Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hooking and Keeping Yang

An Old Norwegian Postcard

So many years have gone by I shouldn’t be sheepish to admit that I once worked on cataloging the Tibetan manuscripts and woodblock prints belonging to the Berthold Laufer collection of the Chicago Field Museum. This was back in the early 80’s, when I was young and full of false pride. Only this summer I could rescue from storage one colophon to a Field Museum text that had often come to my mind when it was out of reach. Why? Well, because it’s one of those interesting places where a Gelugpa author shows an awareness that he is involving himself in something Bon (perhaps meaning by that indigenous?), and hesitates, but then goes ahead anyway. 

In truth anything having to do with the yang (g.yang) principle in Tibetan culture is very likely indigenous Tibetan. And when I say indigenous, I don’t claim that there is nothing in neighboring cultures that corresponds with it in some way, not at all. I’m not saying it’s autochthonous (sprung full-grown from local soil), another matter altogether. Instead it has long been my opinion that the yang as something that can be increased through ritual methods is also known in Southeast Asia, and that the connections may well lie in that direction, in the mythical land of Zomia.

Let me awkwardly paraphrase the colophon for you (if you are a Tibetan reader, go directly to the text typed in down below):

Agi, a bande of the U-cu-mu-chin (Üjümücin), who was born into the lineage of Chinggis the King of the Heavens (or appointed by Heaven), said that there was need of a Yang Calling rite that follows the tradition of the Golden Light Yang Protection. His behest was accompanied by offerings of horses and icon ornaments. Still the author hesitated, thinking it was very well known in those parts as being a Bon religious teaching (Bon-chos), and that there aren’t many clear sources for it in the New Schools (Gsar-ma).  
"Thinking it a little like bumping into each other in the dark, still, because the behest was repeated again and again, we also thought that it could turn out to be of benefit anyway in this or future lives, after the pattern of the ringsel that because of faith occurred on a stone, I Blo-bzang-bstan-pa’i-nyi-ma composed it, the scribe being Gsol-dpon Dge-tshul Blo-bzang-stobs-ldan."

My cursory research reveals that agi is not only a word for wormwood in Mongolian, but also serves as a personal name Agi. I’ve been unable to identify who the sponsor (or behester) was. The identity of the author might seem easy, and in the end there can be no doubt that it’s the La-mo or Shri-thu Blo-bzang-bstan-pa’i-nyi-ma (1689-1772 CE). Regarded as the immediate reincarnation of the 45th Ganden Tripa (1635-1688), he is often known as Khri-chen Sprul-sku, or as Dga'-ldan Shi-re-thu. (I think Mongolian Shiretu is just a translation of Tibetan Khri-chen, or “Great Chair.”) He was known for his translations from Tibetan into Mongolian, including the biography of Milarepa, if I’m not mistaken. Our title is listed among titles of two whole volumes of his works in a catalog of Gelugpa Collected Works (pp. 323-325), along with a very brief biographical sketch: 

A native of Mongolia, he spent some years in a Lhasa monastery. Then he accepted the invitation of the Emperor Yu’u-dzi* and came to Peking to receive the title of Hu'i U-chan Dga’-ldan Shri-thu Hu-thog-thu. He spent most of his days in the chapel of the Sandalwood Buddha where he composed many of his works. His last days were once again spent in Mongolia at the Seven Lakes Monastery (Mtsho-bdun Dgon).

I’m really not sure but I suppose Yu’u-dzi could be the Manchu Emperor Yongzheng, who ruled from 1678 to 1735. Mtsho-bdun means Seven Lakes, as does Mongolian Dolon Nor in present-day Inner Mongolia, said to be the site of Khublai Khan’s summer capital Shang-tu, inspiration for Coleridge’s Xanadu. You know, where Alph the sacred river ran...

“Bumping into one another in the dark,” is a Tibetan expression or proverb, listed as such as no. 7510 in C. Cüppers & P.K. Sørensen's A Collection of Tibetan Proverbs and Sayings (Stuttgart 1998). I suppose such unexpected meetings create a bit of stress, not knowing how to act because we don’t know what or who we’re dealing with and have to feel our way. I’m not familiar with the expression translated “the ringsel that because of faith occurred on a stone,” but I think the meaning is clear.  Ringsel are crystalline beads that emerge miraculously from the remains of saints or from holy objects like images or chortens. They do not normally emerge out of stones, but if a stone is sufficiently venerated they still might, against all odds, appear there too.

Defining yang can be as simple or complex, as practical or mystical, as you have the time for it. If you are part of a tour group rushing through on a tight schedule, it’s just ‘good luck,’ like everything else these simple people do. Or, if you can slow down for a minute, it’s all about being blessed with trouble-free ever-increasing livestock and the prosperity this is bound to bring along with it. It needs to be preserved, enclosed in something, a box or a bag or the like, so it doesn't have a chance to fly off.* This is yang as closely as I can imagine defining it for the present, although I’ll be the first to admit that I still find it sophisticatedly mystical. But more important than understanding it is to be sure the yang remains with you.

(*That’s why the Yang Hooking rite gets included in the wedding ritual, since the bride leaving her family to join her husband’s is one of those dangerous junctures when it might try to make its escape.)

---  ---  ---

Field Museum: 303.09.
(I underline proper names and book titles)

TITLE; phyogs bcu'i g.yang 'gug gter gyi bum bzang zhes bya ba bzhugs s.ho //  

COLOPHON: (14) ces pa 'di ni ching ges gnam gyi rgyal po'i rgyud las 'khrungs pa'i u cu mu chin bande a gis gser 'od g.yang skyob ltar gyi g.yang 'bod cig dgos zhes  rta dang lha rdzas bcas bskul na'ang phyogs 'di bon chos su grags che ba las gsar ma'i khungs gsal bo ma mthong gshis / mun nag 'dom 'jal lta bu 'dug na'ang  yang yang bskul tshe dad pa byas na rdo la ring bsrel gyi dpe ltar 'di phyir phan par 'gyur ram snyam / blo bzang bstan pa'i nyi mas sbyar ba'i yi ge pa ni gsol dpon dge tshul blo bzang stobs ldan no // mangga lam //

Title: ཕྱོགས་བཅུའི་གཡང་འགུག་གཏེར་གྱི་བུམ་བཟང་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་བཞུགས་སྷོ།། 

Colophon: [༡༤]ཅེས་པ་འདི་ནི་ཆིང་གེས་གནམ་གྱི་རྒྱལ་པོའི་རྒྱུད་ལས་འཁྲུངས་པའི་ཨུ་ཅུ་མུ་ཆིན་བནྡེ་ཨ་གིས་གསེར་འོད་གཡང་སྐྱོབ་ལྟར་གྱི་གཡང་འབོད་ཅིག་དགོས་ཞེས་རྟ་དང་ལྷ་རྫས་བཅས་བསྐུལ་ནའང་ཕྱོགས་འདི་བོན་ཆོས་སུ་གྲགས་ཆེ་བ་ལས་གསར་མའི་ཁུངས་གསལ་བོ་མ་མཐོང་གཤིས། མུན་ནག་འདོན་འཇལ་ལྟ་བུ་འདུག་ནའང་ཡང་ཡང་བསྐུལ་ཚེ་དད་པ་བྱས་ན་རྡོ་ལ་རིང་བསྲེལ་གྱི་དཔེ་ལྟར་འདི་ཕྱིར་ཕན་པར་འགྱུར་རམ་སྙམ། བློ་བཟང་བསྟན་པའི་ཉི་མས་སྦྱར་བའི་ཡི་གེ་པ་ནི་གསོལ་དཔོན་དགེ་ཚུལ་བློ་བཟང་སྟོབས་ལྡན་ནོ།།  མངྒལཾ།།

— — —

Imagine my surprise and chagrin, when a search of TBRC revealed that the very same title can be found in the works of Lcang-lung Paṇḍita 
(1770‑1846 CE). Since I don’t have access to the Field Museum text, apart from the title and colophon, I’m unable to compare the contents of the two. However, looking at the TBRC colophon, it says the colophon to the text it copied was unclear (mdzad-byang mi-gsal-zhing), that the recitation parts were expanded for this edition, to make it more useful for people unable to consult their original texts (or for those who have not yet memorized them, I think he means).  Then the author’s name is given as Ngag-dbang-chos-ldan. There is more than one person by this name from that time period, but I believe since the colophon explicitly says he was a tutor, and had the title of “[Master of] Ten Difficult [Subjects],” an old-time way of saying he was a qualified Geshé, I believe this means the First Lcang-skya incarnate Ngag-dbang-blo-bzang-chos-ldan (1642-1714). At the very end a lineage for the reading permission, the lung of the text, is supplied starting with [1] the just-mentioned teacher, then [2] the Third Lcang-skya incarnate Rol-pa'i-rdo-rje, then [3] his student and attendant Dge-legs-nam-mkha' (known to me as author of a guidebook to Wutai Shan), and finally [4] Lcang-lung Paṇḍi-ta.

Well, based on our Field Museum text, we know the author was very surely Shri-thu Blo-bzang-bstan-pa'i-nyi-ma (1689-1772 CE), so this leads us to wonder, Whatever would be the sense of making a reading permission lineage for it descending from someone else? Unable to look into the question further, I will just leave you with the puzzle to work out to your own satisfaction. 

Here I will type in for you the title and colophon of the text as attributed to the First Lcang-skya:

Source:  The Collected Works of Lca-lu Paṇḍi-ta ag-dba-blo-bza-bstan-pa'i-rgyal-mtshan, Mongolian Lama Gurudeva (New Delhi 1975+), vol. 6, pp. 459-482.

Title: phyogs bcu'i g.yang 'gug 'dod dgu'i char 'bebs zhes bya ba bzhugs so //

Colophon:  zhes phyogs bcu'i g.yang 'gug 'dod dgu'i char 'bebs zhes bya ba 'di ni / gser 'od g.yang skyabs kyi g.yang 'gug gi lhan thabs mdzad byang mi gsal zhing / 'dod cha rnams thog mtha'i tshig gis bsdus pa'i lag tu blang bde zhing kha gsal ba zhig mthong ba la gzhi byas / de la gzhung gi 'don cha rnams rgyas par bkod de / lhan thabs dang g.yang skyabs kyi dpe ma 'dzom pa dang bsdebs mi shes pa rnams kyis 'don bde bar bsams nas dka' bcu'i ming can ngag dbang chos ldan gyis bsgrigs pa'i yi ge pa ni dpyod ldan bsod nams phun tshogs so // 'dis kyang 'gro ba rnams dbul phongs kyi sdug bsngal las grol bar gyur cig /

'di'i lung brgyud ni mdzad pa po yongs 'dzin dka' chen ngag dbang chos ldan / khyab bdag 'khor lo'i mgon po lcang skya rol pa'i rdo rje / ong nyod ja sag bla ma grub pa'i dbang phyug dge legs nam mkha' / des lcang lung paṇḍi ta dgyes bzhin du gnang ba'o //  //

Title: ཕྱོགས་བཅུའི་གཡང་འགུག་འདོད་དགུའི་ཆར་འབེབས་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་བཞུགས་སོ།།

Colophon: ཞེས་ཕྱོགས་བཅུའི་གཡང་འགུག་འདོད་དགུའི་ཆར་འབེབས་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་འདི་ནི། གསེར་འོད་གཡང་སྐྱབས་ཀྱི་གཡང་འགུག་གི་ལྷན་ཐབས་མཛད་བྱང་མི་གསལ་ཞིང་། འདོད་ཆ་རྣམས་ཐོག་མཐའི་ཚིག་གིས་བསྡུས་པའི་ལག་ཏུ་བླང་བདེ་ཞིང་ཁ་གསལ་བ་ཞིག་མཐོང་བ་ལ་གཞི་བྱས། དེ་ལ་གཞུང་གི་འདོན་ཆ་རྣམས་རྒྱས་པར་བཀོད་དེ། ལྷན་ཐབས་དང་གཡང་སྐྱབས་ཀྱི་དཔེ་མ་འཛོམ་པ་དང་བསྡེབས་མི་ཤེས་པ་རྣམས་ཀྱིས་འདོན་བདེ་བར་བསམས་ནས་དཀའ་བཅུའི་མིང་ཅན་ངག་དབང་ཆོས་ལྡན་གྱིས་བསྒྲིགས་པའི་ཡི་གེ་པ་ནི་དཔྱོད་ལྡན་བསོད་ནམས་ཕུན་ཚོགས་སོ༎ འདིས་ཀྱང་འགྲོ་བ་རྣམས་དབུལ་ཕོངས་ཀྱི་སྡུག་བསྔལ་ལས་གྲོལ་བར་གྱུར་ཅིག།

འདིའི་ལུང་བརྒྱུད་ནི་མཛད་པ་པོ་ཡོངས་འཛིན་དཀའ་ཆེན་ངག་དབང་ཆོས་ལྡན། ཁྱབ་བདག་འཁོར་ལོའི་མགོན་པོ་ལྕང་སྐྱ་རོལ་པའི་རྡོ་རྗེ།

ཨོང་ཉོད་ཇ་སག་བླ་མ་གྲུབ་པའི་དབང་ཕྱུག་དགེ་ལེགས་ནམ་མཁའ། དེས་ལྕང་ལུང་པཎྜི་ཏ་དགྱེས་བཞིན་དུ་གནང་བའོ།། །།

§  §  §

Directions of further research to confuse matters even more than is absolutely necessary:

Our author can be located in TBRC, although it may not be all that easy given that there are supposed to be about 150 persons with the name Blo-bzang-bstan-pa'i-nyi-ma. His correct identification number is P348. You ought to thank me for saving you the trouble of searching through the long list. There are a couple of works listed in TBRC that are connected to him as subject or author, but TBRC has not listed the contents of his collected works that ought to fill four volumes. I wonder why the Chicago Field Museum doesn't invite TBRC to come and scan their Berthold Laufer Tibetan collection to make it available to the world?

The one place I know of that lists titles of our author’s works only supplies titles for two volumes, vols. 3-4 (GA and NGA): Gsung 'bum dkar chag (=Zhwa ser bstan pa'i sgron me rje tsong kha pa chen pos gtsos skyes chen dam pa rim byung gi gsung 'bum dkar chag phyogs gcig tu bsgrigs pa'i dri med zla shel gtsang ma'i me long), Lhag-pa-tshe-ring et al.eds., Bod ljongs mi rigs dpe skrun khang (Lhasa 1990), pp. 323-325.

If the subject of ringsel interests you, as I think it should, have a look at D. Martin’s “Pearls from Bones: Relics, Chortens, Tertons and the Signs of Saintly Death in Tibet,” Numen, vol. 41 (1994), pp. 273-324.

Dieter Schuh long ago studied, as part of a study of Eastern Tibetan wedding rituals, a Yang Hooking rite. See “Die Darlegungen des tibetischen Enzyklopädisten Ko-sprul Blo-gros-mtha'-yas über Osttibetische Hochzeitsgebraüche,” contained in: Serta Tibeto-Mongolica [Heissig Festschrift], Harrassowitz (Wiesbaden 1973), pp. 295-350.

Curiously enough, Bon and Chos each has its own G.yang-skyob ritual associated with a particular sûtra, in both cases called by a similar title including the words Golden Light. The two texts are hardly the same in their content — see Michael Walter, “Prolegomenon to a Study of the Gser 'od nor bu 'od 'bar gyi mdo,” contained in: Per Kvaerne, ed., Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 6th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies Fagernes 1992, The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture (Oslo 1994), vol. 2, pp. 930-938 — but they are similar in having Yang Hooking rites as ancillary texts.

Daniel Berounsky, “Tibetan Myths on ‘Good Fortune’ (phya) and 'Well-Being' (g.yang),” contained in: Mongolo-Tibetica Pragensia '14, vol. 7, no. 2 (2014), pp. 55-77 (this whole volume of MTP is devoted to “Indigenous Elements in Tibetan Religions”).  Idem., Prosperity in a Whirlpool of Symbolic Contexts: Some Notes on Tibetan G.yang 'gugs and Buryat Dalga Rituals, contained in: Jaroslav Vacek & Alena Oberfalzerova, eds., Mongolica Pragensia '06, Triton (Prague 2006).  G.yang-'gug.

Rolf A. Stein, Tibetan Civilization, p. 199: 
“Take for example the ceremony of calling for good fortune (g.yang-'gug), for which a beribboned arrow, a mirror and a ‘good-fortune bag’ (g.yang-khug) are used: ‘The material of the good-fortune bag is wool. The father was the sky sheep Reddish-white, the mother the earth sheep Reddish. These two united and had sons. Of five kinds were the lambs.’ ”

Jacques Dournes, “Yang: The Sacred Connection, Sacrifice, and the Ritual of Counting among the Austroasiatic and Austronesian Ethnic Groups,” contained in: Yves Bonnefoy, ed., Asian Mythologies, University of Chicago Press (Chicago 1993), pp. 218-221.  I’m not going to claim that this yang in southernmost Viet Nam and the Tibetan yang are identical concepts, but both do have a lot to do with prosperity, and both can be influenced through ritual methods.

Geoffrey Samuel, Zomia: New Constructions of the Southeast Asian Highlands and Their Tibetan Implications, contained in: Gerald Roche, et al., eds., Centering the Local [Asian Highland Perspectives no. 37], pp. 221-249.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Conch Inscription, Then & Now

I suppose my big interest in conch inscriptions owes a lot to a letter of inquiry passed on to me back in 1984. It was from a person otherwise unknown to me named Carl Szego who at that time lived in Millburn, New Jersey.* These sorts of letters, dozens of them, ended up with me just because I was by then in my 11th year of Tibetan study and also did volunteer work for the Tibet Society. In an effort to embarrass myself and jeopardize what little reputation might remain after my major gaffe a few blogs back, I decided to do the little “comedy of errors” piece you see here. I imagined myself to be advanced in my Tibetan reading skills back in those days, so hold on to your seats and prepare yourselves for some contrary evidence. 

Here I will type in my handwritten response to Mr. Szego, the owner of the conch:

Dear Mr. Szego: 

Prof. B. handed your letter over to me. The reading is difficult but approximately as follows —

A  —  དུང་ནི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྒྲ་ཡིན་པས་སྒྲོགས་པའི་ཚལ།། ཡེ་ཤེས་ཆ་མཚོ་འདི་རུ་ངག་གྱུར་ཏེ། ཆོས་རྣམས་ལ་ནོད་དེས་ངོས་[དོས་དོས་?]སུ་སྟོན་པ།  བཀྲ་ཤིས་ངེས་ཀྱང་ཆོས་པ་ཡང་ཐོབ་པ་ཤོག 
B  —  ཅེས་པ་དེ་ནི་སྦྲོ་བོ་[?]དཔོན་སློབས་དགེ་[?]དགེ་སློང་ངག་དབང་སང་ན་ཛི་རོ་ནས་ལྔ་པ་ཚེ་དབང་འབུལ་བ་འཕེལ།།    
Assuming many misspelled and semi-legible words, I interpret as follows —
A  —  “The Conch is the sound of Dharma, so it has the special power of ‘broadcasting.’ The ocean of Total Knowledge is Transmuted into sounds (words) in this. While the good fortune [of meeting] a teacher for a little instruction in the Dharma is inevitable, may the Buddhist as well obtain good fortune.”

And then the final dedication: 
B  —  “This is an offering from Spre-bo Teacher Monk Ngag-dbang-sang-na-dzi-ro to Snga-pa (=Sngags-pa?) Tshe-dbang.”

Based on the names,* I am thinking it comes from the easternmost Tibetan areas. If not, I am completely at loss what origin it may have had. Please let me know if I may be of more assistance. And if you feel the information worthwhile, a donation (and membership!) to the Tibet Society would be greatly appreciated. 

Sincerely, D.

(*An added note from 2017 — I think I was thinking this:  Snga-pa or Lnga-pa is perhaps Nga-pa in northern Szechuan? Or is it supposed to be Sngags-pa, or Mantrin?)

Well, where shall we start? First and most importantly for the point I wish to make, Tibetan Studies has gone through a major revolution, along with many other fields of study, on account of the digitization of a huge body of Tibetan texts. We can do things we could hardly hope to do before. Unlike the mid-80’s of the last century, students today can simply feed in a correctly spelled phrase and in this way locate the entire passage, allowing them to fix with ease the odd readings in the text they have on hand. Texts inscribed on metal are especially liable to be riddled with these oddities, given that the artists are not necessarily even literate, and likely to copy more-or-less what they see before their eyes. So let’s try this 21st-century experiment, and see just how rapidly we can search the million-page dataset of the TBRC for the words “dung ni chos kyi sgra.” After a few milliseconds, the first thing to pop up among the 41 “hits” is a consecration text from the Sakya Kambum:

དུང་ནི་ཆོས་ཀྱི་སྒྲ ་རྣམས་སྒྲོགས་པའི་ཚུལ། །
ཡེ་ཤེས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་ཉིད་དུ་དག་གྱུར་ཏེ། །
ཆོས་རྣམས་མ་ནོར་ཡོངས་སུ་སྟོན་པ་ཡི། །

“The conch in its way of broadcasting the sounds of Dharma  
has purified into the very ocean of Full Knowledge. 
In its fully indicating with no mistakes the dharmas,  
through this auspiciousness may we obtain mastery of the word.”

Well, I thought that was a nice try, but having a look at Yael Bentor's book, I see on p. 345 what seems to be a better translation:  

“The conch which is the means for proclaiming the sound of the Dharma, purifies into the ocean of enlightened wisdom itself, and expounds the Dharma without mistake. May this auspicious substance also attain the power of speech (for us).”

I’d like to say I’ve solved the riddle of who offered this conch to whom, but I still can’t. The donor’s statement isn’t clear enough, and I don't find any parallels for it right away. Let me know if anything occurs to you.

“The white conch that coils to the right symbolizes the deep, far-reaching and melodious sound of the Dharma teachings that, being appropriate to different natures, predispositions and aspirations of disciples, awakens them from the deep slumber of ignorance and urges them to accomplish their own and others’ welfare.”

§   §   §   §   §

Sources for consultation and consolation:

Yael Bentor, Consecration of Images & Stûpas in Indo-Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, E.J. Brill (Leiden 1996).  
Have some fun and try putting those same words “dung ni chos kyi sgra rnams” into the Google search-box, and one single result appears:  The Italian translation of Dagyab Rinpoche's wellknown popular study on Tibetan artistic symbolism (he wrote a more technical one in German). Try looking here.
Taking this clue from the Italian, I pulled my English version down off the shelf — Buddhist Symbols in Tibetan Culture, Wisdom (Boston 1995), tr. from German by Maurice Walshe, p. 62:  
“...the ruler of the gods, Indra...a right-turning conch shell...   Just as the conch proclaims the sound of the Dharma, one will become pure in the wisdom ocean and proclaim the Dharma without error and completely. Through this good fortune, may eloquence also be obtained.”
Dagyab Rinpoche identifies the ultimate source of this as Ratnaśīla’s Rdo-rje-rnam-par-'joms-pa zhes bya-ba'i [Gzungs] Dkyil-'khor-gyi Lag-len Go-rims Ji-lta-ba.  In what could possibly be the original Sanskrit title, this is: Vajravidāraṇa nāma Dhāraṇī-maṇḍala-prakriyā-yathā-krama.

Here’s another conch inscription drawn from Tibet. Klöster öffnen ihre Schatzkammern, Kulturstiftung Ruhr Essen (Villa Hügel 2006), p. 533:  Inscription on the ‘sleeve’ of a rare right-turning (clockwise spiraling outward) conch shell trumpet.  Transcribed in note 54 on p. 617:

rnam par rgyal ba'i phan bde legs bshad gling pa'i chos dung phun tshogs g.yas 'khyil 'di'i gshog pa gsar bzo'i rgyu rgyal dbang mchog gi sku gzhogs nas phra'i g.yu sbyang gnyis / de las chung chung tsam gnyis / de 'og che chung 'dres ma bco brgyad / chung ba lnga brgya dang dgu bcu thams cad rnams bka' drin bskyangs / mchod dpon blo bzang mthu stobs dang dbu mdzad blo bzang yon tan gnyis kyis gser zho lnga brgya thams pa / grwa tshang spyi so nas dngul srang nyi shu phyed rtsa drug bton pa'i / do dam gnyer pa dge bshes blo bzang sbyin pa dang dge bshes ngag dbang 'phrin las / bzo bo bal po brdung pa dha lam / bkra shis mgon po / 'phul pa shi nyi / dza shing / .da ki .ta / phra pa la na mu ne rnams kyis bgyis te / phur bu zhes pa sa pho spre'u'i lo hor zla bcu gcig pa'i tshes dge bar legs par grub pa sarba mangga lam //.

The authors of this section, Andreas Kretschmar and Geshe Pema Tsering, guess the date of this conch to be ca. 18th century. Even though an Earth Monkey date for making the gold and turquoise sleeve of the conch is given, it is often difficult in such cases to decide which Earth Monkey year that would be.* 

(*Still, I’m thinking it could date even earlier, to the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Although it needs a little more study to be sure of it, two of the persons mentioned as donors on the conch sleeve [I’ve highlighted their names in yellow] are also mentioned here** as donors of a copper pot for the use of Namgyal Dratsang. Namgyal Dratsang's lengthier name is given at the beginning of the conch inscription as “rnam par rgyal ba'i phan bde legs bshad gling.”  If this works, then the date of the sleeve works out to 1668 CE.)
(**The link should lead you to a minor piece in the collected works of the Fifth Dalai Lama. When you get there, notice the two names Mchod-dpon Blo-bzang-mthu-stobs and Dbu-mdzad Blo-bzang-yon-tan. These names are key to the  revised dating.)

§   §   §

Postscript on Zhangzhung (ZZ) in a conch inscription:

Once I wrote up a bit on a conch inscription that contains surprising Zhangzhung-language elements in it. This inscription was published by Giuseppe Tucci after he found it in a Sakya Monastery. I put up something about it several years ago in a Bon Studies group on Ning, so I will have to see if I can go there and rediscover it. For me, conch inscriptions are just as interesting as those found on bells. Both bells and conches are clear symbols of the Word of the Buddha, which has always been an inspiration to me personally.

Well, since I managed to locate it I thought I may as well post it here. The Ning posting follows (note that here "ZZ" stands for Zhang-zhung).

Source:  Giuseppe Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls.

On pp. 677, 763, is an inscription, quite a difficult one (as anyway inscriptions tend to be), on a conch shell which begins:  un hing 'dza leng.  These are quite apparently ZZ words, including the ZZ word for conch, which is un.  

This conch shell was kept at Spos-khang, although it doesn't look like Tucci ever made it explicit that this is the same Spos-khang silver conch casing he illustrates in his fig. 82 (see ibid., pp. 202-3).  It's really a magnificent work of metal casting, masterfully done, with dragon, horse, lion & deities included, although I don't see a place for an inscription (perhaps on the back of the sleeve, or 'inside' where the conch itself ought to be, but isn't).

Here's a Romanization of the Tibetan script inscription  (I must emphasize that the script is not Zhangzhung, since people do get confused on this point) as given by Tucci:

un hing 'dza leng rin chen kun krag 'di chu' cin kyi thog la pun mo tsha lha 'gar rgyal mtshan 'i lag rjes na bkris.

No wonder Tucci couldn't make much of what it says, although in his footnote he at least rightly identifies the lha-'gar as an alternative spelling for lha-mgar, or divine smith.  Of course Gyaltsen (Rgyal-mtshan) is the name of this divine smith (or rather, smith who makes divine images) who is further described as a nephew (or grandson) of some "pun-mo," whatever that means (Tucci wants to correct pun mo tsha to read dpon-mo-che, or great chieftainess).

The first four syllables are most definitely Zhangzhung.  I'm also sure of one thing, that the syllable un means conch (not that it's all that simple, since it may also mean dragon or the dragon's sound, which is thunder... just see Haarh's Zhangzhung dictionary).  There are plenty of examples of this. 

It's possible that un hing would be the same as un ting (there is a graphic similarity, especially in cursive script).  Hummel (on what basis I don't know) has defined Zhangzhung un ting as equivalent to Tibetan sgra-dbyangs, or melody.  However, analyzing the two syllables it's likely to mean conch and water, which could mean water-conch I suppose.  "Water-dragon" wouldn't be impossible, I also wonder...

The syllable leng does exist in ZZ, corresponding to Tibetan gling, or island, so perhaps the 'dza is after all just a Zhangzhung-like form for Tibetan 'dzam, and the two syllables together mean Jambu Island?  That means the whole world, or at least the Indian subcontinent.  That's my best guess at the moment.

I'm also thinking that the first four syllables are in Zhangzhung simply because this is the 'personal' name of the conch itself.   Particularly remarkable implements like this one have often gotten personal names (recall King Arthur's sword Excalibur).  This conch already had a name before the artist inscribed it on this conch cover (or conch holder/handle as you prefer).  And that name is a Zhangzhung name.

The next four syllables just mean with all kinds of variegated jewels (you can see the settings for precious stones in the photograph)...

(November 13, 2009 communication with Zhangzhung Studies Forum, by now perhaps no longer in existence, belonging to the Ning Network.)

§ § §

Note: I wish I did, but I don't possess any material copy of Patricia Berger's Empire of Emptiness, pp. 185-186, but I did locate fascinating paragraphs on the Panchen Lama's conch shell there, together with a photo:

Okay, just one more comment and I’ll be quiet. When I visited Sakya Monastery several years ago, I was impressed by a practice of having a monk sound a conch shell in memory of a deceased relative, so I made a small offering and pronounced the name of my grandfather who had died not long before. Mention of this conch is found in Sarat Chandra Das, Journey to Lhasa & Central Tibet, p. 242. I can’t really be sure, since it hardly seems believable, but they said that the conch being used was the same one given in offering to Phagspa Lama by Kublai Khan back in the 13th century. The only published depiction of that famous conch that I know about is in Precious Deposits, vol. 3, p, 11. Das said the minimum donation for having it played was seven ounces of silver. My offering was much less, and while there is no way to be sure the sound of it reached my grandfather in the bardo, I know it did have a strong effect on my heart.

Follow me on