Saturday, June 13, 2015

Remarkable Re-Appearances of Vanished Books

In earlier days in Tibet there were and yes, in our day there still are, people called tertöns who bring to light texts that may have been hidden for many centuries. Long-hidden Tibetan texts are still popping up from time to time, with or without their help. Today I’d like to draw your attention to two of them. Both of their titles have long been known in the literature, with references to them here and there, although the literary content has not been revealed to the world at large (or was available only in the form of quotes, or incorporations into larger works of other authors). That is, until now. The revelation itself has already taken place, I’m just here to reveal the revelation.

I’m sure any real Tibetologists worth their salt would get impatient, shove my shoulder and say, “Get out of here!” But I’m telling you the complete gospel truth when I say that Manlung Guru’s itinerary text is now available to everyone with a data connection in the form of a complete manuscript in 14 folios containing five chapters.

Why is this particular work all that important? If you ask me, it is because it shows Tibetans could be (as they today most certainly are) prone to become world travelers, with a curiosity about the world at large that is often denied them by the pundits. (Yes, Tibet did indeed have his Marco Polos and his Mandevilles dating from the very same era as Manlung Guru.) It tells, too, about early Tibetan geographical conceptions that are still today too little studied and scarcely understood. How did Tibetans locate and comprehend their place in the world?

Tibetan Buddhism Research Center, without the least bit of fanfare, put the manuscript up on their website a few weeks ago. To know this truth for yourself, all you have to do is go to the TBRC website and use their native search facility to look for the following title: Man lung gu ru'i lam yig (or མན་ལུང་གུ་རུའི་ལམ་ཡིག). I’d gladly do this for you, but I think you could use the exercise.*  (*If you haven't signed up with TBRC yet, you may be limited to "sample" access only; but anyway, give it a try. You ought to be able to view at least some of the pages of it.)

Manlung Guru from upper corner of 
a Lhamo Thangka found at HAR

Manlung Guru was one of a very few Tibetans of pre-modern times who knew firsthand what life could be like in Padampa's (likely) native land of Andhra in South India. Even fewer Tibetans had verses of praise written in their honor by an Indian poet, verses that in this case even ended up in the Tanjur collection. Manlung Guru was a great master of the Kâlacakra teachings, and a few bits of these teachings can still be located with some effort.

The Blue Annals — translated by George Roerich, et al., pp. 790-791 — has about the only information you will find in English, even if it doesn’t amount to much. To make its short account even shorter, it says he was born in 1239 and in 1300 took a vow, at the site of Buddha's attainment of Buddhahood at Bodhgaya, not to take more than a grain of rice and a drop of water a day until he would receive a prophecy. On day twelve somebody dumped water on his head, but he scarcely even noticed. On the 18th day the Mahabodhi image spoke to him telling him to go to Mount Potala, the residence of Avalokiteshvara. So he headed south ending up at Dhanyakataka in South India. While there he got an acacia wood splinter in his foot that bled a lot. Not that he suffered, just the contrary, it provoked his experience of the Ultimate Bliss. Then, dressed like an Indian yogi, he crossed over the surface of the ocean as if it were solid ground and continued on his way to the Potala.

If you want to know more about the amazing Manlung Guru, and what his travel book was about, I will send you to a few places on the internet. The first thing you ought to look at is a page from an article by John Newman. I searched, but found there is no biography of Manlung Guru at the site known as Treasury of Lives — not yet at least, although you can find a whole lot of other lives there, so his absence is unexpected. There are some fascinating notes from some biography of him at this page at TBRC. It looks like you are going to have to deal with this not-so-clear biography, also supplied by TBRC, and available nowhere else. It was written by one Bsod-nams-bzang-po, a direct disciple of his, so its value as a historical source can hardly be doubted. But once you get a look at it, you just sigh and wish it could have been a little easier to read.  The Itinerary itself is mostly, to the contrary, in the beautifully clear cursive you see here:

The left end of the first folio.  You can see the title floating above the first line.  It reads:
Man-lung Gu-ru'i Lam-yig bzhugs-so.  If you find you have trouble making out the script,
perhaps you would like to Take the Cursive Test?  
Sometimes his name takes the form Sman-lung-pa Bsod-nams-dpal, 
or Sman-lung Shâkya-'od or the like.
Oh, I almost forgot my promise to mention the second text that just popped up unexpectedly. It appears that the known sources on its existence go back no further than the list of histories toward the beginning of the Amdo History (Mdo-smad Chos-'byung) dated 1865.  E. Gene Smith definitely had it on his priority list of texts that ought to be located. The text in question is a history of the Kadampa school — composed by a Gelugpa teacher by the name of Panchen Yeshé Tsemo (པཎ་ཆེན་ཡེ་ཤེས་རྩེ་མོ་), who was born in 1433 — a work composed in around 1495 or so. I’m not 100% sure about it, since I’ve only seen it in a book catalogue, and have never held the book in either one of my hands, but I think we are allowed to say this: A much-wanted Kadampa history that has been rumored to exist for many decades is now made available to the  modern world for the first time ever. 

So, with all that good news coming your way, I hope you’re happy. I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings. And I won’t be, not today.

(*This work, under the title Bka'-gdams Chos-'byung, was listed in Dan Martin's Tibetan Histories [London 1997], no. 149, where it is described as unavailable.  The title as it actually occurs in the book catalog is:  Pan-chen Ye-shes-rtse-mo'i Bka'-gdams Chos-'byung dang Rnam-thar.  A few more details may be found out by checking this link that takes you [fair warning!] to a book selling site.)

Remains of the ancient Dhanyakataka Stupa that 
Manlung Guru visited, in Andhra Pradesh, India


Now that I think of it, I forgot to say more about those verses of praise a South Indian poet composed in Manlung Guru’s honour. Let me go check my notes. Here you go.

Vimalaśrī, Paramagurupuṇyaśrī-nāma-stotra (Bla ma dam pa bsod nams dpal zhes bya ba la bstod pa).  Tôhoku catalogue no. 3729.  Dergé Tanjur, volume TSHU, folios 113v.4‑114r.4.  Translated by Gotamabhadra and Grags-pa-byang-chub.  

Here is what the colophon of the Dergé woodblock printed version says:  

rgya gar lho phyogs kyi yul dpal ldan 'bras kyi spung po zhes bya ba'i mchod rten bzhugs pa'i gnas der bla ma man lungs pa'i sku gsung thugs kyi spyod pa rlabs po che / byang chub sems dpa'i rnam par thar pa dang cha mthun pa la mos pa'i paṇḍi ta bi ma la shrī zhes bya ba mkhas shing btsun pa des tshigs su bcad pa 'dis bstod pa'o //  dpal ldan man lungs kyi gtsug lag khang chen por paṇḍi ta go ta ma bha dra dang / lo tsā ba grags pa byang chub gnyis kyis bsgyur ba'o.  
རྒྱ་གར་ལྷོ་ཕྱོགས་ཀྱི་ཡུལ་དཔལ་ལྡན་འབྲས་ཀྱི་སྤུང་པོ་ཞེས་བྱ་བའི་མཆོད་རྟེན་བཞུགས་པའི་གནས་དེར་བླ་མ་མན་ལུངས་པའི་སྐུ་གསུང་ཐུགས་ཀྱི་སྤྱོད་པ་རླབས་པོ་ཆེ།  བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའི་རྣམ་པར་ཐར་པ་དང་ཆ་མཐུན་པ་ལ་མོས་པའི་པཎྜི་ཏ་བི་མ་ལ་ཤྲཱི་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་མཁས་ཤིང་བཙུན་པ་དེས་ཚིགས་སུ་བཅད་པ་འདིས་བསྟོད་པའོ།།  དཔལ་ལྡན་མན་ལུངས་ཀྱི་གཙུག་ལག་ཁང་ཆེན་པོར་པཎྜི་ཏ་གོ་ཏ་མ་བྷ་དྲ་དང་།  ལོ་ཙཱ་བ་གྲགས་པ་བྱང་ཆུབ་གཉིས་ཀྱིས་བསྒྱུར་བའོ།། 

Notice the mentionings here of Gautamabhadra,* Manlung Guru and Drepung (“'Bras-kyi spung-po” meaning Dhanyakataka) Chorten. I don’t believe this poetic work has ever been translated. Why don’t you give it a try?
(*I think he's the same as the person known elsewhere as Gautamaśrī or Gautamaśrībhadra.)

§  §  §


“Lamas also speak of other guidebooks to Shambhala, but they are difficult to find and may no longer exist. In a Preface to his version of the journey, the Panchen Lama mentions a guidebook written by a certain Menlung Lama. According to the Panchen Lama's summary of it, it describes a route that leads from western Tibet northward through the region of the upper Hor and the Sog—probably Mongol and Uighur peoples of the Tarim Basin...”
—Edwin Bernbaum, The Way to Shambhala
Anchor Books (Garden City 1980), p. 182.

=  =  =

For the still-impressive classic study on Manlung Guru, see Ariane Macdonald, “Le Dhānyakaaka de Man-lus Guru,” Bulletin de l'École Française d'Extrême‑Orient, vol. 57 (1970), pp. 169-213.  For a PDF, tap here.

For studies on a few more recent Tibetan works on the geography of the world, see these writings in particular if you haven’t yet:

Matthew Kapstein, “Just Where on Jambudvîpa Are We? New Geographical Knowledge and Old Cosmological Schemes in Eighteenth-Century Tibet,” contained in: Sheldon Pollock, ed., Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern Asia, Duke University Press (Durham 2011), pp. 336-364. 
Tenzin Dawoe, “Research on the Monk Who Wrote a World Geography,” The Tibet Post International.  Available online here.   

PPS.  It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that Manlung Guru was headed for a place called Potala somewhere off the southern coast of India. The Potala Palace in Tibet is the one best known to people today, no doubt about it, but that palace was named after the Potala on an island, more likely the original one in south India, rather than the substitute one off the coast of China. Besides, in the time of Manlung Guru the Potala Palace had not yet been built on Marpori above the city of Lhasa. Perhaps there was a cave and a smallish temple there, but neither one had the name Potala.


  1. It is heartening to see that others from Tibet attempted to deepen their understanding of the subcontinent.

  2. Dear S.P.,

    I've been told by certain Tibetans that inquisitiveness, curiosity and 'discovery' are unTibetan concepts. This is untrue, I'd say, since there are clear cases to the contrary throughout Tibetan history. Another takeaway from this blog is, I think, that the old days when a person could claim to possess a text for their own translation or study (as their own personal 'discovery' for which they will receive all the glory), and that other people have to keep their hands off, are already in the past. That idea was always offensive, I think, since who do these Tibetan texts belong to, after all, Academics? (Well, for most part, not!) Well, I guess it's true that some Germans still need to do their dissertation research based on 'untouched' texts, but in this case it's the academy that has got to change. I think it represents an imperialist (and/or egoistical) attempt to gain control of resources, actually. Better if Tibetans and Tibetanists will keep the sources and the discussions about them open to all. The people at TBRC have done more than anyone else to change those possessive attitudes and to keep things open. They don't get enough praise for this.

  3. I wanted to add that the long-unavailable Kadampa history finally came into my hands just today. It is now possible to say that it dates to the year 1484. The colophon gives the Wood Dragon year 503 years after the arrival in the world of the Jo-bo Rje Lha-gcig (that means Atisha).

  4. Iuchi Maho, "The Bka' gdams chos 'byung Genre and the Newly Published Ye shes rtse mo's Bka' gdams chos 'byung," contained in: I. Iwao and T. Ikeda, eds., The Historical Development of Tibeto-Himalayan Civilization (2018), pp. 337-356. You may be able to locate a PDF at


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