Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Doublethinking? Think Again.

Tibeto-logic, along with all of Blogspot, is inaccessible in the People’s Republic of China, that is, to the people there. That means if you’re there you can’t get here. Even Apple since last year has made sure its iPhone apps keep things that way. Generally do-no-evil Google goes along with the power, but (refreshingly) it has been known to talk back. These are the conditions we have to start with here where we are. A blog about Tibetan studies cannot be seen in Tibet.

When His Holiness the Dalai Lama — by the way, perhaps the best person in the whole world, certainly an inspiration for anyone who might contemplate leading an ethical life* — travels in the world these days, the number of leaders meeting Him has taken an even further plunge since 2012.  Let’s see, how many people have taken Xi Jingping as a moral compass?  (Wait, we may have one here)
(*I would link you to a download of Ethics for a New Millennium, but am unsure of the ethical ramifications.)

Source:  Foreign Policy

And here we have it: a person recently listed 9th in a list of world leaders by Fortune magazine being snubbed or disinvited, turned away by South Africa, and even, believe it or not, snubbed by the Norwegian PM.  

But here my intention is to talk about freedom of speech (and the need to speak, and the need to refuse to be silenced), more than freedom of association, although the latter may be important to the former. I want to ask the Tibetologists, Where do you stand on censorship? And by censorship I mean to include the kind you do to yourself, thinking you or someone you know might get in trouble. Do you speak out against injustice and lies? I know, you are probably thinking to yourself it isn’t part of your job description, that it's a job for real professionals, the “_____ [fill in the blank].”

Think again, or at least read slowly and think about what Chomsky said in two paragraphs in his famous old essay of 1967:  

“With respect to the responsibility of intellectuals,* there are still other, equally disturbing questions. Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us. The responsibilities of intellectuals, then, are much deeper than what Macdonald calls the “responsibility of people,” given the unique privileges that intellectuals enjoy.”
(*Just a suggestion, try inserting "Tibetologists" whenever you see the word "intellectuals.")

“IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass over without comment. Not so, however. For the modern intellectual, it is not at all obvious. Thus we have Martin Heidegger writing, in a pro-Hitler declaration of 1933, that "truth is the revelation of that which makes a people certain, clear, and strong in its action and knowledge"; it is only this kind of "truth" that one has a responsibility to speak. Americans tend to be more forthright. When Arthur Schlesinger was asked by The New York Times in November, 1965, to explain the contradiction between his published account of the Bay of Pigs incident and the story he had given the press at the time of the attack, he simply remarked that he had lied; and a few days later, he went on to compliment the Times for also having suppressed information on the planned invasion, in "the national interest," as this term was defined by the group of arrogant and deluded men of whom Schlesinger gives such a flattering portrait in his recent account of the Kennedy Administration. It is of no particular interest that one man is quite happy to lie in behalf of a cause which he knows to be unjust; but it is significant that such events provoke so little response in the intellectual community..."

Chomsky, hardly a great supporter of Tibet in those days if he ever was, still alluded to harsh things that he could have mentioned. He said, in a footnote, “There are various harsh things that one might say about Chinese behavior in what the Sino-Indian Treaty of 1954 refers to as ‘the Tibet region of China’...”  

More recently, he has been known to make half-hearted analogies between Tibetans and Palestinians:
"Seems to me there is a much closer analogy between the Palestinian occupied territories and Tibet right now. There are dissimilarities too. Thus, rightly or wrongly, Tibet is internationally recognized (by the US too) as part of China, so what is happening there is internal..." (keep reading if you haven't read enough)

With the increasing influence on universities of “Confucius Institutes,” there have been calls recently for renegotiating the contracts they have with U.S. institutions of higher learning. Now that China's relatively rapid economic rise allows it the luxury of buying up academics from all over the world, they are doing just that. In every field, not just hi-tech. In Israel, they aren't just buying controlling shares in cottage cheese factories and irrigation companies, they bought a whole technical school; and then there were the published stories about PAP training in crowd control tactics in the Negev... What is up with that?
“The improved ties have been highlighted by last week’s visit to Beijing by Israel’s military chief and a training mission to Israel by the Chinese paramilitary force that, among other things, polices the restive Tibetan and Muslim Uighur regions.”  [read more]

It's like George Orwell said,
“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while 
telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions 
which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in 
both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while 
laying claim to it.”

I would tell you what the carefully constructed lies are, but you know them all too well, no reason to insult your intelligence. Besides, I worry I won't be invited to that next big Tibetan Studies conference in Beijing, where there will be a free and open discussion about all the big problems in the field.

I think some of us are already there, morally neutralized, our critical faculties still there, somewhere, but in abeyance.  

Now try smiling in a mirror while making a concerted effort to distinguish between your objectivity and your neutrality.

Tenzin Nyinjey says, in response to a Time magazine piece: 
“There is a widespread misperception among us that any news about Tibet is good for our freedom struggle. It is true that mainstream media help us inform the world about the plight of Tibet. However, as much as media informs the public about certain facts, it indulges in obscuring the same facts. Instead of educating readers, it confuses them. Instead of advancing freedom, it becomes a stumbling block by siding with authority...’  [continue reading]

Hear that Chomsky?  It’s more than a little difficult to speak about doublespeak without slipping into it. In that respect it is the twin of common fronting. In the end the fools who deliberately started practicing it fool themselves.

§  §  §

Index on Censorship has this interesting page with incidental insights on how things are in Lhasa of late. Have a look.  Have you noticed any good journalism coming out of Lhasa recently? Wonder why...

Friday, August 08, 2014

Name Dropping, It Happens

Drive carefully, unidentified llama ahead

I apologize for those last couple of blogs about trivial matters you probably know enough about already. You know, like the one last month encouraging the consumption of mildly intoxicating beverages. Today for a change I think we’re all more than ready for a fresh and heady flask of straight-up Tibetology. What do you say? This isn’t supposed to be Sesame Street, is it? Sometimes I, too, forget where I am. So I say it’s high time we recalled our quest and get back on the Yellow Brick Road.

I was enjoying reading a piece about Tibetan law by our friend Christoph Cueppers, and one of the main things that stuck in my mind afterwards was in a footnote near its end. There Christoph compares introductory verses of the legal document known as the Great Law Code (ཁྲིམས་ཡིག་ཆེན་མོ་ — try looking here) in two different versions.  

In one of them we have a line very clearly naming the Tsang King Karma Tenkyong Wangpo (ཀརྨ་བསྟན་སྐྱོང་དབང་པོ་) as the promulgator of this legal code. In the other version that very same line — the one with the name — gets removed and replaced with a general expression that means something like ‘edict of the kings who rule according to Dharma’ (notice that plural!). In other words, a name no longer convenient to preserve got dropped from the text. On purpose. Apparently the Ganden Phodrang (དགའ་ལྡན་ཕོ་བྲང་) government no longer regarded it as desirable to allow credit for this legal code to a past ruler they might with good reason regard as their original opponent. I’m not entirely sure it’s correct what I am suggesting here, but I do think it’s worthy of reflection and of course, as the Tibetologists always want to add, with a bit of weariness or even stress in their voices, further research.

Even more recently, meaning just a few days ago, I was surprised to find still another dropped name, although in this case it is more difficult to imagine what would have motivated it.

I was going through the Sammlung Waddell that has been very kindly and nicely put up on the internet for the whole world to see by the good people at the State Library in Berlin. One beautiful woodblock print that captured my attention was Waddell no. 36a. Its title is:  O rgyan gu ru padma 'byung gnas kyi rnam par thar pa : gter ston chen po o rgyan gling pa : mnga' bdag nyang ral :  gu ru chos dbang bcas nas gdan drangs pa'i bka' thang gter kha gsum bsgrigs mthong ba don ldan (ཨོ་རྒྱན་གུ་རུ་པདྨ་འབྱུང་གནས་ཀྱི་རྣམ་པར་ཐར་པ་༔གཏེར་སྟོན་ཆེན་པོ་ཨོ་རྒྱན་གླིང་པ་༔མངའ་བདག་ཉང་རལ་༔གུ་རུ་ཆོས་དབང་བཅས་ནས་གདན་དྲངས་པའི་བཀའ་ཐང་གཏེར་ཁ་གསུམ་བསྒྲིགས་མཐོང་བ་དོན་ལྡན་), a xylograph in 275 folios. The title tells us it is a combination of three different biographies of Padmasambhava, those of the Great Tertön known as Orgyen Lingpa, of the Sovereign Nyangral and of Guru Chöwang

I looked in the colophon and got quite frustrated trying to locate the name of the compiler. So I went back to the general discussion of the biographies of Padmasambhava done so long ago by Vostrikov in his Tibetan Historical Literature, pages 32 to 49.  Believe it or not, at the very beginning he makes much mention of a version that combines three other versions, with an author he names as 'Od-gsal rdo-rje snying-po. Although famous for his reliability in general, I had to part company somewhat with him here.  

The text reads 'od-gsal rdo-rje snying-po'i rnal-'byor-pa (འོད་གསལ་རྡོ་རྗེ་སྙིང་པོའི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་པ་), or yogi of the clear light adamantine heart. I do not take this for a proper name at all, although I suppose it could be an initiation name or more likely just an epithet belonging to some otherwise not identifiable person. Vostrikov nicely supplies for us the Tibetan text of the compiler’s colophon with a translation, along with Grünwedel’s German attempt to translate the same before him. He definitely improves on Grünwedel’s, perhaps needless to say. Little more seems to have been written about this version of the Guru Rinpoche biography, and I searched for further references to it in vain.* Given the great interest in Guru Rinpoche, why has this biography been so highly ignored?
*(Well, I guess Franz-Karl Ehrhard makes fleeting use of a karchag or དཀར་ཆགས་ associated with the title Rnam-thar Ga'u-ma, རྣམ་ཐར་གའུ་མ་.)
Title page of the woodblock print from the State Library, Berlin

As it turns out, what surely is a manuscript version of this very Guru Rinpoche biography has been published in India some years ago. Twice actually (once in cursive and once not in cursive). One of the two (look here at TBRC for the details) is a reprint of a cursive manuscript. It seems as if disguised under this severely shortened title: Slob dpon padma 'byung gnas kyi rnam thar mthong ba don ldan (སློབ་དཔོན་པདྨ་འབྱུང་གནས་ཀྱི་རྣམ་ཐར་མཐོང་བ་དོན་ལྡན་). My point is: when we go to the end of it and locate the colophon lo and behold it gives an actual personal name immediately after that epithet yogi of the clear light adamantine heart, and this name is Gnubs-kyi Sngags-'chang Ratna-shrî (གནུབས་ཀྱི་སྔགས་འཆང་རཏྣ་ཤྲཱི་, its p. 522.7), and notice on right side of the following page a drawing of one “Sngags-'chang Rin-chen-dpal-bzang” (སྔགས་འཆང་རིན་ཆེན་དཔལ་བཟང་).

Who is this Mantra Keeper of the Nub clan by the name of Rinchen Pel? I have no idea, really, not off the top of my head. I’ll have to look into it. Maybe tomorrow.

Well, today it’s tomorrow (or at any rate was tomorrow yesterday), and I believe I have the answer, although it starts to get complicated, and I’m not sure it’s entirely airtight. So maybe I’ll leave it for still another day. Anyway, if my sinister plan was successful, I did at least cheat you into looking at the Waddell Collection in its online incarnation.

But why, you ask, did the xylographic edition drop the part with his name? Finding the identity of the unknown Lama could suggest some answer to that further mystery. Maybe not. We’ll see.

§  §  §

Some sources mentioned

Christoph Cüppers, Gtsang khrims yig chen mo, a Tibetan Legal Code Kept at the National Archives of Nepal, Abhilekha, vol. 30 (Nepali samvat 2069; 2012 CE), pp. 87-106. Includes facsimile of the cursive text. 
Christoph Cüppers, The Transliteration of the Gtsang khrims yig chen mo, a Tibetan Legal Code Kept at the National Archives of Nepal, Abhilekha, vol. 31 (Nepali samvat 2070; 2013 CE), pp. 84-115. Transcription plus vocabulary index. In earlier days, if you weren't actually there in the Valley, it could be nigh impossible to obtain articles published in Nepalese journals, but hey, one more reason to be thankful for "" 
Dieter Schuh, Tibetische Handschriften und Blockdrucke Teil 8 (Sammlung Waddell der Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin), (Wiesbaden 1981). Waddell 36a is described on pages 86-88. 
Andrei I. Vostrikov, Tibetan Historical Literature, tr. from the Russian by Harish Chandra Gupta, Soviet Indology Series no. 4 (Calcutta 1970), Russian original published in 1962, posthumously, as the author was executed in 1937. This book doesn't seem to be provided in any form over the internet, sorry to say.
If you would like to explore the contents of the Sammlung Waddell for yourself, I recommend going to this webpage. Then place the name of Waddell in the searchbox and see what pops up. Keep scrolling down and going from one page to the next until you have seen everything. You can try to go directly to the Padmasambhava biography by pressing here.

A page from the Sammlung

Friday, July 25, 2014

In Praise of Beer

We’ve mentioned Lama Pagpa (འཕགས་པ་) at least once in an earlier blog, on account of his successful lobbying effort with Qubilai Khan to end the culling (“weeding”) of the Chinese peasantry. Unwanted Chinese populations were gotten out of the way by hurling them into the river. Not once in all her long history has China ever deigned to say one simple Thank you for Pagpa’s compassionate intervention. Quite the contrary, since the Yüan dynasty they’ve been concocting and repeating the most derogatory stereotypes of the evil Tibetan monk.

In today’s blog, in an effort to lighten things up (or to reach a particular low point, depending on perspective), we translate — for what I believe is the very first time ever — Pagpa’s remarkable verses on the virtues of a good beer. I wonder about the circumstances of its writing, but to tell you the truth I have no idea. The Mongols originally drank a lot of kumis made by milking mares and fermenting their milk, but after going out into the wider world where still other alcoholic beverages were available, they found all of them to their liking.  One sign of their belief in variety was the famous drink fountain they had made for their drinking parties at the capital in the Mongol heartland along the Orkhon River, the city of Karakoram.  As you can see in the artist’s rendition, it had a trumpet-blowing angel at the top and four spouts for four different kinds of intoxicating brews. Some of the Mongol rulers probably drank themselves to death, and it may not be an exaggeration to say that if it weren’t for drink addiction they may have gone on to rule Eurasia far into the future. Again, depending on perspective, moderation may not always be all that much of a good thing.

However much our modern Mongolists may like to play down this aspect (sometimes you guys can be overprotective, admit it!), the Mongols in those days were famous for wiping out whole cities. Just look at what they did to Aleppo and Baghdad. Yet rather than slaughtering useful people, like goldsmiths in particular, they took them along with them and rewarded them handsomely for their impressive skills. One of these fortunate fellows was a Frenchman they picked up in Hungary by the name of Guillaume Boucher. I much admire and recommend a charming little book about him by Leonardo Olschki. I doubt anyone has bothered to put it up on the internet, so may I suggest you find a nice library in your neighborhood and sit down to read it? Well, at least consider it. They don’t write ’em like this anymore.

Some may doubt that a holy person like Pagpa ever advocated beer drinking. But I think the fact it is included in his collected works, his kambum (བཀའ་འབུམ་), is enough to recommend its authenticity, not quite enough to guarantee it (are there any absolute guarantees in this life?  I mean, besides death and taxes...).

I confess I tried to do something in the way of making Pagpa’s verses in English approach the poetic level of the original, allowing myself to soar ever so slightly above the deadly thud of literality, but no promises of success there. If you don’t like my rendering, feel free to give it a hand, but you’ll need to keep another hand free to pour the next round. I think you can handle it.

Flask of Ambrosia:  Verses in Praise of Beer

By 'Phags-pa (1235–1280 CE)

Homage to the Wrath King Swirling Nectar, Amtakuṇḍalin!

The essence of earth that sustains the lives of beings,
likewise the collections of flowers and fruits,
with the yeast starter prepared with varied tinctures and herbs
and the very stuff that serves as cleanser of beings, the pure water,

the vessels, required conditions, and varied recipes work together to
bring it to complete maturity over a good length of time
bringing out the pure essence of the pure essence.
These are its perfect causes and conditions.

It seems as if ornamented by strings of pearls,
but these strings are of bubbles shining like the sheerest crystal.
Seeing it is a glory for the eyes, 
hearing its bubbly chil-chil sound

a glory for the ears, with its fragrance
satisfying the organ that has the sense of smell,
its every taste both glory and pleasure for the tongue.
Depending if the weather is cold or hot, it brings on warmth

or coolness to our sense of touch, so we feel comfortable.
It is a sun for exorcising the dark tinges of suffering,
a moon that generates the coolness of happiness and contentment.
It is a wind that fans the flames of insight,

is the most glorious prod to eloquence for would-be speakers.
It generates vowed behavior in those entering into battle,
and increases the pleasure of those possessed by desire.
Yet this same drink, for minds desirous of peace,
endows its drinkers with holy meditative absorptions.

For these reasons this is offered as a drink.
It forms the very heart of wealth and leisure.
So it is a thing worthy to be offered,
and ought to be given to those worthy of the gift.

— Verses of praise to beer, Flask of Ambrosia.

༄༅།  །ཆང་ལ་བསྔགས་པ་བདུད་རྩིའི་བུམ་པ་བཞུགས།  །

༄༅།  །ཨོཾ་སྭསྟི་སིདྡྷཾ།









ཆང་ལ་བསྔགས་པའི་རབ་ཏུ་བྱེད་པ་བདུད་རྩིའི་བུམ་པ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་ཨི་ཐི།།  །།

±    ±    ±

Reading matter for the beer-emboldened

For the basis of the text you see above, you can look here.  For a biography of the author, go to The Treasury of Lives, and to this particular page of it. I also recommend this PDF.

Leonard Olschki, Guillaume Boucher, a French Artist at the Court of the Khans, John Hopkins Press (Baltimore 1946). Much to be recommended, as is another book by the same author on a different subject called The Myth of Felt.  

Olschki's note on his Illustration 3:

“This picture shows the reconstruction of Mangu Khan's magic fountain as described by Friar William of Rubruck and engraved by an anonymous chalcographer for Pierre Bergeron's Voyages faits principalement en Asie, published at The Hague in 1735. The lively illustration faithfully reproduces all the details enumerated by the missionary and shows in its background a fantastic image of Mangu Khan sitting on his throne like a Buddha, but stretching out his right hand to the butler who carries the cup to him while another butler goes down the steps on the opposite side.”
Oh, and check out those humongous basins!

Sarolta Tatár, “The Iconography of the Karakoram Fountain,” available at, here. Boucher's silver tree if not fully automated was still a rather complicated contraption, its working involving some human participation. In classical Indic terms, that makes it a perfectly fine example of a yantra. (No matter how much head-scratching it may bring to machine historians.)

Bod-grong-pa, The Dispute between Tea and Chang (Ja-chang lha-mo'i bstan-bcos), translated by Alexander Fedotov & Sangye T. Naga, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (Dharamsala 1993). Translation of Ja'i lha mo shes rab sgrol ma dang chang gi lha mo bde ldan bdud rtsi gnyis kyi dbar kha shags 'thab pa'i bstan bcos — ཇའི་ལྷ་མོ་ཤེས་རབ་སྒྲོལ་མ་དང་ཆང་གི་ལྷ་མོ་བདེ་ལྡན་བདུད་རྩི་གཉིས་ཀྱི་དབར་ཁ་ཤགས་འཐབ་པའི་བསྟན་བཅོས.

John Ardussi, “Brewing and Drinking the Beer of Enlightenment,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 97, no. 2 (April - June 1977), pp. 115-124.

Ezra Dyer, “In Praise of Beer: A Heartfelt Paean to Humanity’s Greatest Achievement.”  Oh, my!  This popped up with a Schmoogle-search.    In prose, but not all that unpoetical.

Shen Weirong, “Magic Power, Sorcery and Evil Spirit: The Image of Tibetan Monks in Chinese Literature during the Yuan Dynasty,” contained in: Christoph Cüppers, ed., The Relation between Religion and State (chos srid zung 'brel) in Traditional Tibet, Lumbini International Research Institute (Lumbini 2004), pp. 189-227. If you read French, you might also try Isabella Charleux, “Les 'lamas' vus de Chine: fascination et répulsion,” Extrême-Orient Extrême-occident, vol. 24 (2002), pp. 133-151.

There are a number of Tibetan works on the evils of beer, including one attributed to Padampa Sangyé I thought I would write about sometime if I get the chance.

I noticed a title of something that is obviously a praise of a tasty beer in the catalogue of the Bodleian collection:  Zhim dngar chang gi yon tan phun sum tshogs  ཞིམ་དངར་ཆང་གི་ཡོན་ཏན་ཕུན་སུམ་ཚོགས་ —  Bodleian Catalogue, p. 85. That isn't a title, just words of the refrain of a short set of verses with 9 syllables to the line, like ours. I leave that for the writer of Bod Blog to blog on about. Cheers, Charles!

§ § §

An important postscript!  
— September 5, 2014

I can hardly believe my negligence in posting this blog without making any reference to Kurtis Schaeffer’s magnificent translation of verses in praise of beer by the great Dzogchen master Longchenpa (1308-1363). Go have a look at it ASAP, if you possibly can. Here are the details:  “A Drinking Song,” contained in:  Kurtis R. Schaeffer, et al., eds., Sources of Tibetan Tradition, Columbia University Press (NY 2013), pp. 474-478. From reading it in translation, I think I can say that Longchenpa must have read Pagpa’s. At the very least it’s true there are specific themes in common.