Sunday, March 22, 2020

Not a Padampa

As we’re prone to do when trapped in our rooms with nowhere to go, I was wearing out my eyesight for a good cause browsing through some recently posted photos of Tibetan art works at Himalayan Art Resources website. If you are reading Tibeto-logic you no doubt already know that HAR is the best place in the whole universe to see Tibetan art. No museum can compete with it, not even the Newark Museum. I was thrilled to see what did at first seem to me to be a brassy image of our hero Padampa. Have a look at it yourself by tapping on those purple colored words (or are they orange, you decide). I mean, it has one hand raised above the head, the other holding what could very well be a bag, and we know that Padampa’s “Interdependence Bag” does at times occur as part of his iconography, even in his left hand as we see here. And Padampa was well known for practicing yogic gazes out into space, something perhaps indicated by the way the right hand is raised above the head. But when I looked at the back side of the lotus throne, I soon changed my mind. There we can read a inscription very clearly: 
grub thob gling la na mo, or Praise to the Siddha Ling 
That means Lingrepa Pema Dorjé. On him have a look at the biographical sketch at Treasury of Lives. He may be regarded as the founder of the Drukpa Kagyü order, even if there has been some equivocation on that point. And that means the school affiliation of the image supplied on the website requires emending, too. Lingrepa is normally depicted in his untamable Siddha aspect, and the presence of a bag may just be telling us he was a wandering yogi, one who packed a bit of food for along the way, as yogis had been doing in India and Tibet all along, not just Padampa. I should look into this question, but right off the top of my head I just don’t know of any affinities Lingrepa may have had for Padampa or the Zhijé School. I do know that Lingrepa was often compared to the Indian Mahâsiddha Saraha, the one who made arrows.

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Read more

A fine new essay about Lingrepa has appeared. You may be able to locate a free copy of it on the internet, if not right at this moment in the near future. Here are the details: Marco Walther, “The Development of the Biographies of Gling ras pa Padma rdo rje (1128-1188),” Bulletin of Tibetology, vol. 51 nos. 1-2 (2015), pp. 99-113. It has a bibliography that includes earlier writings you may want to look into.

I guess I had a point to make about iconography here, and never actually made it. Padampa appears in many forms besides the better known ones (try looking here). There are quite a few un-inscribed portrait images that I would regard — because of a cluster of traits associated with him — to be what I call possible Padampas. This image could at first glance qualify as one of them, no doubt, but when we turn it over and find the label we realize our mistake.*
(*We might want to make an argument that labels carved in stone or etched in metal are always correct, but nowadays with the stakes high there is really no limit to the things business people might do to increase the value of their pieces. That said, I hasten to add that there is not any reason to think that is happening in this instance. After all, those particular iconographic features could just as well apply to Lingrepa as far as we can know, and anyway no particular advantage could be expected by altering the identity of the person portrayed. If anything, a depiction of Padampa would have more, and not less, value than one of Lingrepa.)

PS (March 24, 2020)

Since posting this I thought to take a closer look at other Padampa images that are featured on this HAR webpage. I was surprised to see a special category of Padampas in the [right hand] “salute gesture.” This does of course include the very image that contains the inscription identifying it as Lingrepa, and to me this casts in doubt the inclusion of this entire group among the Padampas. Why not call them all Lingrepas on the strength of the inscriptional evidence? Still, there are one or two examples in this group that have enough Padampa characteristics I would still want to call them possible Padampas, this one in particular, although the right hand really isn’t raised high enough to be in the salute gesture. This same one has been published a few times, as for example in D. Weldon & J.C. Singer, The Sculptural Heritage of Tibet, Laurence King (London 1999), plate 31 on pp. 154-55, where it is labelled as “Yogin.” This yogin, along with the nude image that once belonged to  R. H. Ellsworth, I regard as possible or possibly even probable Padampas, as I’ve argued before in the case of the Ellsworth.

PPS (March 26, 2020)

Just to add perplexity to complication, try this experiment. Go to the HAR website’s page about a thangka with Pemakarpo as its central figure. Scroll down the page until you find a detail with the added label “Ling Repa.” Tap it for a closer view (or go here). If it didn’t hit you like a hammer right away, let me tell you, this is a perfectly normal Zhijé form of Padampa, with the mirroring hand gestures unique to Padampa, the loose blanket around the lower part of the body, the earrings, everything. In my mind this is not just a possible Padampa, it’s a definite one. If you would like to have a closer look at the painting as a whole, you can see what I believe are biographical scenes from the life of Pemakarpo, the Fourth Drukchen showing his meditations and visionary experiences. One of these scenes shows what I imagine is the Drukchen himself in a posture of veneration beneath what would have to be a vision of Padampa's presence. Unless there is a label saying Lingrepa somewhere there, and I couldn’t find one, I think that is what we are seeing. Oh, and one more thing, unlike Lingrepa, we know that Pemakarpo had Zhijé teachings, and he composed a respectably lengthy text on the subject (details here).

HAR 65368, detail

PPPS (April 11, 2020)

Here’s another bit of fun with iconography I’d like to share and discuss if you have time for it. Have a look at this all-too-short video that informs us that the thangka, while bearing characteristic marks of an old (perhaps pre-Mongol period) painting, nevertheless has to be dated two centuries later because the curator identified a figure in its upper register as being Pema Lingpa (1450-1521 CE). It’s true that Pema Lingpa is often depicted this way, with an Orgyan hat like that of Guru Rinpoche and the longlife vase held in the palms of hands in meditation gesture, just as you see here. But notice right away in the first seconds of the video the arrow pointing to something the unnamed scholars supposedly missed, an inscription that indeed reads when we standardize the Tibskrit spellings Puṇyamaṅgalaṃ. Okay, but this is a Sanskritized 'name mantra' of a Tibetan (as we can see in the portrait itself) who would have been named Bsod-nams-bkra-shis.  The name Bsod-nams-bkra-shis does not as far as anyone seems to know belong to any set of names given to Pema Lingpa.  We know it *does* belong to a number of other people. So answer this puzzle: Given the fact that it fits the iconography and looks like Pema Lingpa, the label tells us it must be someone else. Is someone overlooking something?*
*(Just now I noticed that HAR has posted a version of this same painting with added English identifications. Have a look.)

Finally, if you went to HAR and liked what you saw there, you might consider a donation by looking at its Go Fund Me page. It's just a suggestion, I mean it's no business of mine what you do with your hard earned money or your ill-gotten gains. Whichever.


  1. Hello, regarding Phadampa and his yoga belts, what do you make of this, yoga-pattas and yoga-dandas presented in a Mevlana exhibition in Istanbul, 2006 ?

  2. Dear D, Impressive! Thanks for sending that link. I haven't seen much of any use of the chin crutch in Tibetan iconography, although there is that one of Goraksha as one of the 84 Mahasiddhas. I've actually never seen the use of the chin crutch as a chin crutch in modern yoga, have you? If they're used it's to hold up the arm holding the mala, or it's stuck into the underarm. I was going to Iyengar classes before the virus hit. They use a lot of props, but the 'crutch' is not one of them, not where I was doing it. Not sure I will start up again, since I seem to have some previously unexperienced hip pains that might have been aggravated by my stopping. You think I should go back to it? Drop a line when you find more to share. Yours, D


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