Saturday, October 03, 2015

The Padampa Diet Plan


Given the richness of detail in the literature contained in the Zhijé Collection, I have sometimes found myself inclined to mine it for topics that might be unexpected in your usual accounts of early Tibetan Buddhism, topics that include some modern-seeming sorts of concerns such as ethnicity, women's rights and potentials, ecology, portraiture, psychology and the like. That does not mean that I’m eager to judge (and likely condemn) the past from a modernist perspective, more that I find those modern ideas aren't so modern after all, that they were showing up already in an earlier time and another place (it may seem a subtle point, but not really). And, this does not mean I am disinterested in the spirituality (if I may use that term — I think I may and in any case will). I’m very much interested in the practices, the meditations, and the techniques of spiritual guidance and mentoring. I’ve written about those, too, and not just here in Tibeto-logic.

At the same time I’ve had the idea to look into matters that are economic in nature, specifically problems of patronage as well as food and clothing. Today I plan to leave the clothing aside and restrict myself to a few words on the problem of eating and food supply — crop growing, procurement, storage, food preparation, meals, dietary ideas — for the community that formed at Tingri Langkhor, touching on the problem of patronage. I want to ask a lot of questions, but doubt any will be answered to anyone’s satisfaction. Oh, and housing, what about that? Were there buildings there in Padampa’s day? What were they made of?

Has anyone thought to ask if Tingri Langkhor had any gardens? I have to admit that this hadn’t occurred to me before, either, until just now. I’m not sure if there is even sufficient source material to look into the question. Still one wonders if all of their food needs were met by their patrons or not. That there were patrons is beyond doubt, including as we will see at least two who belonged to royal families. I think we may assume these royal bloods were wealthy by the standards of the day. I’m not at all surprised if patronage is not often directly discussed in the Zhijé Collection (ZC). This is in line with Phadampa’s own advice to his fellow meditators, to renounce all concerns about food. clothing and shelter. Then, according to him, as a byproduct of this full renunciation, all those incidental needs will be sufficiently met without purposefully attending to them. The quotes that follow are typical of his statements in that area (remember that tsampa is roasted barley flour, main staple of the Tibetan diet):

As a symbolic way of saying that, in the phase of ascetic practices, service provided by others is a detriment
— He pared down his food and clothing to the bare necessities and did not deliberately look for them.  (ZC II 143)

As a symbolic way of telling how it is suffering that pulls us by the nose down the path of comfort [Padampa said]

— “The person that didn’t do the work doesn’t get the pay. If the uncourageous Tibetans could only make themselves naked, bolts of silk, balls of wool and tsampa would rain down from the sky.” (II 147)

Of course, one way food might come to you, apart from generous donors of course, is by gathering uncultivated plants yourself. The Zhijé History (ca. 1210 CE) that is included in the Zhijé Collection (scribed in ca. 1245) has a passage about Padampa's first days in Tingri, when the group was in its initial stages of formation. I guess I ought to try and translate it, but in a quick and provisional way.*
(*Well, to speak truthfully it has its tricky points, and I take liberties to reword a little according to my own lights instead of striving for the academic word-for-word).

“He made a vow to perform for thirteen years the practices of the Great Hero Benefitting Others, as part of his propitiation of Zhingkyema. He was dwelling undetected by people in a thicket of khenpa making his meals of droma and khurmang.  There are sayings that when something is kept secret the talk of it gets louder, what is hidden appears in plain daylight, it is in the shadows that people gather together, where gold lies under the ground its light rises into the sky,  or when a nutritive element is absorbed within its effects are quickly manifested externally.
“In like manner people from all over Nyima Latö flocked around him and all the spiritually endowed Tibetans of the Four Horns gathered there. But while Dampa himself made a miraculous display here and there he did so without speaking a word of Dharma. It is even said that a few who were jealous of him appeared and called him an outsider Tîrthika, a non-Buddhist.
“In those days the first one to personally encounter him was Coro Nyönpa.  The Lama's blessings entered into him, so when he returned to his home in the pasturelands he went as a trulzhig. He was such a trulzhig they say he couldn't even recognize his own mother.*
(*I don't translate trulzhig here, because it's a little difficult. Rather like majnun in Sufism, it's for persons who have for all intents and purposes lost their minds, in the sense that they no longer respect social conventions and even lose contact with their surroundings. In this case, the person's name can be interpreted as 'man of Choro who has gone insane.' The Blue Annals [reference below] spells his name differently and adds the interesting information that his biography could then — in the 1940's — be found in the form of a manuscript in Tibet.)
“A little later he was seen by Logkya Ralpacan. The Lama's blessings awakened in him such a trance that he no longer needed food or clothing. And even though he had never learned the alphabet (ka-kha), he became one able to answer every conceivable question about Dharma.
“Still later, when Dro Da'ö encountered him, the blessings entered into him such that he became free of all the eight worldly dharmas, not knowing the difference between happiness and discontent, and not holding to the true existence of any of the qualities of apparent existence. 
“Later Sumpa Khutsab saw him, and both day and night a light shown around him that darkness could not obscure, something everyone found amazing.  And besides these, it is said that many other such trulzhigs appeared. 
“The first to build a building there was Lama Charchen. He, being a son of the ruler Tsedé, had come to subdue the land for the royal capital, so his arrival was an auspicious one. 
“The first one to receive at his hands substances of interdependence was Tsugmoza Gendunkyi, and after her there were a few more minor incidents of people receiving substances of interdependence, after which they would have many realizations of truth. 
“The first to offer food out of veneration was was the Lord Tripa. Because of him their needs for livelihood were met and nobody needed do farming (so-nam) or go out and seek food in other ways.  
“The first who received his precepts was Lama Charchung, but after him many ‘son disciples’ (u-chen, =dbu-chen) arrived.   
“While there were many son disciples there was no other with such accomplished understanding of the interdependent signs that epitomize the meaning transmission of the Perfection of Wisdom apart from the Bodhisattva Kunga...”*
(*Kunga was for many reasons Padampa's most prominent disciple, and it's interesting to note that he was himself a farmer before he came to join Padampa's community, becoming the Indian master's main interpreter. I recommend reading the English translation by Gendun Chöphel and George Roerich, of the same passage in the Blue Annals, pp. 912-913. I don't have time to go into arguments about the differences in understanding that you will find there, but I thought whoever bothers to look into this will find amusement by comparing. It's possible the one woman who is mentioned here was in fact a nun, as our earlier translators call her, not because there is any word there for 'nun' [there isn't], but because it was very uncommon for women in those days to have a name-in-religion such as hers unless they had been ordained. But at the same time the element "za" (or བཟའ་) added to her clan name suggests she was a married woman. So I leave her name as it is and make no judgements about her possible ordination status. Well, there is more to discuss in the passage, but for now I will leave it at this.)

This longish passage makes it explicit that the viability of this community of meditators relied, in the first place, on generous donations of building[s] and food by two persons of royal descent. But let’s look at what it was that Padampa was eating to begin with. First of all, I doubt he was making a soup or anything else out of the khenpa; he was just staying in a patch of it. Khenpa is the alpine tansy, or Tanacetum nubigenum.* It’s known to be used in Tibetan medicine. Since it has woody stems, you might say it is bush-like, with lots of nice daisy-like flowers, which could provide not only a pleasing aroma but also shade and a shield from passing strangers. Not only that, I’m intrigued to discover just now that khenpa contains chemical components that have been tested for insect repelling properties, and this could be another plus for a meditator who doesn’t want to be bugged by anyone or anything. 
(*But now I've changed my mind on the identification of མཁན་པ་.  See the next blog, here.)

Secondly, droma (དྲོ་མ་ is better spelled གྲོ་མ་) does not mean “peas” regardless of what the Blue Annals translation says.  It is a tuber, the edible part growing underground. Peas grow above ground in pods in the unlikely case you need that information. They may resemble peas somewhat since the tubers tend to be small and roundish. Many Tibetans have a special fondness for them, especially since they can’t find them in other parts of the world. Or can they? Actually, I've seen it identified not only as Potentilla peduncularis, but also as Potentilla pacifica. I’ll send you off to a special discussion precisely on this wild food plant by the “mushroamer” Daniel Winkler. Just try looking here and then scroll past the astounding rhubarb plants until you almost reach the end of the page.  The eating of silverweed root, another name for it, is well known among the indigenous peoples of the northwest coastal area of North America. Tibetans living in the Seattle and Vancouver area should take note.

Pontentilla anserina

Thirdly, the easiest one, or at least the most ubiquitous, is the khurmang (ཁུར་མངས་). This is that most-cursed scourge of American lawn growers that suffers the constant depredations of angry Americans’ lawn mowers. I mean, of course, the ‘tooth of the lion,’ the dandelion, Taraxacum officinalis. As everyone I know is aware, the greens of the plant are quite good if picked in the spring before the flower buds start to form. Just to hear the word dandelion brings back fond memories of how as a child I used to pick their yellow flowers by the basketful because a neighbor, who was probably going to make wine from them, would pay me a few precious pennies for several hours work.

So, to sum up a bit, we can say that Padampa started out his homeless meditation retreat by gathering and eating wild scavenged food, and later on as people gathered around him, the food, as well as the first shelter, was supplied by generous support from a couple of wealthy people who regarded him as their teacher. For the first phase, we are reminded of Milarepa’s years of meditation in solitude when he lived almost entirely from nettle soup, so much that many believe he needs to be depicted in paintings with green colored skin. I can tell you that I’ve been having nettles for months now (it helps with a couple of my minor health complaints), and have detected not even the slightest change in my skin color, but of course I am not on a nettles-only diet.*
(*The very earliest separately titled account of Milarepa's life was written by his direct disciple Gampopa, and already there we can find these words [from Quintman, p. 192]: “The lama [Milarepa] had no provisions and used nettles for food, so he turned green. His cooking pot, bowl, and ladle also turned green." The Jesuit Desideri, the first European to take notice of Milarepa, although he forgot to give his name, said, "He wore no clothes to shield him from the bitter cold... He slept on the bare ground and his food was a handful of nettles, fresh or dried and boiled in water."  Quintman, p. 11.)

So anyway, a few years ago I was surprised to learn that the diets of early renunciates has already formed a significant topic for modern researchers in a very different area of the world. I’ve listed below some of the main studies — there are not so many of them — about the food-ways of Christian renunciates in the Judaean Desert, and particularly the ones known as ‘grazers’ (boskoi). Naturally, there is a lot more literature about their prayers and meditations, their views about theology, their saintly deeds and so on. Some desert fathers and mothers lived their whole lives as grazers, but many more renunciates would go off on solitary trips into the desert to live of the land for about a month each year during the Lent season. 

And what did grazers eat? In 5th-century Judaean Desert the main wild food the monks collected was manouthion (see Heiska, p. 47). It was apparently a kind of thistle called the tumble thistle. Only the young shoots were really edible, but they could be dried for later use (apparently in soup), and it is said they could eat the large stalks after the tough outer skin was removed. They also ate malwa (saltbush, or Atriplex halimus) and the better known caper (Capparis spinosa). Wild onions, garlic and a tuber they called melagria, that has been identified as asphodel (Asphodelus macrocarpus) are also mentioned. Pythagoras enjoyed it.

Why bother with comparison? Simple answer: It helps you imagine different questions to ask of your historical sources, questions that might never occur to you otherwise. The Tingrian Buddhists and the Syriac Christians didn’t eat the same things — perhaps the melagria, being a starchy sweet tuber, could be compared to the droma, the potherbs with the potherbs — the point is just that they ate the edible plants that were abundant enough in their own rather difficult environments. At the same time the renunciates in the Syrian desert, like the early Tingrians, very much relied on the largesse of kings. The complex of Mar Saba, the most impressive of them all, is still active as a monastery to some degree. I  had often dreamt about it and finally had the good fortune to visit it just last spring, so I can share a few of my photos, below. Outside the walled complex, you can observe very many caves close by in the Kidron Valley. These made perfect meditation caves with easily available water supplies, solitary dwellings that yet were sufficiently close to allow for weekly meetings in the chapels. 

We have clear ideas how it was funded in its early days. Cyril of Scythopolis tells how after Mar Sabas’ (439-532 CE) father had died in Alexandria Sabas’ mother, Sophia, traveled to the Great Laura bringing along the family inheritance. When she died she left all of that wealth to the monastery. Much later in his life, and after the contemplative communities were beginning to flourish, Sabas traveled all the way to Constantinople, over 700 miles away. He went there to see the Emperor Anastasius famous for his two eyes being of different colors who, at the end of their first meeting, gave him a thousand gold coins called solidi. This fabulous amount he took back with him in support of the desert monasteries. 

Food foraging and royal support form parts of both stories, so to that degree, at least, the comparison is making sense. Now we ought to go on to compare their approaches to spiritual mentoring and the life of contemplation. That might make more sense. Meanwhile we may find ourselves in similar dilemmas. Should we be living off the land or relying on government grants? In the country or in the city? Which would better suit the life of contemplation? Does it have to matter? And finally, should I go on a diet? I think Padampa's diet plan would be no plan at all, just eat what comes to you, minimize your wants and trust that your needs will be met one way or another. I appreciate the optimism of it.

Mar Saba in its higher part

A desert flower along the way

Mar Saba overview from the opposite side of the Kidron Valley
(click to enlarge)

Interesting readings somehow connected with what was said before

Peter Brown, “Monastic Views of Work,” Biblical Archaeology Review vol. 42, no. 1 (January-February 2016), pp. 42-49.  The same theme for his forthcoming book Treasure in Heaven: The Holy Poor in Early Christianity, as well as this video. Unusually stark but therefore clear questions: Who foots the bill for the unemployed and poor? What is wealth and how does it pay?

Euell Gibbons, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, first published in 1962. Nowadays ecologically corrected children will hear with horror his account of actually picking wild plants, let alone eating them. But well, for the many who supposedly believe in natural foods these days what could be more natural? As a brother once told me, whoever said “Take only photographs, leave only footprints” was the kind of rich city slicker (his term) who sees the world outside town as nothing more than a weekend hike, not a place to live and make a living.

Nina Heiska, The Economy and Livelihoods of the Early Christian Monasteries in Palestine, Master of Arts Thesis, Institute for Cultural Studies, Archaeology at the University of Helsinki (November 2003). Especially interesting is section 6.4, “Gathering of Wild Plants.”

Yizhar Hirschfeld, “Edible Wild Plants: The Secret Diet of Monks in the Judaean Desert,” Israel, Land and Nature, vol. 16 (1990), pp. 25-28.

Yizhar Hirschfeld, “Spirituality in the Desert: Judaean Wilderness Monasteries,” Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 21, no. 5 (September 1995), pp. 28-37, 70.

Andrew Quintman, The Yogin & the Madman: Reading the Biographical Corpus of Tibet's Great Saint Milarepa, Columbia University Press (New York 2014).

Norman A. Rubin, “Byzantine Monasteries at the Edge of the Desert,” Anistoriton: History News, vol. 8 (March 2004), especially the last section, “Living off the Land.”  Available online here.

R. Rubin, “The Melagria: On Anchorites and Edible Roots in Judaean Desert,” Liber Annuus, vol. 52 (2002).  You can see the abstract and first page here.

Cyril of Scythopolis (ca. 525-559 CE),  The Lives of the Monks of Palestine, tr. by R.M. Price, Cistercian Publications (Kalamazoo 1991).

Alice-Mary Talbot, “Byzantine Monastic Horticulture: The Textual Evidence,” contained in: Antony Littlewood, Henry Maguire & Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, eds., Byzantine Garden Culture, Dumbarton Oaks (Washington D.C. 2002), pp. 37-67.

Francis V. Tiso, Rainbow Body and Resurrection:  Spiritual Attainment, the Dissolution of the Material Body, and the Case of Khenpo A Cho, a forthcoming book (in 2016?). This book has a remarkable thesis linking Syriac Christian (or more particularly the Messalian 'Contemplationist' current of the same) ideas about the Resurrection Body with Dzogchen ideas about the Rainbow Body. If true, this would directly link one major strand of Tibetan spiritual practice with the society of ascetics that peopled the Judaean Desert. Worth looking into, I think, especially if you think the thesis is impossible to believe.

John Wortley, “ ‘Grazers’ (Boskoi) in the Judaean Desert,” contained in: Joseph Patrich, ed., The Sabaite Heritage in the Orthodox Church from the Fifth Century to the Present, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, Peeters (Louvain 2001), pp. 38-48.

§  §  §

See also this blog entry from CityDesert entitled “Boskoi, the Grazing Hermits.” I enjoyed reading this one about the Dendrites, who haven’t received much attention (much less than the Stylites) from us ground dwellers. CityDesert is written by an anonymous Orthodox priest: “The author of this blog is a Priest of an Oriental Orthodox Church who lives and works in a city that is a desert. He lives in The Hermitage of St Cedd in an inner suburb of a large city.” Let’s see, a city that is a desert...  He must mean Phoenix.

If you have any doubts the amazing genius of Gendun Chöpel was most responsible for the translation of the Blue Annals, even while the name on the title page is that of George Roerich, see Benjamin Bogen & Hubert Decleer, “Who Was "This Evil Friend" ("the Dog," "the Fool," "the Tyrant") in Gedün Chöphel's Sad Song?” Tibet Journal, vol. 22, no. 3 (Autumn 1997), pp. 67‑78.

Wonder what Padampa would think about soylent? For your budding millennials I recommend Vlad Chituc, “The Moral Bankruptcy of Silicon Valley Asceticism.”

I picked today’s frontispiece precisely because it depicts Padampa as unusually corpulent. The woodblocks were carved by extremely skilled carvers in the 1950's. The trouble is a lot of retracing has been done over parts of these Prajñåparamitå miniatures that did not come out clearly in the xylographic process. This retracing is very much in evidence in the crudely depicted toes, so I am not sure how much weight ought to be given to the evidence you see here. Perhaps none. It does depict Padampa more in the style of the Zhijé Tradition, with his hands held in that mysterious gesture we’ve talked about before.

§  §  §
“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?  Behold the fowls of the air : for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”
 — Matthew 6:25-26; Luke 12:22-24


  1. Quick Question: Under the description for Tsugmoza Gendunkyi, what exactly are the "substances of interdependence?"


  2. Tendrel-gi dzey. Well, S.P., not surprised that you ask this. That's a difficult one to translate with all the deep associations. Tendrel means interpersonal connection, but also wider sense of interdependent connections that were there already at the causal level of coming into being. It also means like Jungian synchronicity (co-incidents, simultaneous occurrences), and include 'signs' of destiny or of other things... I think when you occasionally find this expression 'substances of interdependence' in early Zhijé sources it's exactly what other sources call damdzey ('commitment substance'), and this covers the large category of sacramental substances (even objects). What was this exactly in the ZC? It is never made clear there as far as I know. It is one of the many things it assumes you know (the ZC is an 'inhouse' work, for members only). Nowadays it would most likely be ritually-empowered pills. Today it's a practice for practically every Tibetan Rinpoche to give them. I don't know of any book that deals very well with this side of Tibetan Buddhism. You really need an insider view, and for this I think Norma Levine's book "Blessing Power of the Buddha" does well communicating in an understandable way, with a lot of personal anecdotes, which is good. The professors may scoff at this, but I say let them.
    You're already familiar with the 'interdependence bag' and 'interdependence house' in the Zhije Collection. When Padampa was ready to breathe his last, he handed on to Kunga his interdependence bag and a stone, the two most important objects... This tells you something about their very different ideas of what counts as valuable.

  3. Thanks for the interesting blog. As for the meaning of tendrel in this context, I see it along the lines of the idea of sympathetic magic ( There is another older alchemical term for this phenomenon, but it doesn't want to pop to my mind just now (like in the good old days). Perhaps while sipping a cup of tea later on.

    Initially Padampa may or may not have used « sympathetic magic » willingly as upāya (therapeutics), thereby integrating it into streamline Buddhism. But anyway, gradually, whilst becoming integrated in tradition, the upāya-therapeutical aspect was lost, and the rten 'brel gyi referred to genuin sympathetic magic. Without hardly any link left with the meaning of rten ‘brel as in e.g. rten brel gyi sngags (pratītyasamutpādamantra). IMHO.

    1. Interesting, H.A. Myself I'm not ready to make comparisons between western theories about the effectiveness of magic (or of ritual more broadly speaking) and Tibetan theories. Thinking about it just makes a jumble of my words and thinking (and we don't want that, do we?). But I do think that the sense of tendrel (so sympathetically connected to tendril!) in the ZC does have to do with meanings it does have still today, in areas of teacher-student relations and divination. I do allow myself to make the leap of thinking—a leap I know not everyone is eager to make— that it really does have to do with the interdependence of phenomena (at their time of causation) that the Buddha fully realized under the Bodhi tree. "This happens. This also happens." I don't see any need to integrate it into Buddhism when it was there all along. IMHO.
      In another matter, what's the deal with telling that *very* weird story about Zhama on your newest blog? I may have to write a blog myself, since there is little more than a hint that Padampa helped her (if and only if she is "Zha-chung-ma") with obstacles described simply as "faults in meditation" in the ZC. These elaborate stories seem to come from the Lamdre literature (Cyrus Stearns goes into them in impressive depth in 2 of his books [Luminous Lives, & Taking the Result as the Path] and comes to some conclusions about their value for history).

  4. S.P., Didn't you write a comment with a question about a possible Padampa picture in the book called "Buddha Scrolls"?
    I was going to try and answer it, but it disappeared.
    I can't answer it, really, because I haven't ever seen this book. You have perked my interest, however.
    Yours, D

  5. Yes. I attempted to post a comment. Arrrrgh ...! (Murmur, murmur, mutter ...!) >:-|

    Okay. Trying again. (Chuckle, chuckle.)

    Speaking of depictions, is there yet another sighting of Padampa? There is a publication called *The Buddha Scroll* by Ding Guanpeng, introduced by Thomas Cleary (Shambala Publications: Boston, Massachusetts). Described as a collection of Buddhist icons, does Figure #50, identified as "Marichi Bodhisattva," have Padampa as its support below? Is what the support holding in each of his hands, a stone?

    Many thanks for any answers and/or theories.

  6. S.P., I tried downloading a copy of the book with my Mac, but it failed since Mac can't deal with the PC file format. So at the moment it's not possible for me to see what you are talking about. -D

  7. I have neither the know-how nor the equipment to get the image to you. What to do ...?

    1. Checking in. Is there any hope for this?

    2. Hello S.P.! I guess you mean the Phadampa diet? No, there is no hope for the idea you can just eat any old stuff. You have to do away with empty calories, avoid the sugar, fizzy drinks and white starchy foods. Green is good, but red foods are better.

    3. Actually, I'm following up on your opinion on that image found in the publication called *The Buddha Scroll.* We're all ears, Professor ...!

  8. Hi Dan,
    You are right, there probably is a place somewhere for magical or supernatural tendrel in the big network of tendrel, but my honest bet (insofar bets can be honest) is that it has become o lot smaller in the last centuries and will become even smaller yet.

    As for the deal behind the telling that cocktail of political incorrectness about Zhama, we would have to ask our friend ‘Gos first, who wrote so nicely about Buddha nature. What was he thinking of ?! I didn’t recognise my Padampa, did you recognise yours ? Since you ask, I will try and explain, taking the risk of stating the obvious.

    A lot (of jumble ?) can be said about and derived from what is written here (Blue Annals, pp. 222-225) about Zhama, especially from my comfortable 21st century armchair (your « *very* weird » suggests to me that yours must be pretty comfy either ;-)). Other times other customs. First, this anecdote can be used as a reminder of the fact that Tantra is not nice, far from it. We could tend to forgot this, with all the attention given to mindfullness, love and compassion, vegetarianism, rights for animals etc. So those who would like to go for traditional tantrism ought to know what part of it they exactly want to go for.

    I don’t recognise my Padampa, and suspect this piece of « weird stuff » to be an apocrypha or pseudepigrapha, and not only because it suits me better that way. The follow-up question then would be who could have written it, when and why ? How come Padampa’s attitude towards women seems to have changed so much ? E.g. compare with his advice to the nun Düdsi gyi. And didn’t this strike ‘Gos too ? You point to Lamdre littérature and perhaps it was indeed one of ‘Gos lotsava’s sources. This anecdote reminds us that not everything attributed to Tibetan saints was said or written by them. And even if it were, not everything said or written by Tibetan (or Indian) saints ought to be followed mindlessly.

    I am also shocked by the fact that ‘Gos apparently is not. Not the slightest sign of indignation, or attempt of justification in his rendering. This seems to be orthodox behaviour for him. And perhaps it was in those days, like it probably was here. But then again, my armchair is really very comfortable. Ok there were no women rights in those days, and women were always the property of a man. But in this piece of « weird stuff », there is something more. This fact is rubbed into Zhama’s face by Padampa with a certain amount of abuse of power (my western jumble, still considered from my armchair), when they exchange about the initiation fee (dbang yon). She (or someone else through her and through this text) apparently needed to be reminded of it. If you look at the series of seven, this is the fault corresponding to the egg and the black liquid oozing from it. This is not crazy wisdom, this is sheer nastiness and misogyny. It’s perhaps also about showing an intelligent woman her place and reminding her she’s still a woman through « upāya » (having her shove an egg up her vagina). Perhaps, in theory, the difference between man and woman was slightly attenuated on the bodhisattva path, but, in practice, Tantra showed the mudrā where her real place was and what her real rights were…

    Where is Padampa’s wisdom in this anecdote ? Where did it all go ? All there seems to be left is upāya, with magical links between specific actions, specific results and *very* specific remedies. Perhaps that aspect has always been there in Buddhism, right from the moment of awakening under the Bodhi Tree, but here it seems to have taken an importance out of any proportions, and it doesn’t look good IMHO.

    Of course this is not about Padampa or Zhama, but about some clerc writing stuff, probably at a later time with a certain agenda. It will be hard and probably impossible to identify that clerc and kick his ass, but at least this sort of agenda could be exposed as something not wished for then, and even less now. Hey, that’s my agenda !


  9. OK, J, I think we're on the same page saying more or less the same thing, which isn't such a surprise after all.

    My main point would just be that the earliest sources, like the Kunga history of the 24 women disciples of Padampa (omitted from the recopied version in Blue Annals, p. 919, because it "was related above" meaning at p. 220 or so) do not have the black egg story. It reads like this in Cyrus Stearns' translation (Luminous Lives, pp. 239-240:

    "the 22nd was Lady Zha chung ma. She was a woman from Dman chu rgyab pa, a region to the east of Ding ri. She had seven brothers, beginning with Zha ma Ston pa. Because of her natural physical beauty she served the translator Rma ban Chos 'bar. She requested the entire initiations of the Lam 'bras from Pandita 'Gha yan dha ra (Gayadhara) and meditated. Then, after her faults in meditation were cleared away by Dam pa she reached attainment. When Dam pa died and his body was being cremated, she disguised herself as a woodcutter woman and left a bundle of firewood and an ounce of gold at the crematorium. On the road back she transformed into a pigeon and flew away. So it is said."

    But then as Cy goes on to say:

    "As will become obvious below, there are several points in the story that differ from that of the Lam 'bras tradition. The most significant differences are that she received the Lam 'bras from Gayadhara and that Pha dam pa removed her illnesses. Actually, she received the Lam 'bras from Se ston and, according to the Lam 'bras histories, it was Se ston who cured her chronic ailments."

    The way I read this evidence, the black egg associated with Padampa is based in confusions and in the sources of the early Zhijé and Lamdré both it tends to dissolve away (and become a less "interesting" story, actually) rather than gain solidity.

    But notice your Blue Annals (p. 220) story is retold by a more recent Lamdre historian translated in Cyrus' other book Taking the Result as the Path, p. 208 ff.

    I'd like to know the source of the black egg story. I can't identify it for the moment. I doubt the Blue Annals author created this elaborated story himself. He doesn't seem to stray very far from his source works most of the time.

    So anyway, it's all too complex and maddening to try and straighten it all out today (will give ref. to the Lo Bue article if you don't have it), but we should try again in the future, I think. Even if it's not a story correctly told about Padampa, that it came to be told about Padampa in later times is also of much interest to me these days.

    So instead of risking becoming bitter blog enemies, let's be best of friends, blood brothers, even (go ahead, you cut your finger first), and work together to search out truth against all odds, OK?


  10. Dear Dan,

    Thank you for the additional information. Whenever I see the name Gayadahara pop up, I know there will be trouble at t’mill . Everybody seemed to owe money to the holy man. Could this be the reason to Zhama’s debt (« little devotion to her teacher ») too ? Another possible telling detail is the fact that apparently Zhama had to disguise as a woodcutter woman in order to pay her last respects to Dampa. She couldn’t have simply turned up as Zhama ? Or perhaps women weren’t allowed there, only female servants ?

    The transformation into a pigeon is another popular (grong ‘jug) theme used by hagiographers to cover a time lapse. I read these hagiographic elements as symptoms. Obstacles occurring when a student is to receive instructions and then doesn’t receive them is another one, like in the case of Sa chen kun dga’ snying po, who then « had to » receive the transmission from Shang ston chos ‘bar, 1053-1135, born in Ding ri) instead of from Se ston Kun rig. Chos ‘bar received them from Se ston « who required that Chos bar give him all he owned in exchange » [his full devotion] (Historical Dictionary of Tibet by John Powers and David Templeman). Gayadahara’s spiritual descendants are very pragmatic fellows...

    I also make a note of the fact that the Rechungpist Khyungtsangpa is presented as one of Zhama’s students, for a possible Rechungpist source of the black egg story. My intuition tells me that’s where we may find our source :-)

    All this to be discussed over one or more glasses of Mongolion beer brewed in Pagpa style, as the best of friends. And if your ritual fetish still requires to be stilled I suggest we do the little Tibetan head bump thingy instead of cutting our fingers. ;-) I am not sure from when dates my last tetanus booster.

    Your friend Joy

  11. Dear HA/J,

    Oh well, I don't think the Rechungpist theory is going to work out with further investigation. The biography of Machik Ongmo (sometimes 'fixed' to Machik Kongjo), one of two transmission holders of the Rechung Nyengyü, is I once looked into as far as I could. It's actually one of the signs of a relative lack of interest in women's leadership that allowed past writers to confuse their identities with ease. But there is really no reason for compounding the confusion here. The biography of Ongjo has nothing to do with the lives of Zhama or Labdron, really, apart from the 'women' thing they all have going for (or against) them.

    One interesting detail I noticed that seems relevant to your take on the black egg story (as I call it for simplicity's sake) is this: I found out that where Blue Annals refers to Machik Ongmo as a shes-rab-ma, or tantric assistant, the very source it was based upon says nothing of the sort. (Hmmm... One of those unusual cases where Blue Annals does not adhere so closely to the source works!) One manuscript of that source does say that she served as a Vajra Master, while another says that she (apparently) "performed the initiation." In either case, it's quite a presiding role she was playing, and Blue Annals takes it down a notch. (Source: J. Gyatso & H. Havnevik, Women in Tibet, p. 68, note 51. The story of Zhama is in the same book, pp. 52-56, making only passing reference to the black egg story without mentioning the egg itself. If I had it to do over... Wait, maybe I do.)

    I'm not a great fan of kumiss after having tried it out not long ago in the wilds of Mongolia, but if you've got some Gewurtsraminer, that would be fine, no need to shed blood. Really!


  12. Ok for the Gewurztraminer!

    You wrote on Treasury of Lives that Khyungtsangpa (1115-) studied Lamdre with Machig Zhama, who was one of his teachers, and that Machik Ongjo was Khyungtsangpa’s student ?

    Based on Carl Yamamoto’s lamdre lineage (Vision and Violence, p. 358), I would suggest the following soap.

    All is fine with the lamdre transmission until Se ston. But then, we see pop up a Jo mo zha chung ma [ma gcig zha ma] (1062-1149) in Yamamoto’s list. She could have past on the transmission to Sachen (1092–1158), but it didn’t happen for a reason we don’t know. And Se ston was incapable of doing so either, « because there were obstacles ». So the lineage had to come to Sachen via a little bypass : Shang ston chos ‘bar, 1053-1135, born in Ding ri. In exchange for this transmission by Se ston, Shang ston had to offer « all he owned ». Then Shang ston passed it on to Sachen, probably in exchange for « all he owned » too. In the Sakya headquarters they must have wondered with what money Zhama had bought her transmission. What ? she didn’t own any money ? But then how did she convince Se ston to give her the transmission ? In exchange for what ? …. No, really ? So, this woman was higher on the transmission list than Sachen and she got it for free, or almost… They must have felt things needed to be put straight, and a zealous clerc with a lively imagination took care of it. Zhama‘s transmission was compromised through meditation faults, or procedurial faults, or because she was a « loose mudrā », seven faults in total. Those who wanted a genuinely pure transmission could turn to Sachen’s descendants instead.

    As for the black egg, things start to look a bit bad for ‘Gos.

  13. Oh Joy, Now I seem to have egg on my face. Did I really say that Khungtsangpa had Zhama among his teachers? I most certainly did, now that I look at the entry in Treasury. And I thought the Brahmi memory dust was working. Sorry about that. But I still doubt you will find the black egg source in Rechungpist realms, since Zhama is hardly of much interest for them, and not much reason for them to tell long stories about her, beyond noting that she was one among a number of teachers of Khyungtsangpa, not being the one teacher that really counted for their tradition, Rechungpa himself. Should I go back to doing headstands?


  14. As long as it is no black egg...

    No need for headstands, I already did some in my blog Aux sources du Milarepa Rechungpiste ( Call me a contradictionist, but I don’t buy the Khyungtsangpa transmission story. If you do the exercise of trying to read the stories as a writer or Tibetan hagiographist, you tend to see other things. Things that often come back in hagiographies like markers. When I see them I tend to stop and think. One of them is the need to go and see Rechungpa at Lo ro, where he was based in his later years. The very last opportunity to get something from him if you needed it for your ininterrupted transmission… And some heavy stuff has been transmitted in Loro ! Why Khungtsangpa didn’t go and see Rechungpa directly is cleverly explained away with a joke, and Rechungpa is said to have required from Khungtsangpa to keep their relationship plus the fact he received the complete « initiations and secret precepts relating to the ear-whispered teachings (snyan brgyud) » a secret until after Rechungpa’s death… Khungtsangpa hagiography also makes a special mention of his performance of grong ‘jug (into a pigeon once again) to show that he must have received the real stuff. That’s too much for me. I need some other proof. Please help me out !

    I am not the only one to be suspicious about Rechungpa’s heritage. Chag lo also was like you wrote in Lay religious movements in 11th- and 12th-century tibet: a survey of sources. :-)



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