Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Magical Medical Bag Texts

An instructional chart showing the positions of some of the internal organs

A library in Copenhagen, the Royal Library in fact, has what I once believed to be a unique manuscript of a medical collection that is attributed to the authorship of Padampa. When I noticed it in a catalog, I was a little more than just intrigued, I immediately wrote away to the city of the Tivoli Gardens and still other amusements in order to eventually acquire a copy of it for my personal perusal. I can’t say I was disappointed at what it contained, since I already had some idea of what it was about. I was much more surprised, even on the verge of shock when, several months later, I saw a manuscript of what appeared to be a text from the same cycle of medical texts on e-Bay. I couldn’t resist my immediate impulse to place a bid on it. I felt that I was saving it. At the time, at least, I thought so.

Now there are several reasons not to buy Tibetan texts on e-Bay. Without going into all of them all at once, one reason is that not so many people are able to tell how valuable these things are. This goes not just for buyers but also, or perhaps even more so, for the sellers. Sometimes texts that are extremely common are priced sky high, while rare or seldom encountered texts are sold for practically nothing. The latter was the case with our medical text. I think to most e-Bay buyers one page of Tibetan writing is as good as the next.

If you will allow me to pass on a lesson hard learned, there is yet another reason not to buy Tibetan texts on e-Bay. That is: You never know if you are getting the whole complete text, and anyway, the dealers might actually feel encouraged to split up texts into several batches to sell one batch at a time thereby squeezing more out of their money cow. They believe the buyer will never know. So why not? Although I can’t be sure, I believe this is what happened with this magical medical text, which is complete as far as it goes, but then stops very abruptly. I must confess, as a buyer of this e-Bay artifact I might have unwittingly aided and abetted this practice. And of course, there is the broader issue of the stripping of Mongolia and Tibet of their traditional Buddhist cultural items. Tourist-market fakes along with legitimate reproductions come in to meet the demand, with the positive effect of leaving the real things alone (if, that is, there are any real things left).

Now that I’ve no doubt succeeded in making you think less of me as a person, I would like to go on to talk about the text itself, albeit in the form of a different manuscript, at least enough to make much different sorts of points.  

The text in the Copenhagen library is listed in the Tarab - Buescher catalog, no. 983 at page 474 of volume 1.  Here the title is quite accurately given (I only fixed one small thing) as

Grub pa'i dbang phyug chen po dam pa sangs rgyas kyi rten 'brel dang bla ma brgyud pa'i gsol 'debs sogs dang man ngag 'khyug dpyad dkar nag khra gsum kha 'thor gyi 'khyug dpyad dang bcas pa phyogs gcig tu bkod pa me tog phreng mdzes zhes bya ba gzhan na med pa dge'o.  

The description of the content given here is also not 100% non-misleading. It says “Prayer related to the lineage of Pha Dam pa sas rgyas, followed by instructions on spiritual practices such as guru-yoga and on a number of (magical) practices expedient in all kinds of adversities.”

The first third is correct. There is a (but surely not the) lineage of Padampa there. The last third is correct, it's all about magical practices against various adversities (but primarily medical ones). The middle part is a little misleading. True, there is something there (on folio 4) that might be called guru-yoga, but very little. Really, it’s all about the magic — magic mainly against illnesses of the human body, but at the same time no reason not to include magic for solving social problems like gossip, or elemental disturbances in the environment, like floods. All very pragmatic. All very  much on the level of magic (and medicine), not spirituality.

The catalog entry tells us it was dictated to the scribe and disciple Rinchen Dargyé by his disciple Pel Wangchen Gargyi Wangchug Gyerab Dorjé.* 
(*In Wylie these names are Rin-chen-dar-rgyas and Dpal Dbang-chen-gar-gyi-dbang-phyug-rgyas-rab-rdo-rje — I think this last part should read dgyes-rab-rdo-rje. I have no idea who these people are, do you?).
The loose folio pages are numbered from 1 through 27.  Almost all the text, apart from the mantras, is in cursive and scribed in black ink except for occasional use of red ink for emphasis.

Another thing about the text as described there in the catalog that is liable to perk up some peoples’ interests:  “Part of the remaining space on fol. 27 verso has been used by a previous owner for adding, in dBu can script, a short instruction for magically obtaining success in various sorts of gambling.” Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Too bad if you are, because I’m going to try it out for myself first.

One thing the Copenhagen catalog does not tell us is who the Terton (gter-ston or gter-bton) was. Tertons, in case you are not yet aware of it, are treasure revealers. They do Buddhist-inspired archaeology, coming up with items of significance to their traditions. Many of these treasures (gter) are in the form of texts, or coded instructions for generating texts, or for touching off memory of the original teaching scene in the far distant past.

We may know this cycle of texts (or this three-fold cycle of texts) is one of these treasure texts because it is listed in the genre of texts called Teachings Received (Thob-yig or Gsan-yig) pertaining to such highly regarded historical teachers as Terdag Lingpa (1646‑1714), the Fifth Dalai Lama, Akhuching (1803‑1875), and the Tagdrag Regent (1874-1952). I’ve given some of the relevant content of some of these texts in an appended section below.

In the title itself, but also in the listings of contents, we may easily see that the cycle is a three-fold one. The word 'khyud-dpyad may cause problems for many Tibetanists, but the simple answer is that, whatever else it means, it means the medicine bag traditionally carried by Tibetan doctors. The three cycles could be translated as The White Medicine Bag, The Checkered Medicine Bag, and The Black Medicine Bag. I can easily show you what a Tibetan doctor’s bag looks like by pointing you to the Googlebooks version of Rechung Rinpoche's book that you will find here. I hope the link works for you. If not, the very same bag has been uploaded in color to various sites around the internet, so I feel free to pass it on (minus the misleading descriptive labeling).

A Medicine Bag (Wellcome Institute, London?)

From the just-mentioned Records of Teachings Received we may find revealed the name of the Terton who found the text. It was an obscure person by the name of Khamtön Sherabpel (Khams-ston Shes-rab-dpal) who found it at a place called Longtang Drolma (Klong-thang Sgrol-ma). This place in Kham, not too far from Dergé I believe, plays several roles in Tibetan history. Its temple was originally built by Emperor Songtsen Gampo in order to press down the left palm of a restless rakshasi, detected through geomantic methods, who would have wreaked havoc otherwise. It was a place associated with the 1oth-century visit of the Indian teacher Smriti. His story is well known. Although very learned, he couldn’t express himself in the local language and so had no choice but to find work as a shepherd. Eventually he was able to found an Abhidharma teaching school at Longtang. As an imperial period construction, it isn’t very surprising that treasures might be found there, and I’ve noticed another example. That Padampa personally hid the treasure there is an essential part of the story, and I haven’t located in biographical accounts of Padampa any information that he went there but, well, I’m still looking.

The Terton is so obscure I do not find anything about him in the standard histories of the Tertons.  We might guestimate his date by looking at the lineages. These place him 16 generations before the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617‑1682).  Let’s see, that would make him active somewhere around 1370, would it?

I won’t say more about the content of this work today. What you will see at the link that is soon to follow is a scan of the e-Bay version of the text. (Not, I repeat, not the Copenhagen library manuscript, since it is not within my rights to give — I hope they will put it up on their own site.) Those who already know Tibetan and are trained in magic can benefit from its content. Other people can just look at the pages and wonder, like I do, how such a work could ever have become associated with the name of Padampa.

I know it is rather odd and potentially confusing that all this time I have been describing to you one text, the Copenhagen manuscript, but now I send you a download link for a very different manuscript of (part of) the same collection that I have hardly described for you at all.

When you feel you are ready to go there, push here. See you soon, friends.
(If the download link doesn’t work for you at one try, please don’t give in to frustration. I suggest trying again several hours later or on another day. Use the fastest internet connection you can. Then if you still can’t make it work, I’m always ready to hear your complaints.)

§  §  §

From the Record of Teachings Received of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, vol. 2, fols. 86-88 (based on a digital version of the text produced by Ven. Carola Roloff):

+ rgya gar dam pa sangs rgyas kyis bod du lan gsum byon pa'i mtha' mar man ngag 'khyug dpyad dkar nag khra gsum khams kyi klong thang sgrol mar gter du sbas pa mkha' 'gro'i lung bstan ltar khams ston shes rab dpal gyis bton pa'i dang po

'khyug dpyad dkar po'i skor la /   'khrug pa dang nad zhi ba /   mi kha dang nad ngan phyogs ngan thub pa /   ske nad mkhal nad zhi ba /   mi phyugs kyi nad rgyun chad pa /   sris rmo ba /   snying rlung /   ro stod /   lag pa so dang ldan pa na ba rnams sel ba /   rlung gi mgo na ba /   dpral ba /   mig  /  bad kan gyi nad /   dpung pa /   ro stod /   pus mo /   byin pa /   long bu /   rkang mthil na ba rnams gso ba /   rlung /   tshad pa /   grang ba /   lus tsha hra ba byed pa rnams sel ba /   skyug pa /   'khru ba /   gzer nad /   mgo gcod sel ba /   rgyun du gnod pa'i 'dre zhi ba rnams /  

'khyug dpyad khra bo la /   rta phyugs kyi nad zhi ba /   'dre byed ba /   'thab mo nyung ba /   'dre gnod thog 'tshag 'od 'khrug zhi ba /   bkra shis shing sa dpyad ngan pa zhi ba /   yams nad 'chad cing zhi ba /   sa 'dul /   dag zhi ba /   ngag dang stobs zhi ba /   rlung chen ldang ba /   'dre thams cad thub pa /   mi kha dang dgra nyung ba /   stobs bskyed pa /   chu kha smras /   mes mi 'tshig pa dang [087a] me mched pa zhi ba /   phan gnod gang yang sdeb thub pa /   mi kha zhi ba /   dgra 'dre thub pa /   dgra jag 'thab rtsod zhi ba /   'thab mo mi 'byung ba /   'khrug pa bzlum pa /   rlung gnon /   lhog pa thub pa /   nam mkha'i nad zhi ba /   sel zhi ba /   nad ngan thub cing don 'grub pa /   'de drag po'i gnod pa dang zug gzer gcog pa /   rbad 'dre dang khyi du ba mtshan ma ngan pa rnams zhi ba /   ser ba zhi ba /   rkun jag grol ba /   smyo ba'am kha smras dang nad 'byung ba /   thog bsrung rnams /   nag po'i skor la /   'chi la khad bsos pa /   dmag bzlog pa /   dmag byer ba /   gral dpon 'chi ba /   nad kha bsgyur ba /   dmag dang gnod pa kha smras zhi ba /   gzer gyis 'chi ba /   sngo skam la 'gro ba /   khang pa 'gas pa rnams /   zla ba'i 'khyug dpyad la /   dmag  /  bag ma gtong len /   khyim rtsig 'jig  /  lam 'jug ldog  /  ston mo /   gyod len gang la'ang bkra shis par bya ba rnams /   tshes grangs kyi 'khyug dpyad kyis dmag  /  bag ma /   mkhar las /   lam zhugs /   ston mo /   kha mchu sogs gang la'ang shis par bya ba /   yi ge'i 'khyug dpyad kyis zug gcog cing nad rmang nas 'don pa /   skud pa'i 'khyug dpyad kyis nad rnams zhi ba /   mtshon cha'i 'khyug dpyad la /   thog 'tsheg pa dang /   gdon /   gnod byed zhi ba /   dmag bzlog  /  dgra bgegs zhi ba /   brgyal bar byed pa /   lhas ngan dang gnod pa zhi ba rnams /   'chi blu'i 'khyug dpyad kyis nad bso ba /   sna tshogs pa'i 'khyug dpyad la /   skyug pa gcod pa /   gzer nad zhi ba /   spos pa sel ba /   'khru pa gcod pa /   skran nad gso ba rnams /   drang srong rgyu skar gyi 'khyug dpyad la [087b] gsum gyi dkar po la /   skar ma so so'i zla skar la brten pa'i rten 'brel gyi nad gso ba /  

nag po'i 'khyug dpyad la /   sngags kyi kha bsgyur bstan pa /   rta /   bong bu /   glang /   mdzo /   rtol gsod pa /   bu chung ngu ba /   khyi zug pa zhi ba /   mdze 'ong ba /   khyi thams cad sgo la zug pa /   zhing la lo mi skye ba /   lo tog sngo skam la 'gro ba /   chang gtad /   pho mo dbye ba /   khang pa bshig pa /   ltas ngan gtong ba /   'od yong ba /   me 'byung ba /   bya sna tshogs 'bab pa /   gdung thams cad sbrul du 'gro ba /   chu khrag tu 'gro ba /   khang pa 'jig pa /   rmi lam ngan pa sna tshogs 'byung ba /   zhing sel /   bla mtshan nar mar 'bab pa /   lo tog gtan nas mi skye ba /   ljang pa ser skam du 'gro ba /   zhing ri dags kyis mi za ba /   smyo bar byed pa /   gnag thams cad 'gum par byed pa /   'byed pa /   mo mtshan smra bar 'gyur ba /   rabs chad pa /   zhing la ri bong bsrung ba /   dgra thams cad gnyid du 'gro ba rnams kyi lung thob pa'i brgyud pa ni /   'gro mgon dam pa sangs rgyas /   khams ston shes rab dpal /   ston pa chos brtson /   (khams ston shes rab dpal gyis gter ba rton nas ja sig tu bcug smon lam gyi gtad rgya dang bcas bskur ba yin no /   /  ) 'khrul zhig dkon cog gzhon nu /   mtshungs med rin cen shes rab /   'khrul zhig ye shes dpal ba /   rgyal sras shes rab bzang po /   mtshungs med kun dga'i mtshan can /   rtse sgang 'jigs med 'od 'phro /   drin can sangs rgyas bstan pa /   ri khrod pa grags pa bsod nams dpal dbang /   zhi byed bstan pa'i nyi ma karma chos grags /   grub dbang nyi zla grags pa /   rje mgon po lhun grub /   sprul sku sh'akya rin cen /   drin can [088a] gter bdag gling pa /   des bdag za hor bande la'o /   / 

§  §  §

From the Record of Teachings Received of Akhuching:

What follows is a somewhat modified (made into Wylie) version of an extract from the work of Akhuching, dating to 1875, the year of his death, input by the Asian Classics Input Project.  Go here to find the source in its unmodified form.

Lineage of the magical medical text at p. 162v, one that includes Fifth Dalai Lama:

rgya gar dam pa sangs rgyas bod du lan gsum byon pa'i tha mar mkhyud spyad /  gangg'ara 'khyug dpyad zer /  dkar nag khra gsum khams kyi klong thang sgrol mar gter du sbas pa mkha' 'gros lung bstan ltar khams ston shes rab dpal gyis bton pa las /  drang srong rgyu skar gyi mkhyud spyad dkar nag gnyis gangg'ara yod kyang kun mkhyen 'jigs med dbang po'i gsan tho las dpe ma 'byor bas ma thob ces 'dug pa dngos su mthong /  de ma gtogs pa'i pha dam pa'i mkhyud spyad dkar nag khra gsum /  sna tshogs pa'i mkhyud spyad las mtshon cha'i mkhyud spyad kyi gnod byed zhi ba yan chad kyi tho gangg'a dang /  ma dros klong chen dang /  bla ma rdo rje 'chang gi gsan yig shog grangs brgya dang go lnga bar gsal ba ltar rdzogs par thob ba'i lung gi brgyud pa ni /  dam pa sangs rgyas /  khams ston shes rab dpal /  ston pa chos brtson /  'khrul zhig dkon mchog gzhon nu /  rin chen shes rab /  ye shes dpal pa /  shes rab bzang po /  kun dga'i mtshan can /  rtse sgang 'jigs med 'od 'phro /  sangs rgyas bstan pa /  grags pa bsod nams dpal bzang /  karma chos grags /  nyi zla grags pa /  mgon po lhun grub /  sprul sku sh'akya rin chen /  'gyur med rdo rje /  kun gzigs lnga pa chen po /  dge slong 'jam dbyangs grags pa /  bla ma mang thos rgya mtsho /  bla ma rin chen phun tshogs /  dka' chen thabs mkhas rgya mtsho /  rje btsun dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po /  lcang lung khri rgan dge 'dun bstan 'dzin /  [163a] hor sprul sku blo bzang 'jam dbyangs /  dus 'khor dpon slob dkon mchog dar rgyas /  lha btsun dge legs bstan 'dzin /  rdo rje 'chang dkon mchog rgyal mtshan /  des bdag la'o //

yang na rdo rje 'chang dkon mchog rgyal mtshan /  grub dbang dkon mchog rgya mtsho /  des bdag la'o // mtshon cha'i mkhyud spyad kyi mjug man chad bla mas gsan dus dpe ma 'byor bar snang /  da lta dpe yod kyang lung rgyun btsal dgos /  om swa sti /  sna tshogs cho 'phrul snang ba ma 'gag pas // zhes pa'i dbu can gyi rdzas kyi rten 'brel dkar po brgyad cu /  yang na mo ratna gu ru /  a'a li k'a li'i sgra don bshad pa yis // zhes pa'i dbu can gyi sngags kyi rten 'brel gser gyi char ba gnyis gangg'a dang ma dros klung chen du med kyang tho yig bla ma'i gsan yig tu gsal ba cha tshang bar snga ma dang mnyam du rdo rje 'chang dkon mchog rgyal mtshan pa'i zhal snga nas las thob /

§  §  §

From the Record of Teachings Received of the Tagdrag Regent:

Source:  Works of the Regent Stag-brag Ngag-dbang-gsung-rab-mthu-stobs (1874-1952), vol. 1, pp. 767-775.  This is section NU in a larger title: (ja) Bod kyi mkhas grub rnams kyi gsung rgyun lung gi skor, which takes up vol. 1, pp. 321-858.  For the text of these collected works, see TBRC code no. W29272. I haven’t typed the entire text here, only part, since it is quite long.

(nu) Dam pa sangs rgyas kyi man ngag mkhyud spyad dkar nag khra gsum gyi skor (pp. 767-775). 

[fol. 224r]

NU / 'dir dam pa sangs rgyas kyis bod du lan gsum byon pa'i tha mar man ngag mkhyud spyad dkar nag khra gsum / khams kyi klong thang sgrol mar gter du sbas pa / mkha' 'gro'i lung bstan ltar khams ston shes rab dpal gyis bton pa'i dang po mkhyud spyad dkar po'i skor la / 'khrug pa dang nad zhi ba / mi kha dang nad ngan phyogs ngan thub pa / ske nad mkhas nad zhi ba / mi phyugs kyi nad rgyun chad pa / sris rmi ba / snying rlung / ro stod / lag pa so dang ldan pa na ba rnams sel ba / rlung gis mgo na ba / dpral ba mig / bad kan gyi nad / dpung pa / ro stod / pus mo / byin pa / long bu / rkang mthil na ba rnams gso ba /

rlung / tsha ba / grang ba / lus tsha hra ba byed pa rnams sel ba / skyug pa / 'khru ba / gzer nad / [224v] mgo gcong sel ba / rgyun du gnod pa'i 'dre zhi ba rnams /

[The Checkered Medicine Bag:]

+ mkhyud spyad khra bo la rta phyugs kyi nad zhi ba / 'dre byer ba / 'thab mo nyung ba / 'dre gnod / thog 'tshe ba / 'od 'khyug zhi ba / bkra shis shing sa dpyad ngan bzhi pa / yams nad cha cing zhi ba / sa 'dul / dgra zhi ba / dgra jag 'thab rtsod zhi ba / 'thab mo mi 'byung ba / 'khrug pa bsdum pa / rlung gnon pa / lhog pa thub pa / nam mkha'i nad zhi ba / sel zhi ba / nad ngan thub cing  don 'grub pa / 'dre drag po'i gnod pa dang zug gzer gcod pa / rbad 'dra dang / khyi ngu ba'i mtshan ma ngan pa rnams zhi ba / ser ba zhi ba / rkun jag grol ba / smyo ba'am kha smras dang nad zhi ba / thog bsrung rnams /

[The Black Medicine Bag:]

+ nag po'i skor la /

... ... ... ... text omitted ... ... ...

[226v, line 6]

+ sngags kyi rten 'brel gser gyi char pa'i skor la / 'gor / na mo ratna gu ru / â li kâ li'i sgra don bshad pa yis / [227r] sogs sho lo ka gnyis dang /

rten 'brel dngos la / bla ma'i thugs la 'dogs pa / shes rab me ltar 'bar ba / blo rno ba / rmi lam gsal ba / bud med dbang du bya ba / mi thams cad kyi snying du sdug pa / don grub pa / bdag la nyan pa / don thams cad grub pa / chu'i steng du 'gro ba / mkha' la bya bzhin 'gro ba / dgra zun thams cad kyis gsang tshigs smra ba / lha 'dre thams cad mthong zhing gtam smra ba / sa 'og gi gser mthong ba / sbrul mi 'ong ba / phyogs ngan bzlog pa / rlung mi skye ba /

... ... ... ... text omitted ... ... ... ...

Padampa in his Cutting form, with damaru rattle-drum and bell.

Biblio Notes:

Hartmut Buescher and Tarab Tulku, Catalogue of Tibetan Manuscripts and Xylographs, Det Kongelige Bibliotek (Copenhagen 2000), in two volumes. A PDF of the TOC and introduction of this pricey book may be downloaded without fee here.

The Royal Library in Copenhagen has kindly made freely available digitized versions of some most remarkable Nyingmapa texts from the collection of a famous Manchu prince by the name of Yunli (subject of an amusing yet educational book by Vladimir Uspensky of St. Petersburg that is warmly recommended), but more on that another time. Have a look here. These manuscripts are mainly in very beautifully executed cursive calligraphy, so worthwhile seeing even if you aren’t as eager to read them as you ought to be.

If you need to be introduced to the magic and mystery of Tibetan Tertons, there is nothing out there that can quite match Tulku Thondup Rinpoche's book Hidden Teachings of Tibet: An Explanation of the Terma Tradition of the Nyingma School of Buddhism. Read it if you dare. (It has photos.)

If you liked the frontispiece, and you have an hour to spare, go explore the fascinating Tibetan medical charts at Himalayan Art.  Here is a good place to start. If you are wondering about the Tibetan labels in cursive script, they are, starting from the bottom, grod pa, stomach; snying, heart; glo ba, lungs. Then on your right brang rus, chest bone (sternum), and on your left brang khag, chest area (i.e. thoracic region; although you can’t see it here the lower part of the chart is labeled mtshang khag, pelvic region... Well, I like to think of this as a family friendly blog ...  Well, most of the time...). 

Hmm... I got all the way to the end of this blog without once alluding to, let alone paraphrasing or parodying, a famous song by James Brown? 

May all beings find themselves magically freed from every illness
(and never need to see doctors or magicians).

&  &  &

A P.S. for S.P.

re the discussion in the comment section below —

Here is a cutout of something I noticed in the January picture of the Wisdom Tibetan Art Calendar of 2011. I quote it here for commentarial purposes only. To see the complete picture you'll have to consult the calendar itself.  Oh, wait a minute. Somebody put up the entire thangka here. You'll still need to find the physically present calendar to find out what Olaf Czaja has to say about it.  The original is supposed to be in the Joachim Baader Gallery in Munich.  The central figure is the Arhat Abheda.

You might expect Arhat paintings to be in an Indian setting, but in fact the figures in them tend to be rather international. Stylistically speaking, they tend to adhere more than Tibetan paintings usually do, to certain Chinese conventions (this is the thesis of Rob Linrothe's beautifully done book Paradise and Plumage: Chinese Connections in Tibetan Arhat Painting, Rubin Museum of Art [NY 2004]).  Still, I'd expect this turbaned figure with travel bags tied to each end of his stick would probably be an Indian sadhu type, perhaps the type known in more recent centuries as a Gosain (?).  He's got two green parrots (?) also, which makes him even more likely to be an Indian.  This is how I imagine Padampa's traveling provisions bag to look like, minus the birds.  Here's a little bigger quote from the same painting:

Notice near the sadhu the monkey entertainer
and the construction worker there next to the Arhat's robes.
I think all three of them are supposed to be Indians.
There must be a story concealed in this delightful detail.


Here's another example of a sadhu's travel kit, taken from a Mongolian or Amdo blockprint that has been reproduced a number of times in publications like Alice Egyed's The Eighty-Four Siddhas (Budapest 1984), and more recently in A Terentyev's Buddhist Iconography Identification Guide (St. Petersburg 2004).  

The label says he is number 53 of the 84 Mahâsiddhas, and his name is given as Dzo-ki-pa, which is to say Yogipâ.  I guess his name doesn't mean much besides that he is a Yogin. His story is that his teacher sent him on pilgrimages to the 24 holy places, which took him twelve years. This nicely explains why he is depicted here on the road. I think this at least supplies a little bit more evidence for what the sadhu’s traveling bag would have looked like.  Speaking of bags, I’ve got a few of my own to pack.


  1. Is it possible that Padampa's bag was being recalled, remembered, or re-emphasized in this "gter" discovery? I may be wrong, but I know of no other figure in Tibetan religious representation where that super-light bag is displayed so prominently (a bag perceived as containing so much wonderful and effective mystery-medicine).

    P.S.---I recommend not betting the house, just in case you've bumped into some kind of cautionary lesson/trap laid for the unwary.

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  2. Dear [E]SP,

    Yes, I think you're very perceptive, even extraordinarily perceptive, in imagining it may all be about the bag. Well, not to push too hard, the bag in the Zhijé Collection is called by the weird vocabulary item gal-te, and even then it's qualified as the Interdependence Bag. I always imagined it as the kind of bag you might tie on the end of a stick before you put the stick over your shoulder and started out on your day's hike. Padampa did a lot of that (hiking). Actually, I'm not entirely sure about the stick (that could be my own cultural expectations creeping in, as they sometimes do).

    Let me quote something I once wrote in that book called Holy Madness about Padampa's iconography:

    As a symbolic way of saying that all kinds of things can serve as causes and conditions for the emergence of Dharma
    — He held the Interdependence Bag in his hand. (Zhijé Collection II 140)

    As a symbolic way of saying that, if without reason you blurt out the experiences that show your degree of realization, they will fade away
    — He would never open his Interdependence Bag in people's presence. (II 143)

    As a symbolic way of saying that sangsara has no independent existence
    — He laughed at the shadow of his Interdependence Bag. (II 167).

    There are basically two ways of explaining why Padampa's bag, which was probably a rather small but ordinary provisions bag, or “lunch sack,” was called an Interdependence Bag. First and most simply, as a food bag, it indicates that nourishment is necessary to human survival. Although during Padampa's twenty-year-long residence in Tingri he no longer required this bag, he evidently continued to keep it as a symbol of the homelessness of wandering contemplatives. Secondly and most certainly, the name recalls the universally and profoundly Buddhist idea of interdependent origination. (Things have no independent existence in themselves, but they arise due to combinations of different kinds of conditions.) Less obviously, yet very probably, it refers to a kind of divinatory sign, since “interdependency” here may be understood as synchronicity, both being possible implications of the Tibetan expression.


    So yes, I was in fact thinking that Padampa's Interdependence Bag (or sadhu's lunch-sack if you prefer) might have been a big inspiration for the Magical Medical Bag Texts that were revealed later on. But you already knew that, didn't you?

    The lunch sack might very well have transformed into a medical bag. Yes, I'm seeing it. Maybe next time I'll succeed in pulling something over on you. We'll hold our breath.


  3. Jiddu Krishnamurti telling a joke...

    “There are three monks, who had been sitting in deep meditation for many years amidst the Himalayan snow peaks, never speaking a word, in utter silence. One morning, one of the three suddenly speaks up and says, ‘What a lovely morning this is.’ And he falls silent again. Five years of silence pass, when all at once the second monk speaks up and says, ‘But we could do with some rain.’ There is silence among them for another five years, when suddenly the third monk says, ‘Why can’t you two stop chattering?”

  4. Why is the word "gal-te" a weird vocabulary item?

  5. Dear S.P.,

    I'm not entirely sure of it, but probably gal-te is a slightly truncated version of *gal-te'u, which would be the diminutive form of gal-ta. Gal-ta is itself an unusual word for 'bag' (I think probably the kind made of yak skin for food storage, although I don't think the material is necessary to its definition, and the meanings of these thing can transmute over time and space).

    Neither word occurs very much in the literature, and apart from a glossary by Ven. Tenzin Namdak (where the form is gal-ta and he gives the Tibetan definition khug-ma 'go-sbrel-can, which I take to mean a bag with drawstring closure, probably just what you see in the medicine bag photo above) and the Btsan-lha dictionary (gal-te, with definition saying it is a type of food vessel), it seems to be hard to find in the usual lexicons.

    The weirdness of gal-te for Tibetanists is that we are used to seeing it as a word with the function of marking the beginnings of "if" phrases (phrases that then should end in the syllable na). I saw it in a recent book (a good book overall) translated simply as 'cloth,' which I am sure isn't right.

    So to state it briefly, it's a weird vocabulary item because we're not used to seeing it in the literature and because it looks exactly like a very different word that we *are* used to seeing quite a bit. I could easily be wrong here, too, but I believe it is not a word in use any more (this is dangerous thing to say, because it happens that words that would seem to be obsolete stay in use in out of the way dialects, and there are so many dialects!).

    On another matter, I'm not sure if Guzman isn't using the Krishnamurti quote to make an unkind comment about my long weeks of silence between blogpostings. Maybe I'm being too touchy.


  6. Could I ask a favor? Could you illustrate the use of the gal-te ... na construction in a sentence? I must beg transliteration in English; I understand not a single stroke or sound of Tibetan from any century.

  7. Well, it's not a construction you're likely to hear in spoken Tibetan these days. But here is a verse from the 13th-century Sakya Legshé by Sakya Pandita, a verse work inspired by some similar works of Indian literature, full of mostly pragmatic worldly wisdom, but anyway wisdom.

    The gal-te ... na is there in the first line. The main verb is at the end of the 2nd line (Tibetan sentences and clauses, too, are always verb final). You have a verb in the 1st line, too, the yod, 'to have, to exist.' It's in the perfectly right spot here, immediately followed by the syllable na.

    gal-te rig-pa yod-na yang //
    skye-bo rang-bzhin ngan-pa spang //
    dug sbrul nor-bus mgo brgyan yang //
    mkhas-pa su zhig pang-du len //

    galté rigpa yöna yang,
    kyebo rangzhin nganpa pang.
    dug drül norbü go gyan yang,
    khepa su zhig pangdu len.

    Even if they have intelligence,

    leave bad-natured persons behind.

    A viper could have a head graced with jewels,

    but what wise person would take it on her lap?

  8. PS:

    Tibetanists usually just accept the gal-te as having a syntactical use in the sentence, but not as a word with meaning of its own. It's only used in this particular clause formation. It marks the onset of a conditional clause, just as the na marks the end of the same, but the na alone is perfectly capable of working on its own without any help from the gal-te.

    I've heard some speculation about the original meaning of gal-te, that it's some archaic construction that got frozen in place as an adverbial form until it was no longer understood in its original meaning. That seems to be true as far as I know. I imagine its meaning would have been something like 'contrarily' (taking it as related to the non-archaic verb 'gal-ba that has this kind of meaning). Any other ideas out there?

  9. The picture from the Wisdom Tibetan Art Calendar insert strongly suggests that other yogis could be identified specifically with their bags and routinely used their bags in teaching. Is there anyone else well-known for this approach in India/Tibet?

  10. They don't make travel bags like they used to.

    I have my thinking cap on, but I'm afraid you have me stumped on this one. I can't think of sadhu bags being used in teaching contexts apart from those examples from Padampa. Philosophers and spiritual teachers tend to use whatever is at hand. You know, "They say this is a glass. But if it is a glass, why is it a glass?"

  11. Hi,

    You wrote “I haven’t located in biographical accounts of Padampa any information that he went there but, well, I’m still looking.”

    I think I can help here.

    Padampa was Padmasambhava when he reincarnated, as he predicted, as Dampa Sangye. The "Pha" meaning "father" was added later, making him Phadampa Sangye, as many Tibetans still call him today.

    Because of this, Phadampa Sangye didn’t have to do the hiding. It might have been Padmasambhava who put it there, or one of his students, such as Yeshe Tsogyel, may have done it for him.

    For example, he said to Yeshe Tsogyel
    “Since my spiritual instructions and the methods of practice that I offer are immeasurable, I have hidden a great number of treasure teachings in the water, rocks, the sky and so forth. In these evil times, even individuals with fortunate karma will find it difficult to encounter these teachings. It will be difficult to bring together the necessary circumstances for these teachings to be revealed.”

    So, who better to hide them, find them, and teach them, other than himself.

    Hope this helps,
    Janis (Kunga)

  12. Sometimes you get the kind of blog comment that just makes your thinking stop. Nothing left to discuss. All the activities of all the emanation bodies fall within the same one-and-only emanation body.

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