Thursday, November 10, 2011

No Prophet in Buddhism?

You might well wonder what any normally Tibeto-centric Tibeto-logician would be doing spending his evenings leafing through a — well, not-so-recent — book about a Muslim theologian and Sufi contemplative by the name of Simnani. Wonder no more. For decades now I have been intrigued by the fact that for a time Buddhist teachers called Bakshis were active in the Middle East. We know that Simnani had very much contact with those self-same Bakshis. As I think I will be able to show — if not now, on another day — he was one of the most visible contact points that allowed some aspects of cultural-religious electrical currents to flow into the western parts of Eurasia in a crucial time in her history. Am I being too grandiose? Trying to be dramatic? A little overexcited, no doubt. Forgive me.

It is well known, to a few at least, that in the last part of the 13th century there were certain Kagyü lineages that were allied with the Mongol royal house of Hulegu (reigned 1256-1265) and his immediate successors, receiving their patronage and protection. Hulegu’s son Khaidu (1236-1301) even led (or sent?) western Turk troops — what Tibetans call Stod Hor — into Tibet (see Everding’s article). Despite a few such Mongolian armed incursions, Tibet was never actually occupied by Mongol forces during China's Yüan dynasty like China was.

From 1256 to 1295, apart from a brief two-year interlude, the Ilkhanid realm was ruled by Buddhists. They held a great deal of the Middle East from their center in Tabriz, in northwestern Iran. I labeled this bad map to show its imprecise location, although you are probably better off to see the map of the Ilkhanid realm (at its greatest extent) at Wikipedia, where you can see that it actually did cover quite a big part of the area you see on the map just below.

Most writers on the subject repeat the idea that there were Tibetan Lamas among the Bakshis. But for years now I’ve been on the lookout for anyone named (let’s say) Jamyang, Kunga or Tenzin among them, and so far no good luck. Although I’ve asked some real experts in the field to look into the matter, they never did get back to me. They may have been right for not taking me seriously. People have always complained that they’re not sure when I’m joking.

Well, there is the surprising story, told in the Berzin Archive, about Emperor Arghun’s brother Gaikhatu who succeeded him as Il Khan. Someone (usually they say, with apparent good reason, this someone must’ve been a Tibetan monk) gave Gaikhatu the 100% Tibetan name Rinchen Dorje.

He liked this Tibetan name well enough to put it, in Mongolian and sometimes in Arabic script, on many of the coins he had minted in Tabriz (you can see quite a few examples on the internet if you look for them). The following lustrous gold example, one of many, is supposed to have his name on it (I apologize that I am unable to read it, but I found it here).

He did make one disastrous political mistake. He introduced Chinese paper money into the Middle East. It looks as if he just took the Chinese paper bills and overstamped them. Or did he directly copy the money, Chinese inscriptions and all? Paper doesn’t have half the glitter of gold, and none of the jingle, so it didn’t catch on, to say the least. Exactly the opposite. And Gaikhatu lost his position, so to speak, when he was assassinated. Arghun’s sons soon succeeded Gaikhatu, but they stopped supporting Buddhism and converted to Islam.

Did you ever have one of those minor epiphanies, the kind that seizes you, gives you a kind of electrical jolt, even before you have time to think about the reason? It has happened to me more than a few times in museums, actually, come to think of it. But once when I was touring, together with a Tibetan monk, the al-Quds al-Sharif sanctuaries on what non-Muslims are more likely to know as the Temple Mount, we had scarcely entered the Islamic Museum off to the side of al-Aksa Mosque, when both of us found ourselves astoundedly fixated on the same thing at the same time. It was an artistic motif around the base of a large metal candle holder.  It was just so closely similar to the lotus base that you see under practically every Indo-Tibetan divine image, only more in the Tibetan style, or perhaps even more in the style of the Swat Valley bronzes. 

Full description here.

The monk and I had identical epiphanies at the very same moment. Stopping to inspect the museum label, we could read that the inscription engraved on it contained the name of Arslan.*  This touched something off.  Some hidden alarm button?
(*Aslan, or Arslan, means 'lion' in both Turkic languages and Mongolian.)
Despite what may have seemed like a moment of clarity, I was puzzled and the more I find out the more puzzling it becomes, really. If this use of the lotus design is a result of Mongol (or just vaguely Central Asian) influence, the reign of this Arslan (1203-1239) is almost too early. He ruled quite a huge area from his capital of Mardin, a still remarkably well preserved historical mountaintop city in southeastern Turkey with a breathtaking view over the Syrian plains. Since that time, I’ve become more accustomed to seeing East and Central Asian artistic influences in Middle Eastern art (see especially the book by Kadoi listed below).  There is even a body of literature tracing Ilkhanid eastern artistic influences on early Italian painters like Giotto (see Tanaka's article)

You can’t exactly see it in this low-resolution photo, but if you look in the lower right corner, the scene of the Roman soldiers gambling over possession of the robe, you will see the robe has golden bands in its design, and on the bands (if you don’t want to take my word for it, I think you can actually make them out on the fringed garment of the person standing to the robe's left side) are Phagspa letters. I visited the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua a few years ago, but with the 15-minute limit (preceded by an hour in a dessication chamber) it is really very difficult to take it all in, let alone notice all the details. I have to confess I didn’t notice any Phagspa script when I was there. I was far too overwhelmed by the art.

The Crucifixion, by Giotto of Bondoni (1266-1337),
Scrovegni Chapel, Padova, Italia

Now Simnani belonged to a family with a number of members who served in the court of Arghun, and Simnani himself was no exception. Yet he had an interest in Sufi meditations from a young age, specifically inspired by Kubra and his school, the Kubrawiya, with its strong emphasis on visionary experiences of lights which Simnani himself would further develop in his later years. Kubra didn’t live to see the rule of the Mongols. It is said he died in hand-to-hand combat with the Mongols when they invaded Khwarezm in 1220.

Now I see the hour is getting late and I want to get this in the mail before I miss my bedtime, so just let me say these few words about Simnani and we will call it a day. As you may know, the Mongols were in the habit of holding inter-religious discussions (debates, if you prefer) in their courts. The general idea is that Mongolians had their own shamanic ideas; other religions they had trouble comprehending — they found them curious — so they would enlist the smartest people around to try to explain them. A number of early Mongol rulers married Christians. Arghun’s mother was one of them, and there are yet other reasons for his willingness to deal with Christians... as well as Muslims, and needless to say Buddhists. I believe Arghun’s Buddhism was not just superficial.  

The following describes an event of April 1288. It was probably the first, but definitely not the last, time Buddhist relics were displayed in the Middle East:

“Buka’s envoys brought back with them to Persia one of the relics so much esteemed among the Buddhists, called Sharil. These are hard pieces of a substance which is said to be found in the ashes of some saintly persons when cremated. Von Hammer says that Buddha's heart was supposed to be made of bone and not of flesh, similarly with the hearts of great men, and that the sharil is really held to be the ossified heart of the cremated person. Arghun, we are told, treated this relic with the greatest honour, gold was strewn over it, while a feast was duly celebrated.”  — Howorth, History of the Mongols, pt. 3, p. 321, as cited in Numen, vol. 41 (1994), pp. 284-285.
Arghun sometimes had Simnani hold religious discussions with the Buddhist Bakshis. The usual story is that they belonged to a number of nationalities, not only Tibetans but also Indians, Uighurs, Chinese and so on. They say that Simnani would win these debates because he was able to convince his audience that the Buddhists didn’t really know about their own religion.
"Arghun then called for a Buddhist monk and ordered him to engage Simnani in a debate, but Simnani defeated the Buddhist by demonstrating that he was ignorant of the true meaning of the Buddha’s teachings."  (Elias, p. 26)
Although generally antipathetic to Buddhism — he believed the main problem with Buddhism is that it has no prophets — he was actually fond of one particular Bakshi, and this Bakshi (surprise, surprise) has a personal name attached. He was an Indian who was called Bakhshī Parinda (Elias, p. 18).

Parinda was supposed to be from a monastic community of Somnāth in coastal Gujerat, although Mayer believes it may be a similarly-named place in Bengal. I differ with them both. I think this is probably the same monastic institution, in what would nowadays be Orissa, that the famous Vairocanavajra (subject of a great study by Kurtis Schaeffer) belonged to before he went to Tibet and translated Doha songs into Tibetan in around the 1240’s or so.

Not sure what to make of the name Parinda, I’m inclined to think it might be a reformed version of the Indic name Varendra (a common enough personal name with the meaning ‘True Indra’). Simnani confessed that he regarded Parinda as, to quote Elias, “spiritually very advanced despite his non-Muslim status.”

All this was intended as hardly anything more than an introduction to still different matters, touching on religious devotional and meditative practices and visions that I regard as more interesting than anything you have heard here so far. I do hope you did find it interesting anyway.

§   §   §

Interrelated matters worth exploring:

Hamid Algar, "Kubrā, Shaykh Abu 'l-Djannāb Aḥmad b. ʿUmar Nadjm al-Dīn," Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, P. Bearman, et al., eds. Brill (Leiden 2011). Brill Online.

Reuven Amitai-Preiss, Sufis and Shamans: Some Remarks on the Islamization of the Mongols in the Ilkhanate, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, vol. 42 (1999), pp. 27-46.  See especially p. 32, relevant to Simnani's relations with Buddhists.

Arezou Azad, Three Rock-Cut Cave Sites in Iran and Their Ilkhanid Buddhist Aspects Reconsidered, contained in: Anna Akasoy, et al., eds., Islam and Tibet: Interactions along the Musk Routes, Ashgate (Farnham 2011), pp. 209-230, and plates 10.1 through 10.11. This article does not establish that, as has sometimes been speculated in the past, the caves in question were definitely Buddhist, but neither does it eliminate the possibility. Other articles in the same volume are relevant, not only the introduction by Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim, but also the contributions by Assadullah Souren Melikian-Chirvani (see p. 100 for a bit on lotus-type designs on metal pots) and Paul Buell (on connections in the field of medicine and cooking).

Jamal J. Elias, The Throne Carrier of God: The Life and Thought of 'Alā' ad-dawla as-Simnānī, SUNY Press (Albany 1995). Seventy-nine of Simnani's works (excluding epistles) have survived, and very little has been written about them in English apart from this book, and a bit translated from the French of Henry Corbin.

Karl-Heinz Everding, The Mongol States and Their Struggle for Dominance over Tibet in the 13th Century, contained in: Henk Blezer, ed., Tibet, Past and Present: Tibetan Studies I, Brill (Leiden 2002), pp. 109-128. On p. 120 are what may be the most horrifying scenes in all of pre-modern Tibetan history. Here it is evidently Khaidu who is hiding under the Tibetan[ized] name Ga-du Rin-chen.

Cover Image
Jean Maurice Fiey, Esquisse d'une bibliographie sur le patriarche turco‑mongol Yahwalaha III (1281‑1317) et son maître Rabbam bar Sawma, envoyé du Khan Arghun au pape et aux princes européens en 1287‑1288, Proche‑orient Chrétien, vol. 38 (1988), pp. 221‑228. Morris Rossabi has written a whole book about Mar Sauma, and I hope to see it before long.

Yuka Kadoi, Islamic Chinoiserie: The Art of Mongol Iran, Edinburgh University Press (Edinburgh 2009).

Toby Mayer, Yogic-Ṣūfī Homologies: The Case of the "Six Principles" Yoga of Nāropa and the Kubrawiyya, The Muslim World, vol. 100 (April 2010), pp. 268-286.  I believe you can get free access to it here. (Or if not, go here: and then search for it from there.)

Leo Jungeon Oh, Islamicised Pseudo-Buddhist Iconography in Ilkhanid Royal Manuscripts. Persica, vol. 20 (2005), pp. 91-154. The thesis of this long and rather confusing paper (well, I found it so) is that there were Asian artistic influences on paintings produced for the Ilkhanid court.

Elliot Sperling, Hülegü and Tibet, Acta Orientalia Hungarica, vol. 44 (1990), pp. 145-158. As pointed out at the very beginning of this Tibetological article, the Ilkhanid ruler Hülegü was known inside Tibet by his name Hu-la-hu (or more simply Hu-la), he was known as one who patronized the Phagmodru school of the Kagyupas, and as the “King of Upper Hor” which this author identifies with the Chagatais. Given this is so, chances are that the Tibetan Bakshis may well have been Drigung monks, so Drigung histories — and histories of other lineages stemming from the Phagmodru school — would be logical places to look for clues about them, you would think.

Hidemishi Tanaka, Giotto and the Influences of the Mongols and Chinese on His Art: A New Analysis of the Legend of St. Francis and the Fresco Paintings of the Scrovegni Chapel, Art History (Tohoku University, Japan) (1984) 1-38 [in English].  Other writings on related subjects by the same author have appeared in English, Japanese and Italian.  Among the most intriguing is one entitled Oriental Scripts in the Paintings of Giotto's Period, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, series 6, vol. 113 (1989), pp. 214-226.  You can actually recognize some of the 'Phags-pa script letters in some of these paintings, which is about as clear a sign of Mongolian influence as you could possibly wish for. Of course there is now a Wiki page on the subject, with interesting illustrations. But better if you have a look at this Babelstone blog.

Late 13th-century Ilkhanid tile, Istanbul

David Ohanessian (1927), is responsible for the frontispiece

P.S. (Nov. 14, 2011):

I forgot to mention that there was another South Asian Bakshi with a name working in Tabriz. This was the relatively well-known Kashmiri Buddhist teacher Kamalaśrī, who helped the illustrious and industrious but ill-fated Rashid ad-Din with his stories about the life of the Buddha. Some have identified him with Padampa Sanggyé, who has Kamalaśrī (as well as Kamalaśīla) as a monastic given name. For chronological reasons their identification is simply impossible. Two centuries separate them. Well, if Padampa was 600 years old when he came to Tibet, as is sometimes told, he would have had to live another 200 years to be off visiting eastern Iran, now, wouldn’t he? That hardly seems likely. I’ll refrain from listing all the bibliography for this problem for the moment. Or if you insist on having something to read, be my guest and check out Karl Jahn’s article in Central Asiatic Journal, vol. 2 [1956], pp. 81-128.)

P.P.S. (Nov. 25, 2011):

Just to add to the list of Bakshis with names, we also are aware of names of two that came from China. I’ll just repeat here something you find in the comments section below:

Johan Elverskog's book Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia 2010), p. 149, says that Rashid ad-Din had in addition to the Kashmiri Buddhist teacher Kamalaśrī two Chinese collaborators named Litaji and Kamsun (quoting Thomas Allsen's book Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia, p. 92; here you can see that it would be quite difficult to find out the actual Chinese names behind these names...).


That a couple of Chinese would have been in Tabriz isn’t in itself all that newsworthy. You also have the cases of Rabban Sauma and his disciple who came from the general area of Khanbaliq (OK, Dadu or Peking if you prefer or insist) both of them of Turkic stock. The disciple, Yaballaha III,* was made Patriarch of the Nestorian Christian world. As soon as I can lay hands on a copy of Morris Rossabi’s book on the subject I plan to read the whole thing through in several sittings.**
(*He was supposed to be Uighur Turkish by birth, was known by the Greek name Markos as a young person, and had the ability to speak Mongolian, a skill that definitely helped to endear him to the Ilkhanid Emperor. The two of them, Sauma and Markos, set off from China on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but things didn’t turn out quite as they had planned. Sauma’s name is supposed to be of Syriac origins with the meaning of Faster [that means one who fasts, but you knew that].)
(**Morris Rossabi, Voyager from Xanadu: Rabban Sauma and the First Journey from China to the West, Kodansha [Tokyo 1992].)

P.P.P.P.S (NOV. 27, 2011), added to illustrate one of the comments, below.

Figure from Tanaka's article, p. 221, a detail from Giotto's Crucifixion,
Scrovegni Chapel, Padova,
with Tanaka's interpretation below.

Figure from Tanaka's article, p. 221, 
with Tanaka's interpretation below.
Sample of early P'agspa script (edict dated 1277 or 1289), after Precious Deposits, vol. 3.
P'agspa script was invented in 1269.

P.P.P.P.P.S. (October 24, 2015):
I think it could have added to the discussion to include the line of Arabic script you can see in the coronation mantle of Norman King Roger II of Sicily (1095-1154 CE). Here you see one side of the mantle only, depicting a lion attacking a poor camel. Garments hemmed with inscriptions in exotic scripts were on extremely famous luxury fabrics like this one on the Italian peninsula (and not only Sicily, his kingdom extended north nearly to Rome) much before Giotto's time. The original is kept in a museum in Vienna, I believe.

P.P.P.P.P.PS. (Aug. 3, 2016):
Notice that the discussion within Islam on the issue of whether or not the Buddha can be regarded as a prophet is an ongoing one. The best writing I've noticed on this topic is this:  "The Muslim Doctrine of Prophethood in the Context of Buddhist-Muslim Relations in Japan: Is the Buddha a Prophet? by Keiko Obuse, published in The Muslim World, vol. 100 (April-July 2010), pp. 215-232. This article reveals something else that some will find surprising, that there do exist some Japanese Buddhist converts to Islam.

The Museum entry for this piece can be seen here.


  1. Wow ...! I, for one, did not know. (No surprise, perhaps.) Keep those intercultural studies coming!

    While I have your "ear," is there any implication for the study of Padampa other than the anachronistic attribution?

    Short Person (Still Alive and Kickin')


  2. Dear Short,

    Connections between Padampa and what was going on there in Tabriz? I think there are probably some more subtle connections that maybe I'll find a way to touch on later on. I'd say that Simnani was unusually emphasizing visionary experiences of colored lights, while Padampa was unusually emphasizing auditory sound-and-letter mysticism. So in this way they were quite different.

    Someday I'd like to locate the source that would tell us more about who the Tibetan Bakshis in western Iran might have been exactly, if not giving them names, at least telling us what sort of Buddhist school they followed. No reason to think any of them might have been Zhijepas. But no reason to think they weren't.

    Well, much to think about. Thanks for writing.


  3. Another book that I really ought to have mentioned is one I mentioned many blogs ago, although I haven't finished reading it yet. It's Johan Elverskog's book Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road, U. of Penn. Press (Philadelphia 2010). Chapter 3, "Idolatry," is the one most relevant, especially p. 139 and following. On p. 144:

    "...we need to recognize that the bringing together of Buddhist and Muslims within the Il-khanid domains for a period of almost a half-century resulted not only in a new intellectual engagement between the two traditions, but also in the creation of a whole new visual culture..."

    He also mentions, on his p. 149, that Rashid ad-Din had in addition to the Kashmiri Buddhist teacher Kamalaśrī two Chinese collaborators named Litaji and Kamsun (quoting Thomas Allsen's book Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia, p. 92; here you can see that it would be quite difficult to find the actual Chinese names behind these names...

    Especially fascinating is the contemporary testimony by the Armenian Christian Writer Kirakos of Ganjak (1203-1271) that you find on p. 140. Reading through its antagonistic point of view, you can see that the Ilkhanid's founder Hulegu was quite devoted to Buddhism and Buddhist monks, building Buddhist temples and so forth.


  4. Visions of colored lights? So do we have tögal being practiced in the Middle East? I certainly hope so, that would be thoroughly cool. Any implications or traces to be found in later Muslim mysticism? From the above, it sounds like the Kubra traditions emphasizing experience of lights were extant in the early 13th century, before the Mongols and Bakshis arrived... still, there's always the possibility, right? I know next to nothing about Middle Eastern history or Muslim mysticism, but such cross pollination would be neat.

  5. Dear Lost,

    Nice to find you here again. There are a whole group of Sufi thinkers/practitioners that have been called by some the Illuminationists, among them Suhrawardi being the best known. I don't want to give away all the thunder for my forthcoming blog-attack on the subject, but one of the most obvious places to look if you are interested is in Henry Corbin's Man of Light in Iranian Sufism. I once had a copy that disappeared into thin air at some point in the distant past, but I picked up a fresh copy passing through London earlier this year and I've been reading it from time to time ever since.

    I think most of the elements were in place somewhere and in some degree already before the mid-to-late 13th century, but perhaps they then came to form a more integrated package (breath regulation, repetition, with visualizations). But as we know people who discover they have common practices are likely to share other things as well...

    I don't believe the Pax Mongolica was the first wave of Buddhist influence drifting through the west. I do think it was significant... Let's talk about this some more later.

    It's interesting, too, that such lineage 'chains' (silsilah) of Sufi practice tended to connect in their beginnings with people that were originally from Central Asia, and subsequently got preserved and transmitted among Central Asian peoples (closer to Iran's eastward extremes) later on.

    I just located an interesting article by Devin DeWeese about the Kubrawiya in their later centuries (they evidently don't exist as such any more), and will let you know what I learn from it.


  6. Dear D,

    Hello to you who am myself. I was wondering (to myself, of course) if any of the people who studied the scripts on the hems of Giotto's garments had ever considered the possibility of them having been inspired by the coins of the Ilkhans, which might very well have entered into use in Italy (since they were actually made of silver and gold). Does anyone know if they were used for payments in ports like Venice, for example? I'm just asking. But it seems in the coins themselves you find different scripts used together, and in the paintings you find what sometimes looks like Uighur, and sometimes Arabic (Persian), and I even imagine I'm seeing Phagspa occasionally

    Like here, on the right-hand side:

    Am I only imagining it? ... Just thinking aloud. (A hard habit to break.)


  7. J. wrote the following:

    dear D,

    What I see on that image that looks like it *might* be Phagspa, or inspired by it, is on the left side of the left-hand image (I don't know which is the obverse of the coin!) but on the right hand image what exactly are you seeing that looks remotely like Phagspa?

    Yours, J

  8. Hi J!

    Right... I meant on *your* right hand side, not the coin's.

    I just meant that I see 'Tibetanesque' forms that remind me (therefore) of Phagspa. I sort of think I can see a "ha" and a "na" there. We'll have to ask Andrew what he thinks about it if he has time. I'm probably wrong. It could just be detached letters in the Uighur/Mongol script (which anyway derived from a Syriac script, which does bring us right back to the Middle East in an earlier time).


  9. Thank you, that's really fascinating and very nicely narrated. Please, keep us informed of your progresses with this issue. (I hardly believe that Giotto put some Phagspa letters on Jesus' robe, though.)

  10. Hi E,

    Thanks for stopping by. I've been crazy about Giotto since my high school days. I think that Giotto's main idea was to depict the Middle East (after all, the context for the biblical stories). He (and other Italian painters shared in this) was fascinated by the exotic writing systems, and wanted to incorporate them into his paintings somehow, as a way of saying "This is the Middle East here" and "Look, you're not in Lombardia any more." The bands at the hems of garments would have been the most handy place to put them, I guess. I suppose that is what some writers mean when they fault Giotto for 'exoticism.' Do you have any better idea?

    We might think he was being anachronistic putting Phagspa on Jesus' robes, but he had no problem with it. That much seems clear.


  11. PS Just to emphasize that Giotto's Asian exoticism is no 21st century discovery, I wanted to give the reference to this 1944 article, which can be accessed through subscribing institutions at JSTOR (otherwise luck be with you):

    Asiatic Exoticism in Italian Art of the Early Renaissance.
    Leonardo Olschki.
    The Art Bulletin, vol. 26, no. 2 (June 1944), pp. 95-106.

    Article Stable URL:

  12. I am still not convinced that there are any 'Phags-pa letters in Giotto's art (as I indicated four years ago in the post you kindly linked to), but it is very difficult to find reproductions that are higher enough resolution to be certain. I can't see any 'Phags-pa letters on this close up of the robe, but would love to be proved wrong, so it would be great if you could post some images that do clearly show 'Phags-pa letters.

  13. I don't see any 'Phags-pa writing on the coin you mentioned, but there certainly are some coins from the Mongol Empire that do, such as this Golden Horde coin of Toqta which has THUQ DUNG ꡉꡟꡢ ꡊꡟꡃ (not sure what it means) on one side, and this Chaghatayid coin which seems to have PO LA SU ꡌꡡ ꡙ ꡛꡟ (perhaps representing Uighur bolsun).

  14. Dear Andrew,

    Great having you here, especially since [1] I haven't heard from you for what seems like such a long time and [2] we'll now have someone whose conclusions are bound to be more believable than my own.

    To begin with, I want to be careful with my words, but still, let me say, I think you're not saying anything new to me when you say they aren't P'agspa letters in those Giotto paintings. I think we both mean to say, though, that they aren't *real* P'agspa, meaning by 'real' that they were written by someone who knew what they were doing. On the other hand I would want to argue that in visual (artistic) as in audial (language) communication intention counts a great deal. I would say that Giotto very clearly intended to represent P'agspa, and perhaps even had examples of P'agspa right there in front of his eyes. He very purposively meant to communicate something by putting it there.

    What do you see reading vertically down the right hand side of the coin illustration? Being Tibetocentric as I tend to be, I see something that resembles somewhat early documentary P'agspa script (not the square seal kind) that in these early times at least often very closely resembles the corresponding Tibetan (Uchan) letters on which P'agspa was based.

    I posted three photos in the P.P.P.P.S. section at the very very end of the body of the blog (above). The first two photos are from Tanaka (1989). The first example (fig.11b) is from the very same painting of the Crucifixion that was included in the blog already. However, you shouldn't really be looking at the Robe of Christ (the lettering is far too fine to see), but on the borders of the robe of the Roman soldier (?) on your right. Fig. 11b is copied from the band with the fringe below it on the lower part of his robe.

    To try to be very clear, and not just clear to you (I feel quite sure everything is perfectly clear to you), but to others who might be eavesdropping on our conversation: By P'agspa I don't mean the squared seal script. I mean the kind used in documents in early Yüan period. And in this document-type P'agspa you can, if you are a Tibetanist, instantly recognize a number of letters as identical to Tibetan. For examples particularly the 'y' the 'm' and I think the 'n' and the 'h' as well (just to give examples, there are more... 's' 'kh' 'l' etc.). So with this in mind perhaps it will be somehow understandable that I would pretend to see P'agspa script on that coin, and not only in the fringes of the robes in Giotto's paintings. I see letters that look quite Tibetan, but also at times a little odd, just like I see in those early P'agspa documents...

    So, I had better close for now. Thank you so much for the links to those coins that do contain very clearly P'agspa letters. Those are really most fascinating. I'll have to look at them some more.

    I wish I had access at the moment to all the writings of Tanaka (there are many more), so I could fairly represent them in a summary. But since I don't, I can't, and so won't attempt it.

    Please do let us know what you think about all this.


  15. My Dearest Dan,

    My apologies for being so uncommunicative of late. I do still read your blog, and greatly admire its quirky mix of erudition and oddity, but most of the time I feel unqualified to comment.

    The images you have now posted from Tanaka are fascinating, but do not reassure me that Giotto's designs are based on Phags-pa writing. The leap from Giotto's original, seemingly abstract, design to Tanaka's concrete interpretation as readable Phags-pa syllables is far too great for me; I just do not believe that it is possible to make such an interpretation, and the fact that Tanaka does makes me doubt his scholarship. Although, with imagination, it is possible to see the occasional Phags-pa like form in Giotto's designs, to me the designs look more like an abstraction of generic "exotic" writing rather than an imitation of any particular script. Phags-pa also has a very distinctive, vertically linear layout, which is not shown in Giotto's designs: Tanaka's reconstructions show the text laid out horizontally, one vertical syllable at a time, in a way that is very unusual for Phags-pa.

    Having said that, I believe that it is possible that Giotto could have had access to examples of Phags-pa writing -- but what could these have been? Phags-pa tended to be used mostly for monumental inscriptions, and huge lumps of engraved stone are hardly likely to have been moved across continents, but Chinese banknotes with Phags-pa inscriptions are just the sort of curiosities that travellers would have brought back from China. But if Giotto had a Chinese banknote in front of him as a model for his designs, then he did a very poor job in copying the Phags-pa letters. If he did it from memory, then his memory was so poor that we cannot (in my opinion) be certain that he was remembering Phags-pa text.

    Finally, although I haven't yet been able to see any concrete examples of Phags-pa letters in Giotto's script-like designs, the Chinese character 西 "west" does leap out at me from the design on the border of this sleeping soldier's robe — is this just coincidence, or is it a personal message to me from 700 years ago?

  16. My dear Andrew,

    Thanks so much for your kind words on the blog. Recently I've gotten myself several times in a funk wondering why I even bother with it. I had been considering myself whether it might not be greater 'truth in advertising' to call it Tibeto-eccentric, but I'm thinking Tibeto-quirkiness could work as well for this purpose. Just between you and me, part of my bigger secret plan is to not selfishly let myself fall alone into the dottering idiocy of old age, but to try my compassionate best to take other people with me.

    But when I opened my mail this morning, I thought to myself, What's gotten into Andrew that he would want to come off sounding like such a spoilsport? I said already (didn't I?) that I wasn't ready to provide a summary of Tanaka's complete body of work on the subject, starting in 1983 I believe (I only have one article in front of me at the moment, and am not ready to run to the big library in the sky in the near future). And Tanaka isn't standing alone. There is quite a body of literature now devoted to the 'orientalism' of the early Italian painters before and after Giotto starting in the first decade and blossoming in the 4th decade of the 20th century (not to mention work by Tanaka's students) that would need coverage, too.

    Tanaka was (I must stress) *not* looking at the bad b&W photo JPEG of the 2nd-level photocopy that you're looking at when he made his reconstructions. He's just clarifying what's there in the full color paintings, which he's had plentiful opportunity to examine on the spot. My photocopy is a bad one, and I have no idea if there was color on the original page or not. There are more in the 1989 article than I gave above, including as well examples of Arabic / Kufic script in the same types of contexts by painters both before and after Giotto.

    Tell me the truth, have you bothered to look up a single one of Tanaka's publications on the subject? And already you would seem to be tossing it all in the bin as unworthy of your attention. Where did you find this impatience? That's what I mean precisely by my use of the term 'spoilsport.' Should we even have this conversation? You know the one — I say I see it, you say you don't; I say I don't see it, you say you do...

    I don't see the Chinese character for 'West' where you say you see it. But that doesn't form an even passible parallel to the question of whether the intention to represent P'agspa script is there or not. In fact, it has nothing to do with it at all. It doesn't count for a hill of beans as my grandfather would have put it. (And no, I don't know why he liked to use that expression so much.)

    But that so much seems to be your intention. You point to your own delusion (that I can't see) in order to make it 'obvious' that I am myself deluded in seeing something you say you haven't yet seen. And this before you've taken the opportunity to look at Tanaka or at the evidence in the paintings themselves (I'm convinced). Tanaka and I are not the only ones to see it. (There *is* a big problem that there are no truly "high resolution" photos of the paintings available for free on the web, although there are some that claim to be, but really, I have to say... to have a high resolution JPEG of a badly made blurry photo is no help at all!)

    In the article before my eyes as we speak, Tanaka has already answered some of your objections in a fairly satisfactory way, in my opinion. You say, "Tanaka's reconstructions show the text laid out horizontally, one vertical syllable at a time, in a way that is very unusual for Phags-pa."

    Tanaka says (1989:224): "European painters did not understand this system [of vertical writing], and consequently they wrote these imitated letters horizontally like Latin."

    [continued in next]

  17. [continued from the last]

    I put emphasis on the P'agspa, but Tanaka studies the chronological progression in Giotto's lettered clothing borders (but also lettering seen in other contexts, like in open books in some paintings), showing that the P'agspa type of lettering postdates 1300, in fact to the time he was working in Padua on the Scrovegni Chapel (completed in 1305, I believe). He sees four distinct periods of such fabric letterings in Giotto's career with their own special characteristics (I'll spare you). In the earlier periods (including works by Giotto's teacher Cimabue), the letters were mostly resembling forms of Arabic script.

    "[Giotto] likely had no idea of the meaning of the oriental characters, but one can imagine that this great artist was attracted by what would have only been to him the unusual alien letters. In attempting to copy or adopt the general properties of the letters, his designs give the impression of oriental characters, but are not exact enough to read as such."

    He also mentions money perhaps intending paper bills like the one in your photograph (your link) that was preserved at Sakya (I had no idea!) and those strange metal travel documents the Mongols used called Paiza:

    "Also, around this time, Marco Polo had returned and shown Europeans marvels of the Mongolian and Chinese countries in his Millione and brought possibly the Paizas and Mongolian money, on which were written the Phagspa scripts. Giotto may well have seen in Rome in 1300, on the occasion of the Holy Year, the Mongolians who made the procession." (p. 220; I've left off the footnote markers)

    1300 has sometimes been called the year of the greatest non-event in history (I too, can think of other serious contenders, not least of all the upcoming end of the world in 2012), an interesting story in itself. The 'purchase' of the Mongol Il-Khan stock was at its peak in Europe, thanks to the idea that they would liberate (or already had liberated! a greatly exaggerated report) the Holy Land for the Christians. (I won't go into that, but if anyone wants a ref. try Sylvia Schein's article Gesta Dei per Mongolos 1300. The Genesis of a Non-Event, English Historical Review 94 [1979], pp. 805-19, probably out there for free download somewhere, or if not, definitely at JSTOR.)

    And before my typing muscles give out, one might wonder why put letters of any kind on bands that go around clothing? I'm not sure why, but it is interesting that Tanaka (p. 222 and note 27 on p. 225 does give examples of early garments that contained Arabic letters, the most interesting being a "tomb of Can Grande of Verona, who died in 1329," in which were found "clothes from Islamic countries, embroidered with Kufic letters and ornamental dragons." For some discussion of early Arabic-inscribed borders, see the beginning of this article. So we cannot eliminate the possibility, that may actually be a strong one, that Giotto and the other painters were copying directly from fabrics they saw with their own eyes.

    Unlike you, Tanaka (1989) finds Chinese letters only in the post-Giotto period (see his p. 224) and doesn't make much of it.

    [continued in the next]

  18. [continued from the last]

    One more thing, for now, and I will be quiet, as you may be wishing I would. You say, " tended to be used mostly for monumental inscriptions." I just wonder if you've inspected any of the Mongolian-language paper documents like the one I put in a JPEG just for you at the very end of the blog. The Precious Deposits volume has a few of them. Although this is more difficult to see in the square seal script, I believe early P'agspa is really little more than a 'special application' of Tibetan letters. Do you agree with that? Weren't the Ilkhan seals done in Chinese seal script, and not in P'agspa? (I judge from what I've seen illustrated in that old Mostaert article). When did P'agspa start being used for this purpose (and at the same time made to look more and more like the more familiar [to most of us] seal script)? Inquiring minds want to know more and more.


  19. Oh my goodness, I just noticed that a Babelstone blog was put up just the next day after this one, on Nov. 11. Two blogs about Phagspa script in as many days has to be a cosmic convergence of somewhat more than slight significance, doesn't it?

    Just tap on this WORD and you'll be there before you can even pronounce the name Yaballaha.

    Ciao for now!

  20. I wanted to add in this highly curious evidence (turned up by way of creative schmoogling) for the possibility that Arabic-script decorated clothing might have been produced in Sicily and later on in other Italian cities. Notice the date of the publication.

    Source: For the Googlebook book, look here:

    This link ought to take you to the section of “Belles Lettres” at the end of The Westminster Review, vol. 28 (July-October 1865), at p. 301. The (unidentified) author quotes directly (in the 2nd paragraph below this one) from a work called “Art applied to Industry,” a series of lectures given by William Burges. Selections from this page 301 follow:

    "In the lecture on the weaver's art, we are reminded of the superiority of Indian Muslins and Chinese and Persian carpets, and the gorgeous costumes of the middle ages are contrasted with our own dark ungraceful garments. The Cufic inscriptions that have so perplexed antiquaries, were introduced with the rich Eastern stuffs so much sought after by the wealthy class, and thou, as Mr. Burges observes" —

    “Nothing is more perishable than worn-out apparel, yet, thanks to documentary evidence, to the custom of burying people of high rank in their robes, and to the practice of wrapping up relics of saints in pieces of precious stuffs, we are enabled to form a very good idea of what these stuffs were like, and where they came from... Of course, many of the workers would be mahommedans, and the old paterns, perhaps with the addition of sundry animals, would still continue in use; hence the frequency of Arabic inscriptions in the borders, the Cufic character being one of the most ornamental ever used... On the contrary, the coronation robes of the German emperors, although of an eastern pattern, bear inscriptions which tell us very clearly when they were manufactured: thus, the Cufic characters on the cope inform us that it was made in the city of Palermo, in the year 1133, while the tunic has the date of 1181, but then the inscription is in the Latin language. The practice of putting Cufic inscriptions on precious stuffs was not confined to the Eastern and Sicilian manufacturers; in process of time other Italian cfities took up the art, and either because it was the fashion, or because they wished to pass off their own work as Sicilian or Eastern manufacture, initations of Arabic characters are continually met with, both on the few examples that have come down to us of the stuffs themselves, or on painted statues or sculptured effities. These are the inscriptions which used to be the despair of antiquaries who vainly searched out their meaning until it was discovered that they had no meaning at all, and that they were ornaments.” [emphasis added by myself]

  21. Dear Dan,

    I'm afraid I cannot even attempt to answer all the points made in your execellent ripostes. I apologise for appearing curmudgeonly in my comments, but perhaps that is just my churlish nature.

    I would be quite delighted to read Phags-pa messages in Giotto's paintings, and hope that one day I will see his paintings in person, or at least have access to good quality high resolution reproductions, but until that time it does not seem very helpful for me to pontificate on what may or may not be written in his clothing designs, so I will say no more.

    As to Tanaka, I must own that I have indeed not looked up a single one of his publications on the subject, but that is because I live in seclusion far from the ignoble strife of universities and libraries, and have access only to my few poor books and the great electronic portal over which we imperfectly communicate.

  22. Anyways, Andrew! Thanks to the encouragement of your challenge I've learned a lot. Try placing the two words tiraz and Ilkhan together in the schmoogle box and just see what pops up! I've learned that the great expert on Tiraz was or is Ernst Kühnel.

    "Ernst Kuhnel, to whom we owe the most important studies of tiraz, rightly describes the group, most examples of which are preserved (the Fatimid tiraz), as an art form 'in which calligrapher and weaver sometimes seem to compete to make the deciphering of the decorative borders as difficult as possible.' Whoever has tried to read the Yemeni fabrics in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts will agree with him!"

    Quoted from this page.

    It would be really fantastic to find out if it's possible the Ilkhans adapted the Middle Eastern/ Mediterranean tiraz to include inscriptions in Phagspa in place of Arabic! In any case, the experience of the researchers about the Arabic fabric inscriptions could warn us that just because the P'agspa isn't [immediately] possible to read doesn't mean it necessarily isn't P'agspa.

  23. Another note: I just found and read an extremely relevant chapter "Oriental Script in Italian Painting," contained in Rosamond E. Mack, Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade & Italian Art, 1300-1600, University of California Press (Berkeley 2002), pp. 51-71.

    It's possible to read the whole thing at Googlebooks.

  24. Very interesting. It seems to me much more plausible that Giotto was influenced by, or copied directly from, tiraz fabrics brought to Italy by travelers or merchants, rather than seeing some unknown and unreadable writing on banknotes or paizi, and then deciding to use them as the basis for designs on the borders of clothing he was painting.

    If tiraz fabrics were the source of Giotto's designs then the putative inscriptions in Phags-pa and other scripts would have been implanted into the fabrics by the designers of the fabrics, far from Italy, and so Giotto's depictions would be second-hand copies of the original script. Given the corrupt Phags-pa letterforms we see on some of the Mongolic coins, I can imagine that any fabric designs incorporating Phags-pa text produced by the Ilkhans would also be imperfect, and combined with the calligraphic distortion and weaving process, the resultant Phags-pa writing may not be easily readable; and the blind recopying by Giotto would add further distortion and corruption, so that in the end feeble-sighted pedants such as myself would fail to recognise what is written in Giotto's designs.

  25. Dear Andrew,

    I think you're entirely (that means 100%) right. Recently I found a lead to some information about these very kinds of Islamic fabrics making their way into Tibet in the period in question. Thanks to Valrae Reynolds for putting me on the right track. There is more of interest to discover, that's for sure.


  26. Here's a ref. to the study I was just alluding to. It's Anne E. Wardwell, Two Silk and Gold Textiles of the Early Mongol Period, The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, vol. 79, no. 10 (December 1992), pp. 354-378. Yes, it's at JSTOR. Perhaps I don't need to say that you had better have your institutional subscription paid up if you want to see it there.

    The two textiles, both with their modern find-spots located inside Tibet, can also be seen at the website of the museum. You can see one of them with some nice details here.

    The other one, which is actually more interesting since it has a lettered border (described as pseudo-Arabic), is actually there on the same museum website, but for some reason I can't make a direct link. It will be easier to get to it at this other website. Sorry the photo there is not such a fine one (you can see it much better on the museum site or in the article).

    What's the significance of these two chunks of silk? They are very likely 'imperial' gifts to Tibetan lamas of the late 13th century or so. Wardwell's article goes into this in some detail. Very much worth reading.

    Ciao for now!

  27. Here's a reference to a journal article that is not only interesting for its content, but even interesting for its very existence. I'm not personally surprised to see that Buddhism is a significant subject for interest in the modern Islamic world. But I recognize that it is unexpected in some quarters.

    Farooq Hassan, A Comparative Approach to Common Ground between Buddhism and Islam. European Journal of Scientific Research, vol. 71, no. 4 (2012), pp. 514-519.

    It may be possible to get it for free on the internet. See if THIS works for you. The same journal issue has another brief essay by the same author entitled "Islam and Buddhism in Past and Present as a Path to Peace in Asia." Here the author, a teacher in a Humanities department in Karachi, asks whether Muslims might not consider Buddha to be a prophet! And he argues that he was not the first to entertain this idea...

  28. Hello and many many thanks

    A mere amateur in history of Tibet and especially the Drukpa (Dragon) lineage, I am very interested in this discussion because there is a saying, tracing back at least to Padma Karpo's history of the lineage (in his Chos byung), that the Drukpa lineage spread to Afganistan and Turkestan already from the time of its earlier flourishing in the 13th century. One day, the Tibetan great historian Tashi Tsering (Amnye Machen Institute, Dharamsala) asked me to elucidate that, so his remark made me sensitive to the issue.
    These days, I happen to explore bits and peivces of Drubthob Orgyenpa's life, one of the great disciples of Gyalwa Gotsangpa, himself one of the great disciples of Drogon Tsangpa Gyare, the first Gyalwang Drukpa, incanration of Naropa and recipient of Phamo Drubpa lineage (the one sponsored by Helugu?)
    Drubthop Orgyenpa came to Oddyana around 1250 (hence his name "Orgyenpa") on a several years eventful trip. Successful trip --he received a transmission directly from the Queen of Dakinis Vajrayogini in Oddiyana, and then back to Tibet was regarded later as the founder of one of the famous "Eight Practice Lineages", although he essentially kept spreading the Drukpa lineage. Now, the interesting thing is that on the way back (and forth) through Kashmir and Oddiyana, he stopped in Ladakh, a crossroad between Tibet, Central Asia and the Muslim world, at the request of the king Lhachen Dekyim (a Kashmiri, according to Padma Karpo Chosjung: p. 598 of the Darjeeing edition). He came again in the 1270s to Ladakh, again invited by the king, where he restored Buddhism sacked by "Hor" (Turks, I beleive, not Mongols). rodained about 700 monks, etc. He was the Guru of the king of Ladakh for several years and the king was ready to become a monk under his guidance. Later in his life, Drubthop Orgyenpa saved the Karma Kagyud Lineage from extinction (Karma Pakshi, the 2nd Karmapa had no follwer able to realize what he had realized, so he called Orgyenpa before passing away).
    Back to the Middle East and this post and its "missing prophets", I am personally suspecting Orgyenpa to be the one who can be credited with spreading the Drukpa lineage towards Pakistan and Afganistan (Oddiyana) so why not further. You may like to read his biography (not yet fully translated anywhere), or a few extracts related to the Western Himalayas, translated by Roberto Vitali in his Chronicles of Guge Purang (The Kingdom of Pu.hrang according to mNga'.ris rgyal.rabs by mkhan.chen Ngag.dbang, 1996) and other papers like his 2005 - Some Conjectures on Change and Instability during the One Hundred Years of Darkness in the History of Ladakh (1280s-1380s). Ladakh Histories, Bray ed., reprint 2011, LTWA, Dharamsala, pp 97-124.
    While I disagree with Vitali's saying that it was the Tod Hor (Western Mongols) who destroyed Buddhism in Ladakh in the 1260s (and your post and its treasure of reference support my doubt), I must express great gratitude to him for bringing to light the incredible influence of the Dragons in the Western Himalayas in the 13th century. This has been quite eclisped by the profusion of writings on Drikungpa and Gelugpas, and it is mostly the local tradition of Ladakh that helps find hints for completing the yogic puzzle (Drukpa yogis never felt concerned with having their names in books, chronicles... and forget about having them known on the net!).
    I hope and am confident there will be some more light about the whole story coming up for the next and Fourth Annual Drukpa Council, organized at the royal monastery of Hemis, Ladakh, end of October 2012. There is so much to investigate... For example, the connection with Naropa, locally believed to be a Kashimri, with many places throughout Ladakh connected to him (he is not only the spiritual forefather of the Drukpa lineage --80% of the Ladakhis are Drukpa--, he reincarnated in Tibet to found the Drukpa Lineage)...
    In short... Thank you Martin, I'll visit again!

  29. Dear Anon.,

    You're right that I haven't given the Drukpa much attention in this regard. I'd like to think I have a grip on the sources (Red Annals and Great Fifth) that tell us which Mongol ruler was patron of which Kagyu school, but about all I know is what I learned from Elliot Sperling's paper "Hülegü and Tibet" (AOH 1990). Check the distance on a map and I think you'll be convinced that it's a considerable difference between [1] traveling to Afghanistan and [2] making it all the way across Iran to the place we're concerned about here, Tabriz. I mean, for a Tibetan to be that far from home in those days would have been doubly impressive than just going to Afghanistan, and I even fear that the possibility of them getting all the way there and then back to Tibet in one piece would have been rather slim... But possible for people with miraculous powers, why not?

    In Ladakh the past importance of the Drigungpa has been covered up (Linrothe discovered a 'hidden' walled-up chapel with early Drigungpa paintings, for one clear example). And for the Drugpas, I wonder if you've seen the biographies of Orgyanpa and Götsangpa at the "Treasury of Lives" website? I have some plan to say more about Götsangpa soon. His biography (well, along with Chödingpa's) is one of the most amazingly detailed such works from early times. Do you know anyone who's read it all? Anyway, there is quite a lot of biographical material about those Drugpa travelers, and I'm happy to hear that someone is going into it in some depth, if I understand you correctly.

    Well, it's been nice chatting, but better go do some work. Thanks for writing.


  30. N.J.,

    Send me an email address in the comment box (I won't post it) & I'll try to help with those bibliographical questions.


  31. Dear Dan,

    Yes, you're right, he did not go to Iran, anyway. I was just excited by the whole post and by what I came to learn in his biography. But he got followers and devotees on his trip to Afghanistan, so that may help... uh? No need to fly...

    There are 13 different known biographies of Gyalwa Gotsangpa, none of them transalted yet, though the most extensive one (more than 400 pages) is being currently translated, I am told. I read bits of pieces of 3-4 of them when I was doing some ...hummm research on Lahaul (Garsha), and they all brought tears to my eyes. Such a pure yogi, such a hero!!! I was especially moved by the short one written by Orgyenpa, which is a condensed poetic text (available at LTWA. the full ref. is Orgyenpa (Sde snod ’Dzin pa Rin chen dpal, 1230-1309) - Rgyal ba Rgod tshang pa’i rnam thar gnad sdud pa’i sgron me, Rwa lung dkar brgyud gser phreng, vol 1, Reproduced from a rare manuscript set preserved a Rtan-mGo Monastery in Bhutan, Tango Monastery, Delhi, 1982), and by the one that focuses on his legendary 12 pledges (published by the Bon Centre near Shimla, found at a friend's house in Kullu. HP).
    Actually, Dan, he made me feel like going back to practice, not to the computer!

    Well you may like to know that the collective and pionneer work on Lahaul / Garsha (today Himachal Pradesh) was published by the Young Drukpa Association of Garsha last year (August 2011), under the title "Garsha, Heart Land of the Dakinis - a Mirror into Lahaul Sacred Time and Space". You can find it here:

    Drubthob Orgyenpa spent 6 months there and called that valley "Garsha Khandroling" --this title was confirmed many times after him. Garsha/Lahul is one of the 24 power places of Heruka, known both to Buddhists (Tibetan yogis go there since Gotsangpa, it is known to them as Maru, the site mentioned in Chakrasamvara litterature for the Feet or Big Toe of the Vajra kaya) and to Shaivaist in the 9th century (as Lahula, according to their own tantras, as mentioned by Abhinavagupta). One of the interesting faces of Garsha is that it is still a lively Buddhist tantric land, and its Buddhist hisotry is 2000 years old.

    Please, please, do write on Gyalwa Gotsangpa.

    Thank you again for your work and wonderful sense of sharing. Now I go back to work!

  32. parenda is bird. "wrong transliteration "
    When about a person, then that person is alikened to a bird who is free and spiritually always inflight...

  33. Dear Anon.,

    You're very likely right. Looking on the internet, it seems that parinda is the more usual way to spell the Urdu word for bird. I don't find it in my Hindi dictionary, which doesn't need to mean much. Thanks for writing. Keep on flying, Mukta Parinda.


  34. At long last, I could read this illuminating article! Devin DeWeese, “ ’Alā’ al-Dawla Simnānī's Religious Encounters at the Mongol Court near Tabriz,” contained in: Politics, Patronage & the Transmission of Knowledge in 13th-15th Century Tabriz, Brill (Leiden 2014), pp. 34-76. In an autobiographical account written in 1322, Simnânî makes explicit the countries of origin of the teachers known as Bakhshîs: "India, Kashmir, Tibet and the Uyghur country" (p. 49). Name given as Paranda Bakhsh¥, it is interpreted as a mere epithet meaning 'the Flying Bakhshî.' (p. 63 - but note the story of how the birds would come to eat grain from his chest at pp. 66-67). This monk of "Somnath" who had undergone 40 years of meditative seclusion, interceded to save the life (or rather forestall the execution) of Simnânî's uncle, which surely could have had something to do with their warming friendship. D.D. doesn't find the presence of Tibetan monks in Tabriz all that surprising (p. 72). Overall the idea that Simnânî was very knowledgeable in Buddhism, or very deeply influenced by it, is somewhat dimmed, but anyway I recommend it very highly.


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