Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Prayer for the Happiness of Tibet

A change of pace... For today I have nothing to offer apart from a small aspiration prayer. The important Buddhist holy day Saga Dawa is approaching in just a few days accompanied by the full moon, but still no signs in sight that would augur well for the future happiness of Tibetans in Tibet. Under these circumstances a religious people are bound to feel inspired to pray.

(As their special contribution to Saga Dawa the PR of C is busy blocking Tibet’s communications with the outside world, even blocking the “” site where you find yourself right this moment, as they are known to do from time to time. I apologize to my readers inside China for the temporary inconvenience. Our prayers are with you.)
I believe someone already translated this short prayer by the great Jamgön Kongtrul (1813-1899). But then I can’t remember where I saw it. I know I translated it myself about twenty years ago, but I don’t seem to locate a copy of it anywhere in my old filing cupboard. Therefore I rough out a quick and entirely fresh translation here.*
(*Suggestions for improvements will be received with thanks, and used with thanks if I am convinced by them.)
I know nothing about the circumstances or time of composition apart from what little may be divined from the colophon at the end of the text. Perhaps there are clues somewhere in the huge autobiography that has only recently been Englished (by Richard Barron)? The colophon mentions “very great turmoil of the present time,” suggesting the prayer was written in a time of war. I wouldn't blame anyone for finding prophecies in this prayer (some lines do sound uncannily prescient), but at the same time, it may have been  inspired by events that occurred during the last quarter of the 19th century, when I believe it must have been written (probably before 1892 when Jamyang Khyentse died).

We see that in 1882 there was a devastating smallpox epidemic followed by serious droughts in 1883. In that same year there was a looting of Nepalese shops in Lhasa, causing the Nepalese traders to flee Tibet (afterward they were offered compensation by the Tibetan government). This in turn caused the British in Sikkim to take a closer interest in Tibetan affairs. The Macaulay mission was set to enter Tibet (with agreement of the Manchus), but in 1886 a Tibetan government army was sent to Sikkim and Chumbi Valley to prevent them. The next years saw many incidents of fighting with the British in Sikkim, enough to justify calling it an Anglo-Tibetan war (see Nornang).

I apologize for being such a historically minded person. What am I to do? Can’t help it. Without any further fuss, I will just present my translation of Kongtrul’s prayer. Feel free to read, print, recite and copy it. It is given freely and without any copyright forever.


To our never-failing refuge place, the Three Precious, and [1]
More particularly to the Lord of the Snowlands Avalokiteshvara,
To Reverend Tara, to Guru Padmasambhava, I pray.
Grant the fulfilment of our highest aspirations.
Bless us to fully achieve our Bodhisattva aspirations.

In this age of polluting byproducts we find [2]
As primary and contributing causes both misguided schemes
And disturbances of outer and inner elements,
Resulting in previously unheard-of epidemics of man and beast,

Afflictions by elementals, demons of the dark side — king, snake & planet spirits.
Blight, frost and hailstorms. Failing crops. Battling armies.
Unreliable rain and water supplies. Snowstorms, marmots, mice, droughts,
Earthquakes, fires, oppositions and other types of destruction by the four elements.

And especially troops on the border intent on harming the Teachings.
May these and all other types of damage or harm to our Snowland
Be swiftly alleviated,
vanquished to their very roots.

May all the humans and other inhabitants, the asuras and animals,
As a matter of course give rise to the precious supreme aspiration for Awakening,
And while free of any injurious schemes,
Be filled with thoughts of mutual love.

All the while may the country of Tibet (Bod-yul)
From its center to its boundaries
Be gloriously wealthy in happiness and comfort
And may the Teachings of Buddha flourish and long endure.

By the power of truth invested in the Three Roots, [3] the Victors and Bodhisattvas,
And through the magical force of our purely good higher intentions
Along with all the roots of virtue [4] to be found in nirvana and sangsara,
May we attain the results of this our wish and our prayer.

[Colophon:] The Lama Jamyang Khyentsé Wangpo told me, that seeing how there is such great turmoil these days, he himself was reciting a prayer for the happiness of Tibet six times each day. Saying that I should do so also, since it is very important, I wrote this down in order to refresh my own memory. May the prayer's purpose be achieved.

This was written by Lodrö Thayé [Kongtrul] at Tsandra Rinchen Drag in the waxing phase of the moon in the morning hours. Just so may it be achieved.

§ § § § §

Some notes on the translation, which was made in the increasing phase of the moon in the morning and evening of the same day:

1 — One of the most common ways to define who is a Buddhist is just to say that it is anyone who takes refuge in the Buddha, His Teachings and His Community. That’s what is meant by the Three Precious. Avalokiteshvara and Tara both are Bodhisattvas who save those who believe in them from dangers of various kinds, but Avalokiteshvara is particularly identified with His Holiness the Dalai Lama (the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had been enthroned in 1879). Snowland translates Gangs-can. It might be more precise to say it means Glacier Land (still, it exactly translates Sanskrit Himavan).

2 — I translate snyigs-ma'i dus as ‘age of polluted byproducts.’ Snyigs-ma means ‘residues’ or ‘impurities.’ In Buddhist eschatology these latter days of our eon (kalpa) are characterized by five types of snyigs-ma, often translated ‘degenerations’: those of view, kleshas, creatures, life-spans and eon itself. Disturbances of outer and inner elements means disturbances located in [1] the outer physical world and [2] the world internal to the body (or the metabolic balance that characterizes the healthy body).

3 — The Three Roots are three objects of refuge that Tibetans often include in their refuge prayers in addition to the Three Precious (of note 1). The Three Roots are: [1] The spiritual mentor or Lama, said to be the “root of empowerment.” [2] The divine form of high aspiration (yidam, or yi-dam-gyi lha), the “root of blessing.” [3] The sky-goer (mkha'-'gro), the “root of spiritual accomplishment” (and/or of magical feats called siddhi).

4 — ‘Roots of virtue’ translates dge-ba'i rtsa-ba, which is a universal Buddhist concept. Of course it basically means to do good things (dge-ba) rather than bad, but these good things must also be done without accompaniment by any negative emotion at all. That means no greed, jealousy, lust, pride, boredom, etc. Then it follows that these selfless good deeds produce merit conducive to Awakening. This merit can then be dedicated to the welfare of all sentient beings (in itself a selfless act that multiplies the roots of virtue still more...). ‘Victor’ or in Sanskrit Jina, is a common way to respectfully address the Buddha (followers of the Jaina school have their own Jinas). That words of truth (bden tshig), words told with truth behind them, have an inherent force that may be called upon is an old Indian (not just Buddhist) idea. See these words of truth, and these, and also these.

§ § § § §

C. Macaulay, Report of a Mission to Sikkim and the Tibetan Frontier, Bengal Secretariat Press (Calcutta 1885). Reprint (Kathmandu 1977). The entire book has been placed on an internet archive. Look here.
H.A. Iggulden, The 2nd Battalion Derbyshire Regiment in the Sikkim Expedition of 1888, S. Sonnenschien (London 1900). Archived here.
Richard Barron (Chökyi Nyima, Chos-kyi-nyi-ma), translator, The Autobiography of Jamgön Kongtrul, Snow Lion (Ithaca 2003). Translation of The Autobiography of 'Jam-mgon Kong-sprul Blo-gros-mtha'-yas, Kandro (Bir 1973). Bibliography here.

§ § § § §

N.L. Nornang & L. Epstein, “Correspondence Relating to the Anglo-Tibetan War of 1888,” Journal of the Tibet Society, vol. 2 (1982), pp. 77-104, at p. 78:
Those called foreigners, such as these, do not tolerate the perfect wealth of others. Hence, except for whatever lands and peoples they can conquer in all neighboring nations through deceit and coercion, they are widely known to be evil deceivers, not of the sort that have learned contentment to their desires and the good customs of shame, modesty and prudence which are suitable as the mark of a great nation.
  • From a letter drafted by the Tibetan Cabinet (Kashag) to the Bhutanese Regent, dated 1888.

Dibyesh Anand, “Strategic Hypocrisy: The British Imperial Scripting of Tibet’s Geopolitical Identity,” Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 68, no. 1 (February 2009), pp. 227-252 at p. 234:

If one reads accounts from the period carefully, it is clear that there was a visible fear of British imperialism inside Tibet. For instance, Macaulay was informed in 1885 that “all would go well if they [the Tibetans] did not fear that the English would take their country.” Even when this “fear of foreigners” was recognized, it was seen as irrational, backward, medieval, and hence wrong. The hegemonic imperial ethos prevented most commentators from accepting this fear as borne out of a legitimate understanding of the nature of modern Western imperialism.

§ § § § §

For my translation I used the only version of the prayer known to me, the one published in vol. 28 of the Rtsib-ri Par-ma, pp. 150-152 in the section entitled Smon-lam Stobs-po-che:

bod yul bde smon bzhugs so //

skyabs gnas bslu med dkon mchog rtsa ba gsum //
khyad par gangs can mgon po spyan ras gzigs //
rje btsun sgrol ma gu ru padma 'byung //
gsol ba 'debs so thugs dam zhal bzhes dgongs //
smon lam yongsu 'grub par byin gyis rlobs // 5
snyigs dus 'gro rnams bsam sbyor log pa dang //
phyi nang 'byung ba 'khrugs pa'i rgyu rkyen gyis //
snbgar ma grags pa'i mi phyugs dal yams nad //
gza' klu rgyal gdon nag phyogs 'byung po'i gzer //
rtsa sad ser gsum lo nyes dmag 'khrug rtsod // 10
char chu mi snyoms gangs can bra byi than //
sa g.yo me dgra 'byung bzhi'i 'jigs pa dang //
khyad par bstan la 'tshe ba'i mtha' dmag sogs //
gangs can ljongs 'dir gnod 'tshe'i rig mtha' dag //
myur du zhi zhing rtsad nas 'joms gyur cig //
mi dang mi min 'gro ba mtha' dag gi //
rgyud la byang chub sems mchog rin po che //
ngang gis skyes nas gnod 'tshe'i bsam sbyor bral //
phan tshun byams pa'i sems dang ldan nas kyang //
bod yul mtha' dbus bde skyid dpal gyi 'byor //
sangs rgyas bstan pa dar rgyas yun gnas shog //
rtsa gsum rgyal ba sras bcas bden pa'i stobs //
'khor 'das dge ba'i rtsa ba gang mchis dang //
bdag cag lhag bsam rnam par dkar ba'i mthus //
gsol btab smon pa'i 'bras bu 'grub gyur cig //

ces rje bla ma 'jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse dbang po'i zhal snga nas deng sang dus kyi 'tshub 'gyur shin tu che bas rje nyid nas bod yul bde ba'i smon lam nyin zhag rer lan drug rer mdzad pa yin pas khyod nas kyang de ltar gal che bka' stsal phebs pa ltar rang gi bsnyes gsos su bris pa ji bzhin 'grub par gyur cig //

ces blo gros mtha' yas kyis tsā 'dra rin chen brag tu rgyal zla ba'i dkar phyogs 'grub pa'i sbyor ba dang ldan pa'i snga dro'i char bris pa ya thā siddhirastu // //

Two minor emendations to the text.
Line 10: read btsa' instead of rtsa.
In the colophon: read bsnyel in place of bsnyes.

§ § § § §

Now I whole-heartedly recommend a visit to Early Tibet blog where you will find a much older prayer for the happiness of Tibet.

§ § § § §


Otherwise you might miss the "Lay of Lachen" by Macaulay himself (thanks to Arno for that).

If you don't see the comments coming up, just give a click to the word "comments" after the photograph. And if you have something to say about all this, please add your own.


  1. Thanks for putting up this nice translation, and the link to prayer from 1,000 years or so earlier. A nice rten 'brel - perhaps it will be beneficial in some way.


  2. bris pa ji bzhin 'grub par gyur cig

  3. Dear Dan!

    Thank you for your nice translation. I find it very accurate.
    Only for bra I have always favoured the great B. H. Hodgson's Tibetan Snow Pig
    (Marmota himalayana). It's just a question of personal taste and whether one
    prefers pork to marmot, isn't it?

    But I am writing for another reason. Since you have shared with us your interest in Tibetan
    poetry, I'd like to send you an English poem in return. It concerns the journey undertaken by
    Colman P. L. Macaulay (1848-1890), to whom and whose published travelogue of 1885 you refer in your blog.
    The poem was written by Macaulay himself, and it has been reproduced in Das' Indian Pandits in the Land of Snow in 1893.
    It is a nice coincidence that here we have two poems, one written by a Tibetan master, the other composed by his
    imperialistic coeval. (And watch out for "Sarat Chandra, hardy son of soft Bengal... friend of the Tashu Lama's line,
    whose eyes have seen the gleaming shrine Of holy Lhassa, came to show the wonders of the land of snow.")

    Ever yours,

    Arno N.

  4. [I had to shorten it, not enough space]

    A Lay of Lachen
    By Colman P.L. Macaulay (1848-1890)

    The purple shadows upward crept
    On Sikkim's mountains blue,
    The snows their solemn vigil kept
    Those stately watchers true.
    The frosted peaks of Chola gleamed.
    Broken and bare and bold,
    On the glittering crest of Kinchin streamed
    The sun-light clear and cold.
    The fleeting clouds brief shadows flung
    On mighty Junnoo's brow, or hung
    On Pindim's forehead near;
    And Donkia's beetling bastions frowned
    A silent warning far around:
    No foot may venture here.

    The light air bore the sullen roar
    Of Rungit rushing by;
    And Bengal's Lord in thought was deep
    As he gazed across the mountains steep
    And he spake his counsel high:-
    "No travellers come from far Tibet,
    From the mystic land no tidings yet
    For many a month are sent;
    No more the tinkling bells ring clear
    On Lingtu's heights, by Bedden's mere;
    On Jelep's path no step resounds
    No smoke at even upward bounds
    From weary trader's tent.

    Do thou, Macaulay, ready make,
    To Sikkim's Chief my greeting take
    And see his father's solemn pact
    Is true fulfilled in word and act.
    And hie thee to the frontier far,
    Journey towards the Northern Star,
    Speak fair the Lord of Kambajong
    And seek his friendship new.
    The path is steep, the road is long,
    But the purpose high and true.
    Say that you cross the snow drifts sad
    But to seek the grasp of friendship's hand,
    We wish but the welfare of the land
    To make both peoples glad."

    Macaulay took his Chief's commands,
    And, for that the city was long and steep,
    And the ice was thick and the snow was deep,
    And the wind that blows across the sands
    Of Tartary is biting keen
    He called companions three
    To go with him across the sheen
    Of the snow fields wild and free.

    First genial Evans — wisest he
    Of all wise lawyers, and his place
    At Bar and Board is ever high,—
    Sage in council, for a space
    Fled from the wiles of Dorson's race
    And Rent Bill papers dry,
    To breathe the air of Sikkim free,
    To wander by her purling rills
    And seek the beauty of her hills
    The blueness of her sky.

    And Paul who Sikkim loves so well
    That still the native chieftains tell,
    With kindly smile and grasp of hand,
    That of the Sahib log who cross
    The Rungit's silver fall,
    None know the story of their land,
    None can its meaning understand,
    As does that Sahib tall.

    And cheery Gordon, blithe and gay,
    Sang as they toiled along the way
    To Tibet's frontier far;
    That soldier minstrel whose guitar
    By Lachen's stream or Lushai hill
    Has often cheered the camp, and still
    Is heard in Cooch Behar.

    And in the vales of Sikkim lone,
    As gay he bought her brooch or zone.
    Did many a maiden fair
    Sigh, as she brushed a tear away,
    "He will not buy what eke he may;
    "He buys all things throughout the land,
    "Oh, would he only buy my hand,
    "That soldier debonnair! "

    And Sarat Chandra, hardy son
    Of soft Bengal, whose wondrous store
    Of Buddhist and Tibetan lore
    A place in fame's bright page has won,
    Friend of the Tashu Lama's line,
    Whose eyes have seen the gleaming shrine
    Of holy Lhassa, came to show
    The wonders of the land of snow.


    Those comrades four may tell the tale
    Of how they trod fair Lachen's vale,
    So lovely and so long.
    And how they braved the withering gale
    And lay beneath the snowpeaks pale
    At lonely Giagong.

    [for full text see here]

  5. Dear Arno,

    Nice to hear from you after all these months.

    It certainly strikes you, the big difference between the two more-or-less contemporaneous poems —

    One a happy-go-lucky guy abundantly confident in the niceness of his mission, assuring himself that a big welcoming smile is awaiting him on the other side of the border.

    The path is steep, the road is long,
    But the purpose high and true.
    Say that you cross the snow drifts sad
    But to seek the grasp of friendship's hand,
    We wish but the welfare of the land
    To make both peoples glad.

    We need trade outlets. They'll understand that, for sure! We aren't the kind of people who gobble up a new swath of god's earth every day for lunch, are we now?

    And then the Tibetans stationed on the other side convinced that if that Chiling/Phyi-gling guy's mission goes ahead it will be the end of their Buddhist religion and way of life. Apocalypse now.

    Things are always exactly what they seem to us, aren't they? I'm thoroughly convinced they are. Exactly in the way they appear.

  6. Just today I noticed in an old list I once made of pecha-style Tibetan texts that are supposed to be in my personal library the following:

    [Kong sprul] Blo gros mtha' yas, Bod yul Bde Smon. Woodblock in 3 leaves in personal collection. Appended is Dus kyi Rgud pa Zhi ba'i Bden tshog Smon lam, by Mi pham 'jam dpal. (But read Bden tshig instead of Bden tshog.)

    I searched through all the likely places and couldn't locate the actual three leaves in question anywhere. I believe I must have purchased it on the Barkhor in Tibet over a decade ago. However, I did discover the interesting information that there was a woodblock print (perhaps identical to this one) done by the famous printer, perhaps the most famous Tibetan traditional printer in the mid-20th century, named Parpa Dingriwa (1897-1959). His biography is available, with the title La stod shel dkar rdzong 'og ding ri ba chos rgyan nas rgyal ba'i gsung rab zab mo par bskrun zhus pa'i dkar chag dad ldan thar lam 'dren pa'i shing rta.

    On p. 25, in a listing of texts included in a larger volume done during the years 1948 and 1949 is this title and author: 'jam mgon blo gros mtha' yas kyi gsung bod yul bde ba'i smon lam.

    Well, Tibetanists will agree with me that this is without one whit of a doubt none other than the Prayer for the Happiness of Tibet by Jamgon Kongtrul.Rinpoche.

    Maybe there is somewhere else I can look. Let's see now ...


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