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.
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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
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