Sunday, November 08, 2020

Who is that Drunken Man?


If you haven’t seen any “Curators’ Corner” videos yet, some of them are both amusing and informative, so I warmly recommend watching. One in particular made me think in a new way about a Tibetan article kept in the Jokhang that may illuminate its artistic background. I’m referring to a short presentation by the Western Curator of Roman Britain for the British Museum, specifically his video on the Tantalus Cup. The Tantalus Cup is an oddly made drinking vessel that, after being filled up to a certain point, suddenly and unexpectedly reverses course and drains all of its wine out on your lap. I do think you need to start at the beginning, but if you are in a hurry you can see the object that most interests us right now by moving about eight minutes into it. The even more interesting thing is the Mildenhall Bacchic Platter. It’s not the main point of the video, just a tangent taken when explaining the Tantalus Cup. This byway is our highway.

The drunken man in the Jokhang Jug, attributed to the early
7th-century era of Emperor Songtsen the Wise

If you are inclined, you might see as I did a strong typological similarity, regardless of other differences, with Emperor Songtsen the Wise’s beer jug, something we’ve talked about six years back. Have a look here. This wine jug, a kind of decanter with a bulbous bottom and a tall narrow top ending in a camel’s head, most people think to be in some way Sogdian. There’s a musician-dancer doing something like what is known as the Sogdian Whirl, no longer taught in dance classes anywhere, although you can see paintings of it in Dunhuang. There is something about the style of the artwork that says somewhere outside Tibet in Central Asia, at least, and likely Sogdian inspiration.  

But I believe the inspiration may go deeper than that. It had occurred, as I’m sure it did to everyone, that the depictions on the jug are somehow Dionysian in nature, about partying with wild abandon, but also about paying the price of excess imbibing. What hadn’t occurred to me is that the motif could have roots beyond Sogdia, even in the classical world of Greece and Rome. And we do find Dionysian scenes and depictions of Hercules in Gandharan Buddhist art.

Dionysian scene from Gandhara, in Tokyo National Museum

But just to let some of the enthusiasm for Greek origins die down a bit, I ought to say that if Hercules were intended, we ought to see his trademark club and lion-skin cloak either on his body or close by. And we don’t. And it could just as well, or even preferably — I am not the one to judge — be Silenus, seeing he is a plump and balding old man, without the physique we normally associate with Hercules. So at best we can justifiably imagine that prior artistic conceptions of Hercules losing the drinking contest (or Silenus ready to be loaded on his ass) could have influenced our Jokhang jug. Surely no Tibetan of centuries past would have thought to see Hercules in it, although they must have recognized the scene as one of drunkenness, it's a beer jug after all. Well, it is now used to dispensed blessed beer, the spigot being a late addition I suspect,  but it was probably originally used for wine.

For extra credit points, or just because you find it interesting, there are some places around the web you can visit, with pictures worth book-loads of words.

There is a well-known Paul Rubens painting called The Drunken Hercules, that you can see in several websites, including this one. It depicts him with two women on one side, his drinking buddy Silenus on the other, and a wine pitcher dangling empty from his left hand.

Compare this early 16th-century artwork by Raimondi. Here two young men are supporting the drunken man, identified in this case as Silenus, a Dionysian figure if there ever was one.

Sometimes he's shown taking a whiz, as drunken men often do, even in the most public of places.

Go have a look at this Gandharan example of a drunken Herakles supported by two people, in this case women.

The Mildenhall Bacchic Platter in the British Museum is what got this train of thought going.

Given the Jokhang jug has a camel head spout, I was wondering if camels might not have some Dionysian associations. Have a look here. And tell me if you don’t see what I’m seeing.

I asked Amy Heller what she thought about this blog several days before putting it up, and she said something she had seen before came to mind, an object that forms a subject for a paper I haven’t yet seen — Suzanne G. Valenstein with Annette L. Juliano and Judith A. Lerner, “Hellenism in Sui-Tang Chang’an: Dionysiac Imagery on Mortuary Camels.”  You can see the object itself at the Met website: 

Go there to see the description and to supersize the photo 
as you must

So let’s see, as a conclusion... Are we right to see Hercules — the James Bond of his day, a man’s man who succeeded in every difficult or impossible task he ever undertook, the single exception being this one drinking contest — there on that Jokhang jug or not? The conclusion is nowhere better made than in your own mind. I suppose you’ve guessed that I, for one, think it is a possibility worth considering further.

§§§   §§§   §§§

There is more literature about Buddhist uses of Herakles and Asian adaptations of Bacchic/Dionysian art than you may think. To get started, have a look at one or another of these sterling essays:

Piu Brancaccio and Xinru Liu, “Dionysus and Drama in the Buddhist Art of Gandhara,” Journal of Global History, vol. 4 (2009), pp. 219-244. 

Martha L. Carter, “Dionysiac Aspects of Kushan Art,” Ars Orientalis, vol. 7 (1968), pp. 121-146. 

Martha L. Carter, “Dionysiac Festivals and Gandhâran Imagery,” contained in: Banquets d'Orient (=Res Orientales, vol. 4 [1992]), pp. 51-60.  

Martha L. Carter, “The Bacchants of Mathura: New Evidence of Dionysiac Yaksha Imagery from Kushan Mathura,” Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, vol. 69, no. 8 (1982), pp. 247-57.

F.B. Flood, “Herakles and the ‘Perpetual Acolyte’ of the Buddha: Some Observations on the Iconography of Vajrapani in Gandharan Art,” South Asian Studies, vol. 5 (1989), pp. 17-27.

Jonathan Homrighausen, “When Herakles Followed the Buddha: Power, Protection, and Patronage in Gandharan Art,’ The Silk Road, vol. 13 (2015), pp. 26-35. 

I-Tien Hsing, “Heracles in the East: The Diffusion and Transformation of His Image in the Arts of Central Asia, India, and Medieval China,” translated by William G. Crowell, Asia Major, 3rd series vol. 18, no. 2 (2005), pp. 1-52.

Richard Stoneman, The Greek Experience of India: From Alexander to the Indo-Greeks, Princeton University Press (Princeton 2019), chapter 3: “Herakles and Dionysus.” It has to seem to us a bit odd to see that the two Greek gods Alexander of Macedonia (356-323 BCE) is said to have noticed among the Indian gods were exactly these two. Many have tried to decide which Indian gods would have reminded him of them, but it’s just too difficult to be sure.


• With this blog I celebrate the electoral defeat of reality television celebrity Donald Trump and the intellectual dullness, parochial narrowness and the pretend/hypocritical religiosity he brought with him. I say this because I can say whatever I want to say here. It’s a free medium in a free zone, and it’s way past time for a party. Cheers to the failure of the teetotaler!

• • • During the U.S. election days when the votes were being counted, the only people who visited Tibeto-logic were spammers or wannabe spammers. I decided to be more diligent about weeding them out, but even so will try to avoid turning on those pesky spam-guards that so many detest so much with good reason. If you get an idea, please share it in the comments, the sooner the better. Comments and contributions are particularly welcomed if you are an actual person, with or without a clear identity.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

That’s Not the Shape of my Ark

Quite frankly I resent
people who give vent 
to their loquacity by extraneous bombastic circumlocution.

—Monty Python

I’m not suggesting there was a lot of talking around the point, let alone expressions of the egregiously self-aggrandizing types that would deserve the label of bombast, but not so many months ago I returned home thoroughly hungover after a stiff weeklong dose of academic papers, and thought to myself, ‘Never again.’ True, there were a few more bows to French brainiacs Foucault & Co. than has been usual in these gatherings in the past, but many of us were young and in Paris after all, so it ought to be excused just this once. It’s only that it was all so overwhelming for my more easily tired mind and body now that I’m supposed to be retired. A week was far too short to fit in so many papers of such sterling qualities. One mind is not enough to take it all in, and really, just one of those 600 papers was enough to touch off this foray into the realm of possible knowables.

Letter mysticism arises out of the needs of people who have life-long concentrated devotion to the written scriptures of their religion. It gets further compounded with the needs of exegetes, who after much labor and disputation find meaning in every jot and tittle. Their deep, wide-ranging and hyper-vigilant scriptural interpretation in itself becomes high art and extreme sport rolled into one. Sometimes we have to stand back and look on in awe.

So let’s eschew circumlocutions as well as bombast and other obscure words and get straight to the point I want to make, which is: The first letter of every Buddhist scripture is the e in the Sanskrit word evaThat means thus or just so. This connects in a remarkably direct and unexpected way with the letter e used in some ancient Mesopotamian sources. Read and observe and then if you feel so inclined, reflect.

‘Albatross!’ you might be thinking... Well, if so, fine with me. I’ll volunteer to wear it around my neck for the duration of this brief blogging voyage until I can bring you around. Well no, it’s no violation of my vow. That was not an obscure, let alone pedantic word to the Pythonists out there. I know who you are, and I know you know your way around an allusion.

It may not be sufficiently recognized by the world at large that Buddhism is a religion of the book every bit as as much as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. One relatively minor difference is that Buddhists have a lot more books of the scriptural types that they can aim their devotion towards. If I could be so bold I would like to put forward my presuppositions, as a person who has spent his whole life thinking and acting in and among several religions (and not just studying them in school, although I did that, too). I assume that every religion with an esoteric dimension achieved it through deepened devotional practices and prayer. That goes especially for Islam and its Sufi schools, for Judaism and its Kabbalah, and for Mahâyâna Buddhism and its Vajrayâna.* Evolution out of Buddhism’s own inner fabrics explains much more about Vajrayâna than anything outside. For now let’s narrow down to something more manageable and agree to stay, more or less, within the bounds of two religions: Judaism and Buddhism.
(*I know I left off Christianity, Hinduism and Daoism, among other classical religions, but identifying a single discrete esoteric trend for each of these or for each of their sub-groupings is a little more problematic. I'd say for Hinduism, it would be some combination of yoga and Vedanta metaphysics [or tantra, if I can invoke that problem word], while for Christianity I'll go with the kind of spiritual alchemy often known as hermeticism and/or masonic temple mysticism and/or perhaps the grail traditions and related eucharistic mysteries. The unusual thing about Kabbalah and Vajrayâna is that they have, in some major sections of their religions, approached or achieved mainstream status. We could say that at least one of its aspects is flowing in every vein. Esoteric trends in other religions are more likely to be pushed and kept off center, in a side-stream at best. It might be argued we ought to talk about and include Christianity because it shares some of the same scriptures with Judaism. But I’m a little concerned about so-called “Christian kabbalah” that has for centuries used letter mysticism as a covert tool to undermine Judaism by, for instance, locating an encoded Jesus in the first words of the Tanakh, the very part that concern us here. A look at the internet in search of interpretations of the first words of Bereshit finds that English-language sites are almost entirely dominated by the idea that the first letters of Genesis somehow, through some form of gematria, justify Jesus as the Messiah. And these are not New Age or occultist sites, but oddly enough largely Evangelical Christian. By their own lights, they are the last people who ought to be dabbling in such mystic arts. It seems they believe that people must by all means be converted from their errors, even if it means making use of those errors... A kind of skilful means, if we are allowed to put a kinder spin on it.)

Read closely and with care this passage from the late 13th-century Long Deyu history:

The substance of Dharma in the sense of scriptural authority is like this. The natures of method and insight are symbolized by the two letters.[1] The word scriptural authority used here forms a member of the triad of scriptural authority, reasoning, and practical guidance. One scriptural authority, the Questions of Devendra Sūtra, says,  
The Dharma aggregates adding up
to eighty-four thousand correctly teach
that the universal basis, the parents,
cause, and substance as well,
are identical to the two letters, 
meaning the E and the Vaṃ.
The letter E serves as the mother,
while the Vaṃ serves as the father.
The bindu dot is known to mean the union of the two.
This union is such an amazing thing...[2]  
The E and the Vaṃ, the two together, are posited as the cause of the Dharma or, alternatively, its substance. In terms of reasoning, all visuals and audials have arisen through the paired nature of method and insight. Here, too, the vowels and consonants are the source of the 84,000 Dharma aggregates and so on, so it is reasonable that the substance of vowels and consonants would be identical to the Evaṃ. In terms of practical directions, there are two types of Evaṃ, the Evaṃ of sound being the one that is simply pronounced and the Evaṃ of form being the one that is written. The spoken sound is in Indian language evaṃ maya.[3] When translated into Tibetan it turns into ’di skad bdag gis. This comes at the head of all sūtras and tantras, and from it emerged their actual texts. 
In its written shape, the E is a triangle that stands for insight and void. It symbolizes the womb, the bhaga, of the mother. The Vaṃ is round. It corresponds to method and compassion, so it symbolizes the bulge of the vajra of the father. Just as seed or offspring emerge from the union of these two, all Dharma emerges from the union of method and insight. “The substance of Dharma is condensed in the two different letters.”[4] 
Now that we've heard this testimony on the scriptural grounding for Tibetan Buddhist letter mysticism, let’s agree to shift to another part of the world, and an age a few centuries short of 4,000 years ago. Written in the Semitic tongue of southern Iraq we know as Akkadian, is a small palm-sized tablet of clay with many lines of writing made up of wedge-shaped lines. It isn’t our only cuneiform source for the story of the world Flood best known to the world in the book of Genesis, the story of Noah. In the Ark Tablet, it isn’t Noah, but Atra-hasis in the role of main hero. And this, very likely our oldest source of the story, much older than Genesis, surprises us with new and unexpected information that the Ark was, by divine fiat, made on a round plan, a kind of very large coracle boat,* such as have been used in Iraq until modern times, made with woven reeds and pitch. That at least partially rectangular plan of the gopher-wood ark seen in millennia of European art has been so thoroughly engrained, we are practically unable to imagine it otherwise.

(*Tibet, too, used what we call coracle boats (in Tibetan, ko-gru), but with rounded rectangular shape and made with skin stretched over frames. So we see how that single English word can be used for very different kinds of boats. Finkel made a great video about a project carried out in India, in which a round ark was actually constructed to demonstrate its possibility. I’ll give you the link to it if I don't forget.)

Let’s get to the point I want to make. When the Mesopotamian pre-Noah was commanded by his god: “Destroy your house, build a boat!”* the word here used for house in Sumerian is “É,” while its equivalent word in Akkadian, showing its Semitic family connections, is bītam (Hebrew bayit, Arabic beit).

(*See Finkel's book, p. 107, for the context.)


So let me summarize this strange but true fact, a connection that, even if it may prove inexplicable, is yet undeniably there to be explained one way or another. A very ancient Mesopotamian word for house is e. The Hebrew Bible's creation account begins with ‘B’, the letter known by the name beth, which after all means ‘in’ and is interpreted by kabbalists as meaning bayit, or house. One may well wonder, and indeed there are many marvelous discussions, why the first letter of scripture and its creation account has to be the 2nd letter of the alphabet, rather than aleph, the first.

Hold that information in your mind as we leave the early Middle East (and North Africa and Andalusia) behind and head off to India. Here we see that the first syllable of practically all Buddhist scriptures is the letter e in evaThis letter comes to mean the place where an enlightened Teacher teaches Dharma, or to put it a different way it's the complete array of dharmas, all possible knowables, that gives the Enlightened One a suitably enlightened context. The and the va, the Place and the Teacher, is central to a lot of Vajrayâna meditation practices, and related physical-metaphysical speculations. (Place after all represents both environment and space, while Time is yet another of the five Perfect Unities — ཕུན་སུམ་ཚོགས་པ་ལྔ་)

It may not be surprising to find general resemblances between the so-designated ‘religions of the book,’ the Abrahamic religions, in their letter mysticisms. After all, they do grow out of the scriptural resources in part held in common. But to find such close correspondences between Genesis and Tibetan Buddhist exegesis around the meanings of the initial letter of their respective scriptures representing a dwelling place is something that is bound to continue to astound anyone paying attention. It’s there, deal with it. Go find you own ways to account for it. Something that makes sense to you. No reason to passively hope for somebody else’s ready-made answer, is there?

But allow me to throw some of my own thoughts out there in one final paragraph: The geometry of it — whether it’s a circle, or a triangle, or interlocking triangles — and the particular type of architecture — whether it's a boat, a house, a temple, or a divine palace mandala — isn’t really what matters.* The cultural uses of the ‘E’ and ‘B’ syllables have in common their references to the Place where both family resemblances and distinctive qualities emerge. It’s about the classifications we make and transmit in our cultural institutions and enshrine in our languages, the building blocks of what we think we know when we make use of our sensory abilities, abilities made or developed to suit our human needs and desires. If anything, it is logical-constructionist rationality that is the epiphenomenon here. I’m not just playing a game or performing an academic exercise based in current theoretical trends. The academy is full of dreadful social pressures, it’s true, but I have nothing to gain or lose, and say what I really think in the best way I know how. I say throw out the borrowed thoughts, or as the Sufi saying goes, Throw away all the books! That’s why I no longer regard myself as an academic. I hardly ever identified as one. I probably never was a traditionalist of the kind that seeks ready-made eternal truths, I was always too skeptical for that. I don’t know what I am anymore. Still, I might be a perennial-ist in one way or another. I’ll get back with you when I get a better sense of it, maybe after the shrill polemics have died down sometime in 2021. I might also be a snowflake or a social justice advocate. So what’s it to you if I am? Categories, categories... those constantly clashing and reactive categories!
(*It may be significant that some kind of structure capable of weathering the elements be put in place, so I wouldn’t say that the art of architecture isn’t implicated in all of this...)

[1] As we find clarified somewhat in the quote that follows, the two letters here are the syllables E and Vaṃ of the word Evaṃ that opens practically every Buddhist scriptural text. Some see them as not in themselves Buddha Word, but the words of the scripture reciters, the Dharmabhāṇaka, or Chos Smra-ba-po, who thereby guarantee the ultimate source of the words they had memorized. These opening syllables have been the subject of a very rich traditional vein of symbolic commentary, in part likely based on the shapes of the letters in an Indic script from older times when they actually appeared rather like two triangles, one pointing downward and the other upward (see Kölver). Placed one on top of the other they would then form what is commonly known as a Seal of Solomon, in Buddhist contexts known as the Dharma Origin. The two syllables are said to give birth to the Dharma and dharmas.

[2] Not to insist on this subtle point too strongly, but here we have the two polarities joining into a couple and not necessarily or explicitly becoming an androgyne in line with Platonic or Eliadeian conceptions. This Questions of Devendra (Devendraparipṛcchā Sūtra) is actually a tantra, as we ought to know from the content of the quotation itself. Although a larger passage that includes our quotation existed in Sanskrit, nothing seems to be known about the Sūtra’s current existence in that language, and it appears it was never translated into Tibetan. For a discussion on this point, see Wayman, Yoga of the Guhyasamāja, pp. 181-182, where the entire surviving passage from the scripture is supplied in Sanskrit and translated into English. Part of our quote has been translated, together with parallel ideas found in yet other tantras, in Dasgupta, Introduction to Tantric Buddhism, p. 110.

[3] Our text supplies no length marks here, but the correct reading ought to be mayā, meaning by me, although in some etymological speculations it is interpreted to mean māyā, or illusion.

[4] I believe this is a line from The Text, the lines of poetry to which the Deyu is a commentary. Its reading in the small Lde’u, p. 53, looks like this: ngo bo bsdud pas yi ge rnam pa gnyis.


• I must apologize for an anachronism here and there. Bear in mind that this blog was incubating in the drafts folder for over a year. Go ahead, if you can, and imagine anyone in the world going to a conference not skyped or zoomed here in the year 2020! I have to say, I had bigger hopes for this blog than what you see here. I have long loved and cherished the relative freedom of expression afforded by the blog genre. Blogs were originally meant to be personal weblogs, a kind of diary written up for friends and family. Be that as it may... everyone, myself included, curates their own truth by deciding what goes on display. And they do it on the basis of what they think other people, their potential readers, would like to see. Unfiltered honesty is a genuine challenge. Try it and you will know that it is true.


I’m not sure if this particular blog entry fulfills its promise, it doesn’t go far enough to communicate what I was aiming for, it doesn’t quite put the pieces together into a coherent picture, so it doesn’t show me in my best light. I put it out there anyway — nothing ventured nothing gained — thinking it could provoke one or two of my friends to reflect further and come up with more interesting and intellectually satisfying ideas. If that works, it’s enough, I suppose. And it’s alright if it’s not all right.


The frontispiece is a detail from an early 13th-century wall mosaic of the Basilica of San Marco, Venice. For more context, try this link

Simchat Torah and the Tibetan holiday of  Ongkor (འོང་སྐོར་) have more striking structural parallels that I may go into another time. They do similar things with scriptures at similarly harvest-related events in the autumn.

For the Bibliophage — Readings on Creation and Species Propagation in Religion, with Side Issues that May be Intertangled if Not Integral

Olaf Breidbach and Michael T. Ghiselin, “Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) on Noah's Ark: Baroque ’Intelligent Design’ Theory,” Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, 4th series vol. 57, no. 36 (2006), pp. 991-2001. You may be able to download a PDF at this URL.

Roelof van den Broek, “Sexuality and Sexual Symbolism in Hermetic and Gnostic Thought and Practice (Second-Fourth Centuries),” contained in: Wouter Hanegraaff & Jeffrey Kripal, eds., Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism, Brill (Leiden 2008), pp. 1-21.

Juan R.I. Cole, “The World as Text: Cosmologies of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i,” Studia Islamica, vol. 80 (1994), pp. 145-163.

Irving Finkel, The Ark before Noah: Decoding The Story of the Flood, Doubleday (New York 2014).

If you are short on reading time or can’t remember where you last saw your reading glasses, you can watch a big-screen video of Finkel's lecture on the same subject here that I can warmly recommend. His lectures are even ever so slightly more amusing and informative than his books.

Christian Frevel, “Semper aliquid haeret! The Accusation of Fornication and of Sexualized Cults as a Means of Demarcation in the Hebrew Bible,” contained in: Alexandra Cuffel, Ana Echevaria & Georgios T. Halkias, Religious Boundaries for Sex, Gender, and Corporeality, Routledge (London 2019), pp. 11-32.  Our opponents, or let’s just say our competitors, are people who engage in the most hideous perversions, or so we say... or so we want to imagine.

Minoru Hara, “Divine Procreation,” Indo-Iranian Journal, vol. 52 (2009), pp. 217-249. Some gods do no more than share a glance and are finished. Others might go so far as to hold hands...

Nathan Katz, “Buddhist-Jewish Relations throughout the Ages and in the Future,” Journal of Indo-Judaic Studies, no. 10 (Summer 2009), pp. 7-23.

Bernhard Kölver, “Das Symbol evam,” Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik, vols. 16-17 (1992), pp. 101-108. We may need to have it pointed out to us that the shapes of the letters ‘e’ and ‘va’ in Indic scripts have changed over time.

Anatoly Liberman, From Ship to Boat. Posted on October 5, 2011. Have you ever let your mind wander and wondered how English boat and Semitic words for house might both have to do with the Sanskrit root √bhed, to split or cleave in two? If that's too crazy for you to think about, just forget about it and find another spot to dock your houseboat.

Shaul Magid, “Conjugal Union, Mourning and Talmud Torah in R. Isaac Luria's Tikkun Hazot,” Daat: Journal of Jewish Philosophy and Kabbalah, no. 36 (1996), pp. xvii-xlv.

Charles Mopsik, “Union and Unity in the Kabbala,” tr. from French by Sunthar Visuvalingam, contained in: Hananya Goodman, ed., Between Jerusalem and Benares, SUNY Press (Albany 1994), pp. 223-242.

Sergio La Porta and David Shulman, eds., The Poetics of Grammar and the Metaphysics of Sound and Sign, Brill (Leiden 2007).

Vanessa R. Sasson, Review of Emily Sigalow, American JewBu: Jews, Buddhists, and Religious Change, Journal of Global Buddhism, vol. 21 (2020), pp. 93-95. I haven't read the book, but this brief review raises some interesting points. It considers not only why American liberal Judaism feels drawn toward Buddhism, but why Buddhism doesn’t evince much interest in Judaism. We might add that, odd as this may seem to some, there has been a clearly observable trend in the last decade to translate Chinese philo-Semitic literature into Tibetan, with several such books surfacing (I've collected a few of them, and can supply references if required), but it is important to note that the supposed ‘love’ is largely based on anti-Semitic stereotypes of the wealthy Jew. This racialist image is held up as model for financial success to be emulated. Even religious Judaism is only considered of interest as a site to uncover hidden secrets for obtaining wealth. That, unfortunately, is just about all Judaism is good for in the PRC these days. Well, that’s definitely the overrriding impression to be gained from those just-mentioned Tibetan translations of Chinese books.

Daniel Sperber, “On the AUM and the Tetragrammaton,” contained in: Ithamar Theodor & Yudit Kornberg Greenberg, eds., Dharma and Halacha: Comparative Studies in Hindu-Jewish Philosophy and Religion, Lexington Books (Lanham 2018), pp. 203-209. An interestingly different way of approaching comparative letter/phoneme mysticism.

Vesna A. Wallace, “Authenticating the Tradition through Linguistic Arguments,” contained in: Manel Herat, ed., Buddhism and Linguistics: Theory and Philosophy, Palgrave MacMillan (NY 2018), pp. 101-122, at p. 107, a passage in the original commentary on the Kâlacakra that I’ve summarized in these two equations:
E = mystery, lotus, source of phenomena, space element, the abode of sublime bliss, lion's throne, vulva, and secret.

VAM = sublime bliss, sublime attachment, the innate, the supreme imperishable, drop, reality, gnosis, and purified mind. 

F.A. Wilford, “Embryological Analogies in Empedocles' Cosmogony,” Phronesis, vol. 13, no. 2 (1968), pp. 108-118. Since Empedocles there have been no significant improvements in humanities theory. I said it and meant it.

Oded Yisraeli, “Honoring Father and Mother in Early Kabbalah: From Ethos to Mythos,” The Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 99, no. 3 (Summer 2009), pp. 396-415.

Shlomo Zarchi, “Why the Torah Begins with a Bet instead of Aleph, and the One Time It Didn’t.” There are perfect passages in the Zohar that could help us here, but I don't have any easy reference to them, and they were left out of the Littmann Library version translated by David Goldstein, which is an anthology after all, and the only one in my library. The 12-volume Pritzker is the first ever complete translation.

Web sightings

At Ørigin of Alphabet (, you can find fascinating pages on how the triangle served in cuneiform as a written character meaning female. For our purposes I highly recommend this page, and this one. I guarantee you that 'v's and 'b's and triangles will take on new yet oddly familiar meanings. According to Jennifer, 
Female mammals are the basis of written language.”

Also, have a look at Beyond Babylonia ( and particularly at this page. It clarifies in delightful graphics how 'b' is the enclosed domestic space / house, while 'a' is the domesticated animal (the farmyard outside the house). The original shape of the 'a' was an ox with two horns, as you probably know.

Postscript (Oct. 14, 2020):

Although I knew of his 1989 article on the subject, just today I learned that Jonathan Silk is writing an entire book on the first words that appear in almost every Buddhist scripture. See his newly available article, “A Trust Rooted in Ignorance: Why Ānanda's Lack of Understanding Makes Him a Reliable Witness to the Buddha's Teachings,” contained in: At the Shores of the Sky: Asian Studies for Albert Hoffstädt, Brill (Leiden 2020). The entire volume is made available for open access at this link.

§  §  §

The Babylonian predecessor of Noah, as he is readying himself to be sealed inside the boat he made, speaks,
“As for me there was no word in my heart, and / xxx my heart / xxx my xxx / xxx of my xxx / xxx of my lips / xxx I slept with difficulty.”
—Irving Finkel, The Ark before Noah, p. 110.

§  §  §

When you speak every
vowel is an opening,
every consonant a closure,
my heart keeps a count
of each syllable as it beats,
my mind lets the sweet sound
fade into its own background,
and left open is only the
sky above us
in this house with no real doors.
There is nothing between us.

Life itself has a sound. 


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Historian Father Response, a Guest Blog


All the words below were written by a guest blogger Matthew Akester, translator and author of several books, including his Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo's Guide to Central Tibet, recently published by Serindia.  -D

In response to the recent blogpost, Historian Father, Historian Son

With respect to the Nyang chos byung, I say there is no doubt that the section on Rva lung was written by ’Brug chen Padma dkar po. The complete title of his work, excerpted in Nyang chos byung, is gDan sa chen po Rva lung gi khyad par ’phags pa cung zad brjod pa Ngo mtshar gyi gter, and it is p.175-205 of the fourth volume of his collected works (Darjiling 1973).

Nyang chos byung is a compilation of accounts of the temples of the Nyang valley by different authors (and with some notable omissions). Whether it was compiled by Taranatha himself is in doubt, since we find no other examples of such things in his oeuvre, but I suspect the association with him is unmistaken.

This is because of a reference  (on p.203 of the TAR Publishing House edition) to the relocation of Vairocana’s birthplace to the vicinity of Zur gsang sngags gling in Nyang smad, near gZhis ka rtse. This claim, and the so-called “Nyang smad skyid sbug” hermitage there was associated with a coterie of mostly rNying ma masters, including the resident Zur lineage holders, in the patronage of the gTsang pa sde srid (it was rejected, on good authority, by rNying ma and other masters of different political persuasions - see Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo’s Guide to Central Tibet, Serindia 2016 p.509 and p.539). 

The passage occurs in a long eulogy of the gTsang pa sde srid’s capital bSam ’grub rtse and its environs at the end of the work, apparently composed during the reign of Karma bstan skyong dbang po (1620-42) - strong enough evidence for dating the manuscript in its present form.  Taranatha mentions visiting Nyang smad skyid sbug in that period, and was quite a historian, as well as Lama of the gTsang pa sde srid, so he may have been interested in the compilation, even contributed parts of it, but I tend to think the slapdash manuscript we know was found among his papers, rather than counted among his compositions. 

I say slapdash having compared the TAR-published edition with the manuscript collected by Charles Bell, now in the Liverpool Museum collection, of which it is a faithful copy (i.e., full of mis-spellings and lacunae).


m a t t h e w

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Historian Father Historian Son


Today I just wanted to apologize for my silence and try to make up for it by telling you a little bit about what I’ve been doing to keep myself occupied during these difficult times.

It’s been a few months now since I’ve done anything besides work on revising a book written over two decades ago entitled Tibetan Histories. The idea didn’t pop into my head yesterday, I had planned on doing a revision of it ever since I signed the contract. The publisher at the time was kind enough to put an expiration date on his copyright of 2017, so the obvious time to begin would have been then. I already had a 15-page list of corrections and revisions when the book came out back in 1997, and have been circulating that expanding list ever since to anyone interested, thinking to eventually incorporate them into a second revised edition. 

Tibetan Histories, as you haven't been told yet, is a listing of Tibetan-language books belonging to historical genres. The entries are placed in the order of their dates of composition as far as this is possible.

It has been a laborious process, all this checking and double-checking of articles, books and internet sites. Of the internet sites none deserves more credit than TBRC > BDRC > BUDA. I do check every single entry with TBRC, and add in their numbers. Very often one finds new listings of publications or manuscripts, in many cases things one would likely be unaware of otherwise — and not least of all, things often available for free download. It would be so wrong in so many ways to understate the utility and general reliability of TBRC. Still, I do make use of a lot of other sources as well, I’m blessed with a very good library for Tibetan studies that keeps improving as time goes by until now when my shelves reach up to the ceiling. I’ve also developed Tibetological reference works of my own, like TibSchol and TibProp (TPNI), TibVocab and Tibskrit. These do come in useful in the making of Tibetan Histories, and I make constant reference to them, adding bits and pieces to these reference works every day.

But far be it from me to bother the sentient beings of our blogosphere with a report on the drudgery of my everyday existence under the deathly pall of CoViD-19 — oh my goodness no — I’d like to convey some of the pleasure of newly or recently found mistakes and the thrill of correction. These corrections may seem so small in the general scheme of things, yet they give glints of hope that some improvements are taking place in the course of Tibetological evolution after all, that our efforts are not entirely fruitless. Progress is usually incremental, not like lightning from the sky, don’t you agree?

I didn’t mention direct person-to-person communications when I listed my sources, because I was saving it for special emphasis. Tibetan Histories already was a product of close collaboration, particularly with E. Gene Smith and Michael Aris to give two of the main contributors. But now whenever I have see a problem, dig myself into a corner, get confused or whatever, I get in contact with an expert in that area who could help me out.

I can’t claim credit for recognizing the problem with authorship of two histories of south-central Tibet. Erberto Lo Bue was the one who pointed out both on published page and in an 8-year-old email that Târanâtha and Bodongpa could not have written these two works, one about Gyantsé royalty and the other about the broader region of Myang. Ron Davidson even uncovered and underlined the passage in the Myang history that gives away the name of its author.* More specifically, it was Lo Bue’s rejection of Bodongpa as the author of the Gyantsé royal history that placed me on the way to finding out who did write it. And another remarkable thing: As it turns out, the author of the Gyantsé royal history was father of the author of the Myang history. As surprising as this might seem, when we think about it it really isn’t any shock at all. Apples never, or hardly ever, fall very far or all that far from the tree.

(*Or perhaps author only of the first part of the text on Ralung Monastery? It's hard to be sure without intensive study and research.)

Now the author of the Myang history is named Pema Karpo (Padma-dkar-po’i-sde to be precise) in a passage buried closer to the beginning of the text. It says “I, Pema Karpoi De.” This is very clear. The author of the work (or this part of the work) is telling us who he is. Anyone who sees or hears this name is 100% guaranteed to think immediately of the fourth incarnate of the Drugchen by that name. Mistakenly, however. There were not just one, but three Pema Karpos active within the same time frame and within the same circles. One was the eldest brother of Jigmé Dragpa author of the Gyantsé royal history. Jigmé Dragpa’s elder brother died tragically at a tender age, and I think the likelihood high that it was in his memory that Jigmé Dragpa went on to give the same name to one of his two sons. This son also died tragically in an internal uprising (could we call it a coup?) within the ranks of the Rinpungpa ruling house in around 1565. I’m not sure how best to explain the fact that the 4th Drugchen Rinpoche has the name Pema Karpo as well, but he, too, could have gotten his name in homage to the earlier-born prince.

So it appears that two members of the ruling Rinpungpas wrote the two most important histories of Myang in southern Tibet. Like father like son, I suppose. But Jigmé Dragpa is far better remembered until today in Tibetan literary circles not as a historian, but as an outstanding theoretician/practitioner of the strain of fine literature that Dandin's Mirror of Poetics inspired so many Tibetan poets to write. Jigmé Dragpa wrote one of the most highly regarded commentaries on Dandin’s classic. 

So we are finished for today if you just casually dropped by because you were in the neighborhood. That goes especially if your eyelids have gotten heavy. You know where I've been, and no telling when things will be back to normal. It's been nice seeing a friendly face. Hope to see you again soon.

But if you are one of those dyed-in-the-wool Tibetologists, I ask you to keep going further on into the heart of things. Because I’d like to show you the colophonic evidence that helps to test whether or not the Rinpungpa named Jigmé Dragpa was indeed the author of the Gyantsé royal history. After that I will paste in the two entries for Tibetan Histories on the father’s and son’s histories. There you will find all the bibliographical minutiae you are likely to need to come to decisions of your own. And when you do I'd beg you to get ahold of me by ‘comment’ or via email if you know it, and help me make more perfect and correct entries. If I use your information I’ll directly credit you by using your full name or (if you request it) your initials in the forthcoming book.

Works Known to be by Jigmé Dragpa of the Rinpungpa Royal House (based on Tibskrit)

 —       Byang chub sems dpa'i rtogs pa brjod pa dpag bsam 'khri shing gi brjod bya'i don gyi snying po gsal ba byed pa'i bstan bcos dpag bsam 'bras bu. This exists in a cursive ms., but I don't immediately find any author statement in the colophon.

  —       Byang chub sems dpa'i rtogs pa brjod pa dpag bsam 'khri shing gi dka' gnad rgya skyegs kyi mchan bus gsal bar btab pa'i sbyar byang.

—        I believe this is none other than the following highly annotated text with the title Rtogs brjod dpag bsam 'khri shing gi don bsdu tshangs sras mgrin brgya bsdebs pa'i ngag gi me long.  The cursive ms. has this colophon: lha sger rigs kyi thig le'i snyan ngag mkhan chen po ngag dbang 'jig rten dbang phyug grags pa'i rdo rje dpal bzang po'am ming gzhan dbyangs can dga' ba'i blo gros snying stobs mchog gi sdes / ang lo nyi shu rtsa lnga'i dus me pho 'brug gi lo gro bzhin can gyi gral tshes brgyad la lugs gnyis kyi 'dun sa chen po rin chen spungs pa'i pho brang du sbyar ba'o

        Chos dang srid kyi 'dren pa bla na bskur ba la zhu 'phrin lung dang rig pa smra ba khams kyi rgyal phran mang rigs dang bcas pa rnams la springs yig tu bya ba dbyangs can rig pa'i rgya mtsho. This appears to be a collection of minor works and epistles. I will look into it more.

 —       'Jam dbyangs mi'i srid pa 'dzin pa sa skya paṇḍi ta kun dga' rgyal mtshan dpal bzang po'i rtogs pa brjod pa bskal pa bzang po'i legs lam.  In 12 chapters.

        Colophon based on cursive ms.: sa la spyod pa'i mtho ris kyi rgyal po ngag dbang 'jig rten dbang phyug grags pa phyogs thams cad las rnam pa rgyal bas myos ldan nam / sa mo yos bu'i lo mgo dzogs ldan gyi mgor rdzogs ldan gyi sgo 'phar rnam bzhi bye ba rin chen spungs pa'i pho brang du legs par bkod pa'o. [dedication verse in tiny letters appended:] 'di bris dge bas 'di nas dus kun tu / 'jam dbyangs bla ma rje btsun sa skya pa'i / bstan pa mchog la mi phyed dad thob nas / gsung gi bdud rtsis smin grol mthar phyin shog.

         'Jig rten dang 'jig rten las 'das pa'i lha rnams la mchod pas bsnyes pa dang shis pa brjod pa'i rim pa dge legs kyi rgya mtsho. This is a collection of protector rites, with a mention of the author's name at the end simply as Ngag-dbang-'jig-rten-dbang-phyug.

 —       Mngon brjod kyi bstan bcos mkhas pa'i rna rgyan, Grangs kyi mngon brjod.  Composed in 1521 or 1581.

—         From modern publication based on the Zhol printery’s reprint: lha sger rigs kyi snyan dngags mkhan chen po ngag dbang 'jig rten dbang phyug grags pa'i rdo rje'i [~rjes] khyu mchog gi lor legs byas kyi sgo 'phar brgya phye ba rin chen spungs pa'i pho brang du bgyis pa'o.

 —       Rig 'dzin pho nya (long title: Chos kyi rgyal po ngag dbang rnam par rgyal ba la phul ba'i zhu 'phrin rig 'dzin pho nya).

—    A letter mostly in verse addressed to his father. It is supposed to emulate the famous Cloud Messenger (Meghadūta). It does indeed seem to belong to the “messenger poem” genre of kāvya, as argued in Epperson's dissertation. As Rabsal shows, it is not only quite densely poetic, but full of unusual vocabulary and technical terms of tantra, of the Kâlacakra tantra in particular. Its contents have been summarized in Edwin Bernbaum, The Way to Shambhala: A Search for the Mythical Kingdom beyond the Himalayas, Anchor Books (Garden City 1980), pp. 220‑228, but see also pp. 182, 261, 299. Thupten Kunga Chashab, Guide to Shambhala in an Unique Manuscript by the Sixteenth Century Tibetan Ruler of Rin spungs (Extract from His Letter to His Father Ngag bang rnam rgyal), Rocznik Orientalistyczny, vol. 68, no. 2 (2015), pp. 47-65.  Thupten Kunga Chashab, The Life of Ngag Dbang 'Jig Grags, the Last Ruler of Rin Spungs Based on the Text Rig Pa 'Dzin Pa'i Pho Nya, or "A Messenger of a Yogi," Rocznik Orientalistyczny, vol. 70, no. 2 (2017), pp. 97-127. Quote from Epperson's dissertation, p. 183: "Edwin Bernbaum, in his 1985 dissertation writes in various sections about the Shambala myth-based aspects of this poem, comparing these elements with those present in various other Tibetan Buddhist works, including the Vimalaprabhā and the Kālacakratantrarāja. See Edwin Marshall Bernbaum, The Mythic Journey and its Symbolism: A Study of the Development of Buddhist Guidebooks to Sambhala in Relation to their Antecedents in Hindu Mythology, University of California (Berkeley, 1985), 34-35, 109-154, 165, 177."

—        Colophon (based on cursive ms.): lha sger dkar po'i rigs kyi thig le ngag dbang 'jig rten dbang phyug grags pa rdo rje dpal bzang pos dmar ser can me mo sbrul gyi lo 'dod pa'i zla bar grags pa nag pa can gyi rgyal ba gnyis pa'i tshes la / dpal 'byor lugs brgya'i chu bo kun nas 'du ba'i rgya mtshor rin chen spungs pa'i lhun po phyogs las rnam par rgyal ba'i pho brang chen por sbyor ba'o.

 —       Snyan ngag me long gi rgya cher 'grel pa mi 'jigs pa seng ge'i rgyud kyi nga ro'i dbyangs, Tsondu Senghe (Bir 1983). This is a detailed commentary on all three chapters of the Indian poet Daṇḍin's KāvyādarśaThe colophon contains a historical sketch of translations and studies of Daṇḍin. Composed in 1526 or 1586, at Rin spungs Palace (Rin chen dpungs pa'i pho brang).

—        Colophon (Bir 1983: 525.1):  slob dpon dbyug pa can gyis mdzad pa'i snyan ngag gi bstan bcos chen po 'di nyid 'phags pa'i yul kun tu grags shing rnam bshad mkhan po mang ba las / bod du slob dpon ratna shrī [Ratnaśrī] dang / ngag gi dbang phyug [Vāgīśvara] gi 'grel par gyur zhing / gzhung thog mar bsgyur ba po bal po'i sanggha shrī [Saṅghaśrī] dang / 'jam pa'i dbyangs pa lo tsā ba kun dga' rgyal mtshan gyis bsgyur / de la bod 'grel du snga ba mkhas pa 'jug pa'i sgo mdzad pa shar / phyis su paṇḍi ta lakṣiṃ ka ra [Lakṣmīṃkara] dang / zhu chen gyi lo tsā ba 'jig rten gyi mig cig pu shong ston rdo rje rgyal mtshan gyis legs par bsgyur cing gtan la phab pa'i rgyal 'grel spang lo [~dpang lo] chen po blo gros brtan pas phye ba dang / de'i rjes thogs su 'jam dbyangs kha che dang / snar thang lo tsā ba sangha shrīs [Saṅghaśrī] bkral ba sogs rgya 'grel bod 'grel rnams dang / de bas gzhan pa bsdus don dang dper brjod gsar byung gi rigs mtha' yas par snang ba las / blo gros blun po'i khur gyi lci ba'i ngag 'khyal gyi smra ba kun la legs nyes kyi rtogs pa brjod ma dgos / mkhas pas sbyar ba rnams la legs par brtags shing dpyad [526] pa'i tshe / de la yang 'ga' zhig 'phrugs pa'i lam du 'phyan pa dang / la lar 'gyur 'phrugs pa'i dbang dang / kha cig brjod 'dod tsam la / sgrub bya sgrub byed kyi ma 'brel ba la sogs pa mang dag mthong ba la mngon pa nga rgyal spangs nas gzhung gi dgongs pa la ri mor bgyi ba dang / gzhan la phan pa 'jebs par lhag pa'i bsam pa bod pas / dri ma ni rnam par sbyangs / mdud pa ni bkrol / ji lta ba'i gnas lugs mngon du bsrangs te thun mong dang thun mong ma yin pa'i rgyan rnam par bcad le'u gsum pa'i bdag nyid shu lo ka lnga brgya dang ldan pa snyan ngag me long gi rgya cher 'grel pa mi 'jigs pa seng ge'i rgyud kyi nga ro'i dbyangs shes bya ba 'di ni / mi rje lha'i rgyal po ngag dbang 'jig rten dbang phyug grags pa / phyogs thams cad las rnam par rgyal ba / mi zad pa'am / me pho khyi'i lo smin drug gi nya ba glu dbyangs kyi zla ba yar gyi ngor 'phyar ba la / rdzogs ldan gyi rnam thar / sgo bzhi phye ba rin chen dpungs pa'i pho brang du grub pa yang dag par bkod pa'o [Indian publisher's colophon follows on folio 527].


Now, for comparison, the authorship statements from the rather long colophon of the Gyantsé royal history:  

shâkya'i dge slong mang du thos pa 'jigs med grags pa phyogs thams cad las rnam par rgyal ba zhes mtshan yongs su grags pa de nyid kyi ched du brjod pa mdzad pa so bzhag la bkod...  ... ... zhes pa 'di nyid sa mo phag gi lo la pho brang gnyis pa nor bu khyung rtse dbu brtsams te / skye dgu rnams la nad dang 'khrug sogs nye bar 'tshe ba ma mchis pa / lcags mo glang gi lo hor zla brgyad pa rtsi shing lo thog thams cad smin zhing rgyas pa khrums kyi nya ba'i dus tshes bco lnga bzang po la bkod tshar bar bgyis pa'i yi ge pa ni rdo rje tshe brtan dang bsod nams bkra shis kyis bgyis so

It is true that this colophon is not so typical of the colophons to his other known works. For one thing, two scribes are named, and for another his name isn’t prefaced by an expression of his rulership, but instead by “Shâkya'i Dge-slong,” indicating him as a fully ordained monk, with the “mang du thos pa” meaning he was of broad learning. The place of composition is not the Rin-spungs Palace, but rather the "second palace" Nor-bu-khyung-rtse. It could be synonymous with the "Fortress of Panam" (Pa-snam Rdzong, also name of a modern district named after the fortress) or at least close by. The second palace seems to have been traded back and forth more than once by the competing ruling houses, and played a role in the internal revolt we've mentioned. It controlled the main route between the major towns of Gyantsé and Shigatsé. You get an impression of just how imposing a fortress it was in a photo taken by one of Tucci's photographers in Tibet in 1947 or 1948, Pietro Francesco Mele — Tibet, Snow Lion (Ithaca 1969), p. 71. It seems to me that Jigmé Dragpa could have survived the revolt of 1565, and if so, becoming a monk would have been a natural transition ... to renounce the world as a monk would entail renouncing any right to rule, considerably reducing the threat that he might otherwise pose to the new rulers. There may be some indication here that we should date the Gyantsé royal history later in the 16th century instead of early in it. But the Iron Ox year of its completion almost has to be 1541, so this part of the puzzle doesn’t seem to fit well. No reason to compound speculations with further speculations when we are nowhere near having all the information we need to achieve certitude.

The two entries for Tibetan Histories in question:




’Jigs-med-grags-pa aka ’Jigs-med-grags-pa-phyogs-las-rnam-rgyal etc., Rab-brtan-kun-bzang-’phags-kyi Rnam-thar (=Rgyal-rtse Chos-rgyal-gyi Rnam-par Thar-pa Dad-pa’i Lo-thog Dngos-grub-kyi Char-’bebs). A. Bod-ljongs Mi-dmangs Dpe-skrun-khang (Lhasa 1987), in 379 pages. B. Rgyal-rtse Chos-rgyal-gyi Rnam-par Thar-pa Dad-pa’i Lo-thog Dngos-grub-kyi Char-’bebs. A cursive manuscript in the library of the IsMEO (Rome). For details, see de Rossi Filibeck, Catalogue, vol. 2, p. 338 (no. 694). According to Erberto Lo Bue (email of September 13, 2012), this manuscript is not the one used by Tucci in making his partial translation mentioned below. Bio.: Authorship has hitherto been mistakenly ascribed to Bo-dong Paṇ-chen Phyogs-las-rnam-rgyal (1375-1451), on the assumption that ’Jigs-med-grags-pa is among his names, and that Phyogs-las-rnam-rgyal (or variant of same) must indicate him. But Bo-dong Paṇ-chen’s dates are too early, as this history records events into the 1470s. The author as given in the colophon is, to give the full expression, “Shâkya’i Dge-slong Mang-du-thos-pa ’Jigs-med-grags-pa-phyogs-las-rnam-par-rgyal-ba.” I now think we must identity the author ’Jigs-med-grags-pa as the member of the Rin-spungs-pa ruling house by the name of Ngag-dbang-’jigs-med-grags-pa aka Ngag-dbang-’jigs-grags aka Ngag-dbang-’jig-rten-dbang-phyug-grags-pa’i-rdo-rje, as it makes sense that he would have been located at the place mentioned as the place of initial composition, ‘the second palace’ Nor-bu-khyung-rtse, and his known names do in fact include both the elements ’Jigs-med-grags-pa and Phyogs-las-rnam-rgyal (or variant of the same). A comparison of our work’s colophon with colophons of the poet’s known works might help our case, although this work will not be done here in this context. There is a brief paragraph about him in Shakabpa, vol. 1, p. 279, where it says he, being the youngest son of the Rin-spungs-pa ruler Ngag-dbang-rnam-rgyal, was “accomplished in all the sciences,” that he composed poetic treatises, and “was much respected by virtue of his discriminative knowledge of both religion and politics.” For more on him, including discussion of his problematic dates, see Olaf Czaja, Medieval Rule in Tibet, vol. 1, p. 489-490. Dates: The dates of the Rin-spungs-pa author are a problem, and have been discussed before, especially by Dge-’dun-rab-gsal and Czaja (full references below). I believe that his date of birth in 1482, as found in the chronology to Chang Yisun dictionary, is the most likely one, and it in fact suits Tucci’s dates of 1482-1565 (Tibetan Painted Scrolls, Table V following p. 706). This is rejected by Czaja (vol. 1, p. 489, note 201). As Czaja says, “One can document that he died in 1597,” and if he had been born in 1482 it would award him with an unlikely longevity. Dge-’dun-rab-gsal accepts his 1482 birthdate and goes on to give dates to three of his main works of and about fine literature (kâvya) between the years 1519 and 1526. This new identification of the author will in any case necessitate changing the previous dating of his work. The colophon’s stated years of composition are the Earth Pig through Iron Ox years, which Tucci took as 1479-1481, but must now be taken as meaning 1539-1541. See Czaja’s book, vol. 1, p. 278-279, note 133, for an account drawn from the biography of ’Brug-chen IV Padma-dkar-po (1527‑1596) of the internal revolt of 1565, in which one of our author’s two sons was killed, the other later on taken prisoner. The one killed was the son named Padma-dkar-po, author of our entry no. 000. Lit.: Partial translation in Giuseppe Tucci, Tibetan Painted Scrolls (Kyoto 1980), pp. 662-670. This work is utilized in the following works: Erberto Lo Bue, ‘The Princes of Gyantse and Their Role as Builders and Patrons of Arts,’ contained in: S. Ihara and Z. Yamaguchi, eds., Tibetan Studies, Naritasan Shinshoji (Narita 1992), vol. 2, pp. 559-573. Frequently cited in Franco Ricca and Erberto Lo Bue, The Great Stupa of Gyantse: A Complete Tibetan Pantheon of the Fifteenth Century, Serindia Publications (London 1993). Erberto Lo Bue and Franco Ricca, Gyantse Revisited, Casa Editrice Le Lettere (Florence 1990). Ref.: De Rossi Filibeck, Catalogue, vol. 2, p. 338 (no. 694), describes a cursive ms. in 462 fols. in the Tucci collection in Rome. See Erberto Lo Bue, ‘Tibetan Literature on Art,’ contained in: José I. Cabezón and Roger Jackson, eds., Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre, Snow Lion (Ithaca 1996), pp. 470-484, at pp. 480 (note 8) and 482.


before 1565

Padma-dkar-po’i-sde, and not Tāranātha (see discussion below), Myang-yul Stod Smad Bar Gsum-gyi Ngo-mtshar Gtam Legs-bshad Mkhas-pa’i ’Jug-ngogs (= Myang Chos-’byung). A. Ed. by Lhag-pa-tshe-ring, Bod-ljongs Mi-dmangs Dpe-skrun-khang (Lhasa 1983). TBRC no. W2724. B. A photocopy of the Liverpool Museum ms., no. 50.31.108, marked “Bell coll. 7,” was seen in the library of E. Gene Smith. The original manuscript is described (no. 50.31.108) in the website of the Liverpool Museum where it is now kept (it has a scribal colophon by Tshe-brtan-rdo-rje giving date of scribing as Fire Dragon year of the 15th rab-byung, i.e. 1916). TBRC no. W1CZ689. C. One (or two?) versions in the Tucci collection (Rome), see below. D. Myang-yul Stod Smad Bar Gsum-gyi Ngo-mtshar Gtam-gyi Legs-bshad Mkhas-pa’i ’Jug-ngog, contained in: Tâ-ra-nâ-tha, Gsung-’bum, ’Dzam-thang woodblock print in 23 vols., in vol. 23, entire volume. TBRC no. W22276. This is a highly descriptive gazetteer, covering the natural features and cultural monuments of the Myang Valley including the town of Gyantsé (Rgyal-rtse) and important personages who were active there, usually attributed to Tāranātha, although this is very much in question. It is of particular interest for those interested in the artistic and architectural history of the area. It comes to an abrupt ending (likely a sign it was left uncompleted by the author), and so there is no colophon information. Note also that the Lhasa 1983 edition is based on a manuscript version, and this work might not have ever existed in the form of a woodblock print (prior to the new ’Dzam-thang edition just mentioned). Bio.: On the person I think is the actual author, Padma-dkar-po of the Rin-spungs-pa ruling house, see below, and see TBRC no. P4291. There were actualy two Rin-spungs-pas by the name of Padma-dkar-po. The first was the eldest brother of the Ngag-dbang-’jigs-med-grags-pa (the author of our entry no. 000), and the second the author of our history. The first one died young, which could have been the motive for using the name once again for his nephew. Neither of them ought to be confused with their contemporary ’Brug-chen IV Padma-dkar-po. Lit.: Erberto Lo Bue, ‘The Princes of Gyantse and Their Role as Builders and Patrons of Arts,’ contained in: S. Ihara and Z. Yamaguchi, eds., Tibetan Studies, Naritasan Shinshoji (Narita 1992), vol. 2, pp. 559-573. Frequently cited in Franco Ricca and Erberto Lo Bue, The Great Stupa of Gyantse: A Complete Tibetan Pantheon of the Fifteenth Century, Serindia Publications (London 1993). For information on manuscripts and contents of this work, see Giuseppe Tucci, Gyantse and Its Monasteries: Part 1, Aditya Prakashan (New Delhi 1989), pp. 41-44, where he surmises that it must date from a time later than the first half of the seventeenth century. See Erberto Lo Bue, ‘Tibetan Literature on Art,’ contained in: José I. Cabezón and Roger Jackson, eds., Tibetan Literature: Studies in Genre, Snow Lion (Ithaca 1996), pp. 470-484, at pp. 480-481 (note 9). On the same subject, see Ho-tsung-dbying, “Dpal-’khor Chos-sde Phyag-’debs-pa-po Su Yin dang | Btab-pa’i Lo-rabs-kyi Gnad Don Skor,” contained in: Bod-kyi Shes-rig Zhib-’jug Ched-rtsom Bdam-bsgrigs, Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Beijing 1991), vol. 2, pp. 433-445. Ref.: Mdo-smad Chos-’byung: “Myang Stod Smad Bar Gsum-gyi Chos-’byung dang Myang-yul Stod Smad-kyi Gnas-bshad.” Eimer, Berichte, pp. 130-132. Kuijp, ‘Introduction,’ p. 30. Shakabpa, vol. 2, p. 615. THL, pp. 171-172. CLTWA II, no. 188. Bell, Religion, p. 214. Unfortunately, we know of no detailed analysis of the contents. See the comments in Luciano Petech, “Duṅ-reṅ,” Acta Orientalia Hungarica, vol. 44 (1990), pp. 103-111, at p. 104, note 5. According to oral information from E. Gene Smith, two different manuscript versions exist in the Tucci collection. Das would seem to be referring to this history — “Ugyen also heard at Gyantse that much was to be learnt concerning the ancient history of that place in a work called ‘Nyang choi jung Nyimai odser’” — in Sarat Chandra Das, Journey to Lhasa and Central Tibet, Manjusri Publishing House (Delhi 1970), reprint of 1902 edition, p. 94. On p. 88 of the same work: “He told him, furthermore, that there existed two printed volumes about Choigyal rabtan, the famous king who had founded the Palkhor choide of Gyantse, but that these works and the history of Gyantse were now kept as sealed works (terchoi) by the Lhasa Government.” Roberto Vitali, ‘Sa skya and the mNga’ ris skor gsum Legacy: The Case of Rin chen bzang po’s Flying Mask,’ Lungta, no. 14 (2001), p. 24-25, discusses the dating of this history, noting that ’Brug-chen IV Padma-dkar-po (1527-1592) is mentioned in it. Ronald Davidson (‘Gsar-ma Apocrypha: The Creation of Orthodoxy, Gray texts, and the New Revelation,’ in H. Eimer & D. Germano, eds., The Many Canons of Tibetan Buddhism, E.J. Brill [Leiden 2002], pp. 203-224 at p. 223) says that the author, on p. 20, line 4, of the 1983 Lhasa edition, is identified as ‘myself, Dge-slong Padma-dkar-po.’ The context is a description of the holy objects kept at Rwa-lung Monastery, hence the identification of this Padma-dkar-po with the ’Brug-chen IV Padma-dkar-po (born in Kong-po, son of Jo-sras Klu’i-dbang-po) would seem perfectly logical. Note in this connection that one named Padma-dkar-po’i-sde is author of a guidebook to Rwa-lung Monastery (reference to a copy in the National Library of Bhutan in Tsering Gyalbo, et al., Civilization at the Foot of Mount Sham-po, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften [Vienna 2000], p. 270). However, I believe that the author of both works should be another Padma-dkar-po, a son of Rin-spungs-pa Ngag-dbang-rnam-rgyal. This Padma-dkar-po evidently was slain by the forces of Zhing-shag-pa Tshe-brtan-rdo-rje, who would then become ruler (Rdzong-dpon) of Bsam-grub-rtse, in about 1565 (see Gangs-can Mkhas-grub, pp. 1479, 1610; Shakabpa, pp. 356-7 or its English tr., vol 1, pp. 280-281), which could explain why the Myang Chos-’byung remained unfinished. It seems more likely to me that this work is by the Rin-spungs-pa named Padma-dkar-po, and may date somewhere near the time of his death in ca. 1565. BLP no. 1641.

• The drawing in the frontispiece is the most famous of the Gyantsé kings by the name of Rabten Kunsang Pag (1389‑1442). Still, based on appearance alone there seems no reason it could not be our father historian or his historian son. One sign it is a royal portrait is the wheel. Its symbolism relates to the myth of the Wheel Turning King, just as does the expression ‘victorious over the directions’ (phyogs-las-rnam-rgyal).


PS (Sept. 10, 2020): There is one piece of evidence that might give us pause and reconsider the possibility that Bodongpa could be author of the Gyantsé history. Bodongpa composed a praise to the Gyantse king Rabten Kunsang Pag. I located it in Tibskit.  The details follow:

Bo dong Paṇ chen Phyogs las rnam rgyal (1375‑1451)

 —       Phun tshogs bcwo brgyad (Rta'i Si stu [i.e. Tā'i Si tu] chen po rabs brtan kun bzang 'phags kyi phyag tu slangs pa'i mdzad pa ya mtshan can / khyad par du 'phags pa phun sum tshogs pa'i bkod pa bcwo brgyad kyi rnam par thar pa rin po che'i phreng ba skye dgu mdzes par byed pa'i 'gul rgyan, contained in: Literary Arts in Ladakh, vol. 1, pp. 91‑106.  This is a kāvya eulogizing the ruler Rab brtan kun bzang 'phags (1389‑1442), the Shar kha ba ruler of Rgyal rtse.

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