Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Tree of Kumbum

After Filchner

The tree of Kumbum with leaves miraculously manifesting divine images — or Tibetan or Sanskrit or Senzar letters according to some — has a long history of discussion outside Tibet. My point today is not to rehash all those discussions, although if you are short for time, you can just look at the Huc & Gabet, the Mdm. Blavatsky and the Van Manen testimonies, these being the most influential voices among them. 

I might be disclosing my Tibeto-centric biases in saying so, but I think the Tibetan evidence* carries more weight of meaning than all the rest, although I leave it up to you where exactly to weight the meaning, as I always do. It’s hardly ever my aim to rule my readers here in Tibeto-logic, to confine them to thinking a certain way. Not that the evidence speaks for itself — you need to prepare yourself to hear it rightly — but I assume you’re ready. I assume you know that sacred images and letters often manifest themselves spontaneously on the Tibetan plateau, and not just on trees, but indeed primarily on rocks and bones.** As you will see if you take the time to read through today’s blog offering, the missionaries are eager in the extreme to supply naturalistic explanations for a miraculous phenomenon. How richly ironic, as if miracles never happened to Christians, as if their miracles too couldn’t send us searching for the rationalizations rationality can (sometimes all too readily) supply. Even in our day everyone looks for health in their own ways. Everyone hopes for a miracle.
(*This Tibetan evidence comes in the form of a devotional guidebook for pilgrims to Kumbum, the one we will transcribe presently, that has unfortunately never been taken into consideration in those just-mentioned discussions.) (**When they appear on water and sky, I suppose we would just call them visions.)

Here is what my 1928 Hazlitt translation of Huc & Gabet, vol. 2, p. 53 & ff. has to say:

The mountain at the foot of which Tsong-Kaba was born became a famous place of pilgrimage. Lamas assembled there from all parts to build their cells, and thus by degrees was formed that flourishing Lamasery, the fame of which extends to the remotest confines of Tartary. It is called Kounbuom, from two Thibetian words signifying Ten Thousand Images,* and having allusion to the tree which, according to the legend, sprang from Tsong-Kaba's hair, and bears a Thibetian character on each of its leaves. 
It will here be naturally expected that we say something about this tree itself. Does it exist? Have we seen it? Has it any peculiar attributes? What about its marvellous leaves? All these questions our readers are entitled to put to us. We will endeavour to answer as categorically as possible. (*My note: This is inaccurate, as Sku-'bum means ‘One Hundred Thousand Images.’)
Yes, this tree does exist, and we had heard of it too [p. 54] often during our journey not to feel somewhat eager to visit it. At the foot of the mountain on which the Lamasery stands, and not far from the principal Buddhist temple, is a great square enclosure, formed by brick walls. Upon entering this we were able to examine at leisure the marvellous tree, some of the branches of which had already manifested themselves above the wall. Our eyes were first directed with earnest curiosity to the leaves, and we were filled with an absolute consternation of astonishment at finding that, in point of fact, there were upon each of the leaves well-formed Thibetian characters, all of a green colour, some darker, some lighter than the leave itself. Our first impression was a suspicion of fraud on the part of the Lamas ; but, after a minute examination of every detail, we could not discover the least deception. The characters all appeared to us portions of the leave itself, equally with its veins and nerves. The position was not the same in all ; in one leaf they would be at the top of the leaf ; in another, in the middle ; in a third, at the base, or at the side ; the younger leaves representing the characters only in a partial state of formation. The bark of the tree and its branches which resemble that of the plane tree, are also covered with these characters. When you remove a piece of old bark, the young bark under it exhibits the indistinct outlines of characters in a germinating state, and, what is very singular, these new characters are not unfrequently different from those which they replace. We examined everything with the closest attention, in order to detect some trace of trickery, but we could discern nothing of the sort, and the perspiration absolutely trickled down our faces under the influence of the sensations which this most amazing spectacle created. More profound intellects than ours may, perhaps, be able to supply a satisfactory explanation of the mysteries of [p. 55] this singular tree ; but as to us, we altogether give it up. Our readers possibly may smile at our ignorance ; but we care not, so that the sincerity and truth of our statement be not suspected. 
The Tree of the Ten Thousand Images seemed to us of great age. Its trunk, which three men could scarcely embrace with outstretched arms, is not more than eight feet high ; the branches, instead of shooting up, spread out in the shape of a plume of feathers, and are extremely bushy : few of them are dead. The leaves are always green, and the wood, which is of reddish tint, has an exquisite odour, something like that of cinnamon. The Lamas informed us that in summer, toward the eighth moon, the tree produces large red flowers of an extremely beautiful character. They informed us also that there nowhere else exists another such tree ; that many attempts have been made in various Lamaseries of Tartary and Thibet to propagate it by seeds and cuttings, but that all these attempts have been fruitless. 
The Emperor Khan-Hi, when upon a pilgrimage to Kounboum, constructed, at his own private expense, a dome of silver over the Tree of the Ten Thousand Images...
Now let’s have a look at the Tibetan guidebook to the holy tree. I won't translate it in its every detail — I imagine some young Tibetologician is or soon will be working on it — just draw attention to some of the ideas it contains. It says that the tree grew out of a part of the physical body (sku'i cha shas) of Tsongkhapa. Which part? It says soon after his birth, when his umbilical cord was cut, a drop of blood fell on the ground and from it grew the tree, which this text goes on to describe at considerable length. It says it is a white sandalwood tree, extremely white, its roots very thick and sticking downward, its peak pointed upward with several hundreds of branches arrayed outward, resembling the upraised mandala of a parasol beautified with leafed twigs an hundred thousand in number and as green as the wings of the parrot; it has a sweet scent that carries a great distance, and on each of its leaves may be seen marked, as if drawn by a skilled artist, an image of the Victor in the form of Lion’s Roar, seemingly alive (or so I understand 'sense bases entirely there') and entrancing. It is on its basis that this place is everywhere known as Kumbum, or ‘Hundred Thousand Images.’

Then the Lord [Tsongkhapa] himself, in making his mother’s funeral arrangements, made the sandalwood tree with its hundred thousand images of Lion’s Roar into the Life Wood used in erecting a Lotus Stack Chorten. But out of the root of the tree sprouted a branch, and this is the sandalwood tree that is seen nowadays in front of the Great Temple (Lha-khang Chen-mo). Upon its bark are a number of self-produced letters including both consonants and vowels, and these are there today clearly to be seen by all visitors both high and low. Our author goes on to quote from the Kadam Legbam in support of the idea that the letters on the tree bark are Tsongkhapa's compassionate manifestations. Then he quotes the Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra to the effect that Buddhas may manifest in the form of a tree. The author expresses his own idea, which is that the tree, however ordinary its appearance may be, is without any doubt brought into being as nothing other than a natural manifestation of the great Tsongkhapa’s Full Knowledge.

Then, after a discussion of the benefits of seeing and touching this holy object, and also of prostrating to, circumambulating, making offerings and offering prayers to it, we are told that the author wrote this work at the behest of a Mantrin Ngawang Puntsok. Who was the author? He is named as “Dkon-mchog-'jigs-med-dbang-po,” but we may with ease identify him as the Second Jamyang Zhepa (1728‑1817).

Finally, a printer's colophon tells us that the printing blocks were carved at Kumbum Monastery itself.

§   §   §

sku 'bum byams pa gling gi rten gyi gtso bo tsan dan ljon shing gi lo rgyus bzhugs so //

[1v] bgrangs yas rgyal ba kun gyi mkhyen brtse'i dpal //
gcig bsdus blo bzang grags snyan gdugs dkar gyis //
sa gsum dkyil 'khor kun khyab bstan pa'i bdag //
'jam dpal snying pos rtag tu dge legs stsol //

sku 'bum zhes grags 'dzam gling gi //
rgyan gyur de nyid mdzes byed pa //  [2r]
tsandan dkar po'i ljon shing gi //
ngo mtshar mdor bsdus tsam zhig bri //

de la mdo smad bstan pa'i 'byung gnas sku 'bum byams pa gling gi rten gyi gtso bo tsandan gyi sdong po 'di nyid dus gsum sangs rgyas thams cad kyi ngo bo rje rgyal ba gnyis pa'i sku'i cha shas las byung ba yin la / de yang rnam 'dren rgyal ba'i [2v] dbang po thams cad mkhyen pa blo bzang grags pa'i dpal zhes snyan grags kyis ba dan dkar po srid pa gsum na ches cher g.yo ba de nyid me mo bya'i lo la mdo smad tsong kha'i yul du yab klu 'bum dge dang / yum shing bza' a chos gnyis kyis sras su sku bltams pa'i tshe smra bsam gyi ra ba las 'das pa'i ngo mtshar ba'i ltas dpag tu med pa byung tshul rnam thar du gsal ba ltar legs shing / khyad par du bdag nyid chen po 'di btsas nas ring po ma lon par lte ba bcad pa'i tshe khrag gi thigs pa sa'i steng du lhung ba las tsandan dkar po'i sdong po dung gi ljon pa ltar mchog tu dkar zhing / rtsa ba [3r] rab tu sbom pa thur du zug pa / rtse mo gyen du 'phags pa las yal ga brgya phrag du ma phyir gyes pa gdugs kyi dkyil 'khor bsgreng ba dang mtshungs pa la / ne tso'i gshog pa ltar sngo ba'i yal 'dab 'bum phrag tu mdzes pa / dri zhim po dpag tshad kyi bar du ldang ba / 'dab ma re re'i ngos la rgyal ba seng ge'i nga ro'i sku ri mo mkhan gyis bris pa ltar skye mched rdzogs shing yid 'phrog pas mtshan pa rang byon du 'khrungs par gyur to // de la brten nas gnas 'di nyid la sku 'bum zhes phyogs kun tu grags so //

de nas rje bdag nyid kyi gsung ltar yum gyi [3v] thugs khur bzhes te seng ge'i nga ro'i sku 'bum phrag dang ldan pa'i tsandan gyi ljon shing chen po srog shing du byas nas padma spungs pa'i mchod rten bzhengs par mdzad do //

sdong po de'i rtsa ba nas yal ga gcig phyir gyes pa lha khang chen mo'i mdun na yod pa'i tsandan gyi sdong po 'di yin zhing / 'di'i shun lpags kyi steng du dbyangs dang gsal byed kyi yi ge 'bru du ma rang byon du yod pa da lta mchog dman kun gyi mig gis mngon sum du mthong ba 'di lags so //

de yang bka' gdams glegs bam las /

bdag gi sprul pa dam pa gcig //
res 'ga' dge slong nyid [4r] du sprul //
de ni gnas de skyong bar byed //
res 'ga' byis pa'i gzugs su 'ong //
res 'ga' dbul phongs sprang po'i gzugs //
res 'ga' byol song bya khyi'i gzugs //
res 'ga' gsol debs dbyangs kyi gzugs //
res 'ga' yig 'bru gzungs kyi gzugs //
grags pa can gyi dge slong ngo //
bstan gnas bar du yang yang 'ong //

zhes gsungs pa 'di la dpags na / yig 'bru rnams kyang rje rang nyid kyi sprul pa yin par gor ma chag go //

der ma zad mdo sdong po bkod pa las /

de dag dgon par ljon shing [4v] chen por 'gyur //
sman dang rin chen mi zad gter rnams dang //
yid bzhin nor bu 'dod pa 'byin shing dang //
lam gol 'khyams pa rnams la lam ston 'gyur //

zhes sangs rgyas dang byang sems rnams ni ljon shing gi gzugs kyis 'gro ba'i don byed par gsungs pa ltar ljon shing 'di nyid kyang thun mong du sdong po'i rnam par snang yang nges pa'i don du na rgyal ba tsong kha pa chen po'i ye shes kyi rang snang 'ba' zhig las grub par gdon mi za'o snyam du kho bo sems so //

de ltar ngo mtshar ba'i khyad par du ma dang ldan zhing byin rlabs kyi gzi 'od 'bar [5r] ba'i tsandan gyi sdong po byang chub gyi shing dang dbyer ma mchis pa 'di nyid bsod nams kyi zhing mchog tu gyur pa yin te / skye bo gang dag sems rab tu dang ba'i sgo nas mthong ba dang / reg par byed pa de dag ni ngan song du skye ba'i sgo khegs shing / bde 'gro lha mi'i go 'phang thob pa dang / rje bdag nyid chen pos rjes su 'dzin cing byin gyis rlobs pa dang / las dang nyon mongs pa'i sgrib pa zad nas rim gyis bla na med pa'i byang chub thob par 'gyur ba'i phyir / de ltar gnas skabs dang mthar thug gi phan yon bsam gyis mi khyab pa [5v] yong bar shes par byas nas / phyag dang bskor ba dang / mchod pa 'bul ba dang / gsol ba 'debs pa sogs la brtson par byas na 'di phyi'i legs tshogs yid bzhin du 'grub par 'gyur bas dang ldan kun gyis de bzhin du mdzad 'tshal lo //

smras pa /  'gro la gcig tu phan mdzad rgyal ba'i sras //
kun dga'i rol rtsed mdzad pa ljon shing gi //
ngo mtshar cung zad bsnyad pa'i bsod nams kyis //
'gro kun bla med byang chub myur thob shog //

[author's colophon:]
ces pa 'di ni dang brtson rnam dpyod dang ldan pa rkang tsha byang 'dren sngags rams pa ngag dbang phun tshogs kyis bskul ba'i ngor shâkya'i [6r] dge slong dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang pos sbyar ba dge legs 'phel //  //

[printing colophon:]
zhes pa 'di ni sku 'bum byams pa gling du dpar du bsgrubs pa'o //  // sarba mangga la /

—  —  —

MY NOTES:  I should add that at the top of the title page are two English-language inscriptions in two distinct hands.  The shorter one, in larger letters in the upper right reads  "Sacred Tree."

The longer added inscription, in faint letters on my photocopy, seems to read Se-gei a-ro = Sihadhvani 4 [+?] mantras [new line] sacred to Manjughosa [last 4 letters invisible]  [new line] JASB 1882 [?], p. 53. I believe this may be in the handwriting of Berthold Laufer himself.

I went to to check the reference, and landed in the middle of an article by John Cockburn with the title "On the Habits of a Little Known Lizard,” but seeing I was in the "Natural History Section," I changed course and found the right volume here.  I thought I had this same set of essays by Sarat Chandra Das in a reprint book form, so I went to pull it off the shelf, but it wasn’t there. So I looked in my physical file drawers under "Das" and found photocopies of some sections of the reprint book, just not the necessary one. So really, the only access I had was to the version. Just goes to show the importance of digital resources on days like today when it’s too hot to go all the way to the library.

Sarat Chandra Dás, Contributions on Tibet VI: Life and Legend of Tso Khapa (lo-ssa-tagpa), the Great Buddhist Reformer of Tibet, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1882), p. 53:

“Tso-kha-pa was born in 1378, A.D. in the town of Tso kha (or Onion valley) in Amdo in Eastern Tibet. His father's name was Lubum-ge, and that of his mother Shi-ssa-à-chho. The house in which he was born was overhung by a sandal-wood tree rich in foliage. It is said to have borne a hundred thousand leaves, on every one of which was visible the naturally grown picture of Tathágata S'egé-a-vo (Siha dhvani). There having spontaneously appeared on the bark of that wonderful tree the mantras sacred to Manjuśrí, the protector of the three classes of beings, viz., men, suras and asuras, the men of the place erected a chaitya at its foot. A large monastery containing 10,000 monks was established near it and called the monastery of Kubum Chamba-li. It is said that the marvellous leaves of the selfsame sandal tree are even at the present day observed by pilgrims to bear the Tathágata's image inscribed, as it were, by nature.”

I should have taken the trouble to look into around fifty distinct Tibetan-language titles on the life of Tsongkhapa if I had time for it. If just because I have a handy copy of it on hand, I did scan through the first parts of the lengthy 1845 biography by Lobzang Trinlé Namgyel (Xining 1981). It does confirm something the missionaries said about the leaves being ingested for healing illnesses. So I'll just transcribe the paragraph for you (p. 104):
bltams pa'i rjes su tha mal pa'i snang ngor sku'i lte ba bcad pa'i tshul las mtshal khrag byung ba sa la 'phos pa las tsandan dkar po'i sdong bo khyad par du 'phags pa zhig rang shugs su 'khrungs pa'i lo ma rnams la rgyal ba seng ge'i nga ro'i sku dang a ra pa tsa na'i yi ge sogs byon pa rim gyis 'bum ther du longs pas sku 'bum tsandan zhes yongs su grags shing / phyis rje nyid kyi 'phrin las las phyogs der dgon sde chen po chags pa la yang sku 'bum dgon du grags pa dang / ljon shing de'i lo ma'i cha shas phra mo tsam khar song bas kyang nad gdon grib dang mi gtsang ba sogs sel nus pa ni da lta'i bar du kun la mngon sum du gyur pa 'di kha'o //
Interesting, isn’t it? This was written around the same time Abbé Huc was at Kumbum viewing the tree with such perplexity and consternation.

§   §   §
After Filchner

Biblio refs: 
John Algeo, “Senzar: The Mystery of the Mystery Language.”  Look here. The author was president of the U.S. Theosophical Society.
Anonymous, “Lamasery [Kumbum],” Life, vol. 24 (February 16, 1948), pp. 76-81. Try to link to the article at this link. The tree is mentioned on p. 80.
Edouard Blanc, “Note sur l'arbre à priéres du Monastére de Goumboum.” (Extracted from Bulletin du Muséum d'histoire naturelle, 1895 no 8, and 1896 no 1).  See if this link works for you.  It seems it is also found in Le Globe, vol. 46, pp. 78-82.
Helena Blavatsky, “The Sacred Tree of Kumbum,” The Theosophist, vol. 4, no. 6 (March 1883), pp. 130-131. Available online here.
W. Bosshard, “Living Buddha Smiles: Visit to Kum Bum,” Asia, vol. 34 (October 1934), pp. 624-627.
T.H.R. Candlin, “Dagoba or Kumbum Lamasery,” Asia, vol. 34 (October 1934), pp. 620-623.  I wish I could get access to this so I could check if it’s true this author says the tree grew from a beard.
Isabelle Charleux, Nomads on Pilgrimage: Mongols on Wutaishan (China), 1800-1940, Brill (Leiden 2015),  p. 32: 
The main relic of Kumbum was the ‘Tree of Great Merit,’ a white sandalwood tree which allegedly sprung up miraculously from the placenta blood shed at Tsongkhapa's birth. Its supposed one hundred thousand leaves were said to bear impressions of the Buddha’s face and mantras, hence the etymology of of Kumbum (kubum means ‘one hundred thousand images’). The leaves were sold to pilgrims who used them in infusions to facilitate difficult births. The tree eventually died in the twentieth century and was preserved inside a large stûpa covered with 1,5000 kilograms of silver in the Golden Tiled Temple. Other relics include the skull of Tsongkhapa's mother...
Alexandra David-Neel, Magic and Mystery in Tibet, Dover (New York 1971, reprint of 1932 edition), pp. 110-113: “The Miraculous Tree of Tsong Khapa.” She says she borrowed her account from the “Kumbum Chronicles,” which may mean a history of Sku-’bum’s abbots, I’m not sure of it. She also mentions Huc & Gabet.
A.A. Fauvel, “Caractères tibétains sur des feuilles d'arbre,” T'oung Pao, vol. 4 (1893), p. 389.
Wilhelm Filchner, Das Kloster Kumbum in Tibet. Ein Beitrag zu seiner Geschichte, Ernst Siegfried Mittler und Sohn (Berlin 1906), in 164 pp.  It should be possible to locate a PDF on the internet. Other works by the same prolific author are on Kumbum, but the only one on my library shelves is Kumbum. Lamaismus in Lehre und Leben, Rascher Verlag (Zurich 1954). In it, on p. 50, is a brief account of how the tree grew from the spot where the child Tsongkhapa's clipped hair fell to the ground.
Harrison Forman,  “The Butter Gods of Kum Bum,” Canadian Geographical Journal, vol. 36 (1948), pp. 40-50.  In general, this author’s works have never been well regarded by Tibetologists because  they suffer from “an overdeveloped sense of the dramatic and an underdeveloped devotion to facts.” I intended to include only pre-1950’s literature here, finding it more interesting than the modern travelogues. Still, quite a few early travelers passed through Kumbum, and it would be too much exercise for me to compile a full list of them.
Joseph Huc & Régis-Evariste Gabet, Travels in Tatary Thibet and China, 1844-1846, tr. by William Hazlitt, Harper & Brothers (New York 1928). If you like you may compare another translation in Régis-Evariste Huc, Lamas of the Western Heavens, tr. by Charles de Salis, The Folio Society (London 1982), pp. 107-109. The translator, Charles de Salis, added his own note:  
“The miraculous tree of Kounboum (Kumbum). Peter Fleming described it in 1935 as a white sandalwood, and said that the monks sold the leaves which were ‘miraculously stamped with the image of Tsong-k'apa’ ; but he added that there were no leaves on the tree when he visited the lamasery. André Migot, in Tibetan Marches, describing a journey made in 1946, said that the leaves were supposed to be marked with the characters of the mani: ‘The original tree is now sepulchred in a chorten inside the temple. A new tree has been grown from a cutting, but there was no sign of lettering on the leaves.’ ”

J. Karsten, A Study on the Sku-'bum/T'a-erh Ssu Monastery in Ch'ing-hai, doctoral dissertation, Auckland University (1997). Unseen.
Rudolf Kaschewsky, Das Leben des lamaistischen Heiligen Tsongkhapa Blo-bza-grags-pa (1357-1419) dargestellt und erläutert anhand seiner Vita “Quellort allen Glückes.” 1. Teil: Übersetzung und KommentarAsiatische Forschungen Band 32, Otto Harrassowitz (Wiesbaden 1971), p. 73, gives a summary:   
An der Stelle, an der das Nabelblut des Heiligen zur Erde getropft war, wuchs ein Sandelholzbaum, auf dessen Blättern Bilder Sihadhvanis, aber auch Mañjuśrīs, Yamāntakas und Mahākālas erschienen, ferner auch die mystische Formel Arapacana. 
Besides agreeing with the Tibetan text about the umbilical blood, this supplies new information: that the leaves had images not only of Lion’s Roar, but several other divine images. It identifies the letters as being the Arapacana, the "Camel Lip” alphabet once used in Gandhara, and now used to invoke the Bodhisattva of Wisdom Mañjuśrī (and in this agreeing with the testimony of Das) — perhaps what was meant was the Arapacana alphabet in its Tibetan script form ཨ་ར་པ་ཙ་ན་ or A-ra-pa-tsa-na. I should say I also looked in R. Thurman’s and Elijah Ary’s books on Tsongkhapa’s life and found nothing relevant to our tree story.
Frank Doggett Lerner, Rusty Hinges: A Story of Closed Doors Beginning to Open in North-East Tibet, The China Inland Mission (London 1933). For this missionary’s photo of the tree, and his accounting for it, see pp. 86-87. The photo is particularly worthy of being seen: 

Directly in front of the temple stands a big sacred tree. It is a species of syringa, and is the one which is claimed to have sprung up from the shorn locks of the boy Tsong K'aba. It is asserted by all devotees of Lamaism that each leaf of the tree bears a hiero-[p. 87] glyphic for the word ‘Buddha.’ We are standing now beneath the tree. A Lama is beside us. We notice the leaves are falling in the cool breeze. As they flutter to the ground, the lama is picking them up and placing them in a little wooden box, first examining each leaf carefully.
“Friend,”  I say to him, “why do you not gather the leaves from the tree rather than waiting for them to fall?”
“That would be a great sin,” he replies, “for no one is allowed to pluck them. As the wind blows they fall of themselves, and then only is it permitted for me to touch them.”
“And why do you look so carefully at each leaf?” I further ask.
“Do you not know,” said he, “that on every leaf there is a character for Buddha?”
He thereupon takes a leaf carefully from his box, and hands it to me. I examine minutely but can decipher no writing. The lama is eagerly watching my face.
“Can you not discern it?” he asks.
“No, I see nothing!” I reply.
Thereupon with a look of scorn, he exclaims,“Then surely you are not a believer, for only believers can see!”
We afterwards learn that the leaves are sold to pilgrims for medicinal purposes. They are pounded to dust, stirred with water, and drunk. The mixture is claimed to be a cure for any disease!

Johan van Manen, “The Wonder Tree of Kumbum,” The Theosophist, vol. 34, pt. 2 (1913), pp. 44-57. Try double-clicking here, then scroll down to the 1180th page, and while you are doing that, thank Jonathan Silk of Leiden for finding this link where I had failed. As a life-long student of Theosophy, it is a wonder that van Manen could criticize Theosophical Society founding figure Helena Blavatsky so bluntly albeit “with due respect.”
Y.P. Mei, “Kumbum, the Cradle of Protestant Lamaism,” Asia, vol. 41 (1941), pp. 676-678.  [1] Tsongkhapa was born there and [2] he was the “Martin Luther of Tibetan Buddhism.”  Ergo: “Cradle of Protestant Lamaism.” No, better drop the idea before being forced to enter the weirdly tortuous mental tight spots that would then open up. I’d say he was the Thomas Aquinas, but after saying so I’ll immediately take it back, and we’ll agree to forget it entirely.
Thubten Jigme Norbu & Colin M. Turnbull, Tibet, Simon and Schuster (New York 1968), pp. 208-210. P. 210:
Unfortunately the constant attentions of souvenir hunters must have threatened the tree, and caused its enclosure. There is a door at the bottom of the Chörten, but this was sealed at the time the work was completed and has only been opened once since. Even if, as abbot, I had wished to break the seal, I could not have done so without the consent of the entire governing body of the monastery. It was opened some seventy years ago for cleaning, and when the monk who had been given the task came out, he found one leaf that had fallen on his shoulder. It had the lettering, still firmly marked. He took the leaf and kept it, and it was seen by many.
Johannes Schubert, “Eine Liste der Äbte von Kumbum,” Artibus Asiae, vol. 4, fascicle 4 (1934?), pp. 220-227. There is precious little European-language-literature exclusively devoted to Kumbum Monastery besides this and the works of Filchner, and of course some modern picture books that at least have the virtue of having pictures. That’s the only reason I list this “list of abbots” here, not because it is an especially valuable resource. A much better list is found in Mdo-smad-pa Yon-tan-rgya-mtsho's book 7Gong-sa rgyal-mchog bcu-bzhi-pa Chen-po'i Sku'i Gcen-po Sku-'bum Khri-zur Stag-mtsher Mchog-sprul Thub-bstan-'jigs-med-nor-bu'i Thun-mong Mdzad-rin Mdor-bsdus... [full title here] (U.S.A. 1989), pp. 25-32, listing 78 abbots in all. I suppose there may be something in J. Karsten's dissertation, but I’ve never seen it, have you? My point here is that Yon-tan-rgya-mtsho lists the author of our Tree Guidebook as having been the 30th abbot of Kumbum Monastery, a position he took up in 1765, and relinquished in 1768. I guess this gives us a general time frame for the composition of this work, making it a whole lot earlier than all the European and missionary discussions that started, I suppose, with Huc’s 1844 Tibet visit.

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