddhist communities, we could provide them with salaries. In
addition to the earlier loan of hundred thousand silver coins, we [again]
request for a loan of one million [silver coins]. We request your permission
to transport weapons through your territory [even] if they were procured
from other countries.
Furthermore, in addition to the credential letter previously issued to
Tsenshapand his associates, granting them official status in your country,
another [credential letter] had been issued authorizing them to execute the
secret task and negotiate with external powers for the sake of Buddha
doctrine. The British is anxious and not in support of this act. Nevertheless,
I would appreciate it if the current secrecy surrounding the Tibetan question
could be made more open and transparent, as it would facilitate us to act
appropriately. For the sake of future friendship between our countries, a
firm trade treaty needs to be signed without delay. The letter is written on
an auspicious day and month [late 1912], and sent along with a Khatak and
presents listed in the attached note.

20 Anglo-Russian convention of 1907.

The 13th Dalai Lamas Letter to the Tsar of Russia


Transcription of the Letter

[D-G-eP-G-D-P-] mP-Gmh--m-P-z
mP-Gmh-Vh-h-G-z M-q-Vm-q-m-h-- 1901 -z;-G-GmP-z-zhYP--wm-hG-h-M-Dh-q-e-P-b----hm-W-q-zh---z-zdmG--h-zBh-+z-GP-eh-T-V-P-hG-hP-I-kh--z-em zh-wm-H-hm-VP-G-WG-GmP. q-TP-h-zBh-+z-GP--zeh-q-G-wm Gq-M-G-xG--zBh-+z-M-xG--z;--GmP-z-m-P-b----hP.
hP-+z-zh-&M-DP-P-zm-q-h-M-fh-hGP-zem-y-h-i-zOG-zH-m-b-V-P-hm-W--wG-zh-h-x-M-DP-hG-G-zXh--ez-P-xG-G-hI-V-wG-fz-G---h-GP-hm-W-M--hP. G-G-G-DG-q-Gb-zh-hG-FG-h----hG--GP-V-ez-mP-Gmh-z-em--zm-z-Dm-V-hP. -o-Vh-P--hG-P-G-m-h-D-m-hm-M-hP. z;-fG-m--o-P-z;-z--y-h-zh&M-DP-P-zm-m-q-i-OG-fG-z--hm-M-Dz-GZ-m---+-z-WG-GmP-h-q-hP. h-P--hm-VPzG-G-h-zh-h--K--m -G Z-P-G-VP-DP--h-q-MDG-G-m-fm-P----m-z;--GmP-e-zh-h--o-GbP-M-hP. zh&MDP-K-zm-m-q-x-M-DG-m-G-wm----yG-zT--h-q--hm-VPG-e--Gm--G-Gm-fG-X-V-z--M h-D-&M-Dz-Vm-q-m--hhI-V G-q--h--ZP-z-t-P-hm-m-m-q hG--z--hG-LmD--mP-zem-V-h-DP-m-GmP-zh-h--h-G-m-wG-fz-z-M Sm-hP-eP-yG-zM-+-fG---GTG-m-q-G-q-h-q G-G-M-Dz-Gm-m-


Jampa Samten

Z-Oz-zH-hG--&M-Dz-Vm-q--fG-hm-im-VG-q-z;-F--M--h-mz-Tm-M-Dz-b--o-kh-M-G-E-Sm-h-fG-mP-hm-GP-V-hG-G-wzom-GTG-hP. x-M-zem-hm-+-y--VG-q-G-E-vh-q-e-hm-W-hh-q-yG-hG-m-b-V-P-xm-Vh-zh-hm-+-GP-z--hG-q-Pm-V--fP-m-h-zh-P-Gmh--G-wm-mm-bm-fG-X-V-z h-m-&M-Dz-GZ-fm-V-z--M-P-G-I-MG-G-Gbm-h--H-z-VP-G--h-zG-fz-qT-P-h-q-Em GG-dm--G-hP. z-dm-f--G-zT---zPq-w

East of the Moon and West of the Sun?

Approaches to a Land with Many Names,
North of Ancient India and South of Khotan1
Bettina Zeisler

Commemorating 50 years of Indian hospitality towards the Tibetan people,
what could fit better than a contribution concerning the region at the very
junction of Tibet and India: Ladakh? Once a colony of the Tibetan empire, independent for almost one millennium, Ladakh is now part of India, her crown,
as some politicians would say. In the west, Ladakh is also known as Little
Tibet, by which designation most people understand something secondary, a
miniature replication of something more real, Tibet. This perception is wrong
in two ways. First of all, the privilege of being called Little or Lesser Tibet
goes to Baltistan, while Ladakh was known merely as Greater Tibet. This
1 This article had originally been prepared as a chapter in a book on the ethnic
composition of early Tibet and the history of Tibetan languages (Zeisler,
forthcoming a, Chapter 2 1.2), where the present discussion will now be
abridged. I am grateful to Roberto Vitali for the opportunity to present my findings
on early Tibetan history to a more general audience, at the same time shifting the
balance somewhat back towards linguistics, in the said publication. References
to this publication will be kept at a minimum, but since it provides the necessary
cultural and historical background, they cannot fully be avoided.
Since I am not a Sinologist I had to rely on the help of Mingya Liu and Thomas
Preiswerk for getting the transcriptions right. To Thomas Preiswerk and John E.
Hill I am specifically grateful for a lot of background information in matters of
Chinese history. Thomas Preiswerk was particularly helpful in explaining Chinese
characters, and all notes concerning Chinese renderings are due to him. Philip
Denwood was kind enough to sent me his version of the story before publication
(Denwood 2008, forthcoming), and I am much obliged, since his text served as
a means of control against my own misconceptions as well as an incentive to
improve my arguments wherever we disagree. Many thanks go also to John Bray
for improving my English. I should further like to thank all those who, directly
or indirectly, contributed to this article with comments or critics.


Bettina Zeisler

terminology reflects an ancient convention, attested in Indian, Chinese,

and Tibetan nomenclature, by which Lesser means Closer to a particular
reference point. This reference point could be a neighbouring state who
applied the terminology from its own perspective,2 it could be a more
common, pan-national reference point, such as Mt Meru, the Central
Asian axis mundi, and it could be the geographic or political Centre of
the entity itself. The term Greater would thus apply to territories further
away from the reference point or to politically peripheral regions, regions
that were secondarily acquired and colonialised. In this latter way the
Tibetans applied the term Bod for Central Tibet and Bodchen for Amdo
and Khams.
Ladakh and Baltistan are commonly perceived as an intrinsic part
already of Ancient Tibet, and as such their distinct linguistic, cultural,
and political history, the Indian and Iranian influences, have often been
underestimated. In general, apart from the nation-building fictions of the
royal genealogies, we do not know much about Tibetan prehistory and
early history from independent sources. While there are ample studies (and
good overview volumes) concerning Tibets neighbours or more broadly
South, Central, and East Asia, prehistoric Tibet apparently lies in the blind
angle of any such approach. It is as if it never existed. The situation for
Ladakh and Baltistan is even worse, if an augmentation of nothingness is
thinkable, at all.
Examining the early history of Ladakh as well as that of the more fabulous
than historically traceable au. one cannot avoid coming across the names
Yangtong, Suvaragotra (Gold Clan/Family), Nguo (Womens Dominion),
and Moluosuo (with its seemingly Tibetan equivalents Mard and Maryul) or
Sanbohe. These names are used by Chinese historiographers and travellers
in an all-too-often contradictory manner, and one may thus wonder whether
these entities have any reality at all or whether they are just faeries or spiritual
realms (like the Bonpo olmo Luris) beyond the reach of an ordinary,
unenlightened human being.
The first name, Yangtong, bears a certain similarity with the Tibetan name
Byatha (Changthang), and if there is some etymological relation, then
the name must be quite old and certainly not signifying northern plain (a
designation that only makes sense from the later Tibetan perspective). There
seems to be also a certain phonetical similarity between the designations
Yangtong and au, and many scholars believe that the two names are, in
fact, etymologically related.
2 Cf., e.g., the use of the term Da- and Siao-Yuezhi for the Tocharian tribes that
moved to Bactria and those that remained in Gansu and in the Tarim Basin, or
Qin China vs. Da-Qin Ulterior China for the Roman Orient (cf. R.A. Stein
1959: 304, n. 45).

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


I started this research with the presumption that it would hardly be possible
to correlate the designation Yangtong from the 6th-7th c. (or even earlier)
Chinese sources in a meaningful way with that of au in the somewhat
later 7th - 9th c. (or even later) Old Tibetan sources, and that particularly the
subdivisions could not be matched. It turned out, however, that, despite the
contradictions in the sources, the congruence is quite substantial, and that,
surprisingly, the main stage, where the above mentioned entities come together,
does not lie in Guge but in various parts of Ladakh, Baltistan, and even Hunza.
Hence it also turned out that phyidar and post-phyidar Bonpo references to a
au as being part of, or at least as bordering on, Persia (Tazig, Staggzig),
or her Bolorian borderland, unbelievable as they had appeared to many
scholars, must have been based on the knowledge of real geopolitical facts.

0.1 Sources
The present study will be based mainly on the following sources:
Ptolemy (2nd c. CE; Lindegger 1993): he gives precise coordinates that
allow to draw maps relatively accurately.
The Bhatsahit (ca. 5th c. CE, based on the ca. 3rd c. Pararatantra;
Fleet 1973): a very general geographical overview, unfortunately completely
confounded in the northern sections, furthermore without any indication of
relations in terms of direction between the various peoples or which people
live in the mountains and which in the plains.
Various Tang annals (7th c. CE onwards; Rockhill 1891: 339341,
Chavannes 1900 (1969) Pelliot 1963: 688720).
The report by Xuanzang (,W.-G. Hsan-tsang; ca. 640 CE; Beal
The report by the Korean pilgrim Hyecho (chin. Hucho , W.G. Huei-chao; ca. 730 CE; Fuchs 1938).
The Old Tibetan Annals, Pt 1288, IOL Tib J 750 (OTA) and OR 8212.187
(OTA II; ca. 640764 CE; Dotson 2009): short annalistic entries that may
mention military campaigns, but usually not the exact whereabouts.
A Khotanese prophesy in Tibetan, the Vimalaprabhparipcch or
Drimamedpaiodkyis uspa (ca. 700 CE, cf. Thomas 1935: 139258): a
rather confused and legendary narrative of limited historical value.
The udd-al-lam (ca. 10th c. CE; Minorsky 1937): its geographical
misconceptions in the spirit of the time hardly add to our
knowledge, and the text can only be interpreted with the knowledge
it implicitly presupposes.
Kalhaas Rjataragi (12th c. CE; M.A. Stein 1900): given its late
composition, the historical facts of earlier centuries are reported rather


Bettina Zeisler

summarily following the stereotypes of the time. Furthermore, there is not

a single positive reference to Western Tibet, Ladakh, or Baltistan.3
Some post-imperial and post-phyidar Tibetan sources (Buddhist or Bonpo),
the most important of which is Dpabo Gtsuglag phrebas Chosbyu
mkhaspai dgaston (16th c. CE, cf. Tucci 1956: 91), which still draws
upon imperial sources.
The Ladvags Rgyalrabs (LDRR, ca. 17th c. CE; Francke 1926).
Among all sources, the Chinese sources are the most concise and reliable,
although they are far from being consistent. Some fixed points are, however,
given, from which to measure orientations and distances. These are: Khotan
in the north, Jladhara (and Kulu) in the south, and Bolor to the east of our
unknown entity. The inconsistencies can thus be reconciled to a certain extent
with a rather small amount of interpretation. The most precise descriptions
come from two pilgrims, the Chinese Xuanzang and the Korean Hyecho, but
the sources in the Chinese annals that Pelliot (1963) displays and discusses in
great extent, must also have been based on reports from foreigners (merchants
as well as ambassadors) questioned by the Chinese authorities, as well as on
reports from travelling Chinese officials.
Since these geographical entities overlap with present-day Ladakh and
Baltistan, I will also discuss the name that has erroneously be taken for the
old name of Ladakh: Maryul (Old Tibetan Mard, Chinese Moluosuo, Sanskrit
Suvarabh) as well as the origin of the name Ladvags.

0.2 Visualisation of previous views

Previous attempts to pinpoint the ancient geography of Yangtong or
au have been thwarted by basically three misconceptions: 1. the
identification of au and Maryul with the post-phyidar entities of the
same name, 2. the idea that the various geographical entities would be
separate, albeit adjacent entities, 3. that the populations of the entities in
question could be described as homogeneous groups or nations, basically
of Qiang, that is, Tibeto-Burman origin. It may be useful to envisage the
previous conceptions schematically as follows. The sketches are, naturally,
only very rough approximations, which means that a particular place
could be covered by a geometrical figure representing an entity whereto
3 At a closer look, the name Bhaua (var. Bha or Bhaa), commonly taken to
refer to the Tibetans in Ladakh and Baltistan (M.A. Stein 1900 I, text ed., p. 47,
note to i, 312316; Pandit 1935 [1968]: 43, note to i, 312) cannot be identified
with any precise location, more particularly, not with Western Tibet, Ladakh, or
Baltistan (see Zeisler, forthcoming a, Chapter 4

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan

Map 1 Tibet (from Tournadre & Sangda Dorje 1998)

Map 2 udd-al-lam (10th c. CE)



Bettina Zeisler

Map 3 Hyechos perspective (ca. 730)

Map 4 Philip Denwood (2008; for the dark shaded elements

cf. his map 4 p. 21, for the Changthang Corridor cf. his map 1, p. 18)

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan

Note: all Chinese sources
agree that Lesser Yangtong
lies west of Greater Yangtong.

Map 5 Petech (1998; based partly on Sato)

Map 6 R.A. Stein (1981)


Bettina Zeisler

the place definitely does not belong. In the case of the udd-al-lam (Map
2), the localisations are based on mere guessing.
The scaled background map that will be used here and in the following
was designed by Chr. Gigaudaut for Tournadre and Sangda Dorje (1998: 6,
Laire linguistique tibtaine). It should be noted that the left-most meridian is
inclined by approximately 20, cf. the maps given in Stein 1981: 1415 and
5859. This will be adjusted in the detail maps. Where necessary, I will add
a non-scaled map from Albinia (2008: xii-xiii, Map of the Indus Valley) for
the adjacent western regions.

0.3 Conventions and abbreviations

My perspective on Tibetan is that of a linguist (language-scientist) or a
philologist (lover of the word) in the true sense. In transliterating Tibetan
I, therefore, will not represent the text in an unstructured flow of syllables
(either separated by space, hyphen, or dot), but will represent words as what
they are, namely possibly polysyllabic intonational units. The Tibetan tsheg
(the dot between the graphic syllables) does not serve to separate isolated
monosyllables, nor does it necessarily mark a morpheme boundary. It is
merely a graphical device to help identifying the syllable core, when no vowel
sign does the job. Since the inherent vowel a, not represented in Tibetan, is
transliterated by convention, there is absolutely no need to take recourse to a
syllabic representation. The Wylie system, however, while certainly justified in
anthropological and related studies is unsuitable for the rendering of composite
words as words, hence I will have to take recourse to diacritic letters.
Tibetan place names will be given either in their old (written Tibetan)
or their modern form. In the first case, I will use the transliteration system
with diacritics, if necessary. I will use the old form whenever discussing Old
Tibetan place names, further when the written form corresponds to the modern
pronunciation, otherwise I will use the modern forms, as used on maps etc.
Tibetan personal names and titles are only given in transliteration.
Chinese names will be transcribed in simple Pinyin. Wade-Giles (= W.-G.)
forms and Chinese characters will be given only in cases of high relevance.

Bod-Rgya tshigmdzod chenmo, Zhang et al. (1993)

Transliteration style of the cole Franaise dExtrme Orient
Ladvags Rgyalrabs, Francke (1926)
Narrations and information by meme Tondup Tsering from

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan



The Old Tibetan Annals, Dotson (2009)

Pelliot tibtain (manuscripts of the Pelliot collection)
Transliteration style according to Wade & Giles

1 Western Tibet and the Changthangan ethno-geographical puzzle

The nomadic areas stretching along the northern steppes of Tibet must
have seen an early Indo-European population, particularly in the West, which
gradually mixed with people of Hunnic and/or Mongolic stock. At least,
after the invasions of the Yuezhi, Tuyuhun/aa, and Hephthalites/Ha into
Northern India and Afghanistan, the people dwelling along the real upper
course of the Indus4 must have acquired many Iranian cultural traits, if only
outwardly. Even after the Tibetan conquests in the West, people continued to
pour in from various regions of the Pamirs and beyond.
The Korean pilgrim Hyecho, travelling in India around 726/727, most
probably did not reach present-day Ladakh or Baltistan, but he apparently
collected a great deal of information in Kashmir and Bolor. According to him
or his informants, the people of Greater Bolor (Da-Bol, , W.-G. Ta
Po-l, Po-lu-lo, or Pu-l) and Yangtong ( , W.-G. Yang-tung), as well
as those from the unidentifiable Suoboci (, W.-G. So-po-tzu)5 were all
Hu (quasi Iranians) and, therefore, believers, i.e. Buddhists. All three peoples
are perceived as being clearly distinct not only from the people of Kashmir,
but even more so from the inhabitants of Tibet (Tufan guo, ~ ,
4 In antiquity, the Gilgit river was counted as the source of the Indus, and the
section below the confluence of the Gilgit river with the Indus accordingly
still bears the name Upper Indus Valley, a fact that has often been overlooked
and has thus created quite some confusion. I will thus use the designations
Gilgit-Indus and real Indus to discriminate between the ancient and modern
understanding of Indus.
5 Perhaps the western Sumpa: the Sobyi of the so-called prophesy of the Li country
or the Supiya from the Central Asian Kharoh documents (cf. Petech 1947: 87).
Or perhaps even a variant form of Spiti (due to a palatalisation of the second
syllable)? In his note 3, Fuchs conjectures the first syllable as (thus Poboci,
pb), because he finds in the Yiqie jing yinyi the same name as (Poboci,
but with a different tone: pb), which he takes to be equivalent with Nepal.
As Pelliot (1963: 709) states: Although Nepal is well known in China as Nipo-lo (Nepla), we may perhaps suppose that Hui-chao heard its Tibetan name
in Kashmir; but Po-po-tzu is uncertain, and So-po-tzu (*S-pu-dzi) is the
reading of the only ancient Ms.; the phonetic equivalence of *Bu-pu-dzi is
far from satisfactory.
It is not very likely that the Tibetan name of Nepal should have been current
in Kashmir, and even if so, the Tibetan name for Nepal is Balyul or, as in
Ladakh, Balpo.


Bettina Zeisler

W.-G. Tu-fan kuo), who are described as non-believers and hence as comparatively less civilised (Fuchs 1938: 443f.). The Tibetans are described as nomads
living in felt tents like the Tujue (that is, Turks; p. 443), alternatively also in
caves dug out of the ground (p. 444). The Tibetans are further described as
having a very dark complexion (p. 444). While Tucci (1977: 72) objects to the
presence of Buddhism in au.6 Petech (1977: 10) objects to the presence
of Hu in this area. According to the latter,
the term Hu applied to the Iranians of Central Asia; but
its use was rather loose, and it appears that for Hui-chao it
applied generally to the Iranian populations, which would fit
perfectly well with the Dards of Ladakh (but not with the
people of a-u).
While Dards and Iranians are not exactly the same, perhaps not even in the
eyes of a Chinese traveller, both could have been comprised under the quite
unspecific cover term Hu. While Mol (1970: 152f, n. 392) states that
Hu originally designated the Huns, but in this epoch [618
626] had come to mean barbarian in general, and designated
not only the Tu-y-hun but also the population of the western
lands (Hsi-y),
J.E. Hill (2004, note 1.23), holds that
Hu is a rather vague term used for northern and western
peoples of non-Sinitic origin, usually, but not exclusively,
for those of Caucasian appearance. It was commonly used
for people of Persian, Sogdian, and Turkish origin, Xianbi,
Indians, Kushans and even, occasionally, for the Xiongnu
(who, however, are usually clearly differentiated from the
The term Hu could thus well have referred to Xianbi tribes, such as the
Sumpa, which are usually counted among the aboriginal peoples of northern
Tibet. Nevertheless, given the context of Hyechos travels as well as the
context of his statement, particularly the contrast with the Turks, one may be
justified to take his Hu as being similar to the Indo-European population of
Khotan, the Pamirs, and the Hindukush. Therefore, I do not see any necessity
to question a cultural or linguistic Iranian influence in au. especially not
in its western parts or in the Changthang.
None of the regions in question is geographically well defined, the
6 This is somewhat surprising in view of his earlier (Tucci 1956: 51109) detailed
discussion of the localisation au.

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


identification of each depending in almost perfect circularity upon the exact

definition of the boundaries of the neighbouring regions. The correlation (if
only partially) of Yangtong with Grand-au or with the Changthang
seems to be uncontroversial, but there is no consensus as to the exact location
and extension. The only fixed points are that Lesser Bolor can be identified
with Gilgit and/or Hunza (Brua)7 and that some directions and distances are
given with respect to the Tarim basin and the Pamirs. The main problems are
Where exactly lies Greater Bolor or how can it be defined?
Where exactly are the north-western confines of Yangtong/au?
Where exactly do we find the Gold Race Country Suvaragotra, the Womens Dominion (Strrjya/Nguo), and Greater Yangtong; and how can
we explain the rather consistently conflicting data concerning these three
Are the names Mard and Maryul, on the one hand, and Moluosuo, on the
other, related to each other? And where would this entity (or these entities)
be located?

1.1 Baltistan and Bolor

It had been commonly assumed that Baltistan is identical with the Greater
Bolor of the Chinese sources. This would seemingly fit Hyechos indication that
Greater Bolor lies 15 days to the north-east (Fuchs 1938: 443) and Lesser Bolor
7 days to the north-west of Kashmir (ibid. p. 444). Hyechos indication is not
without oddities: Gilgit and Hunza lie due north of Srinagar, and the distance
given between Kashmir and Gilgit appears to be much too short.8 This could
imply that Lesser Bolor extended southwards along the Indus. On the other
hand, the distance from Srinagar to Skardo should have been either less or
more than 15 days. The short summer route took 12 days up the Gilgit road to
the Burzil Chowki and thence over the Deosai Plains, the longer route, open
the greater part of the year, led in eighteen marches up the Sind valley, []
over the Zozi [!] La, [] and thence down the valleys of the Dras and Indus
(Workman 1905: 246). Hyecho describes both Bolors as being culturally and
linguistically identical. The king of Greater Bolor had fled from the Tibetans
7 Occasionally, however, one may come across a commutation of Lesser and
Greater Bolor.
8 Meyers Konversationslexikon 1885-1892,
seite.html?id=103901, gives the distance between Srinagar and Gilgit as 22 daily
marches. This may refer to a route along the Indus or, alternatively, to the route
that went over Skardo. Gilgit could possibly also have been reached by a shortcut via Gurez and the valley of Astor, but even in this case, the indication of 7
days seems to be somewhat too optimistic.


Bettina Zeisler

to Lesser Bolor where he had managed to install himself as ruler. The rest of
the nobility, however, had stayed in Greater Bolor (Fuchs 1938: 444).
Other Chinese sources are even more ambiguous. In the Tangshu it is stated
that Greater Bolor was to the south-east of Lesser Bolor, an indication that
could point to Baltistan, except if we follow Denwoods (2008: 15) suggestion
that Lesser Bolor centred on the Yasin valley. Greater Bolor is further said
to be straight west of Tibet, which fits better with Chilas than with Baltistan,
and that it bordered in the west to Wuchang (Uiyna), an indication that can
by no means be reconciled with the location of Baltistan and thus necessarily
refers to Chilas. Cf. Chavannes (1900 (1969): 149f.):
Le grand Pou-lu (Baltistan) est aussi appel Poulou; il
est droit louest des Tou-po (Tibtains); il touche au petit
Pou-lu; louest, il est voisin du territoire dOu-tchang
(Oudyna) de lInde du Nord. [...] Il est assujetti aux Toupo (Tibtains). Depuis la priode wan-soei-tong-tien (696)
jusqu la priode kai-yuen (713-741), il envoya trois fois
des ambassadeurs rendre hommage la cour. Cest pourquoi
on confra par brevet le titre de roi au prince de ce pays, Soufou-cho-li-tche-li-ni; sa mort, on confra encore par brevet
la succession royale Sou-lin-to-i-tche (Sourendrditya?); en
tout, celui-ci envoya deux fois de hauts dignitaires apporter
en tribut les produits de son pays.
Le petit Pou-lu est plus de neuf mille li de la capitale;
trois mille li lest tendant un peu vers le sud, on arrive
au campement du Tou-po tsan-pou (le btsanpo de Tibet);
huit cent li du ct de lest,9 ce pays touche Ou-tchang
(Oudyna); trois cents li au sud-est est le grand Pou-lu
(Baltistan); cinq cents li au sud se trouve le Kou-che-mi
(Cachemire); cinq cents li au nord, il y a la ville de So-le
du (pays de) Hou-mi (Wakhn)...10
9 Chavannes takes this as an error for west. But Lesser Bolor, if consisting only
of Gilgit, Hunza-Nagar, and Yasin, does not border on Swat, neither in the east
nor in the west. The indication east could make sense, however, if Lesser Bolor
also comprised (parts of) Chitral. This seems to be corroborated by the much
later Mrzaidar, see below.
10 Greater Bul (Baltistan) is also called Bulu; it is straight west of the Tubo
(Tibetans); it touches on Lesser Bul; in the west it is neighbouring the territory of
Wuchang (Uiyna) of Northern India. [...] It is subject to the Tubo. Since the
period Wansuitongtian (696) until the period Kaiyuan (713-741), it sent three times
ambassadors to render homage to the court. It is because of this that one conferred
per diploma the royal title to the prince of this country, Sufushuolizhilini; after

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


According to Jettmar (1980: 120122), Greater Bolor can only be identified with the valleys of Chilas and Astor, not with Baltistan, particularly
becauseaccording to the bizarre narration of the Vimalaprabhparipcch,
see below, some kings of Skarrdo bore names that are not part of the tradition of Greater Bolor and because the capital of Greater Bolor is called either
Hesalao or Pousalao in Chinese sources, which, according to him, could not
be identical with Skardo.11 Jettmar also disputes the strategic importance of
Baltistan, as the main routes, including those from Western Tibet to Gilgit, are
not to be found in this region (ibid. p. 121f.; but see Tucci, 1977: 79, 8184).
The main argument, which Jettmar receives from Tucci (1977: 80) is a passage in a comparatively late source, authored by Hu Sanxing (12301302):
The great Pu-l [] is straight to the west of Tibet. North
of it there is little Pu-l (emphasis added, BZ).
Tucci concludes:
This corresponds to the location of Chilas, having to the
north little Pu-l, Gilgit, but being in the west of Baltistan,
subject to the Tibetans.
Evidently, Hu Sanxing did not know of a politically distinct Baltistan.
Correspondingly, Denwood (2008: 15) takes Baltistan and Greater Bolor as
two different political entities, stating that
the core of Little Palr at this time was the Yasin Valley,
where its capital was located and its king based. Very likely
the kingdom extended westwards to include the little-known
but apparently fertile and populous Baushtaro Valley on the
north side of the Gilgit/Ghizar River, and perhaps also the
upper part of the Ishkoman valley to the northeast, reachable
from Yasin by the easy Panji pass. []
his death one conferred again per diploma the royal succession to Sulintuoyizhi
(Surendrditya?); altogether the latter sent two times high dignitaries who brought
the products of his country as tribute.
Lesser Bul is more than 9000 li (away) from the capital; after 3000 li to the
east, somewhat towards the south, one arrives at the camp of the Tubo zanpu (the
Tibetan emperor); after 800 li on the eastern side [see note 9 above], this land
touches upon Wuchang; 300 li to the south-east is Greater Bul; 500 li to the
south one finds Gushimi (Kashmir); 300 li to the north there is the town Suolei
of (the country) Humi (Wakhn)
11 The name may perhaps refer to a place in present-day Gilgit district, mentioned
in the Hatun inscription and reconstructed as Psa[ta]ram by Grard Fussman
(Denwood 2008: 15).


Bettina Zeisler
Great Palr must have been the valley of the Gilgit River
below about Hatun, at least as far as [] the Gilgit/Indus
confluence [] and extending down the Indus valley and/or
across the Gilgit mountains to the Indus in Diamar.

As the present-day sub-district of Diamar comprises Chilas, Greater

Bolor should have extended to the south at least as far as Chilas. According
to Mrzaidar (Elias 1895: 385), Bolor reached even further down south and
west, namely as far as Lamghn (modern Jalalabad) and Kabul (or perhaps
rather: as far as the Kabul river). This would mean that the whole valley of
Chitral, west of Swat, was part of (Lesser) Bolor.
Xuanzang describes Bolor as lying on the right side of the In dus,
somewhat above the Hanging Passages. He reached there from Daliluo
(Kandia?),12 the ancient capital of Uiyna, after a march of 500 li (ca.
175 km). Unfortunately it is all but clear from where this distance was
counted: from Daliluo, from the spot where he reached the Indus, from the
beginning of the Hanging Passages at Jalkot, or from their end at Sazin
or Shatial. The 500 li could roughly correspond to the distance between
Shatial and Gilgit (cf. the map given as frontispiece in Jettmar 2002). If,
however, the distance is reckoned from Daliluo or at least from the first
approach to the Indus, the confines of Bolor would lie somewhere between
Shatial and Chilas. Xuanzang describes the land as being extended from
east to west and as narrow from north to south, which fits the course of
the Gilgit river as much as the east-to-western course of the Indus between
Gor and Shatial. The inhabitants of Bolor are said to use letters nearly
like those of India, their language [being] somewhat different (Beal
188184: 177179, 178).
Xuanzang further mentions a region Boluoluo (W.-G. Po-lo-lo), which
is reached from a valley in the Pamirs by crossing a pass in the south (Beal
188184: 481). This should have referred to Lesser Bolor, rather than to
Baltistan, as Beal suggests.
Pelliot (1959: 92) should have reached at a similar conclusion as Tucci,
Jettmar (1980), and Denwood. Accord ing to Pelliot, the Baluristan of
Mrzaidar is to be understood as the mountainous tract south of Badahan,
south-west of Yarkand, west of Balti, north and north-west of Kashmir, that
is to say the valleys of Chitral, Yassin, and Gilgit and Mrzaidar seems to
12 While Beal (188184: 177, n. 37) interprets the name Daliluo (W.-G. Ta-li-lo)
as Darail (Darel), this is hardly possible, since the Darel and the Tangir river
join the Indus above the Hanging Passages. Both valleys run parallel to the
Swat valley, Tangir lying west of Darel. The Darel valley could thus hardly have
served as seat for the rulers of Swat. Most probably Xuanzang came through
the valley of Kandia.

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


leave Baltistan out of Baluristan.13 But he goes on to say that the localization
may have been viewed differently by others at different dates, referring to
Cunningham (1854: 34), who writes: Balti or Balti-yul, is called Palolo,
or Balor, by the Dards, and Nang-kod [i.e., Nago14] by the Tibetans.
The following names have been attested: Hunza Balotza or Bloc (Bali,a
however, referring to Tibet), Nagar Balots,a Chilas Palye,a Gilgit Shina
Palole,a Polle,b Pal,d or Plec (a: Leitner 1890s: 72, 78, b: Leitner 1889:
60, c: Lorimer 1938 as cited by Bielmeier 1985: 14, d: T.G. Bailey 1924:
155). This designation might perhaps refer not so much to a location as to
a certain element of the population, which could have migrated to Baltistan
at some later time. In the case of the Palula speakers of Chitral, Ruth Leila
Schmidt (email communication 04/2008) thinks that Chilas might have been
only the centre of a larger unit Palula, because, on the one hand, the Palula
(Paalulaa) speakers of Chitral trace their roots to Chilas, and on the other
hand, Pululii is still a nickname for a Burusho girl.
In striking contrast to his 1980 conclusions, but resuming earlier
considerations (1977), Jettmar (2002a [1993]) is more than convinced that
Baltistan not only was part of Greater Bolor, but constituted its core area,
and Skardo served as the seat of the Palola dynasty. His arguments, however,
are not without contradictions,15 and the main problem with this assumption
is that no inscriptions relating to the Palola dynasty are found in Baltistan,
13 In fact, Mrzaidar is quite explicit in separating Bolor and Balti, the latter being
part of Tibet (cf. Elias 1895: 385, 405, particularly p. 417): Tibet is bounded in
the north, where it is called Balti, by Balur and Badakhshn.
14 See note 17 below.
15 Jettmar has to admit that Baltistan was not well enough connected with Gilgit
to keep direct control over it or, the other way round, to be directly controlled
by a ruler of Gilgit. Either Little Bolor had been a vassal of Greater Bolor or
the other way round (2002a [1993]: 122, 125). Jettmars suggestion that Hunza
(Brua) might have originally been an independent kingdom and had acquired
the designation Lesser Bolor on being conquered by Greater Bolor (p. 126f.) is
against the ancient conventions in the use of the terms Lesser and Greater: it is
typically the added, the secondary territory that receives the designation Greater
(see also p. 2 above).
Jettmars scenario is also not corroborated by the earlier Chinese sources including
Xuanzangs report, which present the kingdom as a single unit. Jettmar has to admit
that several accounts of Bolor refer to a region that can only be identified with
Hunza-Gilgit and the adjacent southern regions, but not with Baltistan, particularly
the descriptions of the route by various Buddhist pilgrims, e.g. Zhimeng in 404 (p.
118) or Song Yun 518-522 (p. 119; here Bolor is described as a transit region to
Swat). I cannot quite understand Jettmars allegation that Xuanzang did not collect
his information on the spot and remained rather vague (p. 119f.).


Bettina Zeisler

while there are several inscriptions in Chilas and neighbouring areas, such as
Alam Bridge, shortly above the confluence of the Gilgit river and the Indus.
For unknown reasons, Jettmar seems to preclude that the Palola dynasty may
have had its (secondary) seat in Chilas, and he brushes away the indications
given by Xuanzang.
The problem may perhaps never be resolved, but I would tend to interpret
the data in a similar manner as Denwood. Bolor must thus have comprised a
rather large area. When Bolor split into two halves, Yasin became the centre
of Lesser Bolor, which seems to have comprised at least the upper parts of the
Chitral-Kunar valley (having the Swat valley as its eastern neighbour). The
conventional use of the terms Lesser and Greater might indicate that Lesser
Bolor was the core area of Bolor, and Chilas (and perhaps also Baltistan)
constituted a secondary, peripheral region.
Since Hyecho mentions no other country between the two Bolors and
Yangtong/au. Baltistan must have belonged to one of these, thus if not
part of one of the Bolors, it must have been, by necessity, part of Yangtong/
au. A Baltistan being part of au is certainly hard to swallow, and
it stands to reason to solve the problem in Pelliots manner or by suggesting
that the Chinese commentator was using the name Tibet somewhat loosely,
referring to the places that were under the power of the Tibetans at a certain
moment. One could even argue that the directions are not to be taken too
seriously, after all, errors in direction are unfortunately not so uncommon in
Chinese sources: Pelliot (1963: 695f.) cites examples where Nepal is located
west of Tibet, and India even north-west of the Onion-Range (Congling, the
Such inclusion is certainly also at variance with the later Tibetan perspective, as reflected in the LDRR, which never mentions Chilas and differentiates between Brua/Gilgit, on the one hand, and identifiable parts of
Baltistan, on the other, cf. LDRR 32.6, mentioning conquests or raids in
the west under Khri Dussro (appearing as Gusro or dusro durje in
the LDRR):
nub | Sbaltii sragi Nago | smadkyi idkar tshunchad
maogtu bsduste
[In] the west... Nago (i.e. Skardo)17 on the road to Sbalti,
from idkar of the lower areas hither [all] were subdued and
A similar wording is found in the Maris rgyalrabs (Vitali 1996: 29.1213):
16 This latter position, which is also in accordance with Faxians description of
reaching North India from Khotan in a (south)-western direction (Beal 188184:
15), may refer, albeit anachronistically, to the Kua Empire.
17 The variation between Nangkot as in Cunningham (1854: 34; cf. Thomas 1935: 271,
n. 5 Nagod) and Nago might be due to copy errors. Cunningham also notes the

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


nub Sbalyulgyi Nago | smadkyi igar [!] tshunchad

mar bsduste.
[In] the west... Nago of the Sbal[ti] country, from
igar (idkar) of the lower areas hither [all] were subdued
The separate mentioning of Sbalti could well be a reinterpretation in terms
of the actual geography at the time of composition (17th c.). The preserved
Old Tibetan documents refer only rather vaguely to Brua and do not mention
Baltistan at all, as it might be included in their notion of au. Nevertheless,
the name appears in one of those later historiographic works that seem to draw
upon relatively early sources, now lost. The Vth Dalai Lamas biography of
Bsodnams Mchogldan Bstanpai Rgyalmtshan contains an interesting division
of Maris (the successor in title to au), where the second skor (district
or county) is defined as comprising Li,18 Grua (!), and Sbalte (Tucci 1956:
73). No mention of Ladakh is made, and Maryul is still in the immediate
neighbourhood of Purang and Zanskar, in the first skor, so that we may assume
that the sources from which the Vth Dalai Lama drew his information reflect
the situation of the late Empire. A similar division is found in BRGY (sub
Mnaris skorgsum), where Khotan (chimmam Li), Brua, and Sbalti form
one of the skor.s.19
Given the fact that Hyechos Yangtong grows grapes, and that grapes did
grow in Lower, but not in Upper Ladakh (see below), one can at least definitely
rule out the possibility that Bolor extended over Lower Ladakh. At the time
of Hyechos visit in Bolor, it is quite likely that Baltistan, if not an integral
part of Yangtong anyhow, was already integrated into the administrative entity
of au stod by the Tibetans.
Therefore, we cannot but accept that at least in terms of an international
geography of the day, there was a part of au. an appendix of the
Changthang: Lesser au (West)actually, the au stod of OTA (see
name Sagar-khoad as a Ladakhi form given by Vigne (interpreted by Cunningham
again as Skarkot starry building). This might indicate that kot is the correct form,
the origin of which we might perhaps have to seek in Central Asia; cf. also Skr.
ko fort, which is commonly found in Indo-Aryan place namesVigne (1842:
249), however, interprets the second part as khud valley. Nago is also a place
name in Amdo; it appears in an Old Tibetan report concerning the latter region
(Thomas 1951: 146148).
18 It might be possible that the term Li referred here only to some peripheral
dependent territories of Khotan rather than to the oasis itself.
19 A further variant is found in Blama Btsanpos dzamglirgyasbad (ed. Wylie
1962: 3/56) with chiba for Khotan and Blaa for Brua.


Bettina Zeisler

next section for the definition of the term), that comprised Lower Ladakh and
perhaps also Baltistan. Perhaps some of the confusion in Chinese geographic
accounts could be solved, if Lesser au (West) is taken to be identical
with Lesser Yangtong.
Such a Lesser au (West) populated by Hu could no longer be rejected
by Petech and a Lesser au (West) in which Buddhism is practised could
likewise not be rejected by Tucci. That an Indian, Kashmirian, or Gndhr
type of Buddhism was practised in Baltistan, Purik, and Lower Ladakh from
the Kua period until the 8th c. CE or later, as evidenced in many rockcarvings, is certainly uncontroversial (except perhaps for the exact dating of
the artefacts) and does not need further elaboration here.
Taking a diplomatic stance, one could still argue that the borders
between Bolor and Yangtong/au may have been subject to changes
and that the principali ties of Shi gar and Skardo might have temporarily
been part of Greater Bolor under the rule of the Palola hi (as seems
to be suggested by von Hinber 2004: 8) or even provinces of Khotan
(as seems to be indicated by the Vi mala pra bhpari pcch, yet see
the discus sion below), but that their status remained undefined with
alliances to all sides.

Map 7 Greater and Lesser Bolor

1.2 au
Like so many other place names, the designation au turns out to be
highly ambiguous and therefore I should like to distinguish between:
(a) Grand-au as a widely extended geographical term, assumed to be
synonymous with the Chinese designation Yangtong and covering most

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


of the Changthangwhether the historical designation au was ever

applied in this sense is somewhat questionable.
(b) au Proper, more or less identical with the later West Tibetan
kingdoms of Guge and Purang (Spuhras)this follows the identification
by the later Tibetan sources, but again it is rather questionable whether
the designation of the Old Tibetan sources applied to this region and only
to this region.
(c) Local-au, a small province of the kingdom, perhaps its core part, or
at least that region that continues to bear the name under the West Tibetan
dynasty. Local-au is only one of the elements of one of the districts
(skor) of Maris.
(d) From au Proper I should like to distinguish the peripheral or outer
provinces in the west, which later became Baltistan and Ladakh. It is
unclear whether, which parts, and for how long these regions may have
been part of the historical kingdom/confederacy of au. or by which
logic they were included under a merely geographical or even under a
nostalgic notion of au. I will refer to these areas, for the sake of
convenience, as Lesser au (West).20
Bonpo tradition knows of an Inner, Middle and Outer au. but the
original references seem to be partly lost or of a merely speculative nature.
According to those traditions that localise Inner au in Persia,21 these
designations could perhaps be translated into west (Persia or the Iranian
borderland in the Pamirs), central (au Proper), and north-east (the
rest of Grand-au). According to Karmay (1998: 114), however, Outer
20 Actually, it seems to correspond to Innermost au. This designation reflects
a geography from a Iranian, Kashmirian, and even Chinese perspective, or a
perspective that is related to Mt Meru as the central axis of the world, originally
located in the Pamirs. It also corresponds to the distinction of Lesser and Greater
Yangtong as well as to the much later distinctions of Little Tibet (Baltistan) and
Greater Tibet (Ladakh). au-West would be the exact counterpart of the Old
Tibetan au stod, see below.
21 Tazig or its etymologised form Staggzig (Tiger-Leopard) may have been originally
be coined for the Arabs. But when used in the Bonpo sources, it seems to always
refer to Iran and the whole of the Achaemenid empire, or, more specifically,
to the Iranian borderlands along the Pamirs (Gilgit and Badakhshan) and the
Dardic areas along the Hindukush and Indus (Chitral and Chilas). For the latter
identification we can cite Buddhist and Bonpo sources alike: Chilas is identified
with Persia in Orgyanpas itinerary (see also below), according to Mkhaspa
Ldeu (ed. 1987: 222), the Persian king is apparently a Kashmirian (at least
he is called Morba of Kashmir), speaking Shintrat, i.e. the Shina language,
while the Bonpo text Drimedrtsabairgyud (Dongrub Lhargyal 2000: 399)
points to an identity of olmolurings (in Persia) with Chitral (see Zeisler
forthcoming a, Chapter 2 3.3.5).


Bettina Zeisler

au would have comprised a huge area from Gilgit to the Namtsho and
from Khotan to Chumig brgyadcu rtsagnyis (Mukhtinath, according to Iida
2003), Inner au would have been Persia (Staggzig), while the middle
one remains unidentified.
It seems to be questionable whether a political entity au existed on
Iranian territory and be it only at the borders, and I cannot avoid the feeling
that the association of au with the Indo-Iranian olmo Luris (i.e.
the Oxus valley and/or Chitral) is of a secondary, rather nostalgic origin,
created by immigrant Bactrians or people from the Pamirs, known under
the Tibetan appellation Rmu. While these Rmu apparently participated in
the Bonpo re-invention of the past during the phyidar, they might have
identified themselves, for lack of other alternatives, with a former political
entity au. re-designed as the homeland of the holy teacher Genrab
Miboassociated with the past glory of Achaemenid or Sasanian Persia.
On the other hand, if it were true that the Hephthalites or Ha or one of
their associated tribes had been based also in the Kailash region (cf. Zeisler
forthcoming a, Chapter 4 1.4.3), the subsumption of present-day Western
Tibet with regions in present-day Afghanistan under the same national or
rather geographical heading would not be too surprising. It might perhaps be
even due to this Ha connection, that some western areas, if not originally
belonging to au. had been subsumed by the Tibetan administration
under the designation au (stod) after their conquest in the 7th or 8th
c. (see also below).
An interesting alternative division is transmitted in Ladakh. According to
the historian Sonam Phuntsog (p.c.), one would have to distinguish between
au Proper or au chuu, located in Tibet, and a Greater au or
au chenmo, which would have comprised Ladakh, Baltistan, and Gilgit.
This tradition might well reflect the addition of conquered areas under the
administrative unit au.
Unlike many other scholars, R.A. Stein (1981: 13) thinks that au
was in no way identical with any of the two, Lesser and Greater Yangtong,
but was located between them. His indications are, however, contradictory.
Lesser and Greater Yangtong, are, on the one hand, described as bordering
on Khotan, Hunza, and Gilgit, on the other as being confined by Suvaragotra or the Womens Dominion (p. 13), which should lie between Yangtong
and Gilgit and Hunza. On his map (p. 5859), au lies south of Greater
Yangtong, and more or less in the same area as Lesser Yangtong. With R.A.
Stein many other scholars look for au mainly in the area around Guge
and Purang. This perspective, however, is not at all compatible with the Old
Tibetan geography as presented by Dpabo Gtsuglag, and the attempts to
accommodate the latters descriptions to the current preconceptions add to
the general confusion.

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


In a few Old Tibetan sources (cf. Takeuchi 2004: 54), and particularly in
Dpabo Gtsuglag, we find the designations au stod and smad, which,
according to a general convention, should have correlated to west (stod) and
east (smad). According to Dpabo Gtsuglag, the two moieties are located at
the boundary of Tibet and the Western Turks (Grugu for Drugu) and between
Tibet and the Sumpa respectively (Ja 19 a, as cited by Tucci 1956: 91). The
two moieties are divided into the following districts (sde): au stod:
1. oco, 2. Mama, 3. Gema, 4. Tsamo, stobuchu: Baga; au smad:
1. Gugge, 2. Cogla, 3. Sbyigtsa, 4. Yargtsa, stobuchu: Cidi.
Both regions are identified by Tucci (ibid.) quite rashly with the Lob-Niya
region and the region of Rgyalrong, while Gugge should be identical with
Guran in ims of au. mentioned in OTA (l. 64), for which, like anybody
else, he is unable to give any localisation. These identifications are vehemently
rejected by Yamaguchi (1970: 98, n. 1), who identifies Gugge in au
smad with present day Guge. According to him (p. 100, n. 17), au stod
would be the area of Ladakh, and au smad would be nothing more than
au Proper. The same author associates the areas Spyirtsa and Yarrtsa
(interpreted as Outer and Upper Rtsa) of au smad with Rtsa (p. 98), and
his attempts to locate Rtsa localities eventually leads him into Kham territory.
Although there might be other candidates around for the identification of
Gugge (cf. the various place names with gog as an element), there is actually
nothing that contradicts the identification with the more common form Guge,
even more so as the other districts of au smad can be associated with
place names in the closer or farther neighbourhood. The second element
in the name of the third and the fourth district: Sbyigtsa and Yargtsa (in
Dpabo Gtsuglag) may well indicate that they were somehow related to,
or part of, Rtsa, as suggested by Yamaguchi. On the other hand, the first
elements also show some similarity with Spiti and Yartse. The second district
Cogla, may be identical with an area between Guge and Spiti, possibly the
-lcog in the combination Spyilcog. Based on several sources, although not
exactly specifying which is used for which identification, Hazod (2009: 168)
gives the districts of au smad as 1. Gug-ge 2. Gu[g]-cog (~Cog-la)
{between Guge and Spiti} 3. Spyi[r]-rtsang {Sato 1978: south of Khyunglung} 4. Yar-rtsang 5. Spyi-ti (~ Ci-de (= Spi-ti, also Sp[y]i-lcog; Petech
1997: 252) (sic).22
22 The identification of Cide with Spyiti is highly problematic, since the latter place
name, modern pronunciation [pti], never underwent palatalisation, at least not in
Western Tibet. It is thus extremely unlikely that the palatalised form ci should have
occurred in an Old Tibetan document. Even if we admit that Dpabo Gtsuglag
wrote the name down from (Central Tibetan) hearsay, this would mean that the
form Spyiti was not found in the documents at hand.


Bettina Zeisler

Helga Uebach (p.c.) cautions that Dpabo Gtsuglag might have referred to
some contemporaneous Drugu. Since the latter might have settled somewhere
in Eastern Turkestan, but not somewhere on the Tibetan plateau, it would
still follow from this reference that the boundary area between Tibet (proper)
and the Drugu was at least Upper Ladakh and the western Changthang. But
since Dpabo Gtsuglag lists a handful of obsolete place names in au
stod, which must be drawn from some old documents, it is quite unlikely that
he should have referred to contemporaneous Drugu in the same breath, and
should not have based himself on an Old Tibetan description of au or on
his knowledge as to where these places were to be located.
In OTA, the term Drugu refers to the Western Turks (cf. Beckwith 1987:
63f., n. 56). In the 7th c., the Western Turks had moved into the areas west of
the Altai and north of the Tienshan and further west into Western Turkestan
and into Afghanistan, where they replaced the Hephthalites, while the Eastern
Turks mainly settled in present-day Mongolia and areas further to the south
and east. By the mid 7th c., the Western Turks are found i.a. in Ferghana and
Sryb, areas that could be accessed from Tibet directly via the Pamirs and
thus via western au. This is what apparently happened: in the year 675,
the minister Mgar Btsansa, after having carried out a registration (mkhos)23
of au in Guran of ims, went to Ltayo in the land of the Drugu or
went to the land of the Drugu for a (forced) ?trade agreement (ltayo)24
(OTA, l. 64); in the following year, he led a military campaign into this
area (OTA, l. 67f.); in the year 687, after having proposed a campaign in
the land of the Drugu in the previous year (which was postponed), the min23 According to Uebach (2003), mkhos were administrative measurements, carried
out in a subjugated country mainly to integrate it into the Tibetan dominion.
Unlike the phalos, they were not typically calls to arms, but in this case the
military background is rather obvious.
24 lta means bale of goods, half load. yo might perhaps be related to yobyad
goods, necessities, furniture, household implements, etc, cf. Beckwith (1987: 42,
n. 24). The latter, followed by Dotson (2009: 91), proposes to read the compound
as plunder, but this seems to be contradicted by the statement concerning
the following year, where a military campaign was conducted. It seems that
first troops were levied, possibly close to the border region, with that threat
prepared, a delegation went to the Drugu for negotiations, and as these turned out
unsatisfactory, the threat was made reality in the following year. Against Beckwith
(ibid), it is grammatically quite possible that Ltayo refers to a place, but it is,
of course, not possible that the place name contained the final -r as suggested by
Thomas (1951: 268). According to Gago Dkonmchog Tshesbrtan (1995: 69,
n. 25), the word ltayor would refer either to a cattle disease or to an internal
turmoil, but these two meanings can hardly be reconciled with the fact that the
word should be in the absolutive and followed by a movement verb.

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


ister Mgar Khribri led a campaign to the lands of the Drugu and Guchen:
Drugu-Guzanyuldu dras.25
25 Dotson (2009: 96) translates this as the land of Kucha (Gu-zan-yul) in [Western]
Turkestan. Apart from the fact that Guzan might refer to Guchen in the eastern
Tienshan north of Turfan (cf. Thomas 1951: 282(ff.)), rather than to Kucha, this
is geographically absurd. Western Turkestan comprises the countries Kazakhstan,
Kirghizstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Like Guchen, Kucha lies
at the northern rim of the Tarim Basin, and thus in the region commonly known
as East(ern) or Chinese Turkestan. In the period in question, the Western Turks,
actually settled also in Eastern Turkestan, north of the Tienshan. They seem to
have had dominated Kucha via Sryb once in a while, but since Kucha was also
claimed by the Chinese, and, in effect, recaptured several times, it seems to be
unlikely that it was conceived of as a part of the Druguyul. Similarly, Guchen
was at that time still under Chinese government (Thomas, ibid. p. 286). I should
thus suggest analysing the compound as a tatpurua compound, the first element
of which consists of a dvandva compound: (Drugu & Guzan)-yul.
In reaction to the all too often rash conclusions of Thomas, R.A. Stein (1959:
293) rejects not only the formers localisation of Guzan, but suggests that the verb
dren could equally mean invite. Unfortunately, R.A. Stein is mislead by his
anger. First of all, he is unable to specify, where the land of Guzan lay, to which
the Drugu would have been invited. If Guzan lay in Tibet, we should have heard
again of this province at some other occasion. If Guzan were not part of Tibet,
why should the Drugu be invited to this province by a Tibetan minister? And why
to a province (yul) and not to a particular place in this province? Secondly, while
the meaning campaign, lead a campaign is usually expressed by a collocation:
dmag dren (cf. OTA, l. 255), apparently referring to an ordinary troop, or drama
dren (OTA, l. 197), apparently referring to an elite (drama) expedition corps,
the collocation is typically shortened in OTA. In 9 out of 11 cases (ll. 68, 94, 97,
127, 133, 135, 137, 274f., 276f.) we find only the place name plus dras, and
except perhaps in our case (l. 97), it is not possible to read an invite into the
place name. There are similar examples in other Old Tibetan texts, but the most
illustrative might be found in the Old Tibetan Chronicle, ll. 380383:
Sbra Rgyalsgra Legzigskyis | stodphyogssu draste | Muyusu g.yul bzlognas |
lugi rgyalpo Nukog manchad bassu bsdus | Dbas Btsanber Mdolodlastsogspas | mkhartshan yanchaddu draste | mkhar cupa brgyad phabnas | Dorpo
bton te | bassu besso ||
Rgyalsgra Legzigs from the Sbra clan lead a campaign to the upper (i.e.,
western) regions, and after the enemies had been put to flight (lit. after the battle
field had been overthrown) in Muyu, the kings of the valleys from Nukog
downwards were brought under control. Btsanber Mdolod from the Dbas clan
and others lead a campaign to [the region] from Mkhartshan upwards, and having
overthrown eight fortified prefectures they made the Dorpo come forth and made
them (lit. accepted them as) subjects.
For a detailed discussion of the collocation and its elliptic form see
Uray (1962).


Bettina Zeisler

The place names Guran and ims are unidentified (cf. Thomas 1951: 268,
for whom both places should be located in the region of Guge; Beckwith 1987:
42, n. 23, who abstains from guessing; Hazod 2009: 217, who states that they
should be found in au). I suggest looking for them in the west. Gor in
Chitral, below the confluence of the Astor river with the Indus, or Gurais (or
Gurez), in the upper Kishenganga valley, may perhaps be the closest candidates
for Guran, linguistically as well as geographically.
In 660, the Tibetans appear for the first time across the Pamirs, in Kashgar
(Denwood forthcoming). Denwood, however, does not believe in a Pamir
route, particularly because much of this area was still independent in the
beginning of the 8th c.. According to him, the Tibetans would have reached
the Western Turks by a route from (eastern) au via Shanshan or Mn
through the Tarim.
It would have been a simple matter to detach a small
force and send it along the route south of the Tsaidam to
the Charklik/Miran area (the old Shanshan kingdom on the
southern silk route), then north and west along the course of
the Tarim, Yarkand and Kashgar rivers, where water, grazing
and supplies would be available in larger quantities than in the
drier climate of today, and so to rendezvous with the Turkish
armies near Kashgar. This route would avoid Azha armies as
well as the Chinese-garrisoned cities of Khotan, Kucha and
Aksu (ibid).
I do not think that such movements would have gone unchallenged by the
Chinese, particularly as the routes were limited in number and certainly also
surveyed. The mountainous regions of the Hindukush and the Pamirs were
probably much more difficult to handle logistically, but they had the advantage
of being hidden and, moreover, beyond Chinese dominance. The Tibetans do
not need to have subjugated all the areas in question, the promise of sufficient
profit for the respective rulers might have paved the way as well.26 We know
that, at some later time, the Tibetans sought such an arrangement with the
ruler of Lesser Bolor (cf. Denwood forthcoming).
Of course, one might think that a *Grn, due to its similarity in sound,
could be found in the vicinity of Mrn, Nevertheless, an eastern au
could by no means constitute the border area towards the Western Turks,
26 Unlike Denwood (ibid.), I do not take the impressing title of the Palola ruler to
be a conclusive sign of power or military invulnerability. We can observe with
the later petty chiefdoms of Ladakh a certain inflation of royal titles, which
mirrored only the insignificance of their bearers. The Palola ruler, certainly not
a major force, may well have been compelled to concede border areas or rights
of passage to a power he could not contain.

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


unless one assumes that Shanshan or Mrn was Turk territory in the late 7th
c. Geographically, the border region between the Western Turks and Tibet
was Baltistan and Gilgit, even more so if Suvarnagotra, Baltistan, Gilgit, and
also presumably Ladakh were not only independent of Tibet, but if some
or all of them may have been part of the Western Turk empire before 630
as Denwood (forthcoming) ponders, without, however, giving any evidence
for this line of reasoning.
There seem to have been ethnic or political affinities between au
and Bactrian Turkestan (most probably dating from a time before the rise of
the Turk empire), which allowed confounding or merging the two. Thus we
find, again in Dpabo Gtsuglags compendium, in one of several versions
of the Four Border Kingdoms, a concept related with that of the Universal
Ruler, the combination of au and Grugu for the western realm, usually
occupied by Persia (Staggzig; cf. R.A. Stein 1959: 258). In another manuscript,
dealing with the same concept, the king of Persia is called Muwer (ibid.,
p. 259), clearly a au appellation.27 In the Btsunmo bkai thayig, it is
even Maris Skorgsum that takes the place assigned for Persia (ibid., p.
257). While this confusion may be the result of an overall fusion of themes
related to the Universal Ruler, due to scholarly playfulness or neglect, there
is a similar confusion and anachronism in LDRR 30.28f.: during the time of
Gnamri Slomtshan, the Tibetans would have subdued king Gaur etc. [of]
the western regions, India (i.e. Kashmir) and Turkestan:
Rgyagarda Grugu nubphyogs | Gaur rgyalpo-lasogspa
The name of the king is quite obviously related to the element Saur,
appearing in the name of the au king Lig Saur, to whom a bride was
given in 671 (OTA, l. 53), and which is also found, a century or so later, as
the name of a commander of the au stod stosde otshopag ~ oopag
and of the Rtsalmopag regiment (Thomas 1951: 454, 467). At the time of
Gnamri Slomtshan, the Drugu (and Kashmirians) in question could at best
have been tribes of Indo-Iranian descent settling in au.
Given the geographical setting, the border regions of au stod should
have comprised at least present-day Lower Ladakh (with Nubra and Purik).28
At the very height of their power in the west, when the Tibetans were also
27 Muwer is the name of a king of au Khasgyor, a principality comprising Mt
Tise, listed in Dkarru Grubdba Bstandzin Rinchens Tisei dkarchag and in
Bstandzin Rnamdags G.yudru Bongyi bstanpai byukhu ubsdu (Vitali
2008: 386, 387). A more prominent figure is Muwer btsanpo (ibid. p. 406
and passim).
28 We do not know from which time exactly the Dpabo Gtsuglags description
of au stod actually dates. Given the fact that no other region is mentioned


Bettina Zeisler

in the possession of the Yasin valley and some outposts in the Pamirs, they
might have spoken of these areas not only as stodphyogs western direction
(cf. OTA l. 220) but perhaps likewise as parts of au stod. That something
like this happened is indicated by a comparatively late source, the Vth Dalai
Lamas biography of Bsodnams Mchogldan Bstanpai Rgyalmtshan (Tucci
1956: 73), already mentioned.
The Vth Dalai Lama divides Old Maris into three skor.s, a term that
seems to be an anachronism.29 Nevertheless, he seems to have had access
to much earlier sources, since his description of the three districts (skor) of
Maris differs from all later sources, particularly with respect to the second
skor, containing Khotan (Li), Hunza (Grua), and Baltistan (Sbalte). Quite
interestingly the first and the third skor refer to areas generally accepted to
belong to Western Tibet: Puras, Maryul, Zasdkar (first skor), au [Proper]
and Khrite stod and smad (third skor). A similar division is given in BRGY
(sub Maris skorgsum): Purang (Spuhre), Mayul, and Zaskar form one
skor, au and Khrite stod and smad another, Khotan (chimmam Li),
Brua, and Sbalti the last. No reference is made to regions at the far eastern
end of the Changthang. Strangely enough, Guge is not mentioned in either
source. It must thus be implied in the designation Maryul~Mayul (see also
below 2.2). Ladakh simply does not exist.
One could thus argue that the au smad of the Old Tibetan sources
corresponded to what is taken as the true au kingdom, while au
stod may have referred to the newly subdued regions further north and west.
Whether Upper Ladakh was part of smad or stod may then remain an open
question, which everyone will answer according to his or her own preferences.
The linguistic evidence, however, discussed in 3 below, seems to indicate
that Upper Ladakh did, in fact, belong to au smad.
With au stod consisting at least of (Lower) Ladakh, it might be
possible to identify Gema (and the imobag district of Ms M. Tgh. c,
iii 0019, Thomas 1951: 293) with Semo in Lower Ladakh. One of the
thousand districts of au stod or smad must have been based in Zanskar,
but unfortunately the principality kept the administrative term and not its
original name, so that we hear of a kingdom (today only a village) of oe
It should be noted that the districts nos. 1 and 3 of au stod are attested
in some Old Tibetan documents with the additional Iranian or Turkish element
between Tibet and the Western Turks, it appears to be most likely that the
description belongs to a rather late date, when Baltistan and greater Bolor were
already conquered.
29 As an administrative term, skor is not attested in Old Tibetan source. Its usage
may thus be related with the introduction of khriskor.s myriarchies by the 13th
c. Yuan dynasty.

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


-pag (cf. Thomas 1951: 293: imobag; pp. 454, 460f.: otshopag ~ oopag;
a further name is Rtsalmopag, p. 467), which is most probably related to
the designation Baga for the stobu, and with the location Beg, whereto the
emperor went in 739 for a marriage arrangement with the previously subdued
king of Brua (OTA, ll. 276f., 281, 283f.). Beg must then have been either a
place in Brua or a place in the immediate neighbourhood (it could well have
been identical with the stobu Baga). This is another indication that au
stod may have reached up to Hunza. As far as I know, the name element -bag
or -beg is nowhere attested in West or Western Tibet. The only exception might
be Mulbekh, but the spelling indicates an original -begs, and we do not know
when the village was founded or when it acquired its present name.
On the evidence of a further -phag name element in the district of
Gnamruphag in the Central Horn (Dburu) Denwood (2008: 10) assumes
that imobag and o tsho pag ~ oopag were somehow linked with
Gnamruphag, which would make it possible to identify Gema or imo with
the present county headquarters of Nyima directly westwards of Namru
and otsho with O ma mtsho (Oma; Dass map: Huma Cho) further west
again. While more or less communis opinio, this identification does not
take into account the notion of stod west. A region near the Gnammtsho
would be clearly east of the eastern-most parts of au smad (defined as
centring on Guge). This localisation would further imply that Turks were
already settling in the present-day Hor district of Nakchu. But then Gnamru
could have equally been defined as bordering to the Turks. And surely, the
Turks of Nakchu would have been part of Tibet. Should one thus assume
that Turks settled further west throughout the Changthang? This is actually
what Denwood (forthcoming in the present version) suggests, without,
however giving any historical evidence for this claim. But if this would
have been so, where should we locate the Sumpa in order to have au
smad/Guge lying between them and Tibet? Is the latter indication simply
an error as Denwood (2008: 12) suggests? By what evidence do we judge
which of the statements is correct and which one not? By the contradictions
that we have built up ourselves?
Dotson (2009: 87, n. 149) draws the attention to the fact that chief minister
Mgar Stortsan performed a registration in Dugul of au just after and just
before staying in the aa country. One may easily conclude that this unknown
place was not located in the west. This might indicate that like au stod,
au smad could have been administratively enlarged far beyond the
original boundaries so that it covered the whole northern Changthang up to
the eastern-most end of the Kunlun range. This administrative enlargement
could perhaps explain the localisation of Greater Yangtong by the Chinese
envoy Liu Yuanding (see below). Nevertheless, this assumption, as much as
the suggestion that au extended up to the Namtsho, faces the problem that


Bettina Zeisler

the Namtsho and Gnamruphag belonged to the Central Horn. The territories
to its west should thus have belonged to the Right Horn. Otherwise one would
have to conclude that either the Right Horn was absolutely insignificant,
occupying only a small territory along the Rtsaspo, or that the Right Horn
overlapped with parts of au smad. Similarly, there should have been an
overlap with au smad and the Sumpa Ru, if the former extended up to
the Kunlun. If all this territory was, according to Bonpo claims, originally
part of an old state of au, or perhaps merely of au-ian ethnicity, the
Tibetan administration does not seem to have treated it as such, and while
even Buddhist sources acknowledge the westward extension of au. they
remain silent about a similar extension to the east.
Many of the above mentioned contradictions could be avoided if we allow
au (stod) to extend up to the Pamirs, or to Gilgit at least. Denwoods
idea of an ancient trade route through what he calls the Changthang Corridor
(2008: 10 and 18, map 1) does not depend on the localisation of au stod
in the east, it would equally have its value if we allow au smad to extend
into the said area.
I do not want to rule out the possibility that the Bonpo reminiscence of a
au on Iranian territory or at least comprising Gilgit may be based on the
official notion of au at the height of Tibets western-most extension.
But it is likewise possible, that the designation of Tibets western extension
was actually based on an old, but perhaps more cultural than political, notion
of (Western) au. inherited from the Hephthalite-Ha period (cf. Zeisler
forthcoming a, Chapter 4 1.4.3).
The notions of high and low are likewise attested in Bonpo texts, referring
again to western and eastern regions respectively, albeit on a much smaller
scale. Mtho au is used for the castle of Khyulu and the region Khayug
to its south. The expression Dma, by contrast, is apparently used for a Sumpa
region or an area between the Sumpa and au Proper (Bellezza 2008:
284, 593). This might well refer to (parts of) the central Changthang, which
borders on the Sumpa as well as on Tibet, but does not really lie between
them, except if we admit that Sumpa tribes were also roaming on the northern
fringes of the Changthang.30
30 Yamaguchi (1970: 98) observes that the Yalag (G)sumpai ru was established as
though to hold Shashusmad between itself and Tibet proper. For him, Yalag
(g)sum-pai ru is to be translated as third additional horn and has nothing to
do with the Sumpa tribe(s). While one can never preclude that the majority
of Tibetan scholars all fell prey to the same error, most probably because the
Tibetans themselves identify the (G)sum-pai ru or Sumru with the Sumpa, it
would be even more difficult to envisage au smad, being little more than the
Guge province plus some areas along the upper Brahmaputra, as lying between
some Tibetan secondary entity (presumably in the north) and Central Tibet, both

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


Post-phyidar Bonpo sources also know of a au smar, and at least

one text locates this in the area of Mt Tise and lake Mapha (Bellezza 2008:
319). Given this location and given a au etymology, it must be a Golden
au not a Lower au as Hoffmann (2003 [1990]: 48) suggests (cf.
also Hummel 1974: 494). This epithet would well correspond to late Buddhist depictions of the Kailash area as the golden fundaments of earth and its
identification with the axis mundi Sumeru (see below).

Map 8 au stod and smad (and the older skor.s of Maris)

east of it. Personally, while ready to sympathising with the nonconformist, I find
difficulties in putting much weight on Yamaguchis argument, as his paper is full
of minor and major mistakes and contradictions: his further discussion reveals that
many, if not most of the place names associated with the Sumru should actually lie
far in the east, in the Khams region, while the Sumpa or rather Supi tribes would
have dwelled in the west (p. 127, with n. 114). Particularly, the Supi would have
been, according to Chinese sources, located west, the Sumru east of the Tomi,
the Tomi being a tribe in eastern Tibet. But then the same Chinese sources are
quoted as stating that the (allegedly western) Supi (or who else?) were named
Sunba after the Tibetan conquest, where Sunba should be the Chinese transcription
of Tibetan Sumpa. In any case, if the Sumru was established mainly in eastern
Tibet, then how could a place supposed to be identical with present-day Guge
lie in between the Sumru and Central Tibet?


Bettina Zeisler

1.3 Yangtong
Chinese authors discriminate between Greater and Lesser Yangtong,
but the localisation of each part seems to be, again, rather variable, except
that Lesser Yangtong is always located west of Greater Yangtong, when
both entities are mentioned. According to the conventions mentioned
in the introduction, these designations should have reflected the spatial
relation to China, obviously calculated from her west ern-most extension
in Turkestan (or adopting the viewpoint of its Iranian neighbours, centring
on Mt Meru as the axis mundi) or it might have reflected the au-ian
perspective of a Centre in the west (Innermost au).
The east-west correlation is somewhat at variance with the identifications
proposed by Japanese scholars as reported by Petech, who furthermore,
maintains that an excessive extension eastwards is not acceptable (1998:
230). Basing himself on a 1981 article by H. Sat (and possibly also on the
work of Yamaguchi; cf. the discussion just above), Petech (ibid.) states
Greater Yang-tung corresponded to Upper Zhang-zhung,
i.e. Guge and Purang, while the name Lesser Yang-tung
indicated originally the upper valley of the Tsangpo from the
Mar-yum pass to Lha-rtse. Later it was applied to the northwestern region, which after the horns (ru) reorganisation
of the second half of the 8th century came to be known as
Lower, i.e. Eastern Zhang-zhung.
It remains unclear which north-western region Petech refers to, if it
should be part of an eastern au. Lesser Yangtong, albeit described in
most Chinese sources as the western part, is here associated with au
smad/dma, by definition as much as by the localisation proposed, the eastern
part. I am unable to imagine the reason for this inversion, except perhaps,
that it is based on a itinerary, allegedly from north-eastern Tibet to Nepal,
preserved in the Shijia fangzhi, which was completed in 650 (Pelliot 1963:
709f.). Denwood (2008: 12) would think that the localisation of
Little Yangtong southwest of some part of Central Tibet
and northeast of Nepal [] is geographically just about
possible if the Chinese Little Yangtong is the same as Tibetan
Lower Zhangzhung.
But this assumption would contravene the conventions associated with
the terminology of Lesser and Greater. Lesser Yangtong would no longer be
closer to China (or Mt Meru) than Greater Yangtong, while Guge, commonly
accepted as the core area of au would no longer be in the centre, but
in the periphery of Greater Yangtong. Similarly the convention concerning

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


the terminology of stod and smad would be broken, which would no longer
relate to an east-west axis, but to the north and the south, respectively. Both
au provinces would extend far into the east, and would overlap with
Central Tibet. As a result, the western and north-western regions, present-day
Ladakh and Baltistan would have been discrete entities, although they never
show up as such in the Old Tibetan documents.
For me, at least, the itinerary does not constitute a reliable source, as
it seems to have been mixed up with at least a second one, containing a
description of the Hanging Passages near Chilas. I am not aware of any such
gorges in Central Tibet, and it seems impossible to make any sense of this
itinerary as the original road map, regardless of how one wants to define the
au/Yangtong entities.
The itinerary, according to Pelliot (1963: 709710) starts in Hezhou, and
until reaching the Kokonor directions as well as distances are given. From
that point onwards only the direction, mainly south-west is given, which
is, of course, the general direction from Amdo to Nepal. Given this general
route, one wonders how and where Yangtong could ever get into the way.
The itinerary passes the frontier of the Tuyuhun, reaches the kingdom of the
Tomi, the kingdom of the Supi, the unidentifiable kingdom of Kan, then, with
a slight turn towards the south-east, the kingdom of the Tufan.
Then to the south-west on reaches the kingdom of Lesser
Yang-tung. Then to the southwest, on crosses the Ta
[?Ch]-tsang-ch Barrier, which is the southern frontier of
the Tu-fan. Then to the east, slightly south, one crosses the
Mo-shang-chia-san pi Barrier, to the south-east enters gorges
(ku), crosses thirteen flying ladders (fei-ti) and nineteen
plank-roads (chan-tao, i. e. roads made of boards fixed more
or less high on the wall of a vertical cliff), either south-east
or south-west, snatching the creepers and grasping the lianas;
after marching in the wilderness for more than forty days, one
reaches the kingdom of Ni-po-lo (Nepal) of northern India.
(Pelliot 1963: 710; all Chinese graphs as well as phonetic
reconstructions have been omitted).
Southwest of Yarlus or Lhasa lies Sikkim, from where one could reach
Nepal or Darjeeling; the route would pass Yarbrog G.yumtsho and Gyantse
(Rgyalrtse). If a more western route along the Gnammtsho were followed
through Tibet, one would have reached the Rtsaspo at Shigatse in Mya.
From there a south-western route would have ended directly in Kathmandu.
Most likely, however, one would have followed the Rtsaspo further up
westwards to Gutha or Mayul from where the route over Kyirong leads
to Kathmandu in a roughly southern direction. This route was used by the


Bettina Zeisler

Chinese embassies to Nepal in the mid 7th c. (cf. Sen Tansen 2002), that is,
at the same time as this itinerary was documented. On the Kyirong route,
and possibly all other routes, one would have to cross rope bridges, difficult
enough to manage, but, as far as I know, neither flying ladders nor planks in
the cliffs. The infamous Hanging Passages as known from the early 5th c. CE
traveller Faxian have been variously located somewhere near Gilgit, sometimes
in Hunza, but according to M.A. Stein (1942) and Jettmar (2002b [1987]) the
passage that fits best Faxians description is located at the foot of a spur of
the Nanga Parbat between Sazin (near Shatial) and Jalkot.
[T]he party journeyed on in a south-westerly direction
for fifteen days over a difficult, precipitous and
dangerous road, the side of the mountain being like a
stone wall ten thousand feet in height. On nearing the
edge, the eye becomes confused; and wishing to advance,
the foot finds no resting place. Below there is a river,
named Indus. The men of former times had cut away
the rock to make a way down, and had placed ladders
on the side of the rock. There are seven hundred rock
steps in all; and when these and the ladders have been
negotiated, the river is crossed by a suspension bridge
of ropes. [] Having crossed the river, the pilgrims
arrived in the country of Udyana (Swat) which lies due
north of India (Faxian, as rendered by Giles and cited
by M.A. Stein 1942: 54).
[W]e go up the course of the Sindu river; and then by
the help of fl ying bridges and footways made of wood
across the chasms and precipices, after going 500 li or so
we arrive at the country Bolluo [Bolor] (Xuanzang, Beal
188184: 178).
On all the eleven trying marches [] there was daily a
constant succession of tiring ascents to be made. The track
climbs up steeply ridge after ridge, each rising sometimes
as much as 1000 feet or more above the river, in order
to avoid impassable cliffs. From the heights thus gained
there were invariably descents, often quite as tiring, to be
made again towards the river. Nowhere was it possible to
keep for any distance near to the river bank since masses
of huge boulders line it wherever the river does not
actually wash the foot of impassable rock walls. I have
not counted all the climbs, but they must have been still
more numerous before the recent track was constructed
M.A. Stein 1942: 55).

North of Ancient India and South of Khotan


[T]he most dangerous part [] was practicable only because

tree branches had been fixed in fissures on the rock supporting
galleries, steps had been carved out, in many places there were logs
with notches to be used as ladders (Jettmar 2002b [1987]: 179).
It may well be possible that, at the eve of its destruction, the dominion of au
(smad), as the main competitor of the Tibetans in Central Tibet, extended over
the whole area of Rtsa and Mya. But it remains quite astonishing that the
straight westward route section along the Rtsaspo is omitted in the itinerary. It
is furthermore difficult to understand how one could reach the southern border
of Tibet, after having crossed a territory to its southwest in a south-western
direction. Apart from this, it is hardly believable that one could err for more
than forty days in the wilderness between Lesser Yangtong and Nepal, that is,
some 800 to 1200 km, counting 20 to 30 km a day, when the distance between
Gutha and Kyirong as well as that between Kyirong and Kathmandu is
about 100 km each, as the crow flies, thus at most 300 km or 10 to 15 marches
altogether (cf. the map in R.A. Stein 1981: 1415).31
Pelliot (ibid.) is likewise unable to make sense of this description, although
for different reasons. Given the localisation of the sources of the Yellow River
in Greater Yangtong in the Xin Tangshu (completed 1060), he is inclined to
put back Lesser Yangtong to an earlier stage, before Tu-fan, at least, and
perhaps before the kingdom of Kan, if not even before those of To-mi and
Su-pi, but this is just mere guessing.
In the Tongdian (completed 801), Greater Yangtong is defined as
bordering in the east to Tibet, in the west on Lesser Yangtong, extending
in the north towards Khotan, it is more than 1000 li, thus roughly 350 km
extended from east to west (Pelliot 1963: 708)this corresponds roughly to
the localisation of Suvaragotra, Nguo, and, ultimately, relatively well to
present-day Upper Ladakh (plus some parts of the Changthang). However,
the name of its king, Jiangge, which Pelliot reconstructs as *Kyakar >
*Kiang-kt, does not resemble any name of the au kings as preserved
in Tibetan sources.
In the Taiping huanyu ji (a geographical work, completed 983), Greater
Yangtong is identified with a kingdom that was conquered by the Tibetans in
649 (Pelliot, ibid.), roughly corresponding with the elimination of the au
king Lig Myirhya as attested in OTA, but this event is described as having
31 The distance between Khotan and Rudok or Leh is ca. 300 km as the crow
flies, while the actual tracks have an approximate length of between 700 and
1100 km, see also below. The statement reminds me of a description of a
route through the Pamirs: M.A. Stein (1932: 14, 20) mentions a passage in
uninhabited wilderness, which may need up to forty days to cross, not so much
due to its length, as due to the difficulty of the rugged terrain, particularly
when covered by snow.


Bettina Zeisler

lead to severe destruction and a redistribution of the apparently nomadic

people, a fact whichperhaps for ideological reasonsdoes not seem to be