Friday, February 16, 2024

Tibet Outshines the Stars of the Nations

Lynn Greyling,
ducks added



I was having visions of northern lights flash dancing in a starlit Norwegian night, even while thinking to write a light-hearted piece about the Milky Way. To begin with I thought I would search out ways to explain the Tibetan word for it, dgu-tshigs skya-mo, or Lightish Nine Joints. But my imagined explanations seemed to go south if anywhere, so I hope you can forgive me for going off in other directions. My thoughts on the Milky Way may get clear of those squamous clouds another day.*
(*In fact an old friend of mine Michael Walter has promised to go into the problems in detail in an upcoming essay of his entitled “bdun tshigs, dgu tsigs, etc.: Notes on Astrological Divination in Old Tibetan Documents.” Look for it or, I guess more accurately, look forward to it.)

It’s a marvelous story, an early example of visual diplomacy using special effects in which the special effects win the day. To make myself clear in advance, I do believe the story as we have it reaches back to the time of Emperor Relpachan who ruled an expanding Tibetan Empire in the early 9th century. I do not think we have it precisely in the form it could have been seen or heard in the 9th century — the vagaries of textual transmission complicate things as they so often do (no, I won’t go into those kinds of complications today). But, as we ought to know, oldness of a story is one thing, its validity as historical reporting another. And yes, old stories can acquire new additions (accretions? improvements?) over time.

There are briefer passages from the two 13th-century Deyu histories,* and not just the longer passage in the Scholars’ Feast. All three were translated and studied back in 1991 by Helga Uebach in an essay of hers (listed below), and much of the background material had been discussed in a 1983 article of János Szerb.
(*The story can be found in the long Deyu translation, at p. 685. Yes, now that it’s the year 2023 I am able to tell you that there is a third Deyu history, the Eye Spoon — we just did a blog about it — but as it is incomplete it doesn’t get far enough into the history, coming to a stop somewhere around the 5th century CE with the first introduction of Buddhism to the Plateau.)
To begin with, we translate the story drawn from what is surely the longest and likely the most consulted chapter in the Scholars’ Feast, the one on imperial period Tibetan history marked by the key-letter JA. Following the translation we will attempt some commentary on its historical content and stellar significance. Here is the passage in translation with my own comments inserted:

°

Then again, in the reign of the ancestral [king/s] there were some disputes* and then battles with China, Uighurs and Nanchao.  They killed as many as possible,** but [some] people remained [alive].   So the minister Khri-sum-rje Stag-snar*** held a discussion about having a peace agreement.  

(*While the [’]khon in bka’ khon, meaning something akin to dispute or hostility, with the addition of the bka’, may appear to be an honorific form, it is probably just the bka’ in the meaning of word[s] or pronouncement[s].  It seems to say that the hostility was at first expressed verbally. The term is rarely encountered — what amounts to a single usage in or from the Bka’-thang Sde Lnga is all that is gained by a BDRC search (see its 1986 ed., p. 118) — and OTDO only knows of two Old Tibetan texts that use it, both of them stone inscriptions made during or very near the reign of Relpachan. The presence of this one word seems to argue loudly for an early 9th century date for the story. **Or, an indeterminable number, with rtsad ma chod taken for the preferable reading here. Perhaps a literal rendering would be the people had not gone extinct, for the passage that reads here bsad pas mi ma zad nas, wording paralleled in the accounts in the two Deyu histories that will be quoted later on, even if this doesn't automatically clarify the meaning of the expression that Uebach also found problematic. I suggest it could be saying that they were not only humans that were killed, but other types of sentient beings as well. One might as well consider if the words mi bzad nas could have been intended here, with the sense of the killing being so much it was impossible to stand it, with this motivating the call for a peace conference (?). ***The identity of this figure requires discussion.)

China said, “The sun, moon, planets and stars all dawn on top of me, so I control the head of the sky, and you must hold the conference at my place.”* 

(*I’m thinking that this astronomical characterization of China only works from the perspective of Tibet in the west.  Looking to the east Tibetans could regard all the astral bodies as dawning in China.  So here China is a special case, not exactly presided over by any particular star grouping as the Uighur and Nanchao kingdoms will be presently.)

The Uighur said, “The seven stars of the Great Bear are the central stake of the sky.*  It is below them that I live, so I control the central stake of the sky and you must make your conference at my oven door (go-kha).”**

(*The text reads gzhung phur, a term not otherwise known to us, although with its meaning being central peg, it very likely refers to the pole star.  Notice in favor of this idea that the Indic-derived term gser-phur or golden peg, is often used for the pole star. **Jampa Samten says we ought to read sgo-kha, meaning doorstep. Or, possibly, sgo-khang or porch. I think go-kha is the ash-catching pan in front of the oven door.)

Nanchao said, “The Milky Way* is the main line of the sky, and it is below it that I live, so I control the main line of the sky, and you must make your conference on my ground.”
(*dgu-tshigs skya-mo - དགུ་ཚིགས་སྐྱ་མོ་)
They fixed a time for a later meeting and parted ways for the time being.

Then Khri-sum-rje prepared an ingenious construction.* At the Dbyar-ma-thang gathering he took a rope on which he had inserted azure-blue bark** and stretched it out against the sky. To that he attached sun, moon, planets and stars made of mica.*** Below the dam of dark blue bark he stoked a fire and this made a vapor that formed a fog.  Then he painted some ducks with gold and brought them there to play.

(*Or simply a device, along the lines of meaning of the Sanskrit yantra.  The meaning of the ’phrul in the name of the Jokhang, Rasa Trulnang (Ra-sa ’Phrul-snang), has been explored in a recent article: D. Martin, “Pavements Like the Sea.” **It is possible that mthing-shun, the expected spelling, means dark blue bark, but it may be translated indigo husk, a name for a pigment-making substance that is most likely none other than copper sulfate, or Cu2SO4.  Mthing-shun could intend the bark of the mthing-shing, or ‘indigo tree.’  A statement by D. Jackson suggests that mthing-shun may be a specific grade of medium-dark azurite, in the form of a crushed pigment used for making paint (“A Survey of Tibetan Pigments,” p. 275).  In the history of the dye, there has long been a confusion of terms, using the same word sometimes for a mineral and sometimes for a vegetable substance (for more, consult your Hobson-Jobson’s entry for “indigo’). There is an interesting mention of tents made of mthing-shun in the long Deyu history, p. 341 [English tr., p. 654], so it may be possible to imagine a tent made of dark blue bark, it isn’t sure.  It seems likely in our passage that paper or cloth dyed with copper sulphate would be the intended meaning. ***Lhang-tsher, perhaps more correctly lhang-'tsher, is not a commonly encountered word, and it isn't clear that mica would always be the substance intended by it, although because of its ability to glint brightly in the dark it does make very good sense in the context of this passage.)

“Mine is a country where sun, moon, planets and stars shine all at once,

where clouds form on the mountain heights at the new year,

where the glacier mountains take the form of crystal chortens,

where the gods serve as rulers of men and where golden birds are brought to play.*

(*We suppose 'birds of gold' might refer to the Himalayan snowcock, which has, in addition to black and white colors in its underparts, a kind of brownish golden color on its back.  The snowcock has sometimes been regarded as symbolic of Tibet, and this may help us to argue for its meaning here.  See, for example, Schaeffer et al., eds, Sources of  Tibetan Tradition, pp. 572-573 for a translation of a relevant passage, although here the type of bird is not specified. The text reads gong-mo, which certainly means a kind of pheasant or grouse, and very likely the snowcock.)

“My country is more sublime than any of yours, so the conference must be held at my place.”

When he put it that way they could come up with no reply, so the peace conference was held at the Tibetan king’s place.  So it is said.*

(*Scholars’ Feast, at pp. 400-401.  We have compared this with the woodblock print reproduced in the History Set, vol. 16 (ma), p. 397. The latter is marked with the sigil "H" in our text, found in the appendix to this blog.  Apart from the complete translation of this passage by Helga Uebach, there are also some short references to it, including Szerb’s essay, p. 378.) 

°

As Janos Szerb (p. 377) pointed out, this episode gets shortened, distorted or omitted in the later histories and even placed at an earlier time, in the reign of Trisongdetsen. The Records of China and Tibet (1985 ed., p. 198) is an example of both extreme shortening and temporal displacement: khri gsum rje stag snas / rgya dang / gru gu / ljangs gsum gyis mol bsdum byas — ཁྲི་གསུམ་རྗེ་སྟག་སྣས། རྒྱ་དང་། གྲུ་གུ ལྗངས་གསུམ་གྱིས་མོལ་བསྡུམས་བྱས། (and note further on, at p. 202, the chief figure’s name is spelled 'Bri Khrir-rje Stag-sna, here placed among the three ministers in the time of Relpachan).*
(*The presumably ca. 1200 CE Nyangral History, 1988 ed., pp. 424-426, on Relpachan’s territorial gains, is obscure but has been translated in Uebach's essay, pp. 503-505, and should be revisited, as much that is in it was left unexplained.)
We ought to be as brief as we possibly can and state our thesis plainly. While we will not argue for this being a genuine Old Tibetan document that got embedded in the Scholars’ Feast, and in fact doubt this possibility, the case can be made that it reflects, in several ways quite accurately, a particular episode in imperial period history. By connecting some of its content to other writings on both paper and stone, we may see that this is truly a story told about the quadrilateral peace treaty in the time of Emperor Relpachan, very surely one of the highlights of his rule. Yet we should also like to spare some words about the stars, along with a few more items of interest: [1] The set of nations involved in the treaty conference. [2] The geography of the conference site. [3] The identity of the minister, or rather the general, who plays the starring role in the conference planning. [4] The stars.


[1]  Our text has the triad of China, Uighurs and Nanchao (“rgya hor ljang gsum”).

It hardly seems possible that very many peace conferences took place in Tibetan history that could be described as quadrilateral, let alone conferences involving an identical set of countries.  In our story Tibet is intending to hold a peace treaty conference ending hostilities with three countries:  China, the Uighur Turk kingdom, and Nanchao.  

The following source mentions China and Turks, without Nanchao. It does mention the area named Dbyar-mo-thang that we will discuss soon.  It even shares some wording with our story.  In the account of the reign of Relpacan in the long Deyu history (post-1261 CE), we find this passage:

In the earlier part of his life, the areas of the Chinese and Turks on the border* had not been under Tibetan control, so later on when the three [military] divisions battled [there, the] territory [they gained] was not maintained.**  The killing solved nothing.***  Making [or, Working from?] the three months of winter into the fruiting season of summer at Dbyar-mo-thang in Khams they made a truce.  Then they inscribed the forms of the sun and moon in stone**** and they made a scroll edict.  Through his miraculous powers he emanated a pair of bodies and skillfully subdued the enemies on the frontiers.*****   

(*We have seen other instances in our text in which Rgya Drug is a short way of saying China and Turkestan.  We also find it in some documents from Dunhuang that were certainly composed in the early 9th century.  Sometimes, too, the name of the kingdom of Nanchao ('Jang) is added as a third element. On mid-8th century 'Jang relationship with Tibet, see essays by Takata and Uebach and literature they cite.  **There is a discussion of the military concept of three communities (sde gsum) in Thub-bstan-phun-tshogs, Bod-kyi Lo-rgyus Spyi-don Padma-ra-ga'i Lde-mig, Si-khron Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Chengdu 1996), vol. 1, p. 271.  According to this source these are the upper, intermediate and lower divisions of the military force responsible for keeping border posts in different regions, corresponding with western, central and eastern parts of the Plateau.  The upper division was mainly concerned with the Turkic peoples (Gru-gu or Dru-gu), the intermediate with the Nanchao (Ljang or 'Jang) kingdom, and the lower with the Chinese (Rgya). For more on these three military divisions, see this blog from last year.  ***This reads bsad-pas ma zad, but the better reading is no doubt the one in the small Deyu. ****According to Penpa Dorji, this says they made a pillar inscription that had the sun & moon on it, and this seems to me the more likely interpretation.  Kapstein’s book, p. 28 has something on the sun and moon. I also noticed this intriguing passage from a letter which I take to be Dunhuang Chinese, translated in Demieville’s book, p. xx: “le Saint  Souverain, c’est-à-dire le  Roi  du  Tibet, régit les trois luminaires : soleil, lune, étoiles, qui éclairent l’univers entier.”  More on the subject below.  *****sku tshe stod la mtha'i rgya drug ma btul bas / phyis sde gsum 'thab pas sa ma zin / bsad pas ma zad / khams kyi dbyar mo thang du dgun gyi zla ba gsum na dbyar gyi rtsi thog tu mdzad nas dums mdzad de / rdo la nyi zla'i gzugs bris nas thang gtsigs mdzad do //  rdzu 'phrul ya ma zung du sprul nas mtha'i dgra yang thabs kyis btul.  The long Deyu history, p. 362. In general this wording, rdzu 'phrul ya ma zung du, here translated as “Through his miraculous powers he emanated a pair of bodies,” would refer to a particular miracle performed by the Buddha in which He produced fire from the upper half and water from the lower half of His body.  This incident of the Buddha’s miraculous displays is often referred to in the literature as the “miracle of the pairs.” However, we believe here it may just mean miraculously appearing in two places at once, in a word bilocation. It is entirely possible that Relpachan traveled quite far to the northeast as far as the Kokonoor Lake. Local traditions in the town of Khri-ga even today believe that one of his thrones (khri) was located there. For more about the Chorten said to date from Relpachan’s visit, see Gruschke’s book, p. 68.)

The small Deyu history, p. 134, has a somewhat difficult parallel passage that aids our understanding somewhat:
“In the earlier half of his (Relpachan’s) life when he subdued enemies, the outer borders were fought over with the three military divisions but [their gains] were not maintained, and while there was killing, the humans were not finished, and the three winter months of Dbyar-mo-thang in Khams were manifested as the three fruits [three fruitful months?] of summer and a truce was made.  In the Horse year*  they inscribed the shape of sun and moon, and the final wording was composed.  He skillfully subdued the outer enemies through his miracle of pairs.”**
(*Probably the word for horse, rta, is here a mistake for the word for tiger, stag, with closely similar pronunciation.  If this solution is acceptable then the Tiger year of 822 would be the correct one for the peace treaty.  To follow the 12th century source, the Door of Entry to the Dharma, as cited by Szerb (p. 381), 822 is the year of the treaty with China, while the treaty with the Uighurs would have been concluded in 823. **sku tshe stod la dgra brtul ba las phyi'i so sde gsum dang 'thab pas ma zin te / bsad pas mi ma zad nas khams kyi dbyar mo thang gyi dgun gyi zla gsum la dbyar gyi thog gsum du sprul nas gdums mdzad / rta lo la nyi zla'i gzugs bris nas / tha tshigs mdzad / rdzu 'phrul ya ma zung gis mtha'i dgra yang thabs kyis brtul.)
The same triad of nations, in the form of rgya drug ’jang, or rgya drug dang ’jang occurs in the Old Tibetan text known as the Dega Turquoise Grove Temple Prayers — once in Pt 0016, and four times in ITJ 0751.


[2] Our text has “Dbyar-ma-thang,” although this needs to be corrected to Dbyar-mo-thang, a place name not well known. It is mentioned in the Lhasa treaty stele inscription (Richardson’s book, pp. 10-12), but unfortunately in a fragmented part of the inscription.  It is the general geographical entity that included the Dega Treatise Temple, or De-ga G.yu-tshal, Dega Turquoise Grove. We fortunately have what I accept to be a Relpachan era text preserved in Dunhuang in what may be a somewhat later manuscript (?). Its title page, along with its first 21 folios are missing, but a big part of it has been reconstituted by reuniting two Dunhuang texts kept in Paris and London. Based on its content we can just call it the Dega Treatise Temple Consecration Aspiration Prayers, or for short the Aspiration Prayers. For most of what has been written on this, see the bibliography listings for Thomas, Kapstein and Walter. The prayers would have begun with one or more by Emperor Relpachan himself, but since they would have come first, they are in the missing part.

Dega Turquoise Grove is given a likely location, according to Horlemann’s essay (p. 132, note 28), within the region then known as Bkra-shis Dbyar-mo-thang, in Mdo-gams, in around the mid-9th century (for an independent discussion of Dbyar-mo-thang, see Taenzer’s book, pp. 22-24). What is certain in my mind, at least, based on the sources just given, is that Dbyar-mo-thang, ‘Summer Plains,’ was east (possibly in small part south) of the Kokonoor, and stretched far enough east to include a part of present-day Gansu. It appears to have been quite an extensive area, at first beyond and then within Mdo-gams (i.e., Mdo-khams, an old name for the broad realm larger than present-day Amdo or Qinghai). Dbyar-mo-thang represents a region that had formerly been subject to the Chinese state ruled from its Chang’an / Xi’an capital, but was then, before and during the time of the peace treaty at least, militarily occupied by the Tibetan army, remaining a Tibetan possession until the fall of the empire in 842. If you need more on the geography, the latest word is in Kapstein’s book, pp. 35-44.


[3]  Our text has the spelling “Khri-sum-rje Stag-snar,” and he is described as a minister.

Although he isn’t mentioned in the account from the long Deyu supplied above, Stag-sna/Stag-snang is present there elsewhere, in a list of notable persons who built temples in order to assuage their guilt and purify sins:

“Khri-gsum-rje Stag-snang led an army into the land of the maternal uncle China. To purify his sins he built a temple at Brag-dmar Bka’-chu.”*
(*Long Deyu history, pp. 264-265:  khri gsum rje stag snang gis zhang po rgya la dmag drangs pa'i sdig sbyong du brag dmar bka' chu'i lha khang bzhengs.  We should hesitate to correct the spelling of our text, since it may reflect a genuine early orthography. Still, most sources know this temple as Ka-chu or Kwa-chu. For a discussion of the founding of this temple that includes this passage, see Vitali, Early Temples of Central Tibet, p. 22. Near Bsam-yas and to its east, Mes-ag-tshoms named a place after the Chinese capital to commemorate the Tibetan victory over the district of Kansu/Gansu. This place was later taken over by the monastic ordinator Klu-mes. For the idea that merits accrued through temple building can serve as expiation for sin, particularly the sins involved in war operations, see Kapstein’s book, p. 44-45, which could now be supported by the passages in the long Deyu translation at pp. 506, 523-524.)

On the same page and just before this, his same name appeared in a different form: 

’Bro-rje Khri-gsum-rje Rtags-snang* opened the eastern entrance pass of fine silk and controlled it.**

(*I hesitate, but in fact, if you want a reasonable sketch of his career, go to Wikipedia and search for “Dro Trisumje Taknang.” **The long Deyu history, p. 264:  ’bro rje khri gsum rje rtags snang gis / shar dar zab kyi la sgo phye ste mnga’ mdzad. English tr., p. 522.)

There have been quite a large number of discussions about this person in the past, so much so that it is rather hopeless to study and contrast all their findings, a task we do not undertake to perform today.* He acted as general on the Chinese front before becoming chief minister, and it seems he was at some point associated with silk trade. A line in the small Deyu, p. 139, reads ’bro khri gsum rje bsad pas dkor nor gyi khungs subs. This might be translated, ‘When ’Bro Khri-gsum-rje was slain, the source of a/the wealth of the treasury was wiped out.’ This suggests his silk trade may have been a crucial source for state finance.

I believe the most significant of those many discussions are the ones by Elliot Sperling and Roberto Vitali, and I refer you to them.*   

(*Elliot Sperling’s essay, pp. 42-45, discussed 'Bro Stag-snang in a lot of detail, with many sources given. While Roberto Vitali’s treatment in his book Early Temples of Central Tibet, pp. 17-18, 21-22, 24, is shorter, it does synthesize quite a few sources resulting in a substantial sketch of his career. There are a few dozen more references I could list, but don’t see the point of doing so at the moment.)

Seeing that these three specific aspects of our Scholars’ Feast story, the ones I’ve numbered one through three, have close correspondence with a range of earlier texts, including the text of the Lhasa treaty pillar, one may think that this story is a retelling of the same event, legend-like as it may be, after it was passed down through a number of generations.  Still, it is unclear how much credit oral tradition ought to be given, given that literary inventions or elaborations are constant possibilities.


[4] The stellar aspect of the story, in which countries have groups of celestial bodies presiding over them, might seem to be the one major element that would be due to the oral or literary “invention.” But at the very least there was a core of astronomical symbolism in the less-doubted and oldest sources that to some degree corresponds with it, that conceivably could have inspired it. This would tend toward the idea that the story, while it has anchoring in the genuinely old, could be a later, or even much later, elaboration.*
(*At the moment I leave out of discussion the lore about the Four Appointed Kings [India, China, Tazig, and Gesar], but there, too, each country has an asterism presiding over it. See especially the long Deyu history, the English tr., pp. 415-424.)

The Deyu versions mention the sun and moon only, without the stars.  In my reading of the passage near the end of the west side of the Zhol pillar inscription (Richardson’s book, pp. 124, 126) the sun and moon represent all the parts of the world reached by their light, meaning finally that all the heavenly bodies as well as the world itself are being called upon to bear witness to the treaty.  Although we can see why some may think so, we do not believe the sun and moon are intended, in this context, to symbolize Tibet and China.*  Uebach’s essay (p. 505) quotes from the Nyangral history and translates:  
“There was a saying that at that time on earth there was nobody else than the Nephew and the Uncle like the sun and moon in the sky and that is why they designed the image of sun and moon on a boulder.” 
As I read it, it is saying that on earth there is only the nephew and uncle, and in the sky only the sun and the moon, each pair uniquely special and influential in its own realm. It looks like poetic metaphor rather than politically weighted symbolism. We ought to compare another part of the Scholars’ Feast (1985 ed.), pp. 415-416, with its account of Relpachan,** and its echoes of the Lhasa treaty inscription (Richardson’s book, pp. 124-127) which, however, calls not only the sun and moon, but also the stars and planets to witness the swearing of the oaths.
(*Kapstein’s book, p. 18, has more discussion of the sun and moon standing for China and Tibet.  See also his p. 62, where a passage from 5th Dalai Lama seems to clearly identify the pair of Chinese and Tibetan rulers with the sun and moon.  See, too, Walter, Buddhism & Empire, pp. 234, 265; also, Sørensen, Mirror, p. 422. **At p. 416: gnam la nyi zla zung gcig / sa la btsan po dbon zhang las med do bar bgros nas pha bong la nyi zla'i gzugs byas / phyis chad bod bod yul na bde / rgya rgya yul na bde...)
A dice divination text from Dunhuang supplies us with a set of eery echoes of vocabulary terms used in the Scholars’ Feast story. This is from ITJ 0738, with the text as found at the OTDO website, although I have adding violet color to the terms that are in harmony with our story:

mthIng kyIs nI rgyan bres pas / / dgung mtha' nI 'gyur myI srId / dgu tshIgs nI gzhung [rtan (/stan)] bas / / skar nI ltung myI srId / gser gI nI phur btab pas / / zangs gyI nI rgyan bres pas / / dog mtha' nI ldIng myI srId / /

There are some difficulties, of the kinds only to be expected in Dunhuang Tibetan texts, but for the sake of science I will rough out a readable translation:

“Decorated with its ornaments of azurite, the sky’s horizon cannot change. The Nine Joints [Milky Way] being a stable center, the stars cannot fall. With the peg[s] of gold pounded down,* decorated with ornaments of copper, the edges of the ‘narrow one’** cannot float upward.”

(*I think it very likely that one line of 6-syllable verse is missing at this point. Golden peg, or gser phur, usually is an epithet of the pole star. **Here dog is an epithet of the earth, since our dwelling space, after all, appears quite narrowly constrictive from the perspective of the wide open sky. There is quite an interesting parallel to this Dunhuang passage to be found in the Songs of Milarepa. Look below for references to both the Chang and Stagg translations.)

The ‘central line’ (gzhung-thig) of our story, where it is descriptive of the Milky Way, can be understood as the first step in any geometrical construction plan, whether a divine maṇḍala or a more earthly type of dwelling. As a technical term in art/craft/industry/construction science (the field of knowledge Tibetans call bzo-rig) it is equivalent to the ‘Brahma line’ (tshangs-thig), the vertical line or axis that everything else follows from and depends upon. I’m tempted to give this (or read into it?) a political meaning, but it gives me no pleasure to close off other realms of possible significance, I’ll leave that up to you.


Readable and quotable objects


Christopher I. Beckwith, The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia, Princeton University Press (Princeton 1993).  At pp. 167-168 are some interesting observations about the peace treaties, most remarkably that they resulted in a period of peace that lasted 20 years (until the Uighur and Tibetan empires collapsed in 840 and 842). This just goes to show that wishing prayers do come true.

Joanna Bialek, Compounds and Compounding in Old Tibetan, a Corpus Based Approach, Indica et Tibetica series no. 57, Indica et Tibetica Verlag (Marburg 2018), in 2 vols. The entry for “rgya drug” meaning Chinese and Turks, at vol. 1, pp. 461-463, is a particularly relevant one.

Garma C.C. Chang, tr., The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, Shambhala (Boulder 1977), in 2 volumes.  See vol. 1, p. 26 (the Stagg translation may be compared): 

“The sun and moon were shut in darkness;
And the Twenty-eight Constellations were fixed.
The Milky Way was pegged,
And the Eight Planets were tied by an iron chain.
The firmament was wrapped in fog...” 

K. Czeglédy, “The Foundation of the Turfan Uyghur Kingdom,” contained in: Louis Ligeti, ed., Tibetan and Buddhist Studies Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Alexander Csoma de Korös, Munshiram Manoharlal (New Delhi 2000, reprint of 1984 ed.), vol. 1, pp. 159-163.

Paul Demiéville, Le Concile de Lhasa. Une controverse sur le quiétisme entre Bouddhistes de l'Inde et de la Chine au VIIIe siècle de l'ère chrétienne, Imprimerie Nationale de France (Paris 1952).

Deyu history, long — Commonly referred to as the “Mkhas-pa Lde'u.” For the LOTC edition of the Tibetan text as a freely downloadable PDF, look here. For reference to the English translation, see under Martin.

Deyu history, small — Commonly referred to as the “Lde’u Jo-sras.” For a transcription of the entire text, look here.

Ildikó Ecsedy, “Nanchao: An Archaic State between China and Tibet,” contained in: Louis Ligeti, ed., Tibetan and Buddhist Studies Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Alexander Csoma de Korös, Munshiram Manoharlal (New Delhi 2000, reprint of 1984 ed.), vol. 1, pp.  165-189. There are some interesting comments about the significance of a particular 9-star constellation “part of the constellation Scorpion containing the Antares,” indicating the time of spring cultivation, while the year’s end is marked by the return of a star (pp. 168, 175, 181, 183-184).

Andreas Gruschke, The Cultural Monuments of Tibet's Outer Provinces, Amdo, Volume 1: The Qinghai Part of Amdo, White Lotus (Bangkok 2001).  At p. 81, he locates the region of Dbyar-mo-thang to the southwest of the Kokonoor, commenting that it is one of the most sparsely populated regions of the world, forming an eastern extension of the Byang-thang. My thinking throws it in the opposite direction, but that’s okay, I haven’t made up my mind.

Helmut Hoffmann, Mi-la Ras-pa, Sieben Legenden, Otto Wilhelm Barth-Verlag (Munich 1950).  See p. 31:

Es ward das erhabene Paar von Sonne und Mond Gefangen gehalten,
Gefesselt die achtundzwanzig Getirne der Mondstationen,
Die acht Planeten in eiserne Ketten geschlagen,
Die fahle Milchstraße wurde vollkommen verborgen,
Die kleinen Sterne restlos von Dunste verhüllt.
Asl dann die Dunstwolken alles bedeckten...

Bianca Horlemann, “Buddhist Sites in Amdo and Former Longyou from the 8th to 13th Century,” contained in: C. Scherrer-Schaub, ed., Old Tibetan Studies, Brill (Leiden 2012), pp. 119-157.

Iwao Kazushi, “Dbus mtha’: Centre and Periphery in the Old Tibetan Empire,” Central Asiatic Journal, vol. 61, no. 1 (2018), pp. 49-60. This throws unexpected light on the geographical problems.

___, “Reconsidering the Sino-Tibetan Treaty Inscription,” contained in:  Tsuguhito Takeuchi and Norihiko Hayashi, eds., Historical Development of the Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the Workshop B of the 17th Himalayan Languages Symposium (Kobe), 6th-9th, September, 2011 (being Journal of Research Institute, vol. 49), Research Institute of Foreign Studies, Kobe City University of Foreign Studies (Kobe 2012), pp. 19-28. I found this particularly interesting for its discussion of the border-marking steles of the 8th and early 9th centuries. These steles are no longer to be seen, but the Chinese text from the inscriptions on one of them has been preserved (the original is likely to have been bilingual, like the treaty inscription in Lhasa).

David Jackson, with J. Jackson, “A Survey of Tibetan Pigments,” Kailash, vol. 4, no. 3 (1976), pp. 273-294.

Matthew Kapstein, “The Treaty Temple of De ga G.yu tshal: Iconography and Identification,” contained in: Huo Wei, ed., Essays on the International Conference on Tibetan Archaeology and Art, Sichuan Renmin Chuban-she (Chengdu 2004), pp. 98-127. I believe this essay has been superseded by the chapter in his 2009 book.

___, “The Treaty Temple of De ga g.yu tshal: Reconsiderations.”  A pre-publication draft in PDF.  Here the author changes his idea about identifying the temple, and finds that De-ga is a period transcription of Daxia, name of a river valley now called Linxia in what is now southern Gansu. Very interesting!

___, “The Treaty Temple of De-ga G.yu-tshal: Review of Research and Response to Critics.”  A paper given at the Beijing Seminar on Tibetan Society, held at China Tibetology Research Center (Beijing, October 13-17, 2008).

___, “The Treaty Temple of the Turquoise Grove,” being part 1, chapter 1, in Matthew Kapstein, ed., Buddhism between Tibet and China, Wisdom (Boston 2009), pp. 21-72. The parts that most highly merit our attention right now are at pp. 31-33 where he outlines the content of the seven prayers found in the now-existing parts, and pp. 35 & ff. on the geographical problems.

Li Fang Kuei, “A Problem in the Sino-Tibetan Treaty Inscription,” Acta Orientalia Hungarica, vol. 34 (1980), pp. 121-124.

___, “The Inscription of the Sino-Tibetan Treaty of 821-822,” T’oung Pao, vol. 44 (1956), pp. 1-99+.

___ and W. South Coblin, A Study of the Old Tibetan Inscriptions, Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica (Taipei 1987).  Mention of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army Zhang Khri-sum-rje on the north face of the Treaty Inscription, at p. 117.

Dan Martin, tr., A History of Buddhism in India and Tibet: An Expanded Version of the Dharma’s Origins Made by the Learned Scholar Deyu, The Library of Tibetan Classics series no. 32, Wisdom Publications (Somerville 2022). We call this for short the “long Deyu” even though the work is a post-1262 CE anonymous compilation framed as a commentary on a verse work. It was this verse work alone, dating from nearly a century earlier, that was composed by the Zhijé figure named Deyu.

___, “Pavements Like the Sea and the Name of the Jokhang: King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in Lhasa,” contained in: Franz-Karl Ehrhard and Petra Maurer, eds., Nepalica-Tibetica: Festgabe for Christoph Cüppers, International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (Andiast 2013), vol. 2, pp. 23-36.

Nyangral’s History — Nyang Nyi-ma-’od-zer, Chos-’byung Me-tog Snying-po Sbrang-rtsi’i Bcud, Bod-ljongs Mi-dmangs Dpe-skrun-khang (Lhasa 1988).

Pa-tshab Sangs-rgyas-dbang-’dus, “An Introduction to the Text of the Newly Discovered Khrom chen Stele,” translation by Nathan Hill of a Tibetan-language article first published in 1997, Tibet Journal, vol. 32, no. 3 (Autumn 2007), pp. 3-9. This stele, inscribed on its four sides, was found in a field in 1990, broken in three pieces. Unfortunately its fragmentary condition does not allow a lot of conclusions about it, except that its text is from the time of Emperor Relpachan, and compared to previously known steles, it contains a lot of vocabulary related to Buddhism. For other stone and metal inscriptions related to his reign, see Richardson's 1985 book, pp. 92-147.

Pan Yihong, “The Sino-Tibetan Treaties in the Tang-Dynasty,” T’oung Pao, vol. 78 (1992), pp. 116-161.

Records of China and Tibet — Dpal-’byor-bzang-po, Rgya Bod Yig-tshang Chen-mo, Si-khron Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Chengdu 1985).

Hugh E. Richardson, A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions, Royal Asiatic Society (London 1985).

___, Ancient Historical Edicts at Lhasa and the Mu Tsung - Khri Gtsung Lde Brtsan Treaty of A.D. 821-822 from the Inscription at Lhasa, Royal Asiatic Society Prize Publication Fund no. 19 (London 1952). 

___, “The Sino-Tibetan Treaty Inscription of A.D. 821/823 at Lhasa,”  The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1978), pp. 137-62.

Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Matthew T. Kapstein, Gray Tuttle, eds., Sources of Tibetan Tradition, Columbia University Press (New York 2013). There is a translation of the west face of the Lhasa treaty pillar inscription, and some parts of the Aspiration Prayers (the 1st and 3rd out of 7) at pp. 76-86.  There are further translations related to the 821 (or 822) treaty on pp. 21-24.

Scholars’ Feast — Dpa’-bo Gtsug-lag-phreng-ba, Chos-’byung Mkhas-pa’i Dga’-ston (=Dam-pa’i Chos-kyi ’Khor-lo Bsgyur-ba-rnams-kyi Byung-ba Gsal-bar Byed-pa Mkhas-pa’i Dga’-ston), ed. by Rdo-rje-rgyal-po, Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Lhasa 1986), in 2 volumes.

Per K. Sørensen, Tibetan Buddhist Historiography, The Mirror Illuminating the Royal Genealogies: An Annotated Translation of the XIVth Century Tibetan Chronicle rGyal-rabs gsal-ba’i me-long, Harrassowitz (Wiesbaden 1994). Of special relevance are the pages on the reign of Relpachan and his peace treaties are at pp. 410-423.

Elliot Sperling, “A Captivity in Ninth Century Tibet,” Tibet Journal, vol. 4, no. 4 (Winter 1979), pp. 17-67.  Corrections listed in vol. 5, nos. 1-2 (Spring 1980), pp. 95-96.

Christopher Stagg, tr., The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa by Tsangnyön Heruka, a New Translation, Shambhala (Boulder 2016), p. 31:

“The sun and moon were put into prison.
The twenth-eight constellations were strung on a wire.
The eight planets were put into shackles by edict.
The great Milky Way was tethered down.
The morning star was completely wrapped in mist.”

Rolf A. Stein, “Les serments des traités sino-tibétains (8e-9e siécles),”  T’oung Pao, vol. 74 (1988), pp. 119-138.  ‘The Oaths of Sino-Tibetan Treaties (8th and 9th Centuries).’

János Szerb, “A Note on the Tibetan-Uighur Treaty of 822/823 A.D.,” contained in: Ernst Steinkellner and Helmut Tauscher, eds., Contributions on Tibetan Language, History and Culture, Proceedings of the Csoma de Körös Symposium held at Velm-Vienna, Austria, 13-19 September 1981, vol. 1 (1983), pp. 375-387.

Gertraud Taenzer, The Dunhuang Region during Tibetan Rule (787-848): A Study of the Secular Manuscripts Discovered in the Mogao Caves, Opera Sinologica no. 24, Harrassowitz (Wiesbaden 2012).

Takata Tokio, “A Note on the Lijiang Tibetan Inscription,” Asia Major, vol. 19, nos. 1-2 (2006), pp. 161-170, at p. 163.

F. W. Thomas, Tibetan Literary Texts and Documents concerning Chinese Turkestan, Part Two: Documents, Royal Asiatic Society (London 1951). The Aspiration Prayers at Dega Treaty Temple (well, the part found in IOL Tib J 751) is transcribed and translated on pp. 92-109. The translation is out of date. See the Schaeffer book instead.

Helga Uebach, “Dbyar-mo-thaṅ and Goṅ-bu Ma-ru: Tibetan Historiographical Tradition on the Treaty of 821/823,” contained in: Ernst Steinkellner, ed., Tibetan History and Language: Studies Dedicated to Uray Géza on His Seventieth Birthday, Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien Universität Wien (Vienna 1991), pp. 497-526. The passage of the two Deyu histories are edited together on pp. 498-499, with the Scholars’ Feast passage transcribed and translated on pp. 499-500.

___, “Tibetan Officials in the 8th-Century Southeastern Part of the Empire,” contained in: C. Scherrer-Schaub, ed., Old Tibetan Studies, Brill (Leiden 2012), pp. 53-64.  For the text of the relevant inscription, dated to post-757 CE, look here.

Roberto Vitali, Early Temples of Central Tibet, Serindia (Chicago 1990).

Michael Walter, “Analysis of PT016/IO751: Language and Culture of a Dunhuang Document, Part One,” contained in: Christoph Cüppers, Robert Mayer and Michael Walter, eds., Tibet after Empire: Culture, Society and Religion between 850-1000, Lumbini International Research Institute (Lumbini 2013), pp. 417-440. This is a robust attempt to analyze the text of the Aspiration Prayers on the basis of its written forms and vocabulary items. Part Two was to include a translation with commentary, although it hasn’t yet appeared as far as I know.

___, Buddhism and Empire: The Political and Religious Culture of Early Tibet, Brill (Leiden 2009).

___, bdun tshigs, dgu tshigs, etc.: Notes on Astrological Divination in Old Tibetan Documents.” A forthcoming essay, along with Uebach's 1991 among the most relevant writings on the subjects of this blog entry.




Appendix 1:  The Tibetan text of the passage from Scholars’ Feast in transcription (a few proper names capitalized for emphasis).

sngar yab mes kyi ring bka' [H dka'] khon byung ba'i rgya hor ljang gsum dang 'thab [H 'thabs] pas rtsang ma tshod [H rtsad ma chod] bsad pas mi ma zad nas blon po KHRI SUM RJE STAG SNAR gyis [H gis] mjal dus [H dum] bgyi bar glengs pas [/] RGYA na re nyi zla gza' skar nga'i thog nas 'char te [H ste] gnam kyi [H gyi] mgo bo nga dbang bas sdum [H sdums] nga'i mdun du bya dgos zer /   

HOR na re skar ma smin bdun gnam gyi gzhung phur yin / de'i 'og na nga 'dug ste gnam gyi gzhung nga dbang bas sdum [H omits sdum] nga'i go khar bya dgos zer /   

LJANG na re dgu tshigs skya mo gnam gyi gzhung thig yin / de'i 'og na nga 'dug ste gnam gyi gzhung thig nga dbang bas sdum [H sdums] nga'i sar bya dgos zer /   

slad nas mjal ba'i dus byas te de res gyes / KHRI SUM RJEs 'phrul bshams te DBYAR MA THANG du tshogs thing shun tu [H du] bcug pa'i thag pa nam mkha' [401] la brkyangs pa [H brkyang ba] la lhang tsher gyi nyi zla gza' skar gyi gzugs btags / thing shun bskyil ba'i 'og tu me bus te rlangs pa na bun du chags par byas / ngang pa gser gyis byugs pa [H pha] rol du khrid nas / nyin mo gnam la skar ma 'char ba'i yul // nyi zla gza' skar dus gcig 'char ba'i yul // lo gsar [H sar] sgang la na bun chags pa'i yul // gangs ri shel gyi mchod rten chags pa'i yul // mi rje lhas mdzad gser bya rol du khrid / khyed thams cad las nga khyad du 'phags pas sdum [H sdums] nga'i mdun du byed dgos zhes [H ces] smras pas lan ma thebs te bod rgyal po'i drung du mjal dum byas skad /  

°

Appendix 2: The Tibetan text from the Scholars’ Feast, 1986 edition (vol. 1, pp. 400-401), based on BDRC's OCR, but with minor corrections after comparing it with the 1986. This is here for the benefit of those who prefer to read Tibetan in Tibetan script:

༄༅།། །།སྔར་ཡབ་མེས་ཀྱི་རིང་བཀའ་ཁོན་བྱུང་བའི་རྒྱ་ཧོར་ལྗང་གསུམ་དང་འཐབ་པས་རྩང་མ་ཚོད་བསད་པས་མི་མ་ཟད་ནས་བློན་་པོ་ཁྲི་སུམ་རྗེ་སྟག་སྣར་གྱིས་མཇལ་དུམ་བགྱི་བར་གླེངས་པས་རྒྱ་ན་རེ་ཉི་ཟླ་གཟའ་སྐར་ངའི་ཐོག་ནས་འཆར་ཏེ་གནམ་གྱི་མགོ་བོ་ང་དབང་བས་སྡུམ་ངའི་མདུན་དུ་བྱ་དགོས་ཟེར། ཧོར་ན་རེ་སྐར་མ་སྨིན་བདུན་གནམ་གྱི་གཞུང་ཕུར་ཡིན། དེའི་འོག་ན་ང་འདུག་སྟེ་གནམ་གྱི་གཞུང་ང་དབང་བས་སྡུམ་ངའི་གོ་ཁར་བྱ་དགོས་ཟེར། ལྗང་ན་རེ་དགུ་ཚིགས་སྐྱ་མོ་གནམ་གྱི་གཞུང་ཐིག་ཡིན། དེའི་འོག་ན་ང་འདུག་སྟེ་གནམ་གྱི་གཞུང་ཐིག་ང་དབང་བས་སྡུམ་ངའི་སར་བྱ་དགོས་ཟེར། སླད་ནས་མཇལ་བའི་དུས་བྱས་ཏེ་དེ་རེས་གྱེས། 

ཁྲི་སུམ་རྗེས་འཕྲུལ་བཤམས་ཏེ་དབྱར་མ་ཐང་དུ་ཚོགས་ཐིང་ཤུན་ཏུ་བཅུག་པའི་ཐག་པ་ནམ་མཁའ་ལ་བརྐྱངས་པ་ལ་ལྷང་ཚེར་གྱི་ཉེ་ཟླ་གཟའ་སྐར་གྱི་གཟུགས་བཏགས། ཐིང་ཤུན་བསྐྱིལ་བའི་འོག་ཏུ་མེ་བུས་ཏེ་རླངས་པ་ན་བུན་དུ་ཆགས་པར་བྱས། ངང་པ་གསེར་གྱིས་བྱུགས་པ་རོལ་དུ་ཁྲིད་ནས། ཉིན་མོ་གནམ་ལ་སྐར་མ་འཆར་བའི་ཡུལ། །ཉི་ཟླ་གཟའ་སྐར་དུས་གཅིག་འཆར་བའི་ཡུལ། །ལོ་གསར་སྒང་ལ་ན་བུན་ཆགས་པའི་ཡུལ། །གངས་རི་ཤེལ་གྱི་མཆོད་རྟེན་ཆགས་པའི་ཡུལ། །མི་རྗེ་ལྷས་མཛད་གསེར་བྱ་རོལ་དུ་ཁྲིད། ཁྱེད་ཐམས་ཅད་ལས་ང་ཁྱད་ཏུ་འཕགས་པས་སྡུམ་ངའི་མདུན་དུ་བྱེད་དགོས་ཞེས་སྨྲས་པས་ལན་མ་ཐེབས་ཏེ་བོད་རྒྱལ་པོའི་དྲུང་དུ་མཇལ་དུམ་བྱས་སྐད། 

—  —  —


From the Collected Songs of Milarepa, Chapter 3


ཉི་ཟླ་ཟུང་གཅིག་བཙོན་དུ་བཟུང་།།

རྒྱུ་སྐར་ཉེར་བརྒྱད་བསྟར་ལ་བརྒྱུས།།

ཁྲིམས་ཀྱིས་གཟའ་བརྒྱད་ལྕགས་སུ་བཅུག།

དགུ་ཚིགས་སྐྱ་མོ་བརྟོད་ལ་མནན།།

སྐར་ཕྲན་ཡོངས་ལ་བུད་ཀྱིས་བཏབ།།*

(*Both its English translators take this as a misreading for bung-gis [‘by mists,’ or ‘in fog’ or in Hoffmann’s German, von Dunste], but I believe it intends an adverbial rbud-kyis that means ‘all at once.’ I see that one version of the text reads sbud-kyis. That each celestial element here has its dark or oppressive side emphasized is explained by the context in which Milarepa tries to convey a sense of the inescapable power of the worst storm imaginable.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Five Seals of Bon, New Surprises

Five Seals symbols at end of Menri Manuscript EAP687/1/39
Click to enlarge

You might remember last May’s posting addressing my mistake in saying that in Tibet the Seven Seals (or in Bon, the Five Seals) are never represented by symbolic figures. If memory is short, go to “Five Seals of Bon, but with Symbolic Figures This Time.” Then come back here.

As if to drive the point even further and deeper into my earlier error, yet another rather different representation of the Five Seals according to Bon has shown up among the manuscripts digitized at Tibetan Bonpo Monastic Centre or, as it is also known, Menri Monastery.

We’ll just look at the first two lines of the script underneath the symbolic figures, as they supply explanation for what we see there.  You see a whole string of five syllables in the 2nd line outside the margins, so you have to wonder if it was there originally. This repeats the syllable that means ‘seal’ five times: རྒྱ་རྒྱ་རྒྱ་རྒྱ་རྒྱ།.  

From the manuscript of a work entitled ’Od-gsal Sems-kyi Me-long, or Clear Light Mirror of Mind. It forms a part of the orally transmitted Dzogchen teachings from Zhangzhung (ཞང་ཞུང་སྙན་རྒྱུད་).

The two lines that serve to label the seal illustration reads like this (forgive me a few tacitly fixed spellings):


མི་འགྱུར་གཡུང་དྲུང་ལྗང་ཁུ་རླུང་གི་རྒྱ་།

The Seal of Air, green, an unchanging yungdrung.

འཁོར་ལོ་བསྒྱུར་རྒྱལ་སྔོན་པོ་ཆུའི་རྒྱ་།

The Seal of Water, blue, the wheel-turning king.

པད་མ་དབང་ཆེན་དམར་པོ་མེའི་རྒྱ་།

The Seal of Fire, red, the lotus of great power.

རིན་ཆེན་ནོར་བུ་སེར་པོ་སའི་རྒྱ་།

The Seal of Earth, yellow, the precious jewels.

མི་ནུབ་རྒྱལ་མཚན་དཀར་པོ་ནམ་མཁའི་རྒྱ་།

The Seal of Space, white, the victory banner that never declines.

རྒྱ་ལྔས་མི་འདའ་བཀའི་རྟགས་།། རྒྱ་རྒྱ་རྒྱ་རྒྱ་རྒྱ་།

The marks with five seals of the inviolable word: seal seal seal seal seal.


I hope that was clear enough to show that once again, we can and do indeed find in Tibet a set of seals (five rather than seven this time) accompanied by symbolic figures, here we even find color correspondences. The figures are interpreted and named in terms of the five elements of traditional physics. If we were to look into this further, we would see that much of it agrees with symbolism typically found embedded in the hearts of mandalas.

So before saying farewell for today, I’d like to add one more piece of evidence in case it is needed to argue against the many who are understandably skeptical of my claim that a quite ancient Aramaic expression for “seal” may be found in medieval Tibetan manuscripts simply transcribed. It is for the sake of these doubters that I present a piece of manuscript evidence that necessarily precedes the 1245-ish evidence in the Zhijé manuscript we already supplied (here). The following illustration comes from the Matho fragments, taken out of a virtual time capsule closed in around 1200.


Matho fragment "v424."


Right there in the penultimate line, at the very end of the line, you can read ཁ་ཐམ་མོ་།།, kha-tham-mo. There you have that word kha-tham that goes back to ancient Aramaic, even if what we have here is a little unusual in placing a ‘final stop’ (slar-bsdu or rdzogs-tshig) at the end of it. So far this is the earliest datable manuscript use of this particular sealing expression in a Tibetan work that I know of. 

And it is clearly datable prior to the advent of the Mongols and Tibet’s borrowing of the Mongolian term tamga, in the form of tham-ga (dam-kha, etc.), a word Turko-Mongolian tribal groups used to mark group identity and ownership using emblems that often look like runes. I think these two Tibetan borrowings, despite their similar meanings and the syllable tham they hold in common do not share the same history.  They may both ultimately go back to the same ancient origins at the cusp of Afroeurasia, and I believe this to be the case, but in Tibet the two were borrowed via different languages at different times, and went on to serve different functions.  Kha-tham, I would say is the earlier borrowing, pre- rather than post-Mongol advent, just how early and from whom I’m not yet ready to conclude.  And kha-tham, unlike tham-ga, is only used in these sealing expressions at the end of a book.




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Need more to look at?

The Matho manuscript fragments, retrieved from chortens near the Matho Monastery in Ladakh, were introduced in some recent blogs. I have it in my mind to do more blogs about them concentrating on their Zhijé and Kagyu content.

EAP687 - Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), British Library, London.

EAP687/1/39.

Samten G. Karmay, The Little Luminous Boy, White Orchid Books (Bangkok 1998). Through painted images and brief, often very brief, biographical sketches, this book informs us about the masters who transmitted the Zhangzhung Nyangyü teachings, instructions on the nature of mind of breathtaking beauty and wisdom.

A.E. Rogozhinsky and D.V. Cheremisin, “The Tamga Signs of the Turkic Nomads in the Altai and Semirechye: Comparisons and Identifications,” Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia, vol. 47, no. 2 (2019), pp. 48-59. 

Andras Róna-Tas, “Some Notes on the Terminology of Mongolian Printing,” Acta Orientalia Hungarica, vol. 18, nos. 1-2 (1965), pp. 119-147. Here Tibetan tham-ga is identified as a “late borrowing” from Mongolian. Indeed, it was getting used increasingly over time, with its primary usage being seals used by members of the official bureaucracy.  Thel-tse is another word for it.

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An exchange of ideas that took place in the comments section of Sam's blog Early Tibet back in 2009 is worthwhile going back to, especially because it’s funny.  A veritable riot of ideas bouncing back and forth:

https://earlytibet.com/2009/02/19/a-tibetan-book-of-spells/


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Addendum

In response to today's blog Lloyd Graham made these much valued remarks, sent via academia.edu messages on December 14, 2023, and placed here with his kind permission:


Excellent, thanks Dan!

The overt colour correspondences interest me as I have previously argued that the colour associated with each of the Seven Seals in the Book of Revelation links that seal to one of the seven classical planets.

Here's the link: 

https://www.academia.edu/440506/The_Seven_Seals_of_Revelation_and_the_Seven_Classical_Planets

It seems to me that the two seals at the right of this new set have a lot in common with the corresponding two seals in the previous set that you posted back in August: (1) three tear-shapes or triangles in a pyramid configuration, and (2) a spiral crook ornamented with adjacent leaf-tips or serrations. The swastika appears in both sets, albeit in different positions. The remaining two seals in the new set seem to have no relationship to their counterparts in the earlier one.

The right-most seal is much more coherently and carefully drawn in the new set; the version in the earlier seal set is very crude and looks as if the original has undergone numerous rounds of poor copying to the point where it has become completely cryptic. The next seal along is also reduced from an intricate and cursive leaf-like icon containing three “eyes” in a pyramid configuration to a bare schematic of three triangles in the same configuration. Overall, the seal set that you posted in August could be a much debased form of the one in the Menri manuscript, with symbol degradation (of the two right-most seals), repositioning (of the swastika) and outright substitution (of the remaining two seals).

I see exactly this sort of degradation in representations of the Judeo-Islamic Seven Seals.

An afterthought. If I’m correct in reading the seals left-to-right, the Menri Ms. identifies one of the fully substituted seals as Water. The stack of three wavy lines at the left of the earlier seal set is similar to the almost universal pictogram for water, of which the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph is a good example: 

https://www.reddit.com/r/AncientEgyptian/comments/mca2ji/random_egyptian_word_water/


= = =


A brief reply (Dan, December 19, 2023) 

A victory banner ought to look something like this:


Rgyal-mtshan, Victory Banner


I’ve been looking hard for something like a star or other celestial body in the various series of Tibetan seals, and haven’t found any. Here it appears that all the colors correspond to those commonly associated (in symbolism found in many mandalas) with the five elements. So this seems to set the Tibetan (and Indian Buddhist) evidence of the Seven (or Five) Seals apart from the rest.

I wonder why the foliage seems to accompany most of the elements in this new example. It is boxed together with each of the first three seals, but then boxed alone between the 4th and 5th. I suppose I’ll go on being puzzled by this until long after the holidays are over. Shouldn’t some mysteries remain sealed?

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Postscript (February 14, 2024)

Now this!  I can’t explain how these things keep popping up.






I found it as fol. 4 of text no. 194 in the Drangsong Collection in Mustang, Nepal.  For more on this collection, look here:


You can go here and view the entire text:


The cursive manuscript doesn't have a front title, although in the margins it does have the short title Rab-gnas meaning Consecration.

To get a better look, just double-click on the photos to expand them.

Here the Five Seals appear to be growing on trees, like fruits.

I know, I should transcribe and translate the accompanying text. Give me some time and I’ll make the effort.

 
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