IASian Music Vol.

10/2 1979
"EXPLANATION OF THE SECRET GCOD DA MA RU" AN EXPLORATION OF MUSICAL INSTRUMENT-SYMBOLISM By Rinjing Dorje and Ter Ellingson The "Explanation of the Secret Gcod l)amaru", a short treatise by 'Gyur med Blo gsal, expresses a unique understanding of life as seen through consideration of a musical instrument. From an ordinary viewpoint, the Da rna ru is simply a small drum used in the ritual practi~es-OflGcod and other Tibetan Buddhist religious traditions. However, as seen through 'Gyur med Blo gsal's penetrating analysis, the damaru is a microcosmic embodiment of the basic structure of the universe and of sentient life, and a thorough examination of it encompasses the entire scope of Buddhist philosophy and meditation. Musical instruments seem to have been important objects of Buddhist meditation from the earliest times. The Buddhist Canon of Texts in the Pali language, followed in Southeast Asia, contains many references to musical instruments attributed to the Buddha himself. SamyuttaNikaya (128 ff.)_gives an extensive description-ot~ Indian "lute" (vina) as a metaphoric example of the conditioned and-Composite nature of existence. In the Anguttara-Nikaya, the Buddha describes the tuning of the vil)a to illustrate the "tuning" of the mind in meditation (266ff.). In Asvaghoja's famous Bodhicarita, musical instruments become metaphors of death and impermanence. Yet, perhaps no Buddhist work explores the philosophical potential of a musical instrument so thoroughly as 'Gyur med Blo gsal's "Explanation of the Secret Gcod I?~ rna ru". Even if we look beyond the scope of Buddhist literature, we find few parallels to 'Gyur med Blo gsal's study on the symbolism of the ~a rna ru in other nonWestern musical traditions. An obvious case for comparison is the Chinese tradition of commentary on the ch'in zither (van Gulik 1940), particularly the treatise by Hsi-K'ang (van Gulik 1941). A comparison of this work with 'Gyur med Blo gsal's study shows some typically extreme contrasts between Chinese and Tibetan viewpoints and approaches. Hsi K'ang's elaborately beautiful contemplations differ sharply from the concise, straightforward assertions used by 'Gyur med Blo gsal to point to many levels of meaning in as few words as possible. Although Hsi K'ang advocates escape from "the constraining shackles of worldly life" (82), his method seems to be becoming lost in esthetic

63

FIGURE 1

"Protector

of the Land of Snows, Labs kyi Sgron" of Gcod, pictured as a dancing

Ma gcig Labs sgron, founder ~ ~ ~. with a <J.g, ~

D! and dril bu bell. 64

I.D. Both authors begin with a statement of intentions. she began to teach Gcod. However. there are some general similarities between the two works. (Fig. discuss the raw material of their respective instruments.contemplation of the phenomenal appearances that 'Gyur med Blo gsal is so concerned with penetrating beyond. Gcod did not coalesce around a network of affiliated monastic institutions. proceed to an enumeration of its constituent parts. by the female teacher Labs kyi Sgron rna. She learned to read at an early age. and made a deep study of the Perfection of Wisdom. and the precepts of Gcod ("Cutting") arose in her mind" (Dpa' bo Gtsug lag 1565: Vol. THE GCOD TRADITION Gcod is a Tibetan Buddhist religious tradition founded around the beginning of the twelfth century A. Yet. also known as Ma gcig. 65 . Gcod eventually spread throughout Tibet and became one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist religious traditions. 763). By this study. Although Hsi K'ang's work would seem to be too early. "she cut the rope of mental (obstacles). Gcod has become a panTibetan individual-oriented system of religious practice that cuts across sectarian lines. 1) Her life is briefly described in G.). Roerich's English translation of 'Gos 10 tsa ba's Deb ther Sngon po (1478: Vol. Thus. rather than by large groups of monks. since the philosophical basis and teachings of Gcod are shared with other Tibetan traditions. as a unique statement of how a musical instrument may express a way and understanding of life. "The One Mother". we nevertheless wonder if it might have undergone some influence from the Indian Buddhist traditions regarding instrumental symbolism that helped to inspire 'Gyur med Blo gsal's later study. At any rate. III. 'Gyur med Blo gsal's treatise on the symbolism of the ~a rna ru stands in its own right as a milestone in the study of instrument symbolism. After studies and contacts with other teachers. and end with a discussion of musical sound and its significance. it can be practiced by followers of other traditions as well. a classical Indian Buddhist system of thought which emphasizes the "Emptiness" of all phenomena. the method of "Cutting" to her followers. saw the Perfection of Wisdom just as it is. It emphasizes special methods of religious practice that are meant to be carried out by individual meditators. Unlike other such traditions. 220ff.

meditation. In the most famous Gcod ritual (English translation in Evans Wentz 1968."Cutting" the bonds of misleading perceptions and preoccupations by the Gcod method requires a dramatic synthesis of music. the yogin. recorded excerpts on Beyer n. And dance the stamping-dance (bro brdung) of extended views: Phat: I. catching them by the feet.d.. female celestial being) of supreme Wisdom: Then blow the human thighbone trumpet loudly. and then sees him/herself commanding and leading them around "like a flock of goats or sheep".. and other ritual elements. 66 . taking with him or her: For completely overcoming the Proud ["demons" representing self-pride]. The Da rna ru drum that overcomes illusions. because Gcod originated with Ma gcig Labs sgron. whirling them around his/her head three times. (Gcod yU1: lb-2a) The participant begins the ritual by visualizing all sorts of powerful gods and demons. Let worldly conceptions of dualism be ground to dust: . the participant goes to a lonely place.. . A predator's hide with four sets of claws.. we will use female pronouns from now on) visualizes herself as having instantly become the Mkha' 'gro rna ("Sky-walker".. The participant (for convenience. The garland of bells that suppresses the Ma .. practicing training in fearlessness. dance. and dashing them to the ground (2b). The Heroes and Skywalkers rotate in a crescentshaped dance-ground. Lus 'phags gling. The great superior thighbone [trumpet] that subjugates gods and demons. Phar: When dancing in the Eastern continent. Beat a dance upon the gods and demons of the Self. By the thought that embraces the sameness of World and Nirvana. He/she dramatizes this act by throwing down the predator-hide and another accessory. The ritual continues to unfold as a vivid psychodrama.).

. H o o Q) S rJl . +> +> til H r.::: o +> o Q) rl rl o o r. rJl . o .. .r! +> rJl H ..::: o H Q) r.r! o +> +> rJl Q) <t! rl ..::: Q) -e+ til .::: o p.. r. o 67 ..r! o .Q) rJl P.. ~ 'U +> o til Q) 'U rl Q) ori Ii.r! .s:: +> rJl Q) +> ..r! ~I til +> § o S .s:: .::: ..

Thus. First.. Next. while at the same time engaging in thorough philosophical contemplation of the implications of intellectual and emotional attachment to the conception of an individual selfhood that is impermanent. her own understanding becomes a ferocious goddess who dismembers her body with a knife and offers it as a feast for a host of fierce gods and demons. In just one moment. 2) How clear the sound of the great superior skulldr'um ' . composite. Like vultures descending and covering a corpse. and subject to forces beyond personal control. How sweet the melody of the human thighbone trumpet ~. the participant comes to know all threatening "gods and demons" as bdag 'dzin lha 'dre .eparticipant views her own body as a symbolic representation of th2 universe to be offered as a gift to the Buddhas. all of you. (2b-3b) However... On the head of the Lord of Death and Pride: Chems se chem~ The skull-drum of Balanced Wisdom sounds: Khro 10 lo~ . the equally Empty nature of all entities is realized. the mistaken. th. By integrating the dramatized meditative experience and its contemplated significance. all of this is a preparatory stage to the real "Cutting" practiced in Geod. These are also attracted (and the meditation dramatized) by means of music: (Fig.."gods and demons of holding to [the concept of] the seTfIT. 68 . come! (6a) The visualization is carried out in vividly horrifying detail... 'Dzam bu gling. dualistic perception of the self as an entity independent of all others is refuted.On the head of the King of Hate: Chems se chem: The trumpet of Mirror-wisdom sounds: Kyu ru ru: Hu1p~ HUrp~ Hu1p~ Phat~ Whe~ dancing in the Southern continent. The Heroes and Skywalkers angle in a threecornered dance-ground. and the Perfection of Wisdom is attained.

some texts suggest that a drum made from two human skulls (thod rn~a or thod dam) may be used. Khams smyon (n. the uniqueness of Gcod and the genius of Ma cgig Labs sgron arid her followers is shown not so much in the individual elements of ideology. such as the dril bt-hand5ell. a study on the symbolism of the skull cup by Gshongs chen Ri khrod pa. Thus. and meaning. most of the emotionallyupsetting imagery and paraphernalia of Gcod. action. 'Gyur med Blo gsal's treatise on the Damaru drum.d. Likewise. although in a much more abstract and intellectualized form. Finally. "secret small drum"). However. the Ka pa la'i Brtags thabs.) to see its roots in non-Buddhist practices involving human sacrifice and even cannibalism.The vivid ferocity of Gcod meditation has led some Western scholars. a garland of bells (dril bu'i gyer kha) . Although the drum normally used in Gcod is made of wood.b). as in the complex and powerful way in which all of these elements are synthesized in Gcod ritual. in Zen. the technique of meditating in cemeteries on the body's impermanence was taught by all Indian Buddhist schools. n. We have already mentioned the Indian Buddhist philosophical basis of Gcod (for a more thorough discussion of Gcod philosophical ideology. see Tucci 1970: 106-112). every philosophical teaching is vividly dramatized. the followers of Gcod have composed treatises on the symbolism of various ritual accessories (e.. and every object and action of the ritual expresses both surface and deep meanings.g. such as Evans-Wentz (1968: 295ff. One text (Gshongs chen Ri khro pa n~: IT3) permits replacement of the wooden ga ma ru by either a drum made from the occipitals of two human skulls (te'u chun or by one made from "the bones of a woman's pubic region (~ ba'i rnga chung. from the forms and attributes of ferocious goddesses to the use of humanbone instruments. for example. In Gcod. is directly borrowed from Indian Tantric Buddhism. fuay-Oe-used in some cases. dramatization.d. In order to enrich the experiencing and understanding of this synthesis of object. Other instruments. and an hourglassshaped drum with suspended clappers (da ma ru or d~ ma ru). Such techniques are used. the use of psychological shock techniques to produce new perceptions and insights is hardly unique to Gcod. The object of our present study. was composed for the same purpose. and seems to be an archaic part of Buddhist practice.: R) 69 . or use of ferocious imagery. MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS Gcod practice normally requires three types of musical instruments: a human-thighbone trumpet (rkang gling).

0 (1j al CIl .0 CD 'H 'H 0 'r! s::: (1j +> V) ro Q) CD +> ..G ...c: 'd H CIl I 0 +> +> (1j +> +> (1j s::: 'r! 0 al 0 0 s::: 'd a> ~I ~ 0 H Q ::r: I'<...-f 'd 0 s::: ..0 H a> a> a> ..G .. a> --+ S .c: +> 'd a> CIl co ~I il 0 . r-I CD ~ H Q) 0 ~ 0 0 E-< ~ ..r! ~ ~ ..r! s::: M . So.r! E r'f) lal H E-< S· >.-f p.. ..r! r-I > ..r! 'd 0 :> ~I .c:..c: CD > H 'H H a> r-I (1j S Q) 0 .<:: +> +> 0 a> 'H ..r! r-I ~ Q) H (1j a> Q) in (Jl ~ H 13 0 I'<.0 L.r! .c: a> ~ :::> E-< §g cr: • r! M [fJ 11 Q) r-I 0 'd > E-< .c: +> a> 'H 0 ~ .r! a> Q) . H > (1j +> . a> . .r! M s a> >.r_n .r! a> H p.r! a> H M .r! ~ a> !-< 'd a> H M H 0 P.... H +> g :::s 0 s::: >.. 0 I I 'r! 'r! ~ ~ s::: t<D t<D . H M M CIl H 'd I .r! r-I a> 'd s::: :::s 0 (Jl +> 0 a> H ...: [fJ .c: +> ~ 0 (Jl >..0 ro Q)a>'d < ~ [fJ 'r! r-I s::: 0 (Jl (Jl (Jl . '-" V) Ii< Ir! . 'd +> 0 . r-I 0 :::s S >.G .<:: +> 'H 0 § r-I ... r-I 'd s::: . 1 ..r! 0 a> ~I .r! 'd 'r! (Jl eo ~ !-< ro ..r! L..c: s::: -e CIl a> . > ._ •• 1 +> 0 I s- CIl a> IJ:I :::s ro s::: ~ .j r-I +> ~ CIl ..r! s::: +> +> (1j M .c: +> 0 (Jl ..r! 'H :::s M ..c a> . s::: (1j ro z cr: a> S 0 'r! ~ ~ ...r! 0 Ii< s::: co H 0 ..r! r-I ~ a> 0 .r! +> ~I cr: I 1 1 . H 0 s::: +> . :> M s::: M r-I >.c: i 70 ... .r! .<:: a> 'H 0 al 0 ~ ~ ..<:: +> .G..:..r! !-< (1j s::: >. +> 0 ~ :::s 0 o.G 0 0 ~ ~ (Jl .r! (1j +> .. ~ E-< < s::: I c CIl M .c: +> a> Q) CIl 0 .r! P.r! (Jl 'd 0 >.r! +> r-I a> +> :::s 0 ..r! !-< CIl 'd M . a> ~ CIl a> a> 1< .J :> c (1j +> 0 rn 0 'r! s::: [fJ ~ (1j (Jl 0 .r! 'd s::: a> (Jl Q) . §l ?.J M a> 'H 0 .r! .r! P. Q) .. :> (1j < ~ s::: CIl +> ~ .r! r-I a> al 'H 0 > Q) :::s s 0 s::: r-I IJ:I ::r: H 1:::S s- ::r: ::r: .:: So. 'H +> H a> ro +> .c: +> +> al 0 +> ...r! r-I s::: 'd a> 'd -o (1j ~ M 0 +> +> +> 'd 'd a> 0 c Q) ..G 0 'r! (Jl (Jl :> c ..r! M . +> .

The trumpet consists of a leg bone cut off about 30cm. Leather (preferably human skin) is sewn around the bell end. "thighbone trumpet". and an extended metal bell may even be added. while a shallow conical recess cut into the other end of the piece of bone forms the mouthpiece. or R mi rkan~ mchog gi gling bU. The rkang gling melodic 71 . the followers of which employ copper trumpets (zangs du~) along with other objectionable elements. The trumpet is used to play short melodies (rta) with or without drum accompaniment. for the mantra HU~~ HUW~ HU~~ (p. "thighbone flute. These instruments. Some rkang gling are wrapped entirely in wire from mouthpiece to bell. materials for the manufacture of bone instruments were easily procured. Each melody is an acoustic expression of the emotional character of its generating mantra: for instance. melodic units or components generated by individual mantras are combined into longer melodies according to the combinations of mantras occurring in the text. apparently borrowed from Indian Tantric Buddhism around the ninth century A.550) even describes a "backwards" or "perverted" Gcod. The -. from the knee joint. while the fierce"Hum gives a "raging. are symbolically associated with Buddhist concepts of the impermanence of phenomenal existence." rkang dun . the peaceful mantra Om produces a "long and pleasant" melody.superior human thighbone flute". and are generally used in Tantric rituals involving Fierce (drag po) deities and modes of ritual action. The melodies are generated by mantras. those used in Gcod are actually made from human leg bones. which occur in the ritual text. neighing" melody (Gcod yul: 8b). such as cannibalism. Since the normal method of "burial" in Tibet was to cut up bodies and feed them to vultures or other carnivores (giving one's body for the use of other creatures conveyed religious merit). Althoug the name rkang gling also designates the short metal trumpets used in Buddhist monastic music. The trumpet used in Gcod is called rkang gling. composed of sequences of subtle modifications of pitch and loudness which fluctuate continuously rather than being separated into discrete levels. and the mouthpiece may be encased in metal.D.68 above). Two holes cut in the ends of the projecting knobs (epiphyseal condyles) of the knee joint form the trumpet's double bell. Thus. the component-melody for H~ should be played three times. although these modifications are not usually used in Gcod.. As is usually the case with Tibetan trumpets. this issue). these melodies are of the dbyangs type (Ellingson article. syllables which are significant on a ritual rather than a linguistic level.

suspended ~ btags strikers cod ~t> !'i ve-COlored ~'Jq~'r~' ..-bb~ <-~o on-banner Sna 1 ~~~~and tiger leopard sk~ns 72 ... rr.....FIGURE 4(not to scale) ~~~..

It varies between 18-25 cm. in diameter. Gcod rnga. joined at their apices. All are played by holding the right forearm vertically. Beyond these common points. we will not describe it in detail here. The accompanying figure (Fig. or wood). Some are painted. All are made of two roughly hemispherical hollow bodies (either human skulls. about 1-1 1/2 cm. with enclosed metal pellets. rather than skull-shaped. another mammal. drums of the ~a ma ru class vary considerably in size. these are to be mounted on the drum itself. cang te'u) is the name for a class of Tibetan hourglass-shaped clapper drums originally derived from an Indian prototype of the same name. Qa ma ru (or. enriching its sound.notations for the Gcod yul ritual (8b) are shown in the accompanying figure (Fig. or Gsang Gcod 1a ma ru ("Secret Gcod Jiamaru") is the largest and most complexly ornamented of the drums of the ~a ma ru class. 73 . From the top rim of the drum itself (when held in playing position) to the bottom of the series of ornaments suspended from the waist. with pitch reference lines added to show how they might be played in an actual performance. its length may approach nearly a meter.ter kha) used in Gcod consists of a string of small spherica metal bells. in diameter. The Gcod ~am. The "garland of bells" (dril bu'i g. while others may be ornamented with precious metals or stones. with abstract or pictorial designs. and ornamentation. they sound when the drum is played. and its two halves are always hemispherical. Even the skin of the drumheads may be that of a human (for the human skull drum). and should be referred to when reading the translated text. Since our translated text gives a detailed description of its parts. The ~a ma ru's music consists of two types of sound elements: "beats" (brdung) and "ringing" ('khrol ba). and with a circular padded cloth wrist strap and two diametrically-opposed string-suspended pellet strikers attached to the "waist" of the drum. 3). on either the body or drumhead. or a snake. the probable prototype. shape. grasping the waist of the drum between thumb and forefinger. 4) shows the main parts. As our text specifies. and oscillating the drum in alternate clockwise-and-counterclockwise movements so that the suspended strikers strike the two drumheads (performing schools differ on whether this movement is accomplished by wrist oscillations or by movement of the thumb and forefinger alone). alternatively. with skins stretched and glued across the open ends of the hemispheres. thus.

For instance. The thighbone trumpet is classed as 'bud pa. Single beats are combined into numerical series of "counts" (grangs): thus.n ("cause-and-agent"). SYMBOLISM IN TIBETAN BUDDHIST MUSIC Like all elements of Tibetan Buddhist ritual. and be preceded or followed by a series of "counts". However. etc. "Three Beats" means three back-and-forth movements. either by a single one-way twist that brings the strikers into contact with the drumskins once. The beats of such a series are more or less equal in length. thus. when two series are combined (two beats plus three beats. Walter Kaufmann (1975: 17-18) remarks. Ellingson 1979). 'Gyur med Blo gsal seems to suggest that. their respective beats may differ in length. together with the instruments used to produce it. The length of a "ringing" section may coincide with that of a vocal or trumpet melody. Because of this. "music". and inferior to.Beats are produced. with the fourth one accented. music.). or by a back-andforth twist that causes one strike by each striker on each of the two skins. including the ~a ma ru and rkang gling: 74 . three beats. is not used in Gcod or other re 19ious music. "Three Beats" may include up to nine actual beats (cf. "blown". incorporates a rich variety of symbolic meaning. etc. In our manuscript. This non-rigid approach to categorization is a fundamental element of Tibetan thought which must be considered in any investigation of symbolism in Tibetan music. but. some Western scho Lar s tend to dismiss much of this music as "ritual sound" that is somehow different from. or six actually-sounded beats. A "ringing" passage may cadence with one or more "beats". A series designated by a specified number of beats may include additional beats with varying structural functions. rgyud can ("stringed") or ~ rkr. struck. the ~a ma ru is usually classed along with bells as a "rung" ('khrol ba) instrument. or be determined by meditational or other "non-musical" factors. two beats. depending on the performing tradition. In the Tibetan instrument classification system. "Ringing" is a rapid clockwise-counterclockwise oscillation of the drum which produces a continuous stream of rattling pulses. The fourth instrument category. depending on its various functions and on the viewpoint from which it is seen. in a discussion of several instruments. the 9a ma ru can be taken either as a rung. in contrast to other types of drums which fall into the "struck" (brdung ba) class. or cause-and-agent instrument.

in order to constitute an effective offering. are absurd from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective.. It is included in ritual as a sensuous offering (mchod pa) for the ears of beings who are meditated upon as endowed with every kind of perfect faculties. Tibetan Buddhist instrumental compositions not only include melodies based on subtly.. while Fierce deities like music that is faster.. music can be divided into "Peaceful" (zhi ba) and "Fierce" (drag po) styles. "Extending" of good personal qualities and benefits. 75 . "Controlling" of forces and elements that hinder attainment of desired goals. and smoothly played. the mood and style of specific musical pieces vary according to their functions in one or another of "Four Modes of Ritual Action" ('phrin las bzhi): "Pacification" of personal impairments. Therefore. but also rhythmic structures that surpass in mathematical complexity most known types of music (Ellingson 1979). according to the natures of the beings to whom it is offered. the resulting noise can be most perplexing.. The music used in Gcod tends towards the fierce end of the stylistic spectrum. The subtle and complex sounds heard in this music are undoubtedly the cause of the "most perplexing" impressions of "noise" formed by non-Tibetan listeners.. . (1975: 17-18) Such judgments. but also that the compositional structure of a piece be suited to the tastes of beings with the most highly refined perceptual and cognitive faculties. 3). made by drawing a dichotomy between the "ritual" and "musical" components of ritual music. ritual music must be equal or superior to the best of the music played in everyday human life.The small drum has no musical function as such . soft. Music can be an effective part of ritual only to the extent that it is "musical".. When the sounds of these ritualistic instruments are superimposed on instrumental music. Generally. The "beauty" of Tibetan Buddhist music can take different forms. louder. In addition. almost imperceptibly varying tonal contours (Fig. Peaceful deities generally prefer music that is relatively slow.None of these instruments has any musical function . Thus. and "Fierce" destruction of obstacles. The need for "skillfu nessr'requires not only a pract~ced playing technique. and incorporates more "rough" contrasts. The minimal requirements governing the composition and performance of Tibetan Buddhist ritual music are familiar to musicians in every culture: the music must be "aurally beautiful" (inyan pa) and "skillful" (mkha~~).. .

: 28lb-282a) Buddhist ritual music is. the presence of "meaning" in the music does not make the music less "musical". Just as in this comparative example. among others. or the appearance of a certain melodic pattern in the instrumental accompaniment of a cantata aria. in addition to the required elements of beauty and skillfulness.beautiful-sounding instrumental music that overpowers the mind . In fact. This distinguishing characteristic is not restricted to Tibetan or Buddhist music: for example. and adds to the musicological task of dealing with technique and esthetics a third analytical dimension.. (AtIsa n. make the music more meaningful. 76 . the entrance of strings in a Passion recitative.that are beautiful. contextual kind of meaning.d.: 25). Tibetan Buddhism allows for a large number of possible meanings for every symbol.. Evans-Wentz (1960: 128-9). in the music of Bach. and Vandor (1976: 52-5). Even secular dance music has a general. however.. since its sound indicates happy feelings and freedom from distress (Grags pa Rgyal mtshan n.and melodies . set of sounds. and yet have a meaning. in fact. may convey symbolic meanings of divine status or of sadness that the same instruments or sounds would not convey in a secular concerto by the same composer. However.. Most of these observations tend to leave the impression that each instrument has one specific symbolic meaning that is. Blechsteiner (1937: 255).d. that of musical symbolism.d. ritual music is distinguished by its potential for a specifically verbalizable symbolic meaning for every musical sound. distinguished from secular music not by the "musical" factors of acoustic complexity and beauty (although there are strong stylistic contrasts in these areas).. Ellingson (1974a). as it were. ritual music must include a third element: .: 101). or instrument. It does. Crossley-Holland (1968: 83-4). Symbolism is mentioned in most Western writings on Tibetan Buddhist music. brilliant music resounding like a thousand thunders" (Blo bzang Skal bzang Rgya mtsho n. However. officially and universally recognized..having the awesome type of appeal that one text describes as "Beautiful. according to the particular viewpoint chosen. but by the association of specific symbolic meanings with ritual musical sounds and their sources of production. Observations on various symbolic associations of specific instruments have been made by Laufer (1923).

as a brilliant individual contribution towards increasing the depth and meaningfulness of the experience of Gcod practice through contemplation of one of the characteristic Gcod instruments. according to the text of the Gcod yul ritual. The "Tibetan approach" to symbolism is contextual. for a follower of 'Gyur med Blo gsal's method might accept and use the other interpretations at different stages in his religious practice. Sdang ba Rnam sreg. the ~a ma ru is associated with "balanced Wisdom". in connection with a particular type of ritual. It is not an explanation of the symbolism of the instrument which says the last word on the subject and admits of no alternative interpretations. And. then there must necessarily be different levels of interpretation for any particular symbol. If. "Mirror-like" (Gcod yul: 3a-b). symbolize Wisdom and Method . functional. However.. in 'Gyur med Blo gsal's treatise on the ~a ma ru. and pragmatic. the interpretations are not mutually exclusive.. the bells with "the Wisdom that comprehends separate aspects". which are valid for followers of that lineage's tradition. Like all Tibetan writings on music and other aspects of Buddhist practice." (1968: 83-4). while the Wisdom-Method combination is symbolized by the ~a rna ru's two suspended pellet-strikers. and the insights of the individual author. the Buddhist teaching itself was taught in different forms to suit the needs. so that each person will necessarily interpret the same things differently as his understanding reaches new levels.For example. the instrument symbolizes practically every major aspect of the Buddhist view of life as seen from the standpoint of Gcod. and the rkang gling with yet a third aspect of Wisdom. and a participant in a ritual like. say. as Tibetan Buddhists maintain. This statement is correct on one level of interpretation. we can see Blo gsal's treatise on the ~a rna ru in its proper perspective. Someone studying 'Gyur med Blo gsal's special viewpoint would disregard the other interpretations as irrelevantly simplistic. None of these alternative symbolic meanings of the ~a rna ru would be accepted as a simple statement of fact by all Tibetan Buddhists. abilities and inclinations of different persons. a performer of the Gcod yul ritual would accept the interpretation given in its text.. As such. it represents both the "official" explanations received by the author through his lineage of teachers. However.. 77 . Crossley-Holland mentions that "The hand-bell and hand-drum [~a ma rul . and training to follow his approach. would be inclined to the Wisdom-Method interpretation. abilities. it is a valid "explanation" of the ~a ma ru for those with the interests. Bearing this in mind.

it seems likely that his Explanation was the result of prolonged analysis of. Tibetan Buddhism recognizes two authoritative sources.Such insights are not arrived at arbitrarily. This direct type of insight is an important source of musical compositions. some with and some without generally accepted interpretations. In addition. Gshong chen Ri khrod pa (n. again. Some of his interpretations are undoubtedly "scriptural". The present translation is based on two manuscripts of the text which were located by Rinjing Dorje in the possession of two Lamas of the Rnying rna pa tradition in Nepal. If a given point contradicts either scripture or reason. while "reason" implies thoroughgoing exploration of a point by study. analytical examination. insights received in this way will. and other experiential means. AUTHOR AND TEXT We have not yet been able to identify 'Gyur med Blo gsal. and meditation. From various points of evidence in the text. On the other hand. it is to be rejected. if such a unified interpretation was part of his lineage's teachings. the oldest of the four major Tibetan Buddhist traditions. "Scripture" includes both written and oral statements by previous teachers. 'Gyur med Blo gsal does not give any indications of the sources for his interpretation of the 1a rna ru. and both collaborated on 78 . dreams. much of the Explanation must consist of 'Gyur med Blo gsal's own insights: the work is too unified in form and content to be a scholarly compilation from other sources. the instrument and the guidance furnished by his lineage's teachings. and. His name does not appear in several standard Tibetan histories of the Gcod tradition. "scripture and reason". However. there would have been no need or opportunity for him to write the work as his own. we see that he was a follower of the Rnying rna pa. Considering the complex array of Buddhist symbolic elements incorporated into the Gcod ~a rna ru itself. his exact lineage affiliation and date have yet to be determined. contradict neither scripture nor reason. if valid. and medltatlon on. For instance. handed down through his teaching lineage.d. However.a: 113) cites an anonymous "definition" or "philosophy" of the ~a rna ru that agrees with Blo gsal in stating that the instrument may be made of sandalwood or "what the mind desires". Each of the present co-authors worked separately on translating one of the text copies. new insights can be received by very advanced persons through direct meditative experience.

Rdo rje Phag mo.--or. made from wood. Where no numbers are given. And this skin which covers it Represents the unification of appearances and Emptiness. down. ornamented with small shells. Sandalwood. 5 79 . aloe-wood. (Page IB) 1 Nama -_ Guru --Sarva-Dakinl: -_ . Represents a symbolization of the unproduced DharmaBody [of a Buddha] . and so on. (Page 2A) 1 whatever suits: This drum's basis. We wish especially to thank Bde kya Rin po che for lending us the manuscript that is reproduced in transliteration in the appendix to this article. also. inseparable [from them]. (5) (4) To the And to Bowing Of the excellent Gurus and Yi dam Gods. Represents the [Buddha's] Enjoyment-Body. I write this explanation of the ~a ma ru cutting-off of the Realms of the Four Demons.the final translation and notes. This hollow space. ornamented with [32] Signs and [80] Marks. Sometimes it has been necessary to rearrange the order of lines to produce a clear English translation. Accacia.) (Page lA) 1 The Explanation of the Secret Gcod ~amaru. TRANSLATION (Numbers in the left-hand margin refer to the corresponding lines of the Tibetan text given in the Appendix. the order of lines follows the Tibetan text. Such rearrangements are indicated by line numbers in parentheses. Represents the tree-like stature of the Thought towards Enlightenment. This waistband. containing Emptiness.

Yi dam. A symbol of "The Appearance of Religion Wide as the Heavens".. This suspended garland of bells Represents the sounding of the symbolic language of the Mkha' 'gro rna.(Page 2B) 1 And the sign of these two suspended striking-pellets Represent unification of Method and Wisdom in the [Buddha's] Projection-Body. clear suspended mirror Represents meditation inseparable from Clarity and Emptiness. which has three corners. Represents.represents. added to preceding line] S 10 S 10 This "Len Three Beats" at the beginning Represents an ocean of offerings to the Gurus. through the Realm of Religion of (Page 3A) 1 Kun tu Bzang mo. This iron hook. These suspended tiger and leopard skins Represent the subjugating force of the Heroes and Mkha' 'gro rna. This "Lan Three Beats" in the middle 80 . This gleaming. This banner-head. (Page 3B) 1 [". These suspended hairs of living and dead persons Represent the transcendence of Eternalism and Nihilism.. This suspended five-colored ribbon-banner Represents spontaneous attainment of the Five GoalBodies [of a Buddha] . circular in shape.". Represents practices which do not fall into [extreme] directions. and Mkha' 'gro rna. This "ringing" [the drum] with a ferocious sound [Represents] the empty echo that describes the Self. [both] Represent views which are not one-sided. This handgrip and shell ring. suspended by a sheep's tendon.

a . (Page 4B) 5 10 1 [". and so on. The falling [steps] of this Nine-Beat Dance Represent progress to the summit of the Nine Vehicles. as in a dream or illusion. Of a host of basic causes and contributory agents. (Page 4A) (4Al) (10) (2) Is the Religion which transcends the cycle of empty appearances. The ~a rna ru is the vagina Of the Secret Mate. It is the Great Bliss which pervades Sawsara and Nirva\J.. Kun tu Bzang mo. Like~ise.is . produced by various means. The da rna ru's name and sound do not arise.". In productionless space let it ring: "Khrol-lo-lo~" Phat~ This explanation of the meaning of the ~a rna ru was by the honorable 'Gyur med Blo gsal. The "drumstick'" is Kun [tu] Bzang [po's] penis. Joining the beats together [is] the Bliss of Voidness. It represents a demonstration of interdependence. 5 --. Like that sound. the Religion transcending the cycle of empty appearances: It represents Emptiness from the first beginnings of time. Let the ~a rna ru of Dharma-Realm Voidness Be beaten with the stick of scientific wisdom. Through.. added to preceding line] That sound is the Dharma-Realm's own sound.the wood and skin. and through The mechanism of the person's hand.r 5 Represents subjugation [through them] of [the three realms of] phenomenal existence. written 10 Bkra shis~ Bhavanastu~ 81 . This "Len Three Beats" at the end Represent breaking out of the pit of Cyclic Existence. From the individual self-natures of these things.

Rdo rje Phag mo.- -- (Page IB) 1 Namo .. Sarva-Dakinr~" Sarva-9akinI embodies the combined nature of all·~akinrs (Tib. She appears to some in a form intermediate between her absolute and earthly forms.. 2-5 This dedicatory stanza is rhymed. Lust. : The invocation. Pride. See note below. See below. the Perfection of Wisdom. Ye shes Mkha' 'gro rna ("WisdomKhandroma"). visualized in fierce form with a pig's head.NOTES TO THE TRANSLATION (Page lA) 1 Ex~lanation . most of the stanzas up to Page 4A of this book show an A-B-A-B rhyme pattern that results from the author's consistently ending his lines with 'di and brda' (later. : We have "translated" the cornmon title-mar ing formula bzhugs s. Yi darn (powerful meditative-ritual "deities" who stand in a teacher/helper relationship to the participant). 4 Four Demons: According to the Gcod yul (3A-B). Mkha' 'gro rna). a rare practice in Tibetan poetry. in her Dharma-Body form (see note below) is also called "Mother of All Buddhas".ho by the equivalent English symbol. underlining the title. and other important female deities. who. means: "Praise to the Teacher. In fact. Different Gcod lineages and texts identify her intermediate form variously as Rdo rje_Phag mo. Rdo rje Phag mo: The "Three Roots" (rtsa gsum) of-ritual practice are: Gurus (personal and Ilneage teachers). with a fifth. Ma gcig is considered the earthly emanation of Prajnaparamita. Ignorance. 2-5 Gurus. female celestial beings ranging from relatively minor figures to fully enlightened Buddhas) . in Tibetan-transliterated Sanskrit. usually as a very powerful Mkha' 'gro rna. as in other parts of the text. represents both this third category and a form of Ma gcig Labs sgron. and Mkha' 'gro rna (pronounced "Khandroma". a (or ~) rna ru has been abbreviated to da ru. but the A-A-B-B rhyme pattern of this stanza seems possibly more of a deliberate "poetic" choice.ho is a fancified spelling created by adding a ha btcigS to ~ In the title.. founder of Gcod. ------ --. rtags). S. 82 . Rdo rje Rnal 'byor rna. at the center. 6• ---- . Yi darn.. 2 Yi darn: the text has Yid darn. the "demons" of the four directions are Anger. and Jealousy. "Skywalkers".

often in sunburstpattern groups of three or four (see Fig. advanced seekers of Enlightenment. up to about a centimeter in length. Dharma-. They are suspended by cords long enough to reach the center of either drumskin from diametrically opposite points on the waistband.and so on: s01 is a common abbreviation (Page 2A) for sogs. either forming an band or sewn to it.. the basic motivating concept or-Mahayana Buddhism. or papier-mache. It loops around wrist. and resolves to attain this goal. made of compressed fabric. by which one sees the necessity of becoming a Buddha in order to free all beings from suffering. often with borders of a color that contrasts with the color of the central part of the band. The shell ring is knotted to handgrip. are unified rather than appearing mistakenly as dualistic opposites. and ordinary beings. (Page 2B) 1 Striking-pellets: The "suspended strikers" (~ btags) are roughly egg-shaped pellets.7 . 8 Waistband: This is a padded cloth band. phenomenal appearances and Emptiness. 3 Handgrip and shell ring: The padded cloth loop. and covered with glued or sewn wrappings of cloth or skin. Enjoyment-. without conscious effort and free of ordinary cause-effect processes. To one in such a perfect state. which encircles the cylindrical wooden "waist" between the two hemispherical resonating chambers of the drum. 5ff. 2 Thought towards Enlightenment: the Byang chub kyi sems (Skt. The Enjoyment-Body displays every possible Sign and Mark of perfection. skin. 5 Mirror: handgrip is a closed extension of the waistthe player's palm or the lower end of the Made of polished metal. visible respectively to other Buddhas. 1-2 cm. wide. and the Projection-Body combines Method and Wisdom to work for the good of all suffering sentient beings. Small shells are pierced and sewn to the band at intervals. Bodhicitta). the real nature of all things. and Projection-Bodies: A Buddha exists simultaneously in these three forms.) . 4.. "Unproduced" means that the DharmaBody is spontaneously achieved after proper preparation. 83 .

and bliss. Dharma-dhatu) is the allpervading absolute dimension of reality. Thus. Khandromas. blue. representing their combined natures in undivided form. and who appear with the Mkha' 'gro ma as dancers and musicians in celestial paradises. 11 Banner-head: The p@an mgo is made of padded cloth.. surrounded by a contrastingcolor border. 3 Tiger and leopard skins: Procured from India and Tibet. interpreted differently by various Buddhist traditions. respectively. depending upon the system of enumeration used. they represent the Buddhas of the five directions (listed according to color and directional coordinates in Ellingson 1974b). the "Five GoalBodies" of line 10 may refer to the Buddhas of the five directions. 5 Bells: "Peach-shaped" spherical metal bells with a 84 . in many meditaand "subjugation" 9-10 Banner . red.7 Iron hook: Symbolically important tions and rituals involving the "capture" of beings who represent opposing forces. and protective deities. Teachers. Often replaced by strips of striped and spotted cloth. yellow. non-duality. and has three rounded "corners" (see Fig.Goal-Bodies: The ribbon-banner (cod ~~) is made of one ribbon of each of the primary colors (White. According to the Rnying ma pa method of Tibetan Buddhism. Yidam. In this text. the "Bodies" of a Buddha may number from two to five. green).. often patterned or brocade . 12 Realm of Religion: The "Realm of Dharma" or "DharmaRealm" (Tib. Chos dbyings. its main characteristics are Emptiness. Skt. Among the many symbolic associations of these colors. However. who together represent the union of Wisdom/Emptiness and Method/Compassion. he is (or they are) the central figure(s) of the AssemblyField (tshogs zhing) of Buddhas. 4 Heroes: The ~ bo are male celestial beings who exercise protective powers on earth.4). (Page 3A) 1 Kun tu Bzang mo: The female counterpart and mate of the male Buddha Kun tu Bzang po. Hkha' klong probably refers to the mandala of Kun tu bzang mo. 2 "Appearance of Religion" (chos y~) is used to describe a triangle enclosed in a mandala diagram.

They are listed by Tucci (1970: 94). emphasizing the Perfection of Wisdom school's central concept of Emptiness. 9 Nine Vehicles: Nine pathways or stages of Buddhist practice. : Members of Rnying 85 . S Phenomenal existence: Composed of the three realms or levels of the Desire-World. 'Khor ba. or contributory agents. causes. with the fourth hit harder than the others.": This argument (from here to Page 4A. suspended 8 Eternalism and Nihilism: The views that things either exist permanently or cease to exist absolutely... 7 Hairs: cut off and tied in two bundles. Len (Lan) usually refers to an introductory beat or beats played before the three main beats. "Like that sound . producing six actually-sounded beats. In Indian texts. 11 Mechanism of the person's hand . 'Gyur med Blo gsal here applies this type of analysis anA-argument to sound production by the ~a ma ru. line 8) presents 'Gyur med Blo gsal's reformulation of a classic Buddhist analogy. 9 "Ringing": See page 74 above.. and to argue that the "real" nature of anything does not reside in any of its material elements. 10ff.slit in one side and an enclosed metal pellet. (Page 3B) 2-6 "Len (Lan) Three Beats": Three complete clockwisecounter-CIOckwise oscillations of the drum. 7 Cyclic Existence: The Cycle (Tib. the instrument discussed is usually the vrna. Samsara) is the eternal path followed by all sentient beings From birth to suffering to death to rebirth. All of the Indian schools of Buddhism used the example of the process of sound production by musical instruments to demonstrate the complex cause-and-effect nature of phenomenal existence and the human personality. according to the teachings of the Rnying ma pa. two philosophical "extremes" rejected by Buddhism. and FormlessWorld. Skt. 8 Nine-Beat Dance: A special dance with nine-step patterns performed in Gcod ritual. Form-World. The Cycle can only be transcended by attaining the Enlightenment of a Buddha.. from the phan mgo.

i. (Page 4B) 6 Khrol-lo-lo: Onomatopoeic words. Fierce mantra h ("p e") used extensively in 9-10 Bkra shis and Bhavanastu: Tibetan and Sanskrit closing formulas.Bliss: In Tantric Buddhism. (Page 4A) 4 Causes . The larger Gcod da rna ru may be placed in the latter category. A physical "drumstick" is not used. which are brdung ba. "cause-andagent". Vagina . the ~a rna ru is normally classed as 'khrol ba. the above explanations have been stated as simply as possible. such as Robinson (1970) or Conze (1951). since the ~a rna ru used in Gcod is so large. a "Rung" instrument.. "Beaten". In particular. expressing the wish that happiness may arise. it is usually played by oscillating the whole hand. and one of two alternate names for the category they represent (page 74 above).agents: In the Tibetan instrument classification system.e. 9ff. in contrast to other drums. sexual union symbolizes the "Bliss" of Enlightenment. we suggest consulting a good basic survey. However.. used in Tibetan poetry to represent a "ringing" sound..rna pa performing traditions ordinarily play the ~a rna ru by movement only of the thumb and forefinger.. 7 Phat: Gcod ritual. many of the Buddhist concepts which we discuss in a few words are the subjects of extensive bodies of literary analysis.. the instrument can in fact be played either in "ringing" or "beat" styles. The most extensive 86 ..penis . This is the method of sound production employed by stringed instruments. pronounced "rhCl10-10" (retroflex aspirated t). as we have seen. However. for all sentient beings because of the composition of this book. which unites both phenomenal existence (Sawsara) and Transcendence (Nirva~a). The English "ring-a-ling" is an approximately parallel expression.. EXTRA NOTE Because our purpose has been to make 'Gyur med Blo gsal's symbolic treatise accessible to readers interested in both music and Tibetan and Buddhist studies. The author argues here that its true method of sound production is by rgyu rkyen. For readers unfamiliar with Buddhist concepts.

ho/ (Page IB) 1 Na mo Gu ru Sa rva ~a kki nil 5 Bla ma mchog dang Yid daw Iha/ dbyer med Rdo rje Phag mo la/ btud nas bdud bzhi dbyings gcod kyi/ ~a ma ru yi bshad pa 'bri/ tsan Idan a ka ru dang nil seng Ideng la s01 (Page 2A) 1 Byang sems gdong po tshugs pa'i brda'/ 5 khog pa stong par yod pa Chos sku skye med mtshon de la Ipags pa g. Readers unfamiliar with the technical terminology of musical instrument description may wish to consult Sachs (1940: 454ff. APPENDIX Tibetan text of the Explanation of the Secret Gcod pa ma ru (Page lA) Gsang gcod da ru'i bshad pa bzhugs s.) .yogs pa snang stong zung du 'jug 'di/ pa'i brda'/ 'di/ pa'i brda'/ ~a rgyu shing las byas pa 'di/ gang yang rung/ sked chings mgron bus spras pa 'di/ Longs sku mtshan dpes brgyan pa'i brda'/ (Page 2B) 1 rgyag btags gnyis kyi mtshan pa 'di/ Sprul sku thabs shes zung 'jug brda'/ lag gdan dung long 'khor ba 'di/ Ita ba phyogs ris med pa'i brda'/ dangs gsal me long rtags pa 'di/ sgom pa gsal stong dbyer med brda'/ 5 87 .survey in a Western language of the development of Buddhist thought and ritual in Tibet is Tucci (1970).

yer kha rtags pa 'di/ Mkha' 'gro'i brda' skad sgrog pari rtags/ shi skra gson skra rtags pa 'di/ rtag chad gnyis las 'das pari rtags/ sgra skad drag pos khro1 ba 'di/ grag stong rang ngo sprod pari (Page 3B) 1 rtags// steng du len gsum brdung ba 'di/ Rtsa gsum rgya mtsho mchod pari rtags/ bar du 1an gsum brdung ba 'di/ snang srid dbang du bsdu bali rtags/ log tu len gsum brdung ba 'di/ 'khor ba dong nas sprug pari rtags/ dgu brdung cham gcig 'bebs pa 'di/ Theg dgu'i rtse mor phyin pari rtags/ 10 sgra de shing dang 1pags pa dang/ skyes bu'i lag gi 'khru1 'khor sogs/ sna tshogs (Page 4A) 1 thabs las 'byung ba ltar/ med bzhin snang bali 'khor 'das chos/ rten 'bre1 rm± lam sgyu rna tsam/ rgyu rkyen tsho~ las ston pari brda'/ de da de ye rnams rang rang ngo bo 1a/ ru'i ming dang skad mi 'byung/ bzhin med snang 'khor 'das chos// ga'i gdod nas stong pari brda'/ 5 10 5 5 88 .10 lug rgyud nyag thag 1cags kyu 'di/ spyod pa phyogs 1hung bral bali brda'/ cod pan sna lnga rtags pa 'di/ 'Bras bu sku 1nga lhun grub brda'/ Phan mgo zur gsum yod pa Chos dbyings 'di/ (Page 3A) 1 Kun tu bzang mo yis/ mkha' k10ng chos 'byung mtshon pari brda'/ stag lpags gzig 1pags rtags pa 'di/ Dpa'o Mkha' 'gro dbang bsdud brda'/ dri1 bu g.

rather than the layout of written lines of the manuscript. Ki.) n.d. Byang chub lam gyi sgron me'i Dka' 'grel. Each written line of the manuscript contains two or more poetic lines. 89 .10 da ru Kun tu bzang mo yi/ gsang ba yum gyi bha ga yin/ ga cag Kun bzang rdo rje yin/ brdung ba mnyam sbyor bde stong (Page 4B) 1 yin// sgra de chos dbyings rang sgra yin/ bde chen 'khor 'das kun khyabs yin/ chos dbyings stong pa'i ~a ru la/ rig pa ye shes cag gis brdung/ skye med klong du khrol 10 10/ Phat: 5 • ~a ru'i dag bshad kyis mdzad pa'o// bkra shis/ 10 bha va na stull 'di 'Gyur med Blo gsal lags Line numbers in the above transliteration represent the order of poetic lines appearing on each page. Tr. York: Lyrichord Records. REFERENCES Anguttara-Nikaya: CITED The Book of the Gradual Sayings. LLST 7291. Spelling mistakes and abbreviations have been transliterated as they appear in the manuscript. I. Tokyo: Tibetan Tripitaka Research Institute. Tibetan Tripitaka. Vol. London: Luzac.L. 1956. F. 1951. AtIsa (attrib.d. No. New Beyer. Woodward. Pali Test Society. 22. Songs of Gods and Demons. Vol. Stephan n.

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Chicago: Field Museum. Khams smyon 'Jigs bral Chos kyi Seng ge n. Ivan 1976 La Musique du Bouddhisme Tibetain. 1973. 1941 Hsi K'ang and his Poetical Rutland: Tuttle. Traditions Musicales VII. 10. Monograph No. Roerich. New Delhi: Trayang. 14. 1956. Tuttle. 1940 The Lore of the Chinese Lute. Vandor. Stuttgart: Kohlhammmer. 1974. Pali Text Society No. tr. Berthold 1923 The Use of Human Skulls and Bones in Tibet. In Gcod kyi Chos skor. Sachs. Anthropology Leaflet No. Bloomington: Kaufmann. New Delhi: Trayang. In Thang stong Snyan brgyud. R.Gshongs chen Ri khrod pa n. Walter 1975 Tibetan Buddhist Chant. Zhi byed dang gcod yul gyi chos 'byung Rin po che'i 'phreng ba thar pa'i rgyan. Tucci.7. Curt 1940 The History of Musical York: Norton. Essay on the Lute.. Indiana U.d. --. Part IV. In Thang stong Snyan brgyud.d. 91 . Laufer. Die Religionen Tibets und der Mongolei. Giuseppe 1970 Die Religionen Tibets. Paris: Buchet/Chastel. Instruments.d. London: Luzac. Rutland: Van Gulik.H.a Dam tshig gi rten rdzas Gnas dang yo byad byin rlabs. n. 1973. G. New Samyutta-Nikaya: The Book of the Kindred Sayings. Press. 1949 The Blue Annals. New Delhi: Tibet House. In Tucci and Heissig.b Ka pa la'i brtags thabs Nyung gur don gsal. Calcutta: Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal.

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