Monday, March 28, 2022

Maṇḍalas of Medieval Arabic (and Latin) Magic

Tibetan studies hardly ever get old or boring. They can lead in unexpected directions, at times drawing you far outside the boundaries defined by and for that semi-(?)academic discipline(/s?). And I have to say, sometimes magic happens. 

I was flipping through some of the impressive and often, for myself, impenetrable products of David Pingree’s sheer genius the other night. I’ve been familiar with his work for decades, even once had the chance to meet and chat awhile with him while he was still living. I remember he was very courteous without being formal. And when I told him some crazy ideas I had about what the various colors of eclipses might have to do with the black magic of Milarepa’s youth, he at least avoided dismissing those ideas out of hand.(1) 

Never one to get overly excited about crossing borders the way most people do, Pingree had an admirable knowledge of early languages ranging from Europe and the Middle East through to India. A historian of science, he didn’t care much for the divide between sciences and the so-called ‘pseudosciences’ as they are bound to be called by the modernist supremacists of our day. Hardly anyone can hope to be his match, not me, and, I’m guessing here, probably not you either.

So just imagine my unjustifiable surprise to find a bit in one of his writings yesterday about the Arabic borrowing al-mandal — used in a context that, leaving Jungianism aside, does some justice to the original Indian Buddhist referents of maṇḍala — in an 11th-century Arabic text from Sana’a, the ancient city in Yemen.* Not content to stay there, it was known to a very few savants like Albertus Magnus in 13th-century Europe but then went on to become a best seller among European conjurers of the 15th, when it transformed into Almadel and such & sundry spellings as it entered the vernaculars. I dare say (because I’m feeling daring) that the Solomonic magic it forms a part of is still today one of the main inspirations for occultists in Europe and the Americas.

*Sana’a appears to be in a contest with Jericho that will decide which of them is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. I cast my vote for Jericho if only for that 7,000-year-old tower.

I won’t belabor the point, but will supply the quote from David Pingree down below, and send you on a quest for the words “al-mandal” and “Almadel” on the internet. What you are likely to notice is a remarkable confusion. In some European minds Almadel was the name of an Arab magician, and/or author of a text known as the Six Firm Sciences on six types of divination. And those sciences might be anything from scrying (gazing into crystal balls and the like), to angelic or jinn invocation, to geomantic practices (randomly pick a square from a grid-work and get your answer). I won’t even try to sort all this out right now. In any case it is al- mandal as an object that interests us here, and it is this that is featured in that quite distinct Arabic text from 11th-century Yemen.

If you were to make me confess, my real motive for going into it is this: I have been drafting an upcoming blog on what I believe is a loanword — most likely from Arabic directly or indirectly via Persian, although with very deep roots in the ancient Middle East — found in the 1245 manuscript of the works of Padampa and his followers. My reasoning is, If I can persuade you that a Buddhist Sanskrit term was being adopted in an 11th-century Arabic manuscript, you might find it easier to see another word borrowing going in the opposite direction. And when and if we do go a little further into it, that instance of a word borrowed from east to west does have some strong and meaningful connections to the word borrowed from west to east. All in good time, all in good time.


A note:

(1) I just checked, and found that the source of my chromatic speculations was an article by another historian of science, Winfried Petri (his article listed below). But anyway, a world-class expert on celestial lore, Pingree was the perfect person to ask a question like this. And he did in fact write something on that subject of eclipse colors in India, in his article “The Indian and Pseudo-Indian Passages in Greek and Latin Astronomical and Astrological Texts,” Viator, vol. 7 (1976), pp. 141-95, at p. 166, even if I didn’t know this at the time. I might add that al-mandal, or “the mandal” in the Arabic texts should not be connected with the offering maṇḍal (མཎྜལ་of Tibetan Buddhist preliminary practices, but rather with the maṇḍala (དཀྱིལ་འཁོར་) of divine invocation and initiation. The distinction between these two different objects has eluded or confounded many great minds. And it is true that even with several clear points of similarity, the usage of al-mandal in its magical context is different from the maṇḍala (དཀྱིལ་འཁོར་) used in Tibetan empowerment rituals. The motives and rationales are different, even if both might entail evocations of lofty transcendent entities. If you look into some of the readings that follow this should become clear enough. Some may want to object that the use of al-mandal is magical, while the maṇḍala is religious. I shouldn’t have to say that the placement of a dividing line between religion and magic has often caused troubled thinking, but that’s understandable if you see how that boundary has often shifted back and forth as part of historical efforts at self-definition. Examples: exorcism is magic, but when recognized religious authorities within your own religion do it, it isn’t. Impressive prodigies are magic, but if done by saints they’re miracles (and yes, if scientists do them it’s science). Prayers for success and wealth are magic, but when done as a part of religious practice (as in ‘petitionary prayers’), they aren’t. Hell, even casting curse spells, the one thing we most often associate with magic, can be religious when taking the form of anathemas or condemnations. Nobody condemns more people to hell than the holy. If hearing me say these things upsets you, at least ask yourself why before you snap back at me for saying them. But wait, how did I get off on this train of thinking anyway, here in what was meant to be an innocent bibliographical footnote?


Reading suggestions

I leave it up to you, depending on how comfortable you may or may not be, if you want to delve into such matters as divination and occultism. But if you do count yourself among the brave or foolhardy ones, I recommend above all else a look at this particular webpage. It appears to be an authorized digital version of a book by Joseph H. Peterson on the very texts of interest here, and the illustrations are particularly necessary to see.

Mark R. Cohen, “Goitein, Magic, and the Geniza,” Jewish Studies Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 4 (2006), pp. 294-304. Goitein's works are significant here for showing the general context of the word borrowing. That means the extensive sea trade between India and Egypt during the 10th to 13th centuries. And this article has good references in case you would like to explore this further.

A.W. Greenup, “The Almadel of Solomon, according to the Text of the Sloan MS. 2731,” The Occult Review, vol. 22, no. 2 (August 1915), pp. 96-102. I despaired of ever seeing this until I discovered there is a complete archive of the contents of this periodical online. 

Genese Grill, “Almandal Grimoire: The Book as Magical Object,” The Georgia Review, vol. 69, no. 4 (Winter 2015), pp. 514-541. Despite the title, this is more about what happens when, with no more spines or bindings to hold onto, and no more paper pages to flip over, books are dematerialized into digital streams on a screen. Very worth reading and reflecting about even, if you really must, on a screen. I went ahead and read it on screen myself, something I find I do more and more, even feel myself coerced into it against my will by the rocketing prices of postage and print cartridges.

Csaba Kiss, “On Yantras in Early Śaiva Tantras,” Cracow Indological Studies, vol. 16 (2014), pp. 203-233. Try this. 

Roger A. Pack, “Almadel Auctor Pseudonymus: De Firmitate Sex Scientiarum,” Archives d'histoire doctrinale et littéraire du Moyen Age, vol. 42 (1975), pp. 147-181. At p. 153:

“What we find here is al-mandal, the ‘mandala’ or mystic symbol, either round or square or a combination of both, which the writings of C.G. Jung and his disciples have made familiar to us...”

Winfried Petri, “Colours of Lunar Eclipses According to Indian Tradition,” Indian Journal of the History of Sciencevol. 3 (1968), pp. 91-98.

David Pingree, “Learned Magic in the Time of Frederick II,” contained in: Isabelle Pingree and John M. Steele, eds., Pathways into the Study of Ancient SciencesSelected Essays by David Pingree, American Philosophical Society Press (Philadelphia 2013), a special issue of Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s. vol. 104 (2014), pp. 477-484, at p. 486:

“[These Florence manuscript treatises] are all representative of Salomonic magic. The first two concern almandal of Salomon. This mandal is in shape and inscriptions completely conformable to an Indian mandala; it is remarkable to see the Sanskrit word transmitted so purely through Arabic, in which it is still used to refer to a magical object, to Latin. The figure is a square ‘wall’ with a circle in the center and spokes pointing to the four cardinal directions (indicated by ‘gates’) and to the four intermediate directions. On each of the four side walls are inscribed the names of angels...”

Anne Regourd, “Le Kitāb al-Mandal al-Sulaymānī, un ouvrage d'exorcisme yéménite postérieur au Ve/XIe S.?” Res Orientales, vol. 13 (2001), pp. 123-138. The first footnote has a long and valuable discussion about the meanings of al-mandal, without neglecting its Indic and Buddhist sourcing, but the rest is mainly about the dating of the manuscripts, the Solomonic lore of the lost and recovered magic seal (a seal of dominion over human, animal and spirit realms), and the question of how much local Yemeni herbal knowledge is represented in the text. I see it mentions misk, but this is not surprising since musk was Tibet’s primary claim to fame in the Middle East back in those centuries. And Yemen was a trading powerhouse for east-west commerce starting from Roman Empire days, just read into the five-volume set by S.D. Goitein on the Genizah documents from Cairo. Goitein wanted to find ‘rationally profit-motivated’ traders and so took minimal notice of the magic evident in those documents (see the Cohen essay, listed above). 

Anne Regourd, “A Twentieth-Century Manuscript of the Kitāb al-Mandal al-Sulaymānī (Ar IEW 286, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia): Texts on Practices & Texts in Practices,” contained in: Marcela A. Garcia Probert and Petra M. Sijpesteijn, eds., Amulets and Talismans of the Middle East and North Africa in Context: Transmission, Efficacy and Collections, Brill (Leiden 2022), pp. 47-77. I’ve just learned this article is open access (that means anybody) at the Brill site.

Lynn Thorndike, “Alfodhol and Almadel: Hitherto Unnoted Mediaeval Books of Magic in Florentine Manuscripts,” Speculum, vol. 2, no. 3 (July 1927), pp. 326-331.

——, “Alfodhol and Almadel Once More,” Speculum, vol. 20, no. 1 (January 1945), pp. 88-91. 

——, ”Solomon and the Ars Notoria,” a chapter in: Lynn Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science during the First Thirteen Centuries of Our Era, Columbia University Press (New York 1923), vol. 2, pp. 279-289. Truly fascinating are the defensive justifications given by Honorius, “Master of Thebes,” for the Christian employment of magical arts that can make them indeed sacred arts. Notice, too, at p. 288: 

“Very elaborate directions are given for the composition of the seal of the living God. Circles are drawn of certain proportions emblematic of divine mysteries, a cross is made within, numerous letters are written down equidistant from one another. A pentagon and two hexagons have to be placed just so in relation to one another ; characters are inscribed in their angles ; and various sacred names of God, Raphael, Michael, and other angels are written along their sides. Different parts must be executed in different colors...” 

Jan R. Veenstra, “The Holy Almandal: Angels and the Intellectual Aims of Magic,” contained in: Jan N. Bremmer and Jan R. Veenstra, eds., The Metamorphosis of Magic from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Period, Peeters (Leuven 2002), pp. 189-229. This ends with some remarkable drawings of the mandal altar setup based on early manuscripts, so have a look at this if you can.



What is your reaction to all this? Do leave a comment. 



PS (April 17, 2022):

I heard a qualm questioning how I could feel so certain that the Yemen magic text got its word al-mandal from Indian Buddhists. Why not from non-Buddhists, from Hindus? To the best of my knowledge, and the late famous Hindu tantric studies expert André Padoux once assured me (in Cambridge MA in 1993 or 1994) it is true, Hindus of various lines of tradition never made use of a ritual device they called maṇḍala before the 20th century. Some people in the art business made up the idea that “Hindu mandalas” did exist because the word ‘mandala’ was much better known to the international art public, because the word had purchase and they could fly with it.* Yes, various types of Hindu tantra did make use of objects like maṇḍalas, sometimes very like maṇḍalas, but they were called yantras. If the Yemeni contacts were non-Buddhists they would have borrowed the word yantra instead. Don’t get me wrong here, I actually think that the term yantra is the broader term. It has a lot of interesting usages that I’ve gone into in an earlier blog, Do Dampa’s Droids Dare Dream of Desire? It means a ‘device’ of any kind and for a variety of sublime and mundane purposes. Hindu tantra does use yantras for divine invocation and visualization practices, in general much like Buddhist Vajrayānists make use of their maṇḍalas.

(*But this understanding based on my memory more or less directly contradicts his position in a published work, an article on the use of maṇḍala in an 11th-century Kashmiri tantric work — André Padoux, “Maṇḍalas in Abhinavagupta's Tantrāloka,” contained in: Gudrun Bühnemann, ed., Maṇḍalas and Yantras in the Hindu Traditions, Brill (Leiden 2003),  pp. 225-235. When he lectured me 30 years ago he may have had in mind maṇḍalas of divine forms [the most typical but hardly the only kind of Tibetan དཀྱིལ་འཁོར་ / maṇḍala], since full depictions of the deities along with their retinues do not seem to appear in early Hindu artistic versions. In any case, Hindu tantric sources are more likely to use the terms yantra and even cakra or ‘wheel’ for their invocation devices, and these tend to be largely geometrical.)

Some of these examples of Hindu yantras do resemble Buddhist maṇḍalas.
and at the same time resemble al-mandal, at least in their form.

One more thing

Were Buddhists in those times sailing to Yemen? I can’t say for sure, but believe they very surely could have been. Socotra Island, off the coast of Yemen and today a part of Yemen, has some inscriptions in its coastal caves made by Indian sailors. Although they belong to a much earlier period than the Yemen magic text, some (not all) of their names indicate they were Buddhists. For clear evidence, look here:

Ingo Strauch and Michael D. Bukharin, “Indian Inscriptions from the Cave Ḥoq on Suquṭrā (Yemen),” Annali [Naples], vol. 64 (2004), pp. 121-138.

Or better yet, find the book:

Ingo Strauch, ed., Foreign Sailors on Socotra: The Inscriptions and Drawings from the Cave Hoq, Vergleichende Studien zu Antike und Orient no. 3, Hempen Verlag (Bremen 2012).

• There are a lot of reasons to care for and even love Socotra. One of them is the fact that it has been a preserve of numerous unusual and unique plant species. I say “has been” because it is reportedly under threat because of new-found wealth, leading to increasing goat ownership, and the resultant plant consumption by those goats that spells death for the Dragon Blood trees. Have a look at Hugh Bigger's essay about it here.

Of course, Yemenis themselves, not to mention Egyptians, were very much involved in the early trading networks, and we ought to be thinking about that as well.

Yes, there are inscriptions of Indian traders in Egypt, too. About them see this:

Richard Salomon, “Epigraphic Remains of Indian Traders in Egypt,”  Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 111, no. 4 (1991), pp.  731-736.  Added note in vol. 113, no. 4 (1993), p. 593.


Add on (May 18, 2022):

I located this curiously multiple (person, book, object) definition of Almadel in the “Biographical Dictionary” appended to the following — 

Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, tr. by James Freake, Llewellyn Publications (St. Paul 1995), at p. 788:

“ALMADEL: The name of a medieval magician mentioned by the Abbot Johann Trithemius in his Antipalus maleficiorum (c. 1500) as the author of an edition of the Key of Solomon. Also the name of the fourth book of the manuscript collection that goes under the collective name Lesser Key of Solomon or Lemegeton; it is specifically applied to the wax table described therein.”

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Consecration Rite of the Great Translator

‘ Supreme of All the Translators of the New
Translations Rinchen Zang
 ’ His iconography
shows him as both a monk and a meditator,
and oddly, without a single book.

Here you will find a brief note about another extreme rarity that has popped up without much warning. These things happen. For those secular thinkers who disdain or dismiss the very ideas of the sacred and the holy, it may seem fruitless. But for the rest of us, and still today that means most of us, it ought to be an inspiration. Isn’t it the case that most holy places, objects and persons in the world are made so by us in one way or another? This being so, why wouldn’t we look into the ways sanctification has been understood and effected in the past? And for Tibetan Buddhists at least, wouldn’t it be good to be able to read the first composition on that subject ever written by a Tibetan? 

I might have just used the words "without much warning,” but in fact there were warnings for those few who were looking out for them. Just have a look at Yael Bentor’s 1996 book on consecration, p. 61:

“The first consecration work said to have been composed by a Tibetan was that of Lo-chen Rin-chen-bzang-po (958-1055). This work, cited by Sa-skya Grags-pa-rgyal-mtshan and later consecration authors under the title Sdom-tshig or ‘Outline,’ is no longer extant...”

And by the way, the text we bring to your attention is one of a very few texts known to be compositions of the Great Translator Rinchen Zangpo. Although this has been done before (see below), I will try to put together a dossier containing what little is known about his small body of compositions at the end of this blog. About his life itself, so much has been written that today I refuse to be distracted.* 

(*If you feel inclined, go read the fine sketch of his life by Alexander Gardner.)

Here you can see the title page that just appeared at TBRC. I wish I could tell you more about the manuscript’s provenance. It looks quite old as you can see. And it has none of the library markings you would expect to see if it had come from the Drepung Monastery libraries:

It seems to read “Rab gsan kyi dbu’i phyogs lags swo,” but we can list it as simply Rab-gnas, or ‘Consecration,’ leaving all other complications aside. It has eight folios altogether, but is still on the longish side due to the contracted cursive and the relatively long folios. I thought I should type some of it out for you, knowing that some fine Tibetanists are not experienced in cursive manuscripts, but my arthritis immediately disagreed with me.*

(*To see the entire text, go here. Then download volume 8, and scroll down until you find it. Observe that the final colophon belongs to a very brief text that begins at folio 7 verso line 2, making it about a single folio side in length. [Preceding it is yet another consecration text by A-ba-dhË-ti-pa’i Btsun-pa Bsod-nams.] It appears that the brief text is indeed the Outline by Rinchen Zangpo even if it doesn’t exactly say so.)

I wanted to sort out the confusion and supply a single straightforward listing of Rinchen Zangpo’s consecration works as part of a larger but still small listing of his compositions as known to us so far. But no, today I make no promises. I’ll just point out that now not just one but a couple of consecration texts by Rinchen Zangpo have shown up. Even figuring out which if any of them is the oft-quoted Outline (Sdom-tshig) is a problem (surely A5 ought to be the one, just that we don’t actually have it), let alone why we now find that there seem to be longer ones than we ever expected to find. So I suggest you go to [1] the texts in the Kadampa collection, [2] the manuscript that just came to light in a collection of scans from TBRC, and [3] the listings of consecration titles in the available reference works. After studying and comparing them come to your own conclusions. Oh, and while you are at it, compare the many citations of the Outline in consecration ritual texts composed by Tibetan authors of the past until today.

Lists of Works of the Great Translator

You might think it would make sense to locate Lo-chen Rin-chen-bzang-po’s Person ID page in TBRC (by going here: and then tap on the tab called ‘Associated Works.’ Go ahead and see what happens if you want. But this unleashes a tsunami of titles, most of them works he worked on as a translator, not an author/compositor. Leonard van der Kuijp has made provisional lists of his works more than once. I’ll just give you the references so you can check them yourself.

A. List of works of the Great Translator adopted from Tibskrit

1. Bcom-ldan-’das Dpal Phyag-na-rdo-rje-la Bstod-pa Phyag-’tshal Lo Bcu pa. ——— Drepung Catalog, p. 1222. Prostrations and Praise to the Blessed One Glorious Vajrapāṇi. From the title it is possible this was composed when he was ten years old. At least that’s how I read it at the moment.

2. Bde-ba-can-gyi Smon-lam. ——— Drepung Catalog, p. 1648.

3. Dam-tshig Mdor-bsdus Bstan-pa. ——— Drepung Catalog, p. 1243.

4. Dpal ’Khor-lo-bde-mchog Lu-yi-pa'i Bstod-pa Yid-bzhin-nor-bu. ——— Drepung Catalog, p. 682. 

5. Rab-gnas-kyi Sdom. ——— Drepung Catalog, p. 1106: Rab-gnas Cho-ga’i Gzhung Sdom-tshig-tu Bsdus-pa. This ought to be the oft cited Sdom-tshig.

6. Rab-tu Gnas-pa'i Zin-bris Legs-bshad Kun-'dus. ——— Drepung Catalog, p. 1225. Given its different title, it isn't sure if this is the same as the Sdom-tshig (no. 5) or not, and anyway neither one of them is available for inspection.

7. Rgyud-sde Spyi'i Rnam-par Bzhag-pa. ——— I once found it difficult to believe that this general treatment on the tantra classes could possibly exist. The just-given title, in 78 folios, was found listed in Ska-ba Shes-rab-bzang-po, editor-in-chief, Bod-khul-gyi Chos-sde Grags-can Khag-gi Dpe-rnying Dkar-chag, Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Beijing 2010), p. 196, and it is supposed to exist at Phan-po Na-lendra Monastery. It was apparently first published here: Lo-tsā-ba Rin-chen-bzang-spo, Rgyud sde spyi'i rnam par bzhag pa 'thad ldan lung gi rgyan gyis spras pa, contained in: Sngon byon sa skya pa'i mkhas pa rnams kyi rgyud 'grel skor, Sa skya rgyal yongs gsung rab slob gnyer khang (Kathmandu 2007), vol. 1, p. 1-78.  It was published again, in Kadam Sungbum (Bka'-gdams Gsung-'bum), series no. 4, vol. 1, pp. 215-291. This is subject of Kuijp, “Bird-faced Monk Part 1,” especially pp. 416 and 418 ff. where he says if genuine this would be the very first work of its kind.

8. Sdom-pa dang Dam-tshig Mdor-bsdus. ——— Text in Kadam Sungbum, series 4, vol. 1, pp. 293-306. An extraordinarily interesting text on vows and commitments, the colophon says that it was “spoken” by Rinchen Zangpo, and this means someone else transcribed it. Then it says that someone named Rngos (with unclear inserted letters that look like Mar-ston) made persistent requests to Lba-ston (~Wa-ston?) Jo-dga’ to learn about it. There was a Jo-dga’ in the western Tibetan royal lineage whose lifespan could have coincided with Rinchen Zangpo’s (Roerich’s Blue Annals, p. 38).

9. Sngags-log Sun-'byin-pa Rgyas-pa. ——— Leonard van der Kuijp, “*Nāgabodhi” (published in 2007) discussed this then-unavailable work, noting some citations in other works.  In late 2018, as an addendum to his paper “The Bird-faced Monk, Part 1” (at p. 450) he announced that he had procured this rare work.  In the same author’s, “Bird-faced Monk, Part 2,” p. 90, he says that Sha-bo Mkha’-byams had “a few months ago” made the work available to him in the form of a 52-folio manuscript. It has now been republished (not as a facsimile, but as a computer-composited text) somewhere in a 50-volume serial called Brtse-chen ’Od-snang (in the first issue bearing the date 2012) brought out by Sakya College, Dehra Dun (you can’t actually see it here; I must thank P.D. for sending me a scan). Here it bears the title Sngags-log Sun-'byin Lo-chen Rin-bzang-gis mdzad-pa. This work on mistaken ideas about tantra is a kind of polemic that may have had a significant impact on sectarian developments. And as a polemic, it is entirely possible it was written by some later figure who preferred to attach to it the name of the Great Translator rather than his own. This can only become clear, or not, after a very close study of its content in relation to everything else we can know about Tibetan religious history.

10. Yo-ga'i Rab-gnas. ——— Drepung Catalog, p. 1217.  A 16-folio manuscript on consecration ritual according to Yoga Tantras.

B. List of the Works of the Great Translator contained in the first volume of the collection entitled Kadam Sungbum

These works are in the form of both cursive and non-cursive manuscripts. The titles I give are based on the title-page titles of these manuscripts, and not on the table-of-contents.

1. Dpal 'Khor-lo-bde-mchog Lū-yi-pa'i Bstod-pa Yid-bzhin-nor-bu. Pages 33-35.  Verses of praise connected with the Cakrasamvara Sādhana according to Lūīpā.

2. Rab-tu Gnas-par Byed-pa Don-gsal.  Pages 37-40.  Clarifying the Significance of the Deeds of Consecration. Colophon (40.3): rab tu gnas pa'i rgyud dang slob dpon kun dga' snying po la swogs pas mdzad pa'i bstan bcos rnams cig na'ang rdzogs shing bzhud mar du mthor ba'i phyir / de dag cig tu lag tu blangs ma 'ongs pa'i skye bo blo chung pa rnams la phan pa'i phyir / shag kya'i dge bslong rin chen bzang pos nye bar sbyar ba'o...*

(*I’m thinking this is yet another version of the Outline, just that it also contains many brief mchan-style footnotes that may explain the word Don-gsal, or ‘Clarification[s]’ in its title. Now I see that, except for incidental spelling differences, this colophon is identical to the one at the end of the text illustrated above, so we really seem to be getting somewhere toward identifying both texts with the Outline by Rinchen Zangpo we’ve been looking for.)

3. Dpal Mngon-par Rtogs-pa'i Dka'-ba'i Gnad Bshad-pa Lo-tsā-ba Rin-chen-bzang-pos mdzad-pa. Catalog of Difficult Points in the Clear Visualization [of Heruka]. There is an added table of contents at pp. 41-43, with the actual manuscript reproduction on pp. 45-70. Colophon (70.2): bdag ni blo dman brjed par 'gyur ba yi // dogs pa'i 'jigs pas bla ma'i gdams ngag bris // 'on kyang bris pa'i bsod nams 'ga' yod na // 'gro ba yang dag lam la gnas par shog // dpal mngon par rtogs pa'i bshad pa bla ma dpal mar me mdzad ye shes kyi zhal mnga' nas gsungs pa / lo tsā ba chen po dge slong rin chen bzang pos ma bsnan ma chad par bris pa rdzogs s.ho. This indicates that these explanations of difficult points in the Heruka Sādhana were taken down verbatim from the words of Atiśa, which would make it a work of Atiśa, not Rinchen Zangpo.

4. “Cho-ga Bya-tshul.” Ritual Method (the text itself has no front title).  Pages 71-72. The colophon is a little difficult to read, and it oddly repeats the colophon to the consecration text (B2), but in any case here it is (72.4): rab tu gnas pa'i rgyud dang slob dpon kun dga' snying po la rtsogs pas mdzad pa'i bstan bcos rnams gcig na'ang ma rdzogs shing gzhung mang du 'thor ba'i phyir / de dag cig (?) tu lag tu blang pa ma 'ongs skye bo rnams la phan par bya ba'i phyir / gtso'i (?) dge slong  [lo tsā ba] rin chen bzang pos nye bar sbyar ba...

5. Bde-ba-can-gyi Smon-lam. Wishing Prayer for the Buddhafield of Sukhāvati. The cursive script is done with a rather fast handwriting. Pages 73-77. Colophon (76): ces lo tstsha ba rin chen bzang pos thon mthing gi gtsug lag khang du sbyar ba dge'o...  I suggest that Thon-mthing is an odd way to spell Mtho-lding, which means Tholing, a place where Rinchen Zangpo spent a great deal of time in the last half of his life.

C. Miscellaneous

I’ve noticed a title attributed to the Great Translator with the title Gdon-chen Bcwo-lnga'i Lto-bcos, a ritual text for dealing with the 15 Great Dön demons that trouble children in particular. Nowadays we would inevitably understand them to be childhood psychiatric disorders, while rejecting any spiritological understanding even though 21st century moderns may be not much closer, or even no closer, to understanding why some of them occur, or why they occur with one child instead of another.* 

(*For a study of a different type of ritual text for dealing with the same category of spirits, see Lin Shen-Yu, “The Fifteen Great Demons of Children,” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines, vol. 26 [April 2013], pp. 5-33, available online. For a valuable general introduction to the Great Dön and other demons, see Terry Clifford, Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry: The Diamond Healing, Samuel Weiser [York Beach 1984], Chapter 9: “Demons in Medical Psychiatry.” Look here to see this“What Causes Mental Disorders in Children? The exact cause of most mental disorders is not known, but research suggests that a combination of factors, including heredity, biology, psychological trauma, and environmental stress, might be involved.”)

The title in the colophon of this text reads like this (following the catalog listing):  Stong Chen-mo Rab-tu 'Joms-pa'i Mdo-las* bshad-pa'i Sri-ru (?) Gso-thabs / [G]don-chen bco-lnga'i bcos 'di ni / Lo-tstsha-ba Rin-chen-bzang-pos mdzad-pa. It’s my present understanding that this kind of gto-bcos (=lto-bcos) ritual is supposed to avert troubles that are coming directly at you by setting up substitute targets or blocking devices.

(*Mahāsahasrapramardana Sūtra [Stong Chen-mo Rab-tu ’Joms-pa zhes bya-ba’i Mdo].  Tôh. no. 558 [also, compare no. 1059].  Dergé Kanjur, vol. PHA, folios 63v.1-87v.1.  Translated by Śīlendrabodhi, Jñānasiddhi, Śākyaprabha and Ye-shes-sde.  Revised by Gzhon-nu-dpal.)

Another thing that has been said to be true, as unbelievable as it may seem, is that a previously unheard-of biography of Atiśa by Rinchen Zangpo has been preserved in the Tibet Library in Lhasa. This information is from Sun Lin, “Textual,” p. 181.  This is of extraordinary interest and deserves a followup investigation, assuming it hasn’t received one by now.


Yael Bentor, Consecration of Images and Stūpas in Indo-Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, E.J. Brill (Leiden 1996).

Alexander Gardner, “Rinchen Zangpo.”  Posted at Treasury of Lives website.

Leonard W.J. van der Kuijp, “The Bird-Faced Monk and the Beginnings of the New Tantric Tradition, Part One,” contained in: G. Hazod & W. Shen, eds., Tibetan Genealogies: Studies in Memoriam of Guge Tsering Gyalpo (1961-2015), China Tibetology Publishing (Beijing 2018), pp. 403-450.  

On p. 416-7: 
“In stark contrast to his fame as a Sanskrit scholar and translator, Rin chen bzang po had been up to the present almost unknown as an author in his own right. Indeed, it was only quite recently that manuscripts of several short studies on tantric subjects that are attributed to him were discovered in one of ’Bras spungs monastery’s libraries; these included the following:

1. Dpal mngon par rtogs pa’i dka’ ba’i gnas bshad pa with glosses (mchan bu) that may have been written by him; fols. 13.

2. [B]sgrub pa’i thabs mdor byas pa with glosses; the editors queried: “Were the glosses written by Lo chen Rin chen bzang po?”; fols. 8.

3. Yo ga’i rab gnas; fols. 16.

4. Dam tshig mdor bsdus bstan pa; fols. 8.

5. Dpal ’khor lo bde mchog lū yi pa’i bstod pa yid bzhin nor bu; fols. 2.

“Several of these plus two others that are not listed here have now been published in black-and-white facsimile reproductions; these are the following according to their title pages, opening statements, or colophons:

1. Dpal ’khor lo bde mchog lū yi pa’i bstod pa yid bzhin nor bu; fols. 2.

2. Rab tu gnas par byed pa don gsal; fols. 2. 37

3. Dpal mngon par rtogs pa’i dka’ ba’i gnas bshad pa lo tsā ba rin chen bzang pos mdzad pa; fols. 13.

4. Cho ga bya tshul; fol. 1.

5. Bde ba can gyi smon lam; fols. 3.”

———, “The Bird-Faced Monk and the Beginnings of the New Tantric Tradition, Part Two,” Journal of Tibetology, vol. 19 (December 2018), pp. 86-127.

———, “*Nāgabodhi / Nāgabuddhi: Notes on the Guhyasamāja Literature,” contained in: H. Krasser, et al., eds., Pramāṇakīrti: Papers Dedicated to Ernst Steinkellner, Arbeitskreis fūr Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien Universität (Vienna 2007), pp. 1002-1022, especially p. 1011.

Sun Lin, “Textual Discourses and Behavior Criterion: The Historiographic Significance of Tibetan Biographies of the Religious Figures,” Frontiers of History in China, vol. 3, no. 2 (2008), pp. 173-194.

Dan Martin, “Atiśa’s Ritual Methods for Making Buddhist Art Holy,” contained in: Shashibala, ed., Atiśa Śrī Dīpaṅkara-jñāna and Cultural Renaissance: Proceedings of the International Conference, 16th-23rd January 2013, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (New Delhi 2018), pp. 123-138. The pre-published version is the preferable one, and it can be seen here.

One of the doodles on the final folio
of the manuscript of the Great
Translator’s consecration

Need help locating volumes of the Kadam Sungbum (བཀའ་གདམས་གསུང་འབུམ་) in TBRC?  Just feed these alpha-numeric codes into the search box.

Series One — vols. 1-30:  W1PD89051

Series Two — vols. 31-60: W1PD89084

Series Three — vols. 61-90: W1PD153536

Series Four — vols. 91-120: W4PD3076

A very relevant and informative blog that was once posted at TBRC can no longer be found there. Still, a Google search turned up a surviving version of it on the Douban webserver. It’s a blog by Kano Kazuo, entitled “Rare Tibetan Texts 03: Collected Works of the Kadam Masters,” originally posted on April 24, 2013.

Follow me on