Friday, November 18, 2016

Padampa Site Sighted in Yunnan

I have to say, I didn’t see any signs of Padampa while I was traveling through central and northern Yunnan, and you can be sure my eyes were peeled for them. Still, someone else did sight him, in their own separate journey to a part of northern Yunnan where I have never been. I concede my defeat and declare Katia Buffetrille the victor. All of today’s photos were taken by her and graciously shared with us. Thank you Katia.

Someday I should like to gain confidence to construct a site-map of all the places Padampa visited during his travels. Meanwhile, I just collect stories from here and there. And Padampa does seem to pop up just about everywhere you go in the Himalayan regions. Just to give one example from Central Tibet, there are some stories connecting Padampa with some of the establishments close to Sera Monastery, at one time located outside the city of Lhasa, but now practically part of it. José Cabezón has written about one of these, a nunnery founded very long ago for followers of Padampa who later changed schools, a place called Garu Nunnery.* As you will see by going to the links, this place close to Lhasa has footprints, images, and miraculously produced stone inscriptions associated with Padampa.

(*Have a look in particular this page at THLib website)

As far as Yunnan is concerned, I only found out after getting home that I could have gone to see a small painted depiction of Padampa not too far from Lijiang. Karl Debreczeny makes note of a wall painting in the temple called Dabaojigong that has a figure labeled as Drubchog Dampa Gyagar (Grub-mchog Dam-pa Rgya-gar, གྲུབ་མཆོག་དམ་པ་རྒྱ་གར་) and without a doubt this does mean Padampa. Debreczeny dates these wall paintings to around 1610 — a little later in his book, Black Hat Eccentric, where he dates them to roughly 1611-1630. This tells us that Padampa’s legacy was alive in Karma Kagyü circles in Yunnan region in the early 17th century, but it doesn’t tell us he went there in person. I suppose he could have gone there on his way to or from Wutai Shan, just that no clear itinerary has been preserved that I know of that would allow us to trace his journeys in China.

And despite a small amount of effort I failed to find Padampa's image in the magnificent woodcarved copy of the famous "Buddha Scroll" we mentioned in Tibeto-logic some time ago, in a blog entry entitled The Tangut Connection.*  Come to think of it, [1] the original scroll made in 1180 in Dali (by Zhang Shengwen), [2] the copy of it in the Manchu capital in the 18th century (by Ding Guanpeng), and [3] this modern woodcarved version, all do have something to do with Dali directly or indirectly, and because one of them has what is very likely a representation of Padampa, this would be another example of him being sighted in Yunnan. However, it is the Beijing copy of the 18th century that has Padampa in it. In the other two versions of the scroll, I looked and failed to find him.
(*If you go there, look in the post-conclusion.)

I should not belabor the fact that I could find out so little connecting Padampa with Yunnan, So, let me show you instead what Katia found in the modern-day county of northern Yunnan known as Weixi. Weixi is the Chinese county name of Balung ('Ba'-lung), and Balung is also the name of the county seat (Baohezhen in Chinese). Covering the original site of pilgrimage, which was and is a cave, is the recently built building you see in our frontispiece. Just climb the stairs you see there on the left side of the photo and enter the second-floor door to enter the cave. The temple, a recently built Drigung Kagyü establishment, has the name Khorzhatang ('Khor-bzhag-thang). It isn’t very far from an older Karma Kagyü temple named Damozushidong, founded in 1662.

The cave is referred to on the sign in Tibetan as Dam-pa Gnas “Dampa's Holy Place.” From this I suppose those able to read the letters would understand it to be a place associated with Padampa. However, the English name “Patriarch Practice Cave,” uses the word patriarch, which is already Chan/Zen language, on the assumption that it is a meditation cave of Bodhidharma. The Indian teacher Bodhidharma was the original patriarch who initiated the Chinese segment of the lineage. The idea that this place has to do with Bodhidharma is found all over the place. You can even find it in Gyurme Dorje’s guidebook.

Padampa following Cutting School iconography.
Note the exposed stone of the original cave.

An outdoor image of Padampa at the same site, 
located next to a chorten

A closer view of the outdoor image, showing (just like the indoor image)
the drum and trumpet typical of Cutting practice

I can understand you if you want to ask why, as we can see one instance of it here, Padampa has gotten confounded with Bodhidharma, the Chan patriarch from India who entered China in around the seventh decade of the sixth century CE.

This has a history, but I would say not a very old one. Such authorities as Jeffrey Hopkins and Jerome Edou (both quoted in David Molk’s Lion of Siddhas, p. 19) have repeated this identification, but without really looking into the historical depths of their sources. So far I haven’t been able to find sources that can be dated any further back than the Thuken (1737‑1802) and the second Jangkya Hutuktus (1717‑1786), the former being a student of the latter. Both of these celebrated figures were Tibetan-style Buddhists, but ethnically Monguor, speaking a tongue of Mongolic origins that already a couple of thousands of years ago was in close proximity to speakers of Tibetan languages and absorbed a considerable body of loanwords (see Rona-Tas). Both were closely associated with the Manchu court. Nowadays in the PRC they use the Chinese term Tu for Monguors, and this Tu can be seen in the first syllable of Thuken’s name. 

Thuken goes into the Padampa-Bodhidharma identity problem in a paragraph-long discussion. In the end he says they are just stories he had heard people tell, stories that were not to be found in the written sources and finally, “it is difficult to credit.” That means he doesn’t see much reason to believe them.*
(*I should look at the original carefully some time, but I don’t think the stories are meant to have quote marks around them, being just paraphrases of things heard by the author.)

The late Gene Smith once wrote briefly about Jangkia's idea that Padampa and Bodhidharma were one and the same, and concludes that it “was a strange flower produced from Lcang skya’s [Jangkia’s] fertile mind.” I’m not entirely sure Jangkia invented it.* It isn’t impossible that Thuken was arguing against an idea of his own teacher. Such things do happen. But Thuken says “some say,” and I think he may mean just that. So what we would seem to have here is a popular association forged between the two historical figures created by unnamed and perhaps (so far as I can tell at the moment) unnameable people who were living and working on the borderlands between Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism. I doubt it precedes the high Manchu period. Telling this story of common religio-cultural heroes was a way to create linkages.
(*Note for myself: Ought to check the 1736 Tibetan-language history of Chinese Buddhism composed by the Peking-based Mongolian duke Gombojab, or མགོན་པོ་སྐྱབས་. It seems like it could be a likely place for a discussion of Bodhidharma.  If you are interested there is a lengthy study in French about this amazing character Gombojab written by Françoise Wang-Toutain. It was this same group of culturally hybrid Manchu-patronized writers [I mean him and Jangkia, and Tukhen as well] who came up with the marvelous concept that the ancient founder of Tibetan Bon school Lord Shenrab might just be none other than the founding figure of Taoism, Lao-tzu, or as we are supposed to call him nowadays Laozi. But for them this was not a linkage of two heros, but one of two antagonists. Jangkia actively participated in the Gold Stream Campaign against the Bonpos, and brought benefit to his own Gelugpa school when the main Bön monastery there was turned into Gelugpa.)

Literary refs:

Karl Debreczeny, The Black Hat Eccentric: Artistic Visions of the Tenth Karmapa, Rubin Museum of Art (New York 2012), p. 79.

——, “Dabaojigong and the Regional Tradition of Ming Sino-Tibetan Painting in the Kingdom of Lijiang,” contained in: Matthew Kapstein, ed., Buddhism between Tibet and China, Wisdom (Somerville 2009), at pp. 113, 122.

Gyurme Dorje, Footprint Tibet, Footprint (Bath 2004), 3rd edition, p. 454:  
“Balung is predominantly a Chinese town, interspersed with Tibetans, Naxi, and Lisu. The most important Buddhist site in the county is Damozushidong, a Karma Kagyu monastery constructed in 1662, which overlooks the Yangtze, 100 km to the northwest of the capital. According to tradition, there is a meditation cave here, associated with the Chan Buddhist master Bodhidharma.”

Angela F. Howard, “The Dhāraṇī Pillar of Kunming, Yunnan: A Legacy of Esoteric Buddhism and Burial Rites of the Bai People in the Kingdom of Dali (937-1253),” Artibus Asiae, vol. 57, nos. 1-2 (1997), pp. 33-72.

András Róna-Tas, Tibeto-Mongolica: The Tibetan Loanwords of Monguor and the Development of the Archaic Tibetan Dialects (The Hague 1966), recently reissued in revised and augmented form under the title Tibeto-Mongolica Revisited, Brill (Leiden 2014).

D. Martin, “Bonpo Canons and Jesuit Cannons: On Sectarian Factors Involved in the Ch’ien Lung Emperor’s Second Gold Stream Expedition of 1771 to 1776 Based Primarily on Some Tibetan Sources,” The Tibet Journal (Dharamsala), vol. 15, no. 2 (Summer 1990), pp. 3-28.  Just about the same time as the thirteen colonies were gaining their independence from the British, a couple of small kingdoms in what is now Sichuan Province were fighting for theirs against the Manchus. Jangkia Hutuktu advised the emperor during the Manchu campaign and made use of their ultimate victory by founding a Gelugpa monastery and attempting the conversion of the inhabitants.

Sareji, “Buddhapāla, Dam pa sangs rgyas and Bodhidharma,” contained in: Bangwei Wang, Jinhua Chen & Ming Chen, eds., Studies on Buddhist Myths: Texts, Pictures, Traditions and History, Zhongxi Book Company (Shanghai 2013), pp. 165-176. If you can find this, read it and let me know what its conclusions are. I only have this reference to it, but it does look interesting. Oh I forgot to mention, Despite any appearance to the contrary it is all in Chinese.

Gene Smith, “Chapter 11: The Life of Lcang skya Rol pa'i rdo rje,” contained in: idem., Among Tibetan Texts: History and Literature of the Himalayan Plateau, Wisdom (Boston 2001), pp. 133-146, at p. 137.  

Thuken Losang Chökyi Nyima (ཐུའུ་བཀྭན་བློ་བཟང་ཆོས་ཀྱི་ཉི་མ་), The Crystal Mirror of Philosophical Systems: A Tibetan Study of Asian Religious Thought, Wisdom (Boston 2009), at p. 365:
Some say: “This master is the Indian Pha Dampa; it is widely known that he went to China, and in some teachings of the Shijepa it says that ‘When he assumed the form of the vajra body of Pha Dampa Sangyé, he bore on his shoulder a ceremonial cloth similar to the costume in which Dharmo is depicted.’ It seems there also is a story of Pha Dampa going to India bearing a sandal on his shoulder.” However, because I have not seen that story recounted in my sources, it is difficult to credit.
The Tibetan text based on 1984 Lanzhou publication:  
འགའ་ཞིག་གིས་སློབ་དཔོན་འདི་ཕ་དམ་པ་རྒྱ་གར་ཡིན་ཏེ། དེ་ཉིད་རྒྱ་ནག་ཏུ་བྱོན་པ་གྲགས་ཆེ་ཞིང་། ཞི་བྱེད་ཀྱི་གདམས་པ་འགའ་ཞིག་ཏུ། དམ་པ་སངས་རྒྱས་ཀྱི་སྐུའི་རྡོ་རྗེ་རྣམ་པ་འཆང་སྐབ ﷽﷽﷽﷽﷽﷽﷽﷽nskrit Mårgadeßin.rbarst Sanctuary of North China.  lot like soccer.-Dordzi,  Women,” ed from Sanskrit Mårgadeßin.rbarས། ﷽﷽﷽﷽﷽﷽﷽﷽nskrit Mårgadeßin.rbarst Sanctuary of North China.  lot like soccer.-Dordzi,  Wome རྟེན་འབྲེལ་གྱིས་གལ་ཏེ་ཕྲག་པར་བཀལ་བ་ཞེས་པའང་འདིའི་ཆ་བྱད་བྲིས་པ་དང་མཚུངས་པ་དང་། དམ་པས་ལྷམ་ཡ་གཅིག་ཕྲག་པར་བཀལ་ནས་རྒྱ་གར་དུ་བྱོན་པའི་ལོ་རྒྱུས་ཀྱང་སྣང་བས་སོ། །
ཞེས་ཟེར་ ﷽﷽﷽﷽﷽﷽﷽﷽nskrit Mårgadeßin.rbarst Sanctuary of North China.  lot like soccer.-Dordzi,  འོན་ཀྱང་ལོ་རྒྱུས་ཁུངས་མ་ལས་བཤད་པ་མ་མཐོང་བས་ཡིད་རྟོན་པ་དཀའོ། །  I see the English translation missed the meaning of the gal-te, the traveling provisions bag, translating it as “ceremonial cloth.” The correct translation of the entire passage still requires some careful thought, but I think the idea here is that since Padampa might be depicted with his traveling 'interdependence' provisions bag on his shoulder, it could resemble the scene of Bodhidharma leaving China with one shoe* slung over his shoulder. I’ll have to think about it some more. 
(*lham is footwear of undetermined type, although Chinese portraits of Bodhidharma seem to depict this as either a sandal or a slipper/slip-on shoe; the reason he takes with him only one of the pair is obviously because one he left behind, said to have been used for his burial since his body was not to be found... well, there are a lot of variations to this. The idea of leaving a piece of footwear behind is one that would be interesting to study. As you probably know it happens when the Chinese teacher Hoshang left Tibet after losing the so-called Samyé Debate in the late 8th century.) 


If you’re curious to know a little more about this place, you can find snippets by performing an internet search for “Yunnan Bodhidharma.”  Here and here are some examples.

And if you are interested to know if there is truth in the identification of Padampa with Bodhidharma, have a look at this thread, where we may conclude, Yes, not only was he Bodhidharma, but Elvis as well. A fairly good example of how internet Dharma discussions tend to go. At some point voices of reason enter in only to be dismissed by the forces of flippant silliness just before everyone falls silent. Perhaps they fall silent to contemplate the silly nature of their very own minds. Or not.

A distant view of the cliff temple Khorzhatang
Oh, and a lot happened to the cultural image of Bodhidharma in East Asia. Just think of the Japanese Daruma dolls. Interesting that even in his doll incarnation he is portrayed with absent eyelids, which could in truth be reminiscent of Padampa's bulging eyes gazing out into an indeterminate point in space as if he is seeing something we can’t.

View over the Yangtse River valley. I’m told this is much like
the view Padampa would have seen if he could see through the rock

Afterthoughts and Second Thoughts:

I was just thinking I ought to have a look at the late John McRae's book Seeing through Zen. I know he spent quite a lot of time doing Bodhidharma research in more southerly parts of Yunnan. Going over to Googlebooks to see what we can see there, one thing we do find is a remarkable statue of Bodhidharma in a temple in Jianchuan that looks very strangely like an elderly Padampa with a long flowing white beard and topknot. In every Bodhidharma portrait I remember seeing he is baldheaded or very nearly so, and maybe with a bit of stubbly beard. Hmmm. Still thinking.

I’m having more thoughts about why the Bai people of central Yunnan call their religion the Achali (or Ajali, or Azhali) religion. The usual explanation is that they had a visit from a mysterious Indian teacher long ago. It seems he was a Brahmin Buddhist (like, umm, You know who). The usual explanation for Achali is that it derives from Sanskrit Ācārya, or Teacher, the same word that appears very often in the Zhijé Collection in the form A-tsa-ra (ཨ་ཙ་ར་), especially for lone Indian sadhus wandering about Tingri, and is sometimes applied to Padampa himself. 

But wait just one minute, am I trying to create a linkage, one that would serve my own interests, where none is warranted? The Bai have a story that their fascinating religious traditions that are in truth in large part Buddhist were founded by an Indian named Candragupta (Hidden Moon), although I’m told these accounts are rather recent ones. Anyway, Candragupta is not among the known names of Padampa.

Here is what Angela Howard wrote about this Candragupta:
“Slightly less legendary is the record of the monk Zantuojueduo or Candragupta, widely acknowledged in Yunnan as the founder of local Esoteric Buddhism. (His portrait is also included in Zhang Shengwen’s Long Roll, section 56.) A native of Magadha, Candragupta arrived in Nanzhao territory in circa 828 or 839 (depending on the source), exactly in Heqing, about 100 kilometers north of Dali where he built a temple and began proselytizing. Soon after, he allegedly rescued the king’s daughter who had been over powered by evil spirits; he also miraculously prevented the inundation of cultivated fields by an overflowing lake in the Dali region. Candragupta’s activity was incorporated into Bai legends where he is described as having come from Tibet.” (pp. 43-44)

He came from Tibet!? That much, at least, would fit Padampa, who arrived in China via Tibet. But the dates do not fit, the birthplace does not fit, and neither does anything else, really. 


  1. What an astounding feat, Padampa having an impact over so much of Asia! Remind me. Are we talking about from Andhra Pradesh to China (historically verified to boot), or do I exaggerate?

  2. Oh yes, S.P.,

    I think that he did go to China is historically verified enough, even if the stories told about what he did there may have been borrowed from other biographies (that's a blog I haven't gotten around to yet). But yes, as the crow flies, it's about 2,700 miles (4,358 km) from his home in S. India to Wutaishan, this being just about 20 miles more than the breadth of the continental US. He did it by foot with a food bag over his shoulder, and he did it in anything but a straight line (it seems he circled India at least once). I've looked for and found no evidence he ever rode on anything, not even a boat. Well, a ship is a possibility. You can easily imagine his father would have taken him for a ride in his in his early days. So no, no exaggeration, none at all.

  3. Perhaps, one day, we will know how Padampa and his practice managed to so impress the peoples of what we now call Mongolia and China.

    I, myself, don't see how Padampa could be linked to Bodhidharma. Any thoughts on this?

  4. Dear SP,

    If I am hearing you right, I take it you mean to ask, Is there any justice behind the linkage that was made by those 18th-century Mongours in Peiping by identifying the one with the other?

    Well... both were Indians abroad and serious meditators, both taught Buddhism and ended up heading a version of if with a brand name they didn't know existed yet. So, yes, They did have a few similarities. (Some think Padampa's teaching style is Zen-like, and this may be so somehow.)

    I do know of a few Chinese (all of them academics) who are aware Padampa existed. Very few, even if numbers may be increasing. So few it explains why where Tibetans see Padampa, Chinese see Bodhidharma. Visiting this cave, they go with what's familiar to them. Since Padampa doesn't ring any bells for Chinese, they find Bodhidharma there. It's more of an either-or than a both-and situation. Those few 18th-century people who identified the two were rare examples of both-and.

    I'll think about it some more.

    Yours, D.


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