Monday, December 03, 2007

Greetings Tibeto-logicians Everywhere

With all those light burning holidays — Kwanzaa, Hannukah, the Birthday of Tsongkhapa, the traditional Christian Saturnalia, and cold weather — fast approaching for we the peoples of the northern hemisphere of our tilting and spinning top-like globe, I thought it might be fun to answer, as if you had really asked me, the perplexing question that I probably only imagine is burning brightly in your minds, which is, Didn’t Jesus Himself visit Tibet during his gap years? Somebody found His secret biography in a monastery in Leh, right? Didn’t they find His tomb in Srinagar? Well, true, the idea of Jesus traveling in Tibet is ubiquitous in internet sites. Just try Schmoogling "Jesus in Tibet," but come right back here when you’re done. Let’s have a look at only one very important source of this idea, just to gauge its validity as a source of historical information. It could be instructive, I suppose, but not too instructive, I hope.

Reverend Levi H. Dowling (1844-1911), of Indianapolis, Indiana, was the revealer of
The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, in which Jesus traveled to Lassa (meaning Lhasa) in Tibet and met up with some interesting people we might suppose to have been Tibetan Buddhists there. I would just like to call to your attention, valued reader, that this would have been long before the time of the legendary Tibetan Emperor Lha Totori Nyentsen, when the Dharma first descended on Tibet from the sky.

Here is the beginning of chapter 36 of the
Aquarian Gospel:
“IN Lassa of Tibet there was a master’s temple, rich in manuscripts of ancient lore. 
2) The Indian sage had read these manuscripts, and he revealed to Jesus many of the secret lessons they contained; but Jesus wished to read them for himself. 
3) Now, Meng-tse, greatest sage of all the farther East, was in this temple of Tibet. 
4) The path across Emodus heights was difficult; but Jesus started on his way, and Vidyapati sent with him a trusted guide. 
5) And Vidyapati sent a message to Meng-tse, in which he told about the Hebrew sage, and spoke for him a welcome by the temple priests. 
6) Now, after many days, and perils great, the guide and Jesus reached the Lassa temple in Tibet. 
7) And Meng-tse opened wide the temple doors, and all the priests and masters gave a welcome to the Hebrew sage. 
8) And Jesus had access to all the sacred manuscripts, and, with the help of Meng-tse, read them all. 
9) And Meng-tse often talked with Jesus of the coming age, and of the sacred service best adapted to the people of the age. 
10) In Lassa Jesus did not teach. When he finished all his studies in the temple schools he journeyed toward the West. In many villages he tarried for a time and taught. 
11) At last he reached the pass, and in the Ladak city, Leh, he was received with favor by the monks, the merchants, and the men of low estate. 
12) And in the monastery he abode, and taught; and then he sought the common people in the marts of trade; and there he taught. 
13) Not far away a woman lived, whose infant son was sick nigh unto death.”

Levi must have gotten the name of the Emodus Mountains from Megasthenes. We don’t know about it otherwise.
“The races which we may enumerate without being tedious, from the chain of Emodus, of which a spur is called Imaus (meaning in the native tongue snowy*), are the Isari, Cosyri, Izgi, and on the hills the Chisiotosagi, and the Brachmauae, a name comprising many tribes, among which are the Maccocalingae.” (This was taken from here).

*That Megasthenes can say that Imaus contains the local word for ‘snowy’ certainly reminds of Tibetan Gangchen (Gangs-can), ‘snowy,’ which translates Sanskrit Himavant.
See also chapter 56 of the Aquarian Gospel for the Reverend’s account of the international conference of seven sages held in Alexandria:
“6) Now, Alexandria was the center of the world's best thought, and here in Philo's home the sages met. 
7) From China came Meng-tse; from India Vidyapati came; from Persia Kaspar came; and from Assyria Ashbina came; from Greece Apollo came; Matheno was the Egyptian sage, and Philo was the chief of Hebrew thought.”

Vidyāpati is a fine Indian name meaning ‘Lord of Knowledge,’ but I fear the Reverend really may have intended the “cuckoo of Maithili,” a 15th century author of love songs. Of course I can’t be entirely sure of it.

Matheno is obviously
Manetho. The transposition of consonants (or vowels) is a common way to disguise who it is you really mean, or what your source was (it can still work given the way Google works).

Meng-tse reflects better the Chinese than does the Latinized Mencius with which most of those who were educated in Euro-America are more familiar. Of course there are chronological problems. Mencius had been dead for centuries when Jesus was born. Manetho lived in 3rd century BCE.

Kaspar is very probably Gaspar, the Persian among the Three Wise Men, who have no names at all in the Bible, although they do have names on the famous mosaics of Ravenna in Italy. 

Or is he Caspar the Friendly Ghost of American cartoon fame? The idea suffers cruelly from the fact that this particular Caspar was never explicitly associated with Iran, and as if that were not enough there is one huge and pesky chronological conundrum.

Philo is the very well known philosopher of exactly that name, who was indeed a native son of Alexandria, one who happily married Athens to Jerusalem in his thinking. Unlike most of the other attendees, he actually was a near contemporary of Jesus.

Until today I had always believed Apollo was a god and never even imagined he might be a human sage. I stand corrected.

Ashbina is a bit of a mystery, although I’m thinking it could be related to the
Aśvins maybe. But they weren’t Assyrians, now were they? Believe what you want. But let’s try and keep it believable. Holiday cheers!

An afterthought

Gideon Jasper Richard Ouseley (1835-1906 CE) was an interesting contemporary of Rev. L. Dowling and N. Notovich. I don’t believe the three of them have ever been considered as a group, although I think they should be, at least as regards the Jesus + Tibet connection. Ouseley was a Lisbon-born Irish cleric, became a priest in 1870 in the Catholic Apostolic Church, although eventually excommunicated. He waged a life-long crusade for universal abstinence from meat, tobacco and alcohol. What is more relevant and to the point here, he claimed to have obtained, in 1881, through spiritistic means, meaning dreams and visions, the original document behind the Four Gospels. This came to him in the form of an
Aramaic manuscript that had been placed for safekeeping in a Tibetan monastery by Essenes (note that, in books published in the 1880's — the heydey of the early Theosophical Society — Arthur Lillie had already argued that Jesus was *really* an Essene, and that the Essenes were *really* Buddhists). Ouseley himself never claimed to have traveled to Tibet, and neither did his Jesus. He called this visionary document The Gospel of the Holy Twelve, The Gospel of the Nazarenes, among still other names. This new Gospel "expounds the doctrines of Christ on universal compassion, vegetarianism and kindness to animals (involving abolition of animal sacrifices)." It was published in 1904. He wrote several other books, which seem not to be so well known, including one on cosmic rays, auras, and healing with colors. He was closely associated with the anti-vivisectionist and occultist writers Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland. Ouseley, Dowling and Notovich may have had quite different motives. Dowling’s Jesus traveled to Tibet with a mission to read his way through a library and to learn from Meng-tse some updated rites suited to modern times. Notovich, of Russian Orthodox background, wanting his story to be believed, denied having any motives, but at times you can see his ‘rationalism’ slipping through, in his expressions of doubt about the resurrection of Jesus and the like. Ouseley’s Jesus never went to Tibet. It was His original and uncorrupted gospel — one that has Jesus preaching Ouseley’s pet ideas — that went there. In general all three wanted to ‘document’ a new truth about Jesus and/or the teachings of Jesus by recovering texts from a safe place, one generally deemed inaccessible, which to their minds meant Tibet (both Tibet and Ladakh in the case of Notovich). All three — and Lillie, too (although he is renowned for opposing the Theosophical Society) — supply, each in his way, a counter-narrative to the usual accounts of Christian origins. If only for that reason they were bound to persuade some of their readers, to whom it mattered not at all that the author-revealers knew next to nothing about Tibet. Neither did it matter that the ‘mysteries’ they located there have hardly anything at all to do with the real mysteries (not to mention beauties, inspirations, truths) to be found there, while having very much to do with broad religio-cultural arguments then (and, OK, now) raging in and among Euro-American minds.

See and hear and read more:

John Buescher, Jesus in Tibet, and Other Tales from the Dawn of the Aquarian Age. Search for it at, since my connection is unreliable at the moment. This is a video version of a lecture given in honor of the retirement of Prof. Jeffrey Hopkins. This is your best place to find out more about the lives and wives of Levi H. Dowling. The Reverend Dowling was actually living in L.A., and not in Indianapolis as I suggested above, having long left Indiana behind along with his minister's work with The Church of Christ, when he "transcribed" the Aquarian Gospel. Also fascinating to learn that he had an associate in L.A. named Frederick Oliver who channeled an entity who called himself "Phylos the Tibetan." This is wonderful news.

Levi H. Dowling, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, first published in 1908. Online versions are everywhere.

Arthur Lillie (b. 1831), Buddhism in Christendom, or, Jesus, the Essene, first published in 1887. A PDF of the original publication may be downloaded without charge here.

The Lost Years of Jesus. Look here, where you will find a useful timeline, as well as some alternatives to the alternative views. Don't miss Jesus with long blonde hair, headband, shepherd crook and Torah scrolls hiking amidst the yaks. 21st-century imaginary art at its best.

The Lost Years of Jesus: Was Jesus in Tibet? A brief clip produced by EVTV, including hugely entertaining interviews with Glenn Kimball, author of Hidden Stories of the Childhood of Jesus, and with John Hogue, author of Messiahs: Visions & Prophecies. It might be findable if you search.

K, The Missing Gospel. The whole Jesus-in-Tibet (& Kashmir) myth picked over and reified through digital effects in a forthcoming indie movie. The announcement for this just-linked low-budget production was already nominated for "Worst News of the Week" back in September. A factoid movie for your factoid people could spell box-office success, unfortunately.

The Gospel of the Nazarenes, translated from the original Aramaic
 by Rev. Gideon Jasper Richard Ouseley M.A. Press here.

Charles Francis Potter, The Lost Years of Jesus Revealed. I read this book as a young person and was very impressed by it. I wonder what could have happened to my copy? Any idea about that, Kim? Jerry?

Robert M. Price, Jesus in Tibet: A Modern Myth, The Fourth R, vol. 14, no. 3 (May 2001).

Sam van Schaik, Christianity in Early Tibet. Found at the blogsite "Early Tibet." Press here.

Tibet Talk (Blog), The Lost Years of Jesus in Tibet. This appears not to exist on the internet any longer. I searched for it recently and failed to find it.

Geza Vermes, Who's Who in the Age of Jesus, Penguin Reference Library (London 2005).

The photos were taken in Ravenna, Italy, in 2007. The glowing alabaster windows are from the tomb of Empress Galla Placidia (ca. 388-450 CE), erected in about 435 CE. The mosaic of the Three Wise Men is from Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, originally a church of the Arian "heretics" built in about 500 CE. The Arians followed the theology of the Alexandrian Arius (ca. 250-336). He had a subordinationist view of Christ's divinity, a view roundly condemned at the infamous Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. That's why, in the mosaics that follow, nothing remains of the "heretic" saints but their hands (look closely at the next-to-last pillar and see if you can spot one, or look here), their bodies replaced by curtains.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Tibet's Nasreddin? Touching on Uncle Tompa's Elusive Historicity

If you haven’t seen the 2005 Hollywood movie “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World,” that's OK. I haven’t either. From what I hear, if only the movie had been a better one, it could have justified the snow flurry of overheated discussion, based on its title alone, that played prelude to its unwelcome release. To cram a long involved argument into a 21st-century soundbyte, No, you don't have to look all that hard. And, yes, for those harboring the least bit of doubt there is, and has been, plenty of humor in the Middle East, as could be known from the stories collected in the 13th century by Bar Hebraeus, as well as from the hilarious stories of the trials and exploits of Nasreddin.

On an ordinary day I would never feel so foolhardy as to try to define comedy or humor (yes, OK, if Aristotle’s treatise had only survived the library conflagration in
The Name of the Rose we would better know how to deal with this and so many other serious problems). As a younger person luckily not, or not yet, an Aristotelian like the rest of us courageously put it, tragedy shows us life is complete crap and my, isn’t that awful, but comedy shows us life is complete crap and my, isn’t that funny... But, anyway, what you see in many of these Nasreddin stories is a quite ordinary train of commonsense logic (or a very ‘ordinary’ unfolding of events) that goes haywire in some way or another. It gets capped by a logical consequence (or unexpected turn) that you just didn't see coming. You see the conventional as indeed mere empty convention. It falls out of the space in your mind it once occupied so securely. This 'hits' you as funny. In these stories Nasreddin plays either the fool — the fool who could prove somehow nevertheless wise — or the cunning trickster. In our very act of laughter he finds complete vindication for his [1] naivety or [2] deceit as the case may be (or [1+2] feigned naivety, a combination of the two, sometimes a justifiable understanding).

But regardless of what got it started, when the laughter trails off we may start to wonder, Who was that Nasreddin really? Are there clues in the tales themselves? Can we piece history out of these folksy fictions? Here things start to get messy and interesting for the historian who takes her (or yeah, well, that’s right, his!) job seriously. In the old days it was generally assumed that he must have lived in the neighborhood, wherever that might've been. Cypriots thought he lived in Cyprus, Croatians in Croatia, Persians in Persia etc. Nowadays, at least since about 1990, Turkish scholars have shown industry in making sure the rest of us believe the story that he lived in Turkey. Not that there is anything especially unbelievable in this, just that the evidence seems rather flimsy and debatable. What does seem sure is that stories in his name became progressively more and more popular in the vast domains of the Ottoman rulers (historic map
here), and that the first literary mentions of his name date from 15th and 16th centuries. Just because a few of the stories associate him with Timur (Tamerlane, 1336-1405), some want to say he lived in the 14th century. There are those who see no problem at all in using information from the stories, which after all are from practically everywhere in space and time, as a key to localizing him. Some even point to a tomb with his name on it, with the (A.H.) Hijra date of his death written backward (supposedly as a joke: H.A., H.A.). Aha! After turning the numbers around and translating into the (CE) Common Era date, we get 1383, or 1384.

Right now it isn’t my purpose to say much of anything about the historical Nasreddin. I’m writing because I recently came across a couple of intriguing sources of information that could have to do with the historical identity of Tibet’s counterpart to Nasreddin, Uncle Tompa. The two comic folk-heroes might at first blush look different just because so many of the Uncle Tompa stories are unabashedly eros-tinged and at times obscene-to-pornographic, but then it has been said that the Nasreddin stories were cleaned up (expurgated) in the editing and publishing processes (see Karabas 1990). A few Uncle Tompa (A-khu Ston-pa) stories, like “Uncle Tompa Sleeps with a Virgin,” may be enjoyed after a simple
Schmoogle search, but really, you have no choice but to beg, buy or borrow Rinjing Dorje, Tales of Uncle Tompa: The Legendary Rascal of Tibet, Station Hill Arts (Barrytown 1997). Otherwise how could you possibly read that all-time favorite, “Uncle Tompa Sells Penises at the Nunnery”?

A survey of 53 Amdo-born Tibetan college students in Xining (see Stuart et al. 1999) revealed that every single one of them had heard Uncle Tompa stories, although most students denied the stories had anything sexual about them. Were their teachers there in the room? Afanti came in second, with 33 students. Afanti who? you may be asking. Afanti is of course
Effendi, a common title in the Ottoman period, and one title among others that have been attached to the name of Nasreddin. Afanti, in this case, simply is Nasreddin. This may seem somewhat surprising, provoking further questions. Granted that the Muslim population of Amdo (now called Qinghai) has much increased in recent decades, still it is the case that this region has been a ‘contact zone’ between Tibetan and Islamic cultures for 600 years and more (for a good sense of the historical ‘frontier’ culture of Amdo, read Nietupski's book). Could it be that stories have passed through this route, perhaps substituting the name of one with the other, as we know happened in the history of Nasreddin stories in other parts of the world? (I’m thinking especially of Iranian Juha stories that turned into Nasr al-Din stories, as discussed in Marzolph’s 1995 article, but I imagine this is only the tip of the iceberg.) I won’t pursue this very historical quest today, just to suggest it as a possible way to go if you feel inclined to test it out. The two sets of stories ought to be closely compared someday.

The credit for first detecting a historical person behind the Uncle stories must go to
Rasé Könchog Gyatso Rinpoche. I don’t have this author’s article on the subject on hand, sorry to say, but here is a brief suggestive paragraph from his huge book on the history of the Drigung Kagyü School:
“Uncle Tompa was born to the family of the Kyura [a most important hereditary clan for the Drigung Kagyü, the clan of its founder], and went to be at the side of the Dharma Lord,* becoming his Heart Son. He led a yogic life, circling the nations [traveling aimlessly], and did difficult ascetic practices and the like, in all that he did benefiting others. Even today one may see the ruins of the place where he did his practices in the lower valley of Para (Spa-ra),** a place particularly praised by the Chennga [Rinpoché]. Proceeding out of events in his own life, these very famous ‘Tales of Uncle Tompa’ have originated, it would seem.”
*The title Dharma Lord (Chos-rje) we may know from context to mean the 4th abbot of Drigung Monastery, Chennga Dragpa Jungné (Spyan-snga Grags-pa-'byung-gnas), one of the main disciples of the founder of the Drigung Kagyü, Jigten Gönpo 
**The Sarat Chandra Das dictionary says Spa-ra is name of a village northwest of Lhasa.
The works of Chennga have recently been published, so I had a look there, and was intrigued to find two works explicitly written for his sake.

Uncle Tompa's teacher Chennga Dragpa Jungné

Before saying something about them, I would like to point out one interesting thing that otherwise might be overlooked. If it is true that the ‘original’ Uncle Tompa was a disciple of the Chennga, that means he probably lived from around 1200-1275. His adult life would have fallen within the time of Mongol power over the greater part of Eurasia, including Tibet. In particular, it is known that the early Ilkhan rulers, with their main capital at Tabriz (today in extreme northwestern Iran just a short distance from Turkey), had very strong Buddhist tendencies, and invited teachers called Bakshis, among them some of Tibetan origins. Although research continues of course, we do not know the personal names of any of these Tibetan Bakshis. Still, it is quite certain they would have been Drigung Kagyüpas (or possibly Pagdru Kagyüpas), since the western Mongol rulers served as their patrons. In short, some of Uncle Tompa's fellow Drigungpas were living in the heart of the Middle East. I’m not saying we ought to make a lot out of it at this moment, just to keep it in mind.

In one of the two works, a letter, the teacher acknowledges receipt of earlier and later offerings sent to him, including books and pieces of turquoise. He says,

"Now in response your old father, your teacher, sends this letter.

Give up ordinary impermanent compounded things.
Be sure of death, the way of all beings that are born.
Pass your days and nights in even-toned meditation
on the sky-like nature of nondual mind proper..."

Together with these and other words of advice, he sent two woolen robes.

The other work has words of advice for the spiritual life, with an obvious and strong emphasis on renunciation. Just to give a sample in hasty translation, this is the initial part immediately following the opening homage verse:
The joys and enjoyments that may be found in sangsara and nirvana
we wish to have, but following in their train are the faults,
and all the faults of sangsara go back to a fundamental stupidity.
Of all things that ought to be given up, this stupidity is supreme.

Stupidity's antidote is interdependent origination.
Since each interdependent thing, taken singularly, is impermanent,
you must abandon the stupidity of extreme views like eternalism and nihilism.

When the interdependent things are taken by twos, you have cause and result.
So give up the stupidity that confounds cause and result,
not wanting to see results in virtuous and non-virtuous karma.
The advice continues in like vein, with dual emphases on the renunciation of worldly frivolities and on the Buddhist view of relativity, which says that all things are interdependently originated. Renunciation and relativity are tightly interrelated, mutually reinforcing.

In closing, the Chennga addresses his disciple, “For my only son, Uncle Tompa, a supreme personage born from the family of the glorious Drigungpa Jigten Gönpo, a yogi of fine unerring meditative realization...”

Looking at these two texts, thinking of this as the ‘original’ Uncle Tompa, I'm left wondering how one Uncle could have developed into the other. And that’s a funny situation to get trapped into. Maybe you can figure out how that happened? If so, help me out! What
am I missing, people?

Read more:

Chennga Dragpa Jungné (Spyan-snga Grags-pa-'byung-gnas, 1175-1255), The Collected Works (gsung-bum) of Grags-pa-'byung-gnas: A Chief Disciple of the Skyob-pa 'Jig-rten-gsum-mgon, ed. by H.H. Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, Drikung Kagyu Publications (Delhi 2002). The two titles of interest here are on pp. 250-254: Precepts on Giving up [the Vicious Circle of] Sangsara Granted to Uncle Tompa (A-khu Ston-pa-la Gnang-ba'i 'Khor-ba Spong-ba'i Gdams-pa), and on pp. 567-569, A Letter Sent to My Dear Son Uncle Tompa (Gces-pa'i Bu Sdug A-khu Ston-pa-la Springs-pa).

Drigung Könchog Gyatso ('Bri-gung Dkon-mchog-rgya-mtsho, b. 1968), 'Bri-gung Chos-'byung, Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Beijing 2004), in 783 pages. A history of the Drigung Kagyü School of Tibetan Buddhism. The author is identical to Ra-se Dkon-mchog-rgya-mtsho (below). The passage translated above looks like this in the original: a khu ston pa ni / 'bri gung du skyu ra'i rigs las bltams shing chos rje'i zhabs la gtugs pas thugs sras su gyur / rnal 'byor gyis spyod pas / rgyal khams bskor zhing brtul zhugs spyod pa ci yang bskyangs te gzhan phan cher mdzad / spa ra'i mdor sgrub pa mdzad pa'i shul da lta'ang mchis shing spyan sngas kyang bsngags brjod che / nyid kyi mdzad pa las 'phros nas a khu ston pa'i sgrung zhes grags che ba 'di nyid byung bar snang ngo.

The late Dungkar Rinpoche's dictionary (entirely in Tibetan), pp. 726-727, tells about an actor popular in the 1940's named Lobzang Tsering (who died in around 1970), generally known under the name Uncle Tompa because he somehow resembled him in his story-telling abilities. Oddly, Dungkar Rinpoche neglected to include an entry for Uncle Tompa himself. It's interesting that the actor is mentioned, too, in R.A. Stein, Tibetan Civilization, Stanford University Press (Stanford 1972), p. 155: "Not long ago at Lhasa again, there was a famous jester with a talent for singing, a sort of ballad-monger, who could venture political satires without risking punishment. He was known by the nickname 'Aku Tömpa', thus being likened to one of those waggish saints we have discussed."

Ananda Hopkins, Chaucer and the Fabliau, transcript of lecture for the Medieval to Renaissance Literature course, University of Warwick (Autumn 2005). Download the PDF here. Try this blog, also.

Seyfi Karabas, The Use of Eroticism in Nasreddin Hoca Anecdotes, Western Folklore, vol. 49, no. 3 (July 1990), pp. 299-305.

Lucile Vartanian Kirwan, Armenian Stories of Hodja, California Folklore Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 1 (January 1943), pp. 27-29.

Ulrich Marzolph, Molla Nasr al-Din in Persia, Iranian Studies, vol. 28, nos. 3-4 (Summer 1995), pp. 157-174.

Paul Kocot Nietupski, Labrang: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at the Crossroads of Four Civilizations, Snow Lion (Ithaca 1999).

Rasé Könchog Gyatso (Ra-se Dkon-mchog-rgya-mtsho), A-khu Ston-pa'i 'Byung-bar Thog-ma'i Bsam-gzhigs, Gangs-ljongs Rig-gnas, vol. 30, no. 2 (1996), pp. 92-96. I haven't actually seen this article and have little hope of seeing it in the near future. The title means something like 'Preliminary Considerations on the Emergence of Uncle Tompa.'

Kevin Stuart, Kun-mchog-dge-legs, and Dpal-ldan-bkra-shis, Tibetan Tricksters, Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 58, no. 1 (1999), pp. 5-30. Download in PDF format here.
Tibetan trickster figures mentioned here include A-tsi-byi'u-mgo,* Ston-pa Shes-rab, Rdzun-khro-lo, Nyi-chos-bzang-po, 'Brug-pa Kun-legs and Ge-sar among still others.
*'Ouchy Birdy Head.' This name may have originally meant a throwing stone shaped like a bird head, with a beak-like protrusion[s]... It won't sound so funny when one is coming right at you. The figure of Ston-pa Shes-rab is probably based on a purposeful mispronunciation of Ston-pa Gshen-rab, the Teacher of the Bon religion.

Karl D. Uitti, Fabliau and Comic Tale, contained in: Joseph R. Strayer, ed., Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Charles Scribner's Sons (New York 1984), vol. 4, pp. 574-7.

The Warburg Institute in London recently held a conference about Tibetan-Islamic historical relations, and a volume of papers will be published before long. Their website has a very good bibliography on the subject.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pangsa Monastery Closure Report

The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy has just today made a news release, not yet verified by other sources, about the closing of a monastery in Tibet by the authorities. The name of the monastery is Pangsa.

I have no way of knowing if their information about the monastery closure is accurate, although I imagine it is, just because it fits in with the general patterns of the current PRC psyche war against His Holiness the Dalai Lama (whom they often call, with irritating breeziness, and of course disrespect, simply "Dalai," as if that were enough).

I am not a journalist, but as a historian I have some serious problems with what they say about Pangsa Monastery and its relics. First let me quote a paragraph from the news report verbatim. Then I will state my problems with the distortion of 'history' that it presents.
"Pangsa Monastery belongs to the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. The monastery's chief relic is a mummified reliquary body of the highly realized Yogi Jampal Gyatso. Je Tsongapa Chenpo (1357-1419), the exalted master and the founder of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism brought the holy reliquary statue of Yogi Jampal Gyatso from his birthplace, Tsonga in Amdo Province along with him when he came to Lhasa, during the 14th century. Since then the reliquary statue of Yogi was housed in the Pangsa Monastery as a chief relic."

The word that is here translated as 'Yogi' is Togden (Rtogs-ldan), which in modern times is most likely to refer to Drugpa Kagyü lay practitioners, who wear their long hair up in a topknot rather in the style of Hindu sadhus. I doubt if this modern usage of the term was current in the 15th century, however, and would prefer to translate Togden simply as '[Spiritually] Realized One.' Togden Jampal Gyatso's dates are 1356 through 1428. Of course, these dates immediately present us with a problem. If Tsongkhapa (which is who they mean by "Je Tsongapa Chenpo") died in 1419, and Jampal Gyatso died in 1428, then how could Tsongkhapa have brought his relics with him when he came to Central Tibet from his Amdo homeland of Tsongkha, an event which occurred in 1373-1374? This is clearly impossible.

In fact, we may know from the biography of Jampal Gyatso that he, like Tsongkhapa, was a native of Tsongkha, and like Tsongkhapa he traveled to Central Tibet in or around the year 1373. Rather like the younger Tsongkhapa, he also traveled to a large number of different monasteries of different traditions rather than studying in only one. He eventually became one of Tsongkhapa's main disciples, and accompanied him on meditation retreats in caves or in improvised grass huts. During these retreats, Jampal Gyatso was given the nickname 'Juniper Berry' (Shug-'bru-ba) because he lived for 3 years on a diet of pills made primarily of
juniper berries (not generally considered edible, although some European ethnic cuisines use them for spice).

The most important event from traditional perspective, Tsongkhapa gave especially secret 'Cutting' practices to the very limited group of retreatants, and to Jampal Gyatso alone he gave the Emanation Volume (Sprul-pa'i Glegs-bam), a miraculous book. It's very content and nature are an enormous mystery. Some say that it disappeared into the divine realms at some point and no longer exists. Some say it never really existed as a physical book, but was a miraculous apparition made of light. I recently heard rumors that a copy of it had been found in Bhutan, so Who knows? The gift of this book marked the beginning of the main esoteric current of the Gelugpa School known either as the Genden Nyengyü or the Ensa Nyengyü, which continues still today, although it may be impossible to find out too much about it. The very name Nyengyü means it is 'whispered from mouth to ear.' It is said that it is not normally taught to more than one person at a time. So I wish you luck locating that person.

Later on the abbot of Pangsa Monastery (Spang-sa) invited him, and he stayed in the Rosehip Valley (Se-ba Rong) close to Pangsa. Pangsa had been founded originally in the decades surrounding the year 1200 by a student of the Kadampa teacher Se Chilbupa (Se Spyil-bu-pa). He meditated for a very long time, accomplishing visions of Manjushri. News of his sanctity spread throughout Tibet, and many people found their way to his hermitage to seek his guidance. Before he passed away in his 73rd year, he passed on the teachings of the Emanation Volume to his own disciple Baso Chökyi Gyaltsen. After his death, the residents of Pangsa placed his remains inside a golden reliquary.

I hope the people at TCHRD will not take this criticism badly. I do not intend to pick on them in particular, or even on journalism in general.
Bad history can be found everywhere. Most of us know from experience that the most usual place to find it is in the history books.

Read more:

The absolutely best thing to read, in English, about the life of Jampal Gyatso is this: Janice D. Willis, Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Transmission, Wisdom (Boston 1995), pp. 32-40.

Pangsa Monastery has been rebuilt following its destruction in the Cultural Revolution, and probably never had a very large number of monks. It is located northeast of Lhasa, on the way to Drigung Monastery.

For more on Pangsa Monastery, check the Knowledge Base at TBRC (Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center) by searching for "Spang sa" or look directly here. Here we can learn that in 1959 there were 30 monks staying there.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Does History Matter?

I’ve never posted a video on a blog before, but I’m so eager to have you hear Tsering Shakya, one of the best of the historians of 20th-century Tibet, give his carefully considered thoughts about history in general and Tibetan history writing in particular, that I’m willing to make the attempt. I’m not a modernist historian myself, as you may know, but I like to keep an open mind, and avoid stumbling over too many self-imposed boundaries. Be sure to set aside about an hour and a half, assuming your connection speed is good.

Actually, I give up on the whole video posting idea, which doesn’t seem to be working all that well for me. At times like these I wish one of my nephews was here for consultation.

Just press

One interesting thing, among many, that Tsering Shakya says is this: It is unlikely that the scholars who produced these [history] texts [in past centuries] would have ever imagined that the existence of Tibet would be questioned. At last someone has pronounced these words of truth. I would have said “extremely unlikely.”

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

China Kid's Drongjug

There is one incident of Drongjug in later Tibetan history that is rather well known, at least to more historically inclined Tibetans. It took place in the borderlands beyond the Tibetan region of Amdo in the Chinese-dominated area of Gansu in the year 1639. I first noticed mention of it in Dungkar Rinpoché's recently published encyclopedia of Tibetan culture. A most important source for the story (of course there may be others not yet known to me) was published in Beijing in 2005 and came into my hands only a few weeks ago. This publication is a newly typeset version of an older woodblock print. Although the work is anonymously authored, we do find a date in the opening pages, as part of a general chronology where it says it is “now the 16th Iron Horse year.” This translates to the year 1930, which we may take to be the date of its composition.

Before going into the Drongjug story itself, I would like to spend a little time on the earlier parts of this historical work, which bears as its poetic title
Rare Beryl Mirror. In general it is an account of the Tongkhor Incarnates (Stong-'khor Sprul-sku), but it begins with a hundred pages detailing the previous rebirths, eleven in all, that preceded the birth of the First Tongkhor. The dates of the First Tongkhor are not very secure. One chronology gives him the dates 1476-1556, while our history says he was born in 1474. Our history prefers to call these incarnates by the name Zhabdrung (Zhabs-drung), a title we have met with in an earlier blog, rather than Tongkhor. The First Tongkhor was born in the far southeastern part of the Tibetan realm, in a region known on the maps as Markham ('Bar-khams being the usual Tibetan spelling), in a particular place in Markham called Tongkhor. This is an important point to be remembered to avoid possible confusions. The Tongkhor Incarnates as well as the monastery in Amdo (which shifted its location at one point) bear the name Tongkhor because that is the place where the first incarnation was born and for no other reason. At the time of his birth his family and all the surrounding area was dominated by the Bön religion. The First Tongkhor, his ordination name being Dawa Gyaltsen (Zla-ba rgyal-mtshan), went to Sera Monastery in Lhasa for his Buddhist studies. When he returned home he helped increase the Gelug school's presence there, this being his main historic role. He founded a monastic community in Tongkhor that, confusingly enough, is sometimes called Tashilhunpo (although do not, I repeat, do not imagine it to be the much larger and by far more famous monastery by that name far to the west at the city of Shigatsé).

The Tongkhor II, named Yönten Gyatso (Yon-tan rgya-mtsho) was born in 1557 within sight of the Tashilhunpo Monastery. In 1578 he went to meet Altan Khan and stayed with him for about four years before going to Central Tibet, where he spent another four years before at last arriving home in 1586. Unfortunately he died the very next year in 1587, only 30 years old. The
Yellow Beryl history by Regent Sanggyé Gyatso tells us that he served for some time as the 16th Abbot of Sera Tegchen Ling.

The Tongkhor III was also born in Markham. His name was Gyalwa Gyatso (Rgyal-ba rgya-mtsho). After an eventful life that included traveling to meet a Mongol leader named Lochi in 1594, he died of smallpox in his 51st year in 1639.

If you have already read the blog backlog you will know that Vajrayana Buddhists who have mastered the Completion Stage practices may gain the ability to control the circumstances of their rebirth. Of course generally speaking this would mean choosing suitable parents living in a place where the Bodhisattva vows may be translated into beneficial actions. Although I've been told that there are Bön monasteries in Amdo where the succession of abbots is maintained through Drongjug rather than 'ordinary' reincarnation, in general the following account is quite out of the ordinary. I hope you will excuse me from my responsibility to explain all the geographic terms used here (any help along those lines would be appreciated).

In the region of Shudru (Shu-gru) on the banks of the Sugchu (Sug-chu, or Sug-cu) lived someone known as the China Kid (Gyatrug, Rgya-phrug), born in 1620. Apparently he was son of a Chinese mother and a Tibetan father (the text says he had a Tibetan 'bone' lineage, which at least indicates Tibetan ancestors on his father's side). Just the day after the death of the Tongkhor III, he was being carried to the graveyard when the Drongjug was performed. China Kid got out of his coffin, climbed on top of it and assumed a cross-legged position. Several persons witnessed this and called the members of his clan and other villagers to come and see. A large crowd of people gathered, armed with sticks and stones because they were terrified it might be an elemental spirit. Their blows didn't harm him in the least.

The chief of the region, a great general, was requested to intervene. Calling up his troops, they arrived swiftly and loosed a shower of arrows. However, just as when the Buddha was attacked by the army of Mara (personification of delusion), he remained sitting unharmed.

Some of the soldiers saw his body sending off rays of light with divine beings coming to make offerings to him. Some saw a lot of frightening cemetery animals come running away from him. Many other soldiers saw his body blazing in a fire. The resuscitated corpse took pity on them and wanted to reassure them, so he said in soft but confident words, “I am not a zombie. To the contrary, I am Tongkhor Gyalwa Gyatso. I performed the Drongjug in this way.”

Everyone was amazed at these words and paid him reverence, making prostrations. The Chinese general invited him with full honors while the soldiers went their own separate ways. The general immediately made out a report and sent it by imperial envoys. When they arrived at the encampment in the valley of Atsamokhor (A-tsha-mo-khor), they found that several details, including the shape of the landscape, the nationality (mi-rigs), etc., corresponded to prophecies the Third Tongkhor had written on white cloth and placed in the cracks between his cushions when on the point of death. A delegation was sent back to Sugchu and, before an audience of Chinese, Tibetans and Mongolians, they carried out the traditional method of verifying reincarnations. They showed him closely similar items and asked him to pick out the ones that had belonged to his previous embodiment. He recognized the correct items without any mistakes.

Everyone, including the imperial envoys, saw this as undeniable proof of his identity, so they brought him to Atsamokhor where a great feast was held in his honor. The Chinese general sent a petition to the Emperor, detailing the events and requesting that the remains of the previous Tongkhor together with his new embodiment might be permitted to cross the border on their way to Tongkhor Monastery. Permission was granted, and upon their arrival all the people of Amdo, people high and low, monastic and lay, were buzzing with excitement saying, "Oh goodness, such an amazing thing as this never happened before!" He soon received his novice ordination from Amdo's most famous classical poet, Kalden Gyatso (Skal-ldan rgya-mtsho, 1607-1677).

The biography continues, but one matter, being remarkable, deserves remark. The biography consistently gives his age starting from the time of the Drongjug in 1639 rather than the date of birth of the China Kid in 1620. This is why it says he was 'eight' (of course this means seven according to our way of reckoning age) when he visited Central Tibet, in 1646. While there he received full ordination from the Panchen Lama along with the name Dogyü Gyatso (Mdo-rgyud rgya-mtsho). At about this same time he went to Lhasa and visited the Fifth Dalai Lama. With the help of a digital text of the Fifth Dalai Lama's autobiography, it was quite easy to locate (in Dukula'i Gos-bzang, volume 1, folio 132) a separate account of his visit, which may be translated like this:

“The Tongkhor Incarnate Gyalwa Gyatso didn't need to take rebirth in a womb, but instead did the transference instantly, like a bird in flight, into the body of a China Kid who was about 20 years old as he was being carried to the cemetery. Saying ‘I am the one from Tongkhor’ he was recognized and became known as the Tongkhor who performed the Drongjug transference by the name of Dogyü Gyatso... As in the biography of Drogmi ('Brog-mi), it is explained that a master of attainment may once again enter his own body, but still it is taught that it is not an easy matter to pass [from death to rebirth] by means of Drongjug, so I am not sure about it.”

The Mongol ruler Gushri Khan made him a land grant, and in 1648 he founded Ganden Chökhor Ling (Dga'-ldan chos-'khor gling), commonly known as Tongkhor Monastery. He met the Fifth Dalai Lama once more as He was passing through Amdo on his way to Beijing (as told in an earlier blog). Late in his life his fame reached the ears of Shundri (i.e. Shunzi), the Manchu Emperor of China, who granted him a seal (cho-lo) with the title Chanzhi Manjushri (Chanzhi means 'Chan Master'). He died in 1683, his 45th year, of course counting from the time of the Drongjug. His body was about 63 years old.

There was a revolt in 1724, and the Tongkhor Monastery was destroyed. The Tongkhor V decided to locate it at a new site about 20 miles away from the ruins of the old monastery. Built in 1736, largely demolished in the anti-cultural 'Cultural Revolution,' and somewhat restored since the late 1980's, this is the Tongkhor Monastery that may be visited today.

Read more:

Anonymous, Zhabs drung 'jam pa'i dbyangs rim byon gyi 'khrungs rabs rnam par thar pa gsal bar byed pa'i rin po che baidûrya'i me long (Cover title: Stong 'khor zla ba rgyal mtshan sku phreng rim byon gyi rnam thar), Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (Beijing 2005).

Gyurme Dorje, Tibet Handbook, with Bhutan, Passport Books (Chicago 1996), p. 572.

Dungkar Rinpoché's encyclopedia — Dung dkar Blo bzang 'phrin las, Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo, Krung go'i bod rig pa dpe skrun khang (Beijing 2002).

Andreas Gruschke, The Cultural Monuments of Tibet's Outer Provinces, White Lotus (Bangkok 2001), vol. 1 (The Qinghai Part of Amdo), p. 47. This has a nice sketch of the history and present condition of Tongkhor Monastery (for a fine photograph of one of its older buildings, see fig. 62 on p. 138).

Samten G. Karmay & Yasuhiko Nagano, eds., A Survey of Bonpo Monasteries and Temples in Tibet and the Himalaya (Bon Studies series no. 7), National Museum of Ethnology (Osaka 2003). There is a fascinating account of Drongjug practice in the abbatial succession of a Bön monastery in Trikha, an area in Amdo just south of the Kokonoor, on pp. 330-31.

For information about a publication with very nice translations of the songs of Amdo's most famous classical poet Kalden Gyatso, with a CD included, see this
commercial link.
- - -

For the Peoples Republic of China's law, coming into effect on September 1, demanding that all "Living Buddhas" fill out the proper paperwork to receive official state approval, see the official Xinhua news release here. Outrageous but true.

Postscript - August 18, 2013

I would like to add the following two articles to the bibliography.

Daniel Berounsky, Entering Dead Bodies and the Miraculous Power of the Kings: The Landmark of Karma Pakshi's Reincarnation in Tibet, Part I, Mongolo-Tibetica Pragensia '10: Ethnolinguistics, Sociolinguistics, Religion & Culture [Charles University in Prague], vol. 3, no. 2 (2010), pp. 7-33.

Daniel Berounsky, Entering Dead Bodies and the Miraculous Power of the Kings: The Landmark of Karma Pakshi's Reincarnation in Tibet, Part II, Mongolo-Tibetica Pragensia '11: Ethnolinguistics, Sociolinguistics, Religion & Culture [Charles University], vol. 4, no. 2 (2011), pp. 7-29.

It should be possible to download PDF copies through the author's page at

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Katsupari and the Living Slick Factor

It may be possible for human consciousness to exit the body and travel out into space. It may be possible, but then again it may not be desirable. It may be desirable but it may not be productive of anything of lasting worth. It may be convincingly real yet result in real and lasting delusion.

I can accept that people who belong to 'primal religions' like those of Australia, the Americas and Siberia might legitimately make use of trance-inducing techniques for going out into the 'astral' (starry!) planes peopled by spirit entities with the aim of solving specific problems for individuals or their communities. Even some of the most hard-minded of the anthropologists have been known to admit that it may in some way be effective. (Finding a wider context in which an illness makes sense may in itself have a palliative or healing effect.) When modern urban white-collar types start taking up shamanism or astral traveling I suspect it's neither legimate nor authentic. I'm not saying it absolutely couldn't be, just that it wouldn't seem very likely.

My brief acquaintance a few decades ago with some followers of Eckankar, while majoring in Religious Studies at university, didn't inspire me. Neither was I enthralled by my brief acquaintance with followers of Scientology and Theosophy; I never attended meetings or in any way belonged to these or any groups like them, although I did read some of their publications. I remember one Eckist telling me, "Well, we [we Eckists] are doing just what Milarepa was doing!" I also remember thinking that even though I was quite certain he was mistaken on this point there would be little point in trying to point this out to him, convinced and dogmatic as he was. I just kept silent, a silence he probably took as assent. And what I learned from the elaborate descriptions of psychic vampires encountered on the astral plane from another young Eckist with whom I accepted a ride hitchhiking one day didn't exactly inspire confidence. His peculiar brand of spirituality included what he called "materialing out," by which he meant owning every material possession possible.

These days it has become increasingly well known and well enough publicized that much of the literature composed by Paul Twitchell, the founder of Eckankar known as the Living Eck Master who died in 1971, was copied word-for-word (but with strategic alterations in the technical terminology) from various sources, in particular Julian Johnson's
The Path of the Masters — a clear case of plagiarism (some examples given here [broken link]). At the same time there are those who argue that many of the names of the Eck Masters that came before him (and that might be encountered in the astral planes by Eckists everywhere today) were made up by him in order to conceal his real sources, who were largely from the Radhasoami, founded in the 1860's, itself a branching from (or a special form of) the Sikh religion. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Radhasoami was mainly inspired by the Sant Mat, in turn largely inspired by the early 15th-century mystic poet Kabir, while Kabir served as a major inspiration in the founding of the Sikh religion. Radhasoami was from the beginning infused with influences from Sikh religion, Nath Yoga, Bhakti (devotional Hinduism) and so forth. Mysticism of sound is a Radhasoami specialty from its origins, but astral projection per se is not. Twitchell imbibed techniques for astral travel at a tender age from the general popular occultism of his day (apparently through his own father), not from any pukka Indian source. Still, Twitchell's technical terminology is almost all from Punjabi Sikh (and/or Radhasoami sources), including the name Eckankar itself (ek[a] means 'one' and ankar is omkara in Sanskrit, meaning the 'syllable om').

In my point of view, if you were to come to realize that conscious plagiarism and other forms of deception occurred in the founding moments of your religion, and you want to continue with whatever you've found to be true in it, it would be logical to go back to the more original inspiration, which in this case would mean that Eckists would go back to the Radhasoami, and perhaps even take the next step and go back to the Sikh religion or the Sant Mat itself, or still another step to the Hindu/Muslim masters who inspired the early Sikhs? (Sufism is most definitely the source of one of the main Eck spiritual practices, reciting the syllable Hu, which means 'He' in Arabic, referring to Allah. This is taken from Sufi
dhikr.) But don't all religions conceal from their followers, consciously or not, at least some of the actual sources of their revelations? Isn't this true of Buddhism which, for all its arguable originality, drew (and continued to draw) a lot from Hindu traditions, or Christianity taking much of its quite central 'suffering and resurrected savior' complex from paganism, etc. etc. I'm more than willing to think along those sorts of lines, but even after the most cynically deconstructive post-modernists have had their final deadly words about 'lineage construction' and 'legitimation,' I'm sure a lot of us humans will still find most meaning in a tradition of some kind or another. We seem to have a natural inclination to seek our truths within more long-lasting forms of collective religiosity. Spiritual development, after all generally a very slow and difficult process, would seem to require a context of the 'tried and true.' We need inspiration from the past in order to go forward with confidence. If that sounds rather conservative, I'd say it's manifestly superior to the extremist model of progress that says, 'Destroy it all and see what happens then.' The main progress that results from taking this approach consists in sins that will be visited on our descendents, wounds that won't heal for generations. Go ask China (for example).

But anyway, it was my intention neither to rant until you start suspecting me of neo-con-ism nor to go very far into the Eckankar controversies which may be easily located on the internet (try the official
Eckankar website, but also look at the newspaper article here [broken link], the books and their rebuttals [broken link]). I do want to say something, something that might seem rather minor, about the reputed Eckankar-Tibetan connections from a Tibeto-logical perspective.

In 1951, long before Twitchell made Eckankar public in 1964-5, he claims to have met for the first time someone named
Rebazar Tarz in the vicinity of Darjeeling. (In one place Twitchell says their first meeting took place in Greece, but without recognizing him at the time.) On an earlier visit to India in 1935 he had met one named Sudar Singh in Allahabad. These two persons, met in the flesh and not only on the astral plane, are often believed to have been the most important two sources for Eckankar teachings. There has been a lot of discussion (especially in internet sources, including some supplied above) about the identities of these two persons. One conclusion is that Sudar Singh (the 'Sudar' is definitely not an expectable Indian name) is a truncated version of Sudarshan Singh, a known figure in the Radhasoami history. Another is that it is more likely Kirpal Singh, whose actual name was at first acknowledged by Twitchell, but subsequently disguised under the name Sudar Singh.

Another possibility that is sometimes mentioned only to be passed over quickly is that Sudar Singh is Sundar Singh. Born in 1889, Sundar Singh converted to Christianity from the Sikh faith. He did missionary work among Tibetans starting in 1908. Tharchin Babu the Tibetan
newspaper magnate [broken link], himself a convert to Christianity, met him. It's said that in 1929 he walked into the Himalayas and disappeared, never to be heard from again (with the implication that he may still be there!). Christian evangelicals nurturing hopes of converting Tibet to the only true way have made a special cult of his memory, and it seems to be difficult to obtain any information about him apart from what they provide. It is said he claimed he had met a 300-year-old Christian hermit at Mt. Kailash. Evangelicals generally fail to mention his approval of Swedenborg, encountered in a vision. Evangelicals are more than likely to remember Emanuel Swedenborg, if they remember him at all, for his associations with spiritualist mediums, and therefore "of the devil." These people will be surprised to learn (or rather refuse to learn) that the modern way of visualizing heaven, heaven as it appears in their own minds' eyes, owes a great deal to Swedenborg's visions. But more on that another time (meanwhile see the book of McDannell & Lang). The simplest explanation is that Twitchell used a truncated version of Sudarshan Singh, Sudar Singh, as a cover name to disguise the identity of Kirpal Singh (probably because they had a falling out). The parallelism between Sundar Singh's encounter with the 300-year-old Christian sadhu at Mt. Kailash and Twitchell's encounter in the vicinity of Darjeeling with the 400(500?)-year-old Rebazar Tarz is at least worth wondering over once or twice.

Rebazar Tarz is an especially significant figure, since it was from him that Twitchell claims to have received the 'rod of power' that signifies the transmission that made him into the Living Eck Master. It assuredly does not appear to be a Tibetan name, at least not all of it. It looks like faux-Farsi or Turkish. I'm thinking that while Reba could be taken to be Tibetan Repa (ras-pa, cotton clad one) as in Milarepa, it's more likely that it's Reb/Rab, an old Syrian and Aramaic word for 'teacher, master' eventually borrowed into Hebrew as Rebbe, and into Arabic as Rabb (English: Rabbi). With the first syllable Reb being a title, what remains to explain is the 'proper' name Azar Tarz, which sure looks like Turkish or Persian to me. Azar Hoshang is an early Zoroastrian teacher (here Azar means 'fire'), and although I haven't learned much if anything about him, he apparently had some legendary connections with the Azeris, the Turkic-language-speaking Azerbaijanis of today... These entertainable ideas may be fun and even worth pursuing for other reasons, but they don't help us in understanding how and in what manner Rebazar Tarz was supposed to be 'Tibetan,' or what he was doing in Darjeeling. The Eckist literature places him in the Hindu Kush, meaning in mountains in Afghanistan. He really does look like an Afghani in the full-bearded portrait of him found in Eckankar publications and websites. And to tell the truth I'm not very fond of the explanation that finds the source of Rebazar in street-sign Spanish Rebasar (look
here [broken link]). Amusing, yes.

{{Note: Since writing these words, I've learned that Āzar is a proper name that occurs once in al-Qurʾān, where it refers to (or is a nickname of) the father of Abraham, who is called Terakh in the Tanakh ("Old" Testament according to those who accept that there is a "New"). In the Hebrew at least, his name means 'laggard' (someone who is on a perpetual slow-down strike, or perhaps someone who had CFS before such a condition became known). Terakh was originally from Ur, but later moved his family to Haran, where he died at the age of 205. For more interesting discussion, see the
Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, the entry for Āzar — Firestone, Reuven. "Āzar." Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. General Editor: Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Georgetown University, Washington DC. Brill, 2007.

The most usual (not for that reason necessarily correct) explanation of the name Azarbayjan or Azerbaijan is that it comes from Persian. "Azarbayjan is an Arabicized form of the Persian word Azarpadgan meaning the Place of Guardians of Holy Fire (Azar=fire, pad=guard, gan=prefix of place)." See
this. The mountains of this region have been known for many centuries as site of many natural gas fires. See this. But it seems that the problem of the 'true' Azerbaijan is a point of controversy on the basis of both historical considerations and contemporary politics. See for example this.}}

At first I was thinking that Fubbi Quantz might have been formed by changing a letter or two of 'Ruby Quartz,' but to be perfectly honest I don't know what to make of it. This name, too, has nothing conceivably Tibetan about it. He's supposed to reside in a monastery in northern Tibet that houses a part of the scriptures Eckists call Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad (the one in the ethereal Akashick Records, or the one available from Amazon, I'm not sure which). The name they give for this monastery is Katsupari. This does indeed look like, and I believe is, a Tibetan name for a monastery. L. Austine Waddell published something on it long ago in 1895 in his book The Buddhism of Tibet, or Lamaism, as part of a list of monasteries in Sikhim (an old spelling for Sikkim) on page 285. Waddell spelled it Ketsuperri, supplied the exact Tibetan spelling as Mkha' spyod dpal ri, which he explained as meaning "The noble heaven-reaching mountain," telling us that it had eleven monks. This Khachöpelri (this just being my preferred method of phoneticizing it; the 'ch'/'ts' variation is common in Nepal... the 'l' is in any case scarcely audible) is one of the important holy places in Sikkim. The travel literature available to me pays attention to the holy lake, and hardly ever mentions the monastery further uphill. Tourists are told the charming tale that leaves are never allowed to settle on the lake's surface since birds immediately snatch them up.

I am really not sure why this particular lake, known to the tourism literature by the name of the nearby monastery (which itself looks like the name of a mountain!), was supposed to be all that holy. Apparently it has some legendary connection to Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava). Some Lepcha legends do connect their tribal origins with lakes. Like you, I don't have in my library the only extensive English-language source about Sikkim's history, which still exists only in the form of an unpublished manuscript (long ago Rock, and more recently Steinmann, made use of it), and I haven't looked into the several Tibetan-language guidebooks to the holy places of Sikkim that are available to me. Not yet. My thinking is that while Twitchell was visiting Darjeeling, he may well have heard the name of this place, only about 30 miles away as the crow flies. He could have even gone there, I suppose. I imagine that Eckists will sooner or later catch on to this connection. Well, so long as they pay due respect to the fragile local Eck-osystem, it doesn't bother me that they will start pounding the forest paths up to Khatsupari Monastery. The lake, at least, is already on the regular tourist route. And I imagine the monks in residence won't mind if people stop by to ask them a few puzzling questions about Fubbi Quantz and the
Shariyat-Ki-Sugmad. They will probably welcome both the company and the entertainment. I recommend a long stopover in Azerbaijan.

Read more:

Martin Boord, A Pilgrim's Guide to the Hidden Land of Sikkim Proclaimed as a Treasure by Rig 'dzin rgod kyi ldem 'phru can, Bulletin of Tibetology, vol. 39 (2003-2005), pp. 31-53. Available as PDF here.

Alka Jain and H. Birkumar Singh, S.C. Rai, E. Sharma, Folklores of Sacred Khecheopalri Lake in the Sikkim Himalaya of India: A Plea for Conservation, Asian Folklore Studies, vol. 63, no. 2 (2004), pp. 291-302.  You may be able to get there directly from here.

Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History, Vintage Books (New York 1988), especially Chapter 7: "Swedenborg and the Emergence of a Modern Heaven."

Joseph F. Rock, Excerpts from a History of Sikkim, Anthropos, vol. 48 (1953), pp. 925-48.

Eric J. Sharpe, The Riddle of Sadhu Sundar Singh, Intercultural Publications (New Delhi 2004).

Brigitte Steinmann, The Opening of the Sbas yul 'Bras mo'i gshongs according to the Chronicle of the Rulers of Sikkim: Pilgrimage as a Metaphorical Model of the Submission of Foreign Populations, contained in: Alex McKay, ed., Pilgrimage in Tibet, Curzon (Richmond 1998), pp. 117-42. Notice the picture-map for pilgrims on p. 118, and the small hilltop monastery labeled "Khe Choe Palri" in the lower lefthand part.

D.P. Walker, The Astral Body in Renaissance Medicine, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 21, nos. 1-2 (January 1958), pp. 119-133. The concepts of the astral body and astral travel of modern popular occultism are rooted in later forms of Neo-Platonic philosophy, perhaps Proclus. See this entertaining but as usual rather scattered Wikipedia entry.

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