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.


  1. Hi Dan, I have the article from Ra se dKon mchog rgya mtsho. I´m working on some translations of A khu ston pa stories.

  2. Hi J.H.,

    I've visited your blog before:

    Those who haven't been there should have a look.

    Thanks for writing. And have fun with the Uncle stories.


  3. HI

    I live in Malta where there is not even 1 Tibetan person or book. If you have the original A khu ston pa Tibetan text in digitised form, do you think you could send it to me by Email?

    khowochag AT yahoo DOT co DOT jp

    I need it for my own amusement..


  4. Hello Mike,

    Malta (isn't that close to Japan? haha) isn't really a deserted island, so there must be a Tibetan or two there. You're going to need them, since the only authentic 'texts' of Uncle stories are oral, not written. The few things published recently are all bolderized or rewritten for juveniles, at least the ones I've seen. Here are some titles from "Tibskrit" in case you can locate them online or something. I don't have any of them in my library:

    — He Qunying, Stories of A-khu-bstan-pa: Tibetan Folk Stories, Xinlei Publishing House (Tianjin, May 1992), in 147 pages, containing 51 stories.
    — 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.
    — Song Weijia, ed, Whipping a King: Story of Tibetan A-khu-bstan-pa, Gansu Children's Publishing House (Lanzhou 1994), in 157 pages, containing 61 stories.
    — Blo bzang 'jam dpal, A khu ston pa, Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang (Lhasa 2007), in 94 pages.

    I hope that helps you in your quest. Thanks for writing.


  5. Indeed, jp is not too far from mt, at least on the keyboard, haha!

    I don't think there are any Tibetans here. As for bowdlerisation, well, there are English versions with explicit sex on the Web, so there must be corresponding Tibetan written material somewhere, too.

    However, I've neglected to mention that rather than A KHU I am, at the moment, in need of a piece of text on emptiness, something like ZAB MO LTA BA'I SHING RTA (probably by ZLA BA GRAGS PA), or similar.

    I am on holiday for another 2 weeks and have plenty of time for meditation, but if I order a physical book it will only arrive here when I'll be working and far too busy to meditate.

    So, do you happen to have any digitised scraps?


  6. Sorry, no digitized scraps. But if you are really interested in Candrakirti, try looking in ACIP. If you haven't seen their new release, it's very impressive:

    With the right computer setup, you can see the texts in beautiful Tibetan letters, print them out at the web cafe and read them on the beach. That's what I'd do if I were in Malta, only without the Candrakirti, but with plenty of sunblock.


  7. Hello Dan,

    have You heard of or seen this short article:

    TSHE RNAM [1994]
    "A khu bstan pa'i gtam rgyud rags tsam dpyad pa", in: Mi rigs dus deb, 1994-3, pp. 28-30. [Khreng tu'u].

    I'm putting a small bibliography on A khu ston pa together and are doing a rough translation of the Ra se dKon mchog rgya mtsho article. I will post both on my blog in the next week or so.

    With best wishes,


  8. Dear Joerg,

    No, I don't have it or know of it. The journal is a rather obscure one, but perhaps Latse Library in New York would have it. The author, Khro-ru Tshe-rnam (1928-2005) has two different sets of collected works that have been published, so perhaps the article was published in one of them...

    There is a short collection: Khro ru tshe rnam gyi gsung rtsom thor bu phyogs bsgrigs, Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang (Lhasa 2003), in 298 pages.

    And a long collection: His collected works in 11 volumes have been published (see Tibetan Buddhist Research Center website), under the title Mkhan chen khro ru tshe rnam gyi gsung 'bum (Lhasa? 2004?), scanned by TBRC. The first seven volumes are devoted to commentaries on the Rgyud bzhi, the Four Medical Tantras.

    Looking forward to that blog of yours, I am


  9. Dear Dan,

    Finally I posted a new blog dedicated to A khu sTon pa where You can find the article of Ra se dKon mchog and the bibliography. Please have a look



  10. Thanks, J.H.

    That's magnificent. I've already added your Uncle blog to my blogroll, as you may see.


  11. Hi again,

    I have finally taken your advice to heart and am now enjoying the sun with plenty of sunblock and without Chandrakirti - only not in Malta, but in Canary Islands.

    Nevertheless, my addiction to the computer screen persists and one thing I have recently been wondering about is: how do the books by famous Lamas that tend to become so popular in the English-speaking world get written?

    I don't suppose they bother to put the text down in Tibetan separately... And once the English books are out, does anyone ever bother to translate them into Tibetan?

    Example: The Web is flooded with quotes from the Dalai Lama, but if one wanted to know how a particular quote sounds in Tibetan, where would one look?

    Anyway, I hope I am posting this in an appropriate thread...

  12. Dear Anon of the Canaries,

    Hard question. And I think you know or intuit the answer by the shape of your question. (If I didn't know better, I'd think you were baiting a hook, which is probably what you're doing right now.) Not naming names, some of the most popular ones were written by their very talented Dharma students, often on the basis of transcriptions from taped teachings.

    Sometimes this production process is made plain (by thanking the transcribers and editors in an acknowledgments section), but more often it's concealed, making it seem like what you described, that the Lama 'took pen to paper' as they used to say back in the 20th century and beyond when writers actually did that. (There is a lot of silliness about overcoming the student's 'pride' when no such concern is expressed when it comes to the Great Teacher, who should take 100% of it... Authorship, authority and authoritarianism all come together nicely in one neat, uncomplicated package...)

    There's nothing especially new about this transcribing oral teachings. In the 12th century Kagyü students were transcribing spoken teachings (as best they could in absence of aural recording devices apart from their own minds and bamboo quills). Like for instance at Pagmodrupa's circle at Pagmodru (the site where Densatil monastery developed).

    I do have a 'pet peeve'. Apart from thinking that people should as much as possible be acknowledged for the work they contribute, I think the actual original Tibetan author of translated works ought to be named right up front on the title page of the book. (And of course translations into 3rd languages based on English translations should not masquerade as new translations made directly from the Tibetan...) How often have I searched with much effort, many times in vain, for the name of the original author? This goes for Dharma group publications especially, but also academic translations.

    Not just truth in advertising, but greater accuracy about the workers and their work, would be a great leap forward for Tibet-publishing imho. Book editors in publishing houses should make sure it happens.

    I recently noticed one Dharma-type publisher is having a big book sale, with half off a lot of titles, 60%, even. But when I saw what trite and fluffy-minded stuff they've been publishing over the last decades (well, 90%), you can see why nobody found them inspiring, informative or otherwise useful. I doubt they've learned anything from this. My advice? Fire the editors and publish quality stuff from now on. Let people babble forth nonsense where it belongs, in the blogs!

    Perhaps their books ought to be translated into Tibetan so the good people back home can see just how abased the Buddha Dharma can become when it's made to suit people who are so absolutely unsuited for it.


  13. PS.

    That was a funny one, Anon, about where to check the original Tibetan of His Holiness' quotable quotes. Can't help you there. Of course, some of these quotes come directly to us in His amazingly touchingly expressive, if basic, English. Sarnath has been publishing some large volumes of his collected speeches. Maybe in them?

    Funny, too, since some of those quotes are just bogus. Like what you see in the following... I received this email forward several times. Even well-tanned Tibetologists sent it to me.

    But not only in forwards in our inboxes at the turn of the millennium!! This particular quote was seriously ascribed to His Holiness on the cover of a cookbook of all places —

    Most of these falsely ascribed precepts (which may in some part hold truth, it's true) were actually fished out of "Chicken Soup for the Soul" or some other such warmed-over 'wisdom' book.
    (Note especially no. 18.)


  14. PPS

    Snopes also has "The Varlet Letter," which is worth reading if you are one of the few persons in the universe who actually didn't receive it in your email from a dozen so-called friends. It unwittingly uses the old Tibetan scam of putting a deer head in front of donkey meat (only in this case at the tail...

  15. Hi Dan,

    I wouldn't know about "baiting hooks" as I have no ulterior motives in posting here and I am no A khu sTon pa!

    (But if you meant this literally, my vegetarianism precludes it!)

    I was actually going to contact you privately but could not find your address anywhere. In any case, I see from your response that you find the question conducive to the purposes of your blog, and I am glad.

    Thank you for the explanation and amusing links. You were right in supposing that mine was more of a rhetorical question, and I actually got more information from you than I had hoped for.

    However, suppose we pursued this problem in earnest?

    Since we do not live on the same beach, we only have one research ground in common: the Web, and hence Google.

    What would be the search terms? Apart from the quote-marking words such as ZHES, the most common words corresponding to the English "quote, quotation" are LUNG, 'DREN (PA), (also lung bstan, lung du drangs pa etc.). Correct?

    Now, using the above as search terms in conjuntion with the most common appelations for the Dalai Lama, such as taa la'i bla ma (tA la'i bla ma), gong sa mchog, rgyal ba..., what does one find?

    Let me attempt an actual search, using Unicode Tibetan. The individual terms would be:

    ལུང , འདྲེན , ལུང་བསྟན , ལུང་དུ་དྲངས་པ , ཏཱ་ལའི་བླ་མ , གོང་ས་མཆོག , རྒྱལ་བ , བསྟན་འཛིན་རྒྱ་མཚོ ,

    however, testing all the possible permutations separately would take an eternity, hence let me try only one, very specific Boolean string:

    ("ཏཱ་ལའི་བླ་མ" OR "གོང་ས་མཆོག" OR "གོང་ས" OR "རྒྱལ་བ" OR "བསྟན་འཛིན་རྒྱ་མཚོ") AND (ལུང AND (བསྟན OR འདྲེན OR དྲངས))

    This produces about 34 results, and at a glance most of them are useless. The only phrase that seems promising is དེ་རྒྱལ་རིན་པོ་ཆེའི་ལུང་བསྟན, which seems to appear on about 4 sites.

    Let me mention but one:

    TIBETEXPRESSBut what do we find? Though the article discusses a very important topic pertaining to people's habit of quoting the Dalai Lama, it does not actually contain any quotes!

    (Incidentally, how Google processes Tibetan-language queries and the reliability of the results seem to be anyone's guess. For example, in the cached TIBETEXPRESS page mentioned above, not all the search terms that would have satisfied the query are highlighted, though the engine must have used at least one term signifying the Dalai Lama, otherwise, as per the query, the page could not have been found. Ermm..?)

    Oh dear, this is exhausting! I am due down in the salt water in a hour so I'll call it a day, but if anyone else unearths something more useful (perhaps using the Wylie search terms), I would be happy to know about it!

    "An Eye-Ful of Sunshine is Better than a Thought-Ful of Philosophy."

    (Anon of the Canaries, quoting himself!)

  16. Dear Anon of C.,

    Sorry, since I don't know you, I assumed you must be in the Canaries in pursuit of the Blue Marlin. Excuse my mistaken assumption (I've made them before, believe me!). How was I to know that the international Dharmakirti conference was convening in the Canaries this time?

    And thank you for your thoughtful comment. I've sometimes been peeking into Tibetan-language websites myself, even though the letters don't very often stack properly on my slightly old Mac. I'm curious how young Tibetans are developing an international colloquial writing style to suit the needs of email communications. I'll freely admit my contemporary vocabulary isn't up to it, let alone up to the minute. I'm just a poor old antiquarian with a different idea about what constitutes interesting trivia.


  17. PPS:

    For those who don't read cyber-Tibetan very fluently, there is an English page (*at the same TibetExpress link supplied by Anon of C.) with quotes from the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama here:

  18. One reason so many Tibetans know about Afanti is because of radio. There are not only Chinese language broadcasts but also Tibetan language broadcasts about him in China. Afanti stories all sound very familiar, of course, to Tibetans--just replace the name 'Afranti' with Dunba/ Dunpa and it is a Tibetan story. What would be great would be a massive collection of these stories from across Himalayan areas as they quickly stop being told--especially if they were available on digital recordings for us to listen to and titter about later--and our children and grandchildren. Many of those told have not been published in China owing to their graphic, sexual content.

    --Auntie Drolma

  19. Dear Auntie,

    Thank you so much for writing. It's really nice to get a real Amdo person perspective from the ground. Especially since I'm the kind of person who spends too much time in his upper-storey study so far from the Himalayas. Shame on this prudishness in China! Where does that come from? Hope you will have a splendid day and a wonderful long life if I don't hear from you again soon.


  20. To all the Uncle Fans out there,

    Like Auntie Drolma said, how great would it be to have a huge digitalized collection of the Akhu stories!!! Due to many reasons I did not succeed to collect much Akhu stories up to now. But this is no reason to give up and it surely needs to be done soon! So, why not unite!?! Every time one of us Akhu fans travels in the Himalayan Region, please take your voice recorder with you and start recording these great stories. If we find some poeple engaging in this project we could soon have a small collection of Akhu stories from different parts of the Himalyan Region. Some interested folks out there?


  21. BUMP!




    "digitized Akhu"


  22. No news on my side. Perhaps someone else is up to it. Sometimes a man just has to break down and scan his own and OCR it with his own eyeballs if he wants it done right.

  23. Dear Dan,

    I had the pleasure of attending your workshop on translating historical documents at the Tsadra "Translation and Transmission" conference. Since then, I've been really enjoying exploring your blog. I am so grateful that you share your musings and research and best of all cite sources and share links. I especially pleased to stumble upon a post linking (tenuously perhaps) the Middle East and Tibet. It is my opinion that the cultural, linguistic, and religious exchanges and overlaps between Tibet and the Middle East have not yet been explored thoroughly, with some exceptions of course, including the Islam and Tibet book you reference. I was wondering if you could share some more resources and opinions on this subject.



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