Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Letter Switching Codes of the Fifth Dalai Lama

Edward Brumgnach, The Lost Symbol: Magic Squares, Masonic Cipher

Years ago, a friend passed along to me color xeroxes of a 2-folio text in Tibetan, part of a very large set he had cataloged in an article of his. I’ll give you the reference to it later on.

It was laying on top of a pile for months, ever since I had taken it out of the file cupboard and wasn't sure what file to return it to. It starts with a little bit of geography, listing names of the nine islands of India. I’m sure that’s why he gave it to me, because he knew I had an interest in these kinds of geographic schemes. But that subject barely takes up two and a half lines, while all the rest has the Tibetan alphabet laid out in curious patterns. I hadn’t given it much attention, the place names were more compelling. But where to file it, under “Geography” or “Alphabet”?

It was only after watching the video that you see above, with its fascinating explanation not only of magic squares, but also an old Masonic letter substitution code. If you don’t see the video up above, just try searching the internet for “pigpen cipher.”  It is a lot more fascinating than you may imagine, and it requires no more than minimal math. Just a few days after watching the video, I happened to be straightening out my room when I picked up the pages thinking I would try again to put the text in a logical place. No sooner did I have my hands on it and have a glance at the title — Rgya gar gling phran gyi ming dang krugs yig le tshan yod [keyletter on title page: HA] — than I knew exactly what it was.* The term krugs yig in the title means disturbed letters, or more to the point, letters whose order has been mixed around.
(*The text forms a tiny section of a very lengthy collection revolving around the 17th-century sealed visionary teachings of the Great Fifth. It's listed as no. 29 on p. 56 in Uspensky’s article.)

The Tibetan systems don’t work the same way as the Masonic code, and I haven’t ever before tried to tackle the systems used in the text, not before this moment. They are like charts that come with no instructions on how they are supposed to work. Let’s just look at the last one, the four disturbed (bzhi krugs) where we see that the 30 consonants of the Tibetan alphabet are written out in the usual order, divided up into sets of 4, as is often done anyway, with a pair of consonants left over at the end. The second line reverses the order within each set, so we get something like this:

ཀ་ཁ་ག་ང་། ཅ་ཆ་ཇ་ཉ། ཏ་ཐ་ད་ན། པ་ཕ་བ་མ། ཙ་ཚ་ཛ་ཝ། ཞ་ཟ་འ་ཡ། ར་ལ་ཤ་ས། ཧ་ཨ།།
ང་ག་ཁ་ཀ། ཉ་ཇ་ཆ་ཅ། ན་ད་ཐ་ཏ། མ་བ་ཕ་བ། ཝ་ཛ་ཚ་ཙ། ཡ་འ་ཟ་ཞ། ས་ཤ་ལ་ར། ་ཨ་ཧ།།

For my readers who may not be literate (in the literal sense of the word literate) in the Tibetan language, I put the same in Wylie transcription:

ka kha ga nga / ca cha ja nya / ta tha da na / pa pha ba ma / tsa tsha dza wa / ra la sha sa / ha a //
nga ga kha ka / nya ja cha ca / na da tha ta / ma ba pha pa / wa dza tsha tsa / sa sha ra la / a ha //

My suspicion is that wherever a letter ka is used in a word one would replace it with nga, and so forth and so on. This can lead to some odd letter combinations in practice. It seems to me I’ve noticed some of these in certain sections of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s record of teachings received. I'll have to go back and look for that. Meanwhile, using TBRC’s internal search facility, I found that there is a modern article on the subject of [d]krugs yig. I haven't had a chance to study that either, but I’ll supply the complete reference down below in case you might be interested to check it out.

A couple of bibliographical references and a geographical note:

Vladimir Uspensky, “The Illustrated Manuscript of the Fifth Dalai Lama's Secret Visionary Autobiography Preserved in the St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies,” Manuscripta Orientalia, vol. 2, no. 1 (March 1996), pp. 54-65.

Bstan-pa'i-sgron-me, Bod-yig-gi 'Bri-srol Bye-brag Dkrugs-yig Skor Rags-tsam Bkod-pa, contained in:  Bod-kyi Rtsom-rig Sgyu-rtsal, vol. 98 in the general series or vol. no. 6 for the year 1996, pp. 61-68.

Here is a list of the nine Isles of India, according to the text in the Fifth Dalai Lama’s magical grimoire: In the east, the Isle of Shambhala. In the south, Bheta [‘Coconut’] Isle. In the west, Orgyan. In the north, Kashmir Isle. In the southeast, the Isle of Khang-bu. In the southwest, Copper Isle. In the northwest, Air Isle. In the northeast, the Isle of Kamaru. In the center, the Diamond Seat. Each of these has five different languages. I hope you can make out the text, and if there is need for it practice your Tibetan letter reading, in the photo that follows down below. Maybe if you tap on it it will expand a bit, we’ll see.

§  §  §

I did check the Fifth Dalai Lama’s Record of Teachings Received, and found an example of what is, I suppose, a type of encodement, but not of the kind that features in text number HA of our St. Petersburg manuscript. See for example vol. 3, fol. 61, where the text is 'encoded' in such a way one suspects it was purposefully designed to impede reading and to thwart digital searching, as if he knew what we would worry about in the 21st century. Here is a sample of this type of encoding in Wylie transcription:  
zur chen ng  /  ag dbang  /   phun tshogs /   mkhas grub khra tshang  /   pa chen po /   des bdag za hor bande la'o /   /   drag po'i skor gyi brgyud pa ni /   chos sku snang  /   ba mtha' yas /   long  /  s sku padma dbang  /   chen /   sprul sku padma 'byung  /   gnas man sng  /  ar bzhin no /   /
No letters have been switched here, just the punctuation marks are in all the wrong places.

What? You haven't learned the alphabet? Go directly to this video and sing it at the top of your lungs along with the kids. You get not only the alphabet, but some basics of the Tibetan spelling system along with it. 
Jg zpv xbou up lopx ipx Tijgufe Bmqibcfu Dpeft xpsl, uijt qbhf ibt b iboez boe tjnqmf fyqmbobujpo, bt xfmm bt bo fodpefs cpy tp zpv dbo dsfbuf tfdsfu nfttbhft mjlf uif pof zpv ibwf cffo efdpejoh.  
l nqrz wr vrph ri brx wklv pljkw orrn olnh wkh zbolh wudqvolwhudwlrq vbvwhp. 

Read the PS if you must:

Well, I hardly had a chance to click the "publish" button in Blogger before I received the access I needed to that article by Bstan-pa’i-sgron-me.

Now I can tell you that it has similarly named systems of encodement, but is not identical to those of the Great Fifth.

The article says that as a general rule the consonants serving as root letter, prescript, postscript, or super-postscript are the ones that get changed.  The vowels and the subscripts (subscribed 'y', 'r' and 'l') are left as is, unchanged.

Then it describes the (A) five systems of switching forward (གོ་རིམ་ལྟྟར་) and (B) the five systems of switching backward (གོ་རིམ་ལྡྡོག་པ་).

The five systems of switching forward are:  (A1) 2-switching.  Here the letter is replaced by the next letter in the alphabet.  (A2) 3-switching. Here the letter is replaced by the 3rd letter that follows it in the alphabet.  (A3) 4-switching. Here the letter is replaced by the 4th letter that follows it in the alphabet. (A4) 13-switching. Here the 13th following letter is used to replace it.  (A5) 15-switching. Here the 15th letter us the one used to make the replacement.

And then, if you have time for it, we have B1 through B5, which are quite similar to A1 through A5, except that you go searching for the replacement letter backward through the alphabet instead of forward.

It gives examples for all ten types, but I'll limit myself right now to the forward 3-switching (A2):


See if you can figure out how that would correspond to this perfect line of Tibetan verse in praise of Sarasvati, the goddess/bodhisattva of learning, literature and music.


Unlike the Fifth Dalai Lama’s system, the order of letters in the subsets of consonants are not reversed. But you know, it is in the nature of encodement systems that they require added complications if you want the result to be less crackable. The professor in the video, if you managed to watch far into it, explains some still more amazing complications that might be introduced for that enhanced sense of assurance that greater information security might bring.


Read the PPS if you must:

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