Saturday, July 02, 2016

New Padampa Manuscripts

Note: What you will find in this blog is a lightly edited version of something with the title you see here. A few days ago it was delivered at the seminar of the International Association of Tibetan Studies in Bergen. The IATS is still the best possible place for anyone who wants to hang out with people of all backgrounds doing Tibetan studies with all their various academic approaches and find out what their friends and comrades are saying and doing nowadays. I apologize to everyone whose papers I missed: [1] There were a lot of time conflicts and [2] I had to pace myself. The spoken paper is here combined with the powerpoint slides. Hardly any bibliography has been supplied. Click on the slides and they ought to expand.

I suppose even in a group of Tibet-wallas like this  it may be that two or three people have not already learned that there is such a thing as the Middle Transmission of Zhijé. Please, no need to raise your hands. It is not your fault. The fact is, very little has been published in Tibetan, let alone translated. From some perspective, these words “very little” might tempt you to translate into ‘more than enough.’ Well, I hope to convince you otherwise some day.

Just let me say a few words to start with about the sources we have had access to until now on this subject. That way we can ensure that the appearance of the new sources we will introduce here will be greeted with just the right level of astonishment.

What does “Middle Transmission” mean? To begin with, the genuinely early expression is brgyud-pa bar-pa although we do find in some texts dating back about three centuries occasional use of bka'-babs bar-pa.

In the past, for several reasons the most significant available source was the Blue Annals in both its Tibetan- and English-language versions.

[Note: Could also mention the Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems of Thuken (Thu'u-bkwan).  There are about seven pages devoted to Zhijé in this work that has been recently translated in its entirety into English. Of these seven pages nearly three are devoted to the Middle Transmission.]

About the only other publication of much significance we had available in the past was a section contained in the anthology known as the Treasury of Esoteric Precepts (Gdams ngag mdzod). This selection of Zhijé texts has not yet been translated into another language, although I understand one is underway. Here we find a brief and presumably representative set of texts. However, for the Middle Transmission the subjects are limited to initiation rites and lineage prayers. Although chief editorship of the entire Treasury of Esoteric Precepts is credited to Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé (Kong-sprul Blo-gros-mtha'-yas) during the years 1871 through 1881 CE, in the case of the Zhijé works, he simply adopted a ready-made anthology done in 1706 by Lochen Dharmashri (Lo-chen Dharma-shrî) of Mindroling (Smin-grol-gling) Monastery. Although his dates are rather late, I think just because this Nyingmapa teacher showed an interested in Zhijé teachings, it points to something we might regard as unexpected or even unusual. Well, I hope I can say something more about the Nyingma connection and how the Bhutanese collections have steered my own mind more in favor of historical relations between these two schools of Tibetan Buddhism. At the same time, this Middle Transmission collection could help us explore a remarkable example of a historical connection between the Zhijé founder and a particular teaching that belongs to the Bon tradition. And we will also spare some words about the  (still) largely mysterious origins of the Cutting or Chö (Gcod) tradition.

Meanwhile, let’s say a few quick words about Padampa, the problem of his various names, and the main/major publications of his works so far.

Here we see the most famous image of this south Indian (now in the collection of the LACMA), along with the names he is most usually known by in more recent times, as well as the dates he is normally given. Although for reasons of the datings of the western Tibetan royal line (relying largely on the studies of Roberto Vitali), I believe his stay in Tingri may have to be shifted back in time by one twelve-year cycle (and Cyrus Stearns, on the basis of one Tibetan-language chronological study, has suggested the same).

It is most important to be aware that he had two ordination names, first his novice name Kamalaśrī and secondly his full ordination name KamalaśīlaThese two names are often found in colophons of Tanjur texts associated with him, and both of them have often caused confusion in the past until now. On account of the name Kamalaśrī, he is sometimes confused with the Indian informant of Rashid ad-Din (Hamadani) in mid-thirteenth-century Persia, which is of course chronologically impossible. As Kamalaśīla he is often presumed to be the Indian teacher by that name who visited the court of Emperor Trisongdetsen in the late eighth century, also a chronological impossibility unless we were to accept some Tibetan writers’ ideas that Padampa had an improbably long life. The other Indic names that you can see here we will not discuss because they occur only rarely, even if they, too, cause confusion.

Now for the very different names he received in Tibet. In the earliest texts, one of the most common ways to refer to him is Dampa Gyagar (Dam-pa Rgya-gar), but even more often simply Dampa. Other names, especially the ones that emphasize his blackness, seem to get used more and more frequently in the course of the 12th century (especially among Kagyü writers starting around the mid-12th century). His followers regarded his blackness as one among a number of his qualities that made him remarkable and special... and worthy of respect. I should emphasize, particularly for those who may find the statement surprising: Racial prejudice in the American tradition did not exist in Tingri in those days. At the same time, clearly, Padampa consciously played with local Tingrians’ stereotypes about the atsara, the gold-greedy sadhus who sometimes wandered through. He often uses atsara as his way to refer to himself.

As for what is by far the best source (speaking as a historian) available for his stay in Tingri, it is the one published on the basis of a single manuscript long ago in Thimphu with an important English preface by Barbara Nimri Aziz. For convenience, I refer to this as the Zhijé Collection. I have also worked hard to reconstitute the scarcely legible title on the basis of evidence internal to the manuscript itself, as well as on the reading done by the cataloguer of the Nepal-German Manuscript Preservation Project, who could directly inspect the original title page. Here is my translation of this reconstituted title:  “Among the Zhijé Teachings that Lay at the Heart of the Holy Dharma, This is the Text of the Later Oral Transmission Known as The Exceptionally Profound.”

One thing I hope will be noticed here is that according to both its title and its actual content, this text is nearly 100% devoted to the so-called “Later Transmission.” Even so, a different title has been sanctioned by the Library of Congress and is still in use by the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), despite my continuing objections. The title you see in TBRC is this one:  Zhi byed snga bar phyi gsum gyi skor, “Cycle of Teachings of the Early, Middle and Later Schools of Zhijé.” There is even a mistake in the normal syntax of this title, since in every case we find in the Tibetan sources the word order “Early, Later and Middle constituting three,” and never “Early, Middle and Later” as we find here. I believe this added title was invented on the basis of the Zhijé section of the Blue Annals. Still, it does not correctly label the Zhijé Collection and it should be [must be] removed.

Anyway, I will spare you the details why, but I believe I have succeeded in dating the full Zhijé Collection manuscript, on the basis of its content primarily, to more-or-less 1246 CE, with the bulk of its content copied from a previously made golden manuscript made in 1207 CE that is not known to be extant in our times.

So now let me say something about Padampa's travels.  Many sources say Padampa traveled to Tibet five or seven times. I won’t enter into this problem now. It will be quite difficult to find our way through the confusion unless we can excavate Padampa's Indian passport with its entrance and exit stamps intact. For now I will keep it simple and follow the earliest sources, the ones from the first decades of the thirteenth century and before, in saying he stayed in Tibet for three periods. The Early Transmission does not correspond to his first sojourn. The Early Transmission occurred in India. In Padampa's first Tibet sojourn he travelled by the Northern Route (Byang-lam) where he encountered two Tibetans and gave them a few precepts. As we’ll mention later, in the case of one of them Padampa not only gave, but also received instruction. Anyway, the periods of his second and third sojourns do indeed coincide with the Middle and Late Transmissions. A three-year stay in China at Wutai Shan, followed by some years back in India, came between his first and second sojourns, although some place Wutai Shan just before the third.

His second sojourn of about ten years was in Central Tibet, including both Ü and Tsang.  This was the time of the Middle Transmission lineages that you can see in the middle of this slide, where I would like to draw your attention. I should emphasize, too, that what you see here as a neat outline of the three major and three minor transmissions is a retrospective understanding dating to around the end-of-twelfth or beginning of the thirteenth century when there was an effort to search out and collect all the Zhijé lineages by three brothers of the Rog family (about them more soon). The early members of these lineages would not have known they belonged to a lineage with a name, or would be counted as part of a group called the Middle Transmission, let alone that they belonged inside the structure of an outline like this. 

So let’s leave this nicely made chart for a moment and look at what I believe is most likely the earliest discussion ever of what would one day become known as the Middle Transmission. Here “Dampa” is the common way of addressing Padampa and “Atsara,” as already noted, is a common way for Padampa to refer to himself. The person asking the question is a Tangut.

Menyag Dragsé (Me-nyag Grags-se) said, “Dampa, you are said to have spent a long period down there in Ü. How many lineage holding disciples were there?”  

Dampa replied. “The Atsara planted growing trees in the Four Horns, and the main one was planted in Ü. Kamgom Yeshé Gyeltsen (Skam-sgom Ye-shes-rgyal-mtshan) achieved revulsion from suffering, and then he could hold discussions with Maitreya. Magom Chöki Sherab (Rma-sgom Chos-kyi-shes-rab) mastered awareness so he could travel into the sky life. So Gendun Bar (So Dge-'dun-'bar) through his practice overcame the sense spheres, and could not be met face to face (reading gdong thug pa in place of gdong thub pa). Gyigom (Bgyi'-bsgom) and Drochungpa ('Bro-chung-pa) both were left silent and just put up with it (?). With Majo Chönema (Ma-jo Mchod-gnas-ma) I had nothing to do apart from a few pieces of heart advice. She is a wild woman. She was made to pair up with one Nyaggom Kholharempo (Snyags-sgom Kho-lha-rem-po). Gugom ('Gu-sgom) he mounted the horse of the Innate and travelled into the sky life. The Atsara had scarcely any lineage holders, although there were many who achieved an entry-level liberation (sgo-thar).”

There is a lot to discuss in this not-all-that-clear passage (I would appreciate your suggestions for improvement!). In all the four (or in its published form five) volumes of the Zhijé Collection, it is the only bit I could find that sheds light on the Middle Transmission (albeit without using the name) as a whole, and most remarkably is supplied as Padampa’s own words. The rare term sgo-thar at the end is one that I’ve attempted to translate as “entry-level liberation,” although I’m not sure what Padampa would have meant by it exactly. It’s possible it is sinitic in its origins, and this is a possibility I would like to explore more thoroughly some day. And of course, what may be the most interesting thing of all is Padampa’s statement that he had little to do with the “wild woman” Majo Chönema, whom everyone ought to know (despite some undeniably justifiable confusion) is none other than the one famous to all of us under her later name Machig Labdrön (Ma-gcig Lab-sgron). The name of her male companion is a very strange one, and I’m unable to identify what person lies behind it. That this is so is in itself an interesting issue for further thinking in the future.

So now my introduction is over and time is running out. I’d like to conclude with even more introductions, without yet promising anything like the closure that ought to come with conclusions.

In what remains of my allotted time, I’d like to talk about the sudden emergence of three remarkable manuscripts in Bhutan, and the illumination one of them in particular might (or might not) provide for a set of issues, primarily issues of sectarian emergence and inter-sectarian relations. I will ignore for today the Zhijé-Kagyü relationship, and the famous account of an encounter between Milarepa and Padampa that we find in the Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, interesting as this, too, might be.

Here you are seeing the outwardly visible title page of a pecha loose-leaf manuscript that is preserved in the Nyingma monastery called Drametse in far eastern Bhutan. It was made available as part of the British Library's Endangered Archives Project (EAP). As the team of Karma Phuntsho filmed it, it takes up 142 folios, so it is of a quite significant size. Although difficult to enumerate because of untitled, nested texts and so on, I would say there are thirteen distinct works of various authorship contained in it. I have nothing specific to say yet about the age of the physical manuscript, which appears old. I think it will be possible to make conclusions about the making of the anthology as a whole, as it was likely done by one Benchung Gar (Ban-chung ’Gar) who appears as author of two initiation texts, including the one at the end of the collection. I haven’t been able yet to come to definite conclusions about his identity or his date.

At the moment, the most impressive thing I can say about this manuscript is that it contains three previously unexpected and unknown histories of the Middle Transmission. The first two were authored by Rog Bande (Rog Bande Shes-rab-’od, 1166‑1244). He is best known to the world today as author of the text translated by José Cabezón, The Buddha’s Doctrine and the Nine Vehicles: Rog Bande Sherab’s Lamp of the Teachings, Oxford University Press (Oxford 2013). The third history listed here, on the Ma (Rma) lineage, was done by one Chüpa (Chus-pa) on the basis of a compilation by Khugom (Khu-bsgom). I believe this places the history in the vicinity of 1200 more or less.

Rog Bande's younger brother Rog Zhigpo authored the standard history of the Later Transmission that has been available in published form for several decades now. Although much ignored in our times, it was a primary source of material for the author of the Blue Annals. The title of the first you have seen already in the previous slide. Here I’ve listed all four of the so-far known Zhijé histories set down in the decades surrounding 1200 (for present purposes excluding biographies of single Zhijé teachers, which are also surfacing in recent years).

For the time that remains I would like to stress the importance of this as well as two other Zhijé manuscript collections filmed in Bhutan. My point (for today) is mainly that they are potentially important for knowledge of sectarian emergence and inter-lineage relations in Tibetan history. The three specific areas I would like to touch upon are: [1] Zhijé relations with the Nyingmapa, [2] the Zhijé connections with teachings of the Cutting School, and [3] the puzzling relationship between Padampa and the Bon religion of Tibet.

[1] Zhijé relations with the Nyingmapa. 

There are several points spread out over nearly a millennium of Zhijé history where Nyingma contacts may be shown. Among the most prominent revivers of Zhijé teachings in recent centuries was Lochen Dharmashri at the Nyingma monastery of Mindroling, as we've noted before. But even in the earliest days we can point to the sharing of some otherwise rather unique metaphors between the Nyingma teacher Zurchungpa and Padampa. Also, a few texts in the latest layers in the Zhijé Collection (meaning late in the 12th century) start making occasional use of Nyingma-style language like Auto-emergent Full Knowledge, Rangjung Yeshé (in the forms rang-byung ye-shes as well as rang-byung-gi ye-shes), and even a quote from one of the Nyingma tantras with Great Sky (Nam mkha' che) in its title, for examples (I haven’t yet traced which of those Nyingma tantras contains the quote).

And remember, too, the philosophical treatment of the Nine Vehicles according to Nyingma School by Rog Bande that José Cabezón translated. I should have been less surprised than I was to learn from yet another Zhijé manuscript from Drametse Monastery as well as another similar collection filmed at Tsakaling, a connection between the long-lived teacher of the Rog brothers by the name of Tenné (Rten-ne) and Nyangral Nyima Özer (Myang-ral Nyi-ma-’od-zer). Even if the two were clearly contemporaries, I’d never before heard that they had come into contact. 

Although I cannot go into the problem right now, it is possible that the collection found in these two different manuscripts, one from Tsakaling and one from Drametse (quite close, but not completely identical in their content) contain what could be a somewhat earlier compilation than the Zhijé Collection, which makes them remarkably important for future textual studies and editions.

Here you see the words near the end of the Tsakaling manuscript that tell us that cycle of teachings known as the Cholu was granted by Drubthob Ngödrup (that means Tenné) to Nyang Ralpacan, and that “it” [does this mean the original collection or this manuscript??] was scribed at Mawo Chok, the place where Nyangral resided, in fact in the Tamshul valley, quite close to eastern Bhutan.

To sum up, the Bhutanese manuscripts help cement the idea that Zhijé-Nyingma connections were relatively strong and early.

[2] Zhijé connections with teachings of the Cutting School.

Although perhaps the most interesting question, we can't go into it much right now. I have long puzzled over why it is that there is scarcely more than a hint of the Cutting teachings or Machik Labdrön to be found in the Zhijé Collection. It is as if they scarcely existed for members of the Later Transmission. Yet Cutting's origins have to be sought among the lineage initiators of the Middle Transmission and Padampa’s Second Sojourn. Therefore anything we can learn about the Middle Transmission will help us attempt to trace the origins of Cutting, and for this Drametse 041 is a crucial source. As far as the two other Bhutanese manuscripts are concerned, they contain a once nearly impossible to obtain and (until a few years ago) unpublished text on Cutting in the words of Padampa himself. Its title is Brul-tsho Drug-pa. This contains teachings given by Padampa to his disciple in the Yarlung Valley named Mara Serpo (Sma-ra Ser-po). Although that may seem to undercut claims that Machig originated the Cutting practice of body offering, this remains to be seen after close study.* 

*(I’m just saying: There is promise of future progress.) 
I should add: The circa 1210 history by Rog Zhigpo says Mara Serpo and Machik both received Cutting teachings directly from Padampa. Here are its exact words (ZC IV 346):
zangs ri'i ma cig lam sgron (ma gcig lab sgron) dang / yar lungs kyi stond pa sma ra se'o can (sma ra ser po can) la / shes rab kyi pha rol du phyind pa gcod kyi gdams pa gnang / 

[3] Relationship between Padampa and the Bon religion of Tibet.

It is well known from sources on both sides of the equation that there was indeed a connection between Padampa and a Bon teacher and terton named Trotsang Druglha (Khro-tshang 'Brug-lha). The teachings went both ways, so in a sense each was the teacher of the other, only on different subjects. The teachings Padampa received from Druglha were on divination. Padampa not only received this Bon tradition, he passed it on to one of his Middle Transmission disciples, Ma Chökyi Sherab (Rma Chos-kyi-shes-rab). Most of the texts in Drametse 041 are associated with the Ma lineage. We could add that a medical text associated with it has emerged recently, but so far we have been unable to find a Ma lineage pebble divination text. But at least we do have Bon divination texts associated with Druglha in which Padampa finds mention. Alexander Smith of Paris has been studying these, and you might have heard his paper on this subject yesterday. Bon sources on Druglha's life give him a long life of 121 years when he died in 1077, and this date is consistent with what we think we know about Padampa’s earlier visits to Tibet, so there doesn’t seem to be any chronological inconsistency in their meeting.

Some notes at the end:

A transmission lineage drawn from the Fifth Dalai Lama’s Gsan-yig, vol. 1, fol. 68r (demonstrating some historical continuity for the So lineage):
yang na pha dam pa nas /  dam pa so /  lkugs ring /  lde ston dge ba /  glo chen sangs rgyas /  gar thig pa bsod rgyal /  bla ma mgon po 'bum /  sa bzang 'phags pa man 'dra /  yang nye brgyud ni /  'jam dbyangs /  pha dam pa man 'dra / 
Karénina Kollmar-Paulenz, “Ma gcig Lab sgron ma:  The Life of a Tibetan Woman Mystic between Adaptation and Rebellion,” Tibet Journal, vol. 23, no. 2 (Summer 1998), pp. 1-32. This is the best and most serious discussion there is on the persons connecting Zhijé’s Middle Transmission with Cutting, although also worthy of admiration is Sarah Harding's paper at the 13th IATS seminar in Ulan Bator entitled “Did Machik Lapdrön Really Teach Chöd?” But it hasn’t been published yet, as likewise her freshly-delivered paper for the Bergen IATS, “Pha Dampa Sangye and the Alphabet Goddess.” But wait one minute, her Ulan Bator paper was published online, here.

Drametse Thorbu 105:  Section {THA} with the title: Dam pa'i gsung bzhugs s.ho / 'dzam gling mi'i skyes mchog gsung yin no.  fols. 1-3.   Colophon: rje dam pa rgya gar gyis bon po khra tshang 'brug la gnang pa'o // a ti /  This remarkable, if short, text newly indicates to us what kind of teachings Dampa Gyagar granted to Trotsang Druglha.

What would the term “north route” mean in the account of Padampa’s first sojourn? In general, we could understand it to mean various things to different writers. However, they would probably all agree that it is a route located in the northern parts of Tibet (and quite likely the Jangtang, or “Northern Plateau”) that leads to and from Ü (“Central Tibet”), whether it connects Ü to eastern, northeastern or western Tibetan areas. In Padampa’s case, it must mean a route over the northern highlands of western Tibet from Kashmir. I was a little surprised to find with an internet search a passage from Michael Sweet's fresh new translation of Desideri, pages 32-33: “...Freyre knew... that the road he was inquiring after was the well-known janglam (byang lam), the ‘northern route’ that was the customary trade route for Kashmiri merchants and others traveling between Leh and Lhasa.” This demonstrates an impressive terminological continuity. The two Tibetans he encountered were Khra-tshang ’Brug-bla and Zhang-gzhung Gling-ka-ba. The name of the latter tells us he identified with the region of Zhang-zhung, a place of greatest significance in Bon traditions.

On the Ma (Rma) family in general there has been an amazing contribution, although primarily centering on its importance for the earlier phases in the developing history-writing traditions of Bön, by Henk Blezer: “The Paradox of Bön Identity Discourse: Some Thoughts on the rMa Clan and on the Manner of bsGrags pa bon, ‘Eternal’ Bön, New Treasures, and New Bön,” contained in: Henk Blezer & Mark Teeuwen, eds., Challenging Paradigms: Buddhism and Nativism, Brill (Leiden 2013), pp. 123-159.


  1. What impresses me most, at a first glance, is how deeply involved Padampa was in the community.

  2. He was the lone contemplative that the community formed around, but Yes, he was very much involved with them. This is not quite fitting your classic Freudian view of Buddhism as a self-absorbed narcissism that makes us crawl back into the warm comforting isolation of the womb we came from, is it?

    Ref. Franz Alexander, Buddhist Training as an Artificial Catatonia. Psychoanalytic Review, vol. 18 (1931), pp. 129-145.

  3. On what basis do you conclude that the First Transmission occurred in India?

  4. Dear S.P.,

    I can answer by quoting from the first text contained in the Middle Transmission manuscript from Drametse. It says: rgyud pa dang po zhi byed sgron ma'i skor bya ba / kha che dznya na pan 'gri ta la rgya gar du gsungs pa lags skad //

    To roughly translate: The First Transmission called the Zhijé Lamp Cycle, was taught in India to the Kashmiri Jñâna Pandita."

    The longer name of the Kashmiri is Jñânaguhya. He was student of Padampa already when Padampa first went to Tibet, He together with a Tibetan Lotsawa translated about eleven of Padampa's works that are included in the Tibetan Tanjur. I imagine they did this work inside Tibet, even if I don't find any clear statement. But the later sources agree with the earlier one just translated that the First Transmission happened in India. During his first sojourn, Padampa taught a "few precepts" to a couple of Tibetans, but no real lineage transmission (on this, too, the sources agree).

    Thanks for the question. I've been working my way back slowly toward the First Transmission accounts. Some day I hope to find out more about the texts of the Zhijé Lamp Cycle, since there is confusion in the sources whether there ought to be 3 or 9 or both. There *is* a set of 9 Lamp texts in the Tanjur translated by Jñânaguhya.

    There was some kind of continuation of the First Transmission all the way down to the Rog brothers in early 13th century, at least, although this is another obscure matter that requires investigation. You can hold your breath, or breathe, but either way you might have to wait awhile before that happens.


  5. Surely there's one clue to share about the Lamp Cycle. Holding my breath is hard work!


  6. hello, i´m translating Padampa S. in portuguese. any advice?thank you


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