04: Buddhism in the Himalaya

Wed., Aug. 20th, 16:00-17:30 Thurs., Aug. 21st, 09:00-12:00

Visions of the Copper-Colored Mountain

Bogin, Benjamin (Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA)

Near the turn of the twentieth century, the Tibetan Buddhist scholar and meditation master, Tsultrim Gyatso (tshul khrims rgya mtsho) composed a lengthy commentary on a prayer for rebirth at the Copper-Colored Mountain. In this text, which bears the poetic title Pure Luminosity (’od snang dkar po), the author attempts to combine maps of the world derived from distinct sources: the cosmological framework of ancient Indian Buddhism and the images of the Himalayan and South Asian regions derived from modern geography and cartography. In order to understand Tsultrim Gyatso’s approach to this challenge, it will be necessary to explore the tantric Buddhist epistemology that underlies his evaluation of the perceptible world, the world of the imagination, and “the real.” David Shulman’s recent book More than Real: A History of Imagination in South India (2012) provides an excellent model for considering the ways that early modern thinkers in a different Asian context theorized imagination. In my reading of Tsultrim Gyatso’s Pure Luminosity, I will demonstrate ways in which the tantric Buddhist theory of “pure perception” (dag snang) informs his approach to mapping imagined worlds in ways that differ significantly from the South Indian writers studied by Shulman and the colonial mapmakers who exerted such an influence in the representations of space in both India and Tibet. Ngayab, the island upon which the Copper-Colored Mountain is found occupies a particular kind of space: simultaneously known to exist in the world (and in the southwestern direction more precisely) and to transcend the world in a manner that makes it inaccessible to anyone lacking the sufficient level of spiritual realization. The possibility of locating a sacred place both in and beyond the world at the same time provides an important insight into the theory and practice of Tibetan Buddhism. The island of Ngayab (Sanskrit: Cāmaradvīpa) is located to the southwest of the Jambudvīpa continent in traditional Buddhist cosmology and yet the more salient associations invoked by Tibetan authors are those drawn from Indian tales of merchant travelers encountering demon-infested islands on their sea voyages. Using Tsultrim Gyatso’s Pure Luminosity as a starting point, I will trace out the wide range of literary sources that inform the maps of real and imagined worlds held by early modern Tibetans. With this background in place, it will be possible to ask what choices Tsultrim Gyatso makes in his own work and the criteria that he uses for drawing his own map of the Copper-Colored Mountain. Beyond the importance of this study for our knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism, I am confident that this case will provide very valuable points of comparison and contrast for other scholars interested in the Asian encounter with modernity and the intersections between mythographic and cartographic epistemologies.


Impartiality and Contemplation: On the Meaning of the Term “Ris med” in Mahāmudra and rDzogs chen

Deroche, Marc-Henri (Kyoto University, Kyoto, JPN)

In his seminal paper (1970, 2001) on the so-called “non-sectarian” (ris med) movement, the late E. Gene Smith presented the great spiritual heroes of 19th century Khams. In relation to this historical context of Buddhism in Tibet, the present paper is dedicated to analyze the Tibetan expression phyogs ris su med pa with its variants or abbreviations like phyogs med (apakṣapāta) or ris med, translated more literally as “impartial.” If this term generally designates a virtue of religious tolerance (Smith’s “non-sectarianism”), in the contemplative literature of Mahāmudrā and rDzogs chen it describes also the state of pure awareness. From this perspective, the meaning of ris med tends to converge with the expression dmigs pa med pa (anālambana), “without reference point,” and with the spirit of the middle path: mtha’ med or mtha’ las ’das (ananta), “without or beyond extremes.” I intend here to investigate the relation between non-sectarianism and contemplation illustrated by the term ris med since the rhetoric of contemplation is actually at the heart of the so-called ris med movement.

As Kapstein (1996, 2007) has exposed, the organizational paradigm of Kong sprul’s (1813-1899) major collection of the Treasury of Spiritual Instructions (gDams ngag mdzod) is the model of the Eight Lineages of Practice (sgrub brgyud shing rta chen po brgyad) originally authored by Prajñāraśmi (1518-1584). I have myself examined elsewhere this master and his Ambrosia of Study, Reflection and Meditation (Thos bsam dang sgom pa ’chi med kyi bdud rtsi) where he presents the Indian and Tibetan traditions of Buddhist exegesis and meditative practice according to three steps of the development of wisdom (shes rab, prajñā). While this progression expresses perfectly how Buddhist philo-sophia is constituted by both discourse and “spiritual exercise,” Prajñāraśmi asserts that the unity of Buddhist traditions is to be realized in the contemplative experience of gnosis (ye shes, jñāna).

I will present here how the term ris med plays a specific role in discourses on contemplation through the Tibetan literature of “spiritual instructions” (gdams ngag, man ngag) or “direct introduction to the nature of mind” (sems nyid ngo sprod). For example, in his famous Treasury of the Dharmadhātu (Chos dbyings mdzod), Klong chen pa (1308-1364) very frequently uses variants of the term ris med in order to describe the perspective of pure awareness (rig pa), the intention (dgongs pa) or gnosis (ye shes) of the Buddha, the ultimate intent of all Buddhist vehicles. Karmay (1988), Samuel (1993) and Petit (1999) have observed that rDzogs chen with its emphasis on an enlightened all-embracing state provided the philosophical basis for the eclectic orientation of the ris med movement. My goal is here to deepen further this observation by examining the semantics of the term ris med as well as the intertwined rhetoric of impartiality and contemplative experience in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism.


Buddhist Teachers from Southern Dolpo: Yon-tan rgya-mtsho and Yon-tan rgyal-mtshan

Ehrhard, Franz-Karl (LMU Munich, Munich, GER)

Biographies and spiritual songs of Buddhist teachers from Dol-po in the Nepalese Himalayas have become quite accesible by now, and a recent edition, compiled for local distribution, contains a selection of thirteen individual texts. While most of them have already been studied and translated, the collection includes a work dealing with Yon-tan rgya-mtsho (b. 1548): this is a teacher originating from Southern Dolpo and whose religious activities were conducted for the greater part of his life in the area around Mu-le gangs, i.e. the Dhaulagiri Himal. Moreover, a so far unpublished biography, found within the NGMPP collection, is devoted to a master known as Yon-tan rgyal-mtshan (b. 1592), who was a disciple of Yon-tan rgya-mtsho and also a native of Southern Dolpo: he is especially remembered for having acted as resident teacher of a monastery called dGon-gsar located in the Bar-bong[s] valley.

The present paper will sketch the constellation of these Buddhist teachers by identifying individual teaching linages and the religious sites where these transmissions occurred. It would thus be possible to contextualize religious traditions including those initiated by rJe-btsun Kun-dga’ grol-mchog (1507-1566), the illustrious abbot of the Jo-nang monastery in Central Tibet; it is known from his autobiographical writings that he had also been active in Dolpo in the middle of the 16th cent., and especially in areas regarded as a part of the “country of Mon” (mon yul) at the time.


Notes on the Sacred Geography of Yolmo Gangra

Gelle, Zsoka (University of Vienna, Vienna, AUT)

Yolmo Gangra is identified as an area of east Nepal, situated on the upper reaches of Melamchi Kola and Yangri Kola, also known as Helambu. It is considered to be one of the “hidden lands” (sbas yul) of the Northern Treasure (byang gter) tradition of the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism. As is well known, “hidden lands” refer to remote valleys and hills, which are believed to have been concealed along with other spiritual treasures by Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) in the 8th century. There is a body of prophetic literature, discovered by Tibetan lamas, so-called ‘Treasure Revealers’ (gter ston) in later centuries, that describes the time of decline, the signs of degeneration, and the way to hidden lands, where the Buddhist tradition can be preserved.

The treasure texts related to Yolmo Gangra of the Byang gter lugs kyi rnam thar dang ma 'ongs lung bstan collection, give a visionary description of the hidden land, and not only suggest ways to get there, but also provide instructions of how the land could be tamed, in which places temples should be built, or where lamas need to establish a religious community.  From the 16th century on several famous Tibetan treasure revealers visited Yolmo in search of the hidden land. They did retreats, built temples and some even settled down and became spiritual leaders for local people. Some also had their biography or liberation story (rnam thar) recorded.

I wish to explore how much impact the instructions of Guru Rinpoche’s prophecies of the Northern Treasure tradition had on the activities of Tibetan lamas, like Tenzin Norbu, Zilnon Wangyal Dorje, Nyima Sengge and Karma Chosang, who came to Yolmo in the 17-18th century to find and reestablish the hidden land and start new lineages and clans. My investigation will also address the question of antiquity and concomitant authenticity of treasure texts related to Yolmo.


Buddhist Praises – The Role of the bstod-pa Genre in the Writings of the 4th Zhwa-dmar Incarnate

Mojzes, Kamilla Eva (Bonn University, Bonn, GER)

The fourth Zhwa-dmar incarnate of the Karma bKa'-brgyud lineage, Chos-grags Ye-shes dPal bZang-po (1453-1524), an influential yet understudied historical personage, played a central role in the historical events of 15-16th c. Tibet. He is generally regarded as the most important actor in the Tibetan political power structure of the time: a charismatic agent at the dawn of the bKa'-brgyud – dGe-lugs inter-sectarian strife. In his biographies, he is portrayed after the scholar – accomplisher ideal (Tib. mkhas–sgrub), yet studies on his religious-literary output are scarce in the Western reception.

A clear appreciation of the 4th Zhwa-dmar incarnate's religious writings has long been anticipated, also since his Collected Writings were published in 2010. Although one of his works (Dwags-po'i chos bzhi gsal-ba'i sgron-ma) was published in English (Brunnhölzl 2007) and recently two monographic studies have been presented at the 2013 IATS conference concerning the 4th Zhwa-dmar (Draszczyk, Mojzes), neither a comprehensive study on his collected writings, nor a more specific survey on his preferred genres have been conducted.

This paper's objective is to provide a preliminary assessment of his literary output and offer a detailed analysis on the role of Buddhist praises (Tib. bstod pa, Skt. stotra) in his oeuvre – indeed these poetic pieces make up a substantial part - one fifth - of his works.

The main focus is thus on these sixty praises – each distinguished with the expression bstod-pa in their titles. Other related genres, such as long life prayers (Tib. zhabs-brtan) or eulogies (Tib. bsngags-pa) do not appear among his writings. Although not grouped together explicitly, they clearly form an independent subset in his collected writings. Ranging from praises addressed to specific buddha forms and deities, through the admiration of his closest spiritual teachers and – notably - his zhwa-dmar-pa predecessors, they also include tributes to sacred geographical places. The main historical sources that serve as the historical background for this paper are two biographical texts: his spiritual memoir (rang-rnam) (rTogs-pa brjod-pa'i tshigs-su bcad-pa utpala'i phreng-ba) composed in 1506 at the request of his sponsor Don-yod rdo-rje and his spiritual biography from the mKhas-pa'i-dga'-ston, an account of history (lo-rgyus) written by his closest disciple, the second dPa-bo rin-po-che gTsug-lag 'phreng-ba (1504-1566).

In general, analyzing these praises furthers the understanding of the role of this genre in 15th -16th c. Tibetan religious literature, while - in specific - the information provided in their colophons concerning when, where they were written and who had requested them provides relevant information not only on the religious, but possibly also the political objective in play at their composition. By considering the historical context and exploring the stylistic solutions employed this paper sheds light on how these writings served a double intent.


Transmitting the Words of the Master: On Tibetan Instructional Literature

Sernesi, Marta (LMU Munich, Munich, GER)

Tibetan instructional literature includes genres such as “instructions” (gdams pa, gdams ngag, man ngag), “sayings” (gsung sgros, gsung bgros), “mnemonic notes” (zin bris), “questions and answers” or “response” (dri lan, zhu lan), “teachings to the assembly” (tshogs chos), and “songs of advice” (zhal gdams kyi mgur). These are supposed to record the words addressed by a master to his disciple(s) on a given occasion, conveying personal teachings on specific points of practice or more general advice in the case of sermons delivered to an assembly of followers. These, usually short, compositions are mostly found either embedded within wider texts like life stories (rnam thar), or arranged within multi-textual compendia, like manuals (yig cha), miscellaneous sayings (gsung bgros thor bu), and collected sayings (bka’ ’bum, gsung ’bum).

As a matter of fact, the process leading from the first instance of oral, dynamic interaction between master and disciple to the textual witnesses found in these collections was far from being “immediate” or “un-mediated”, but involved multiple agents, and sometimes occured over an extended period of time spanning generations. Therefore, investigating more closely genres traditionally portrayed as the direct record of oral instructions delivered by a given master, their composite nature and collective construction will come to light. This new insight into the nature and attribution of such texts will also add to our knowledge of the process leading to the formation of the “Collected Works” of the revered masters of the past (11th-13th cent.).


Between Politics, Scholarship, and Buddhism: Multifarious Entanglements in the Eastern Himalayas

Viehbeck, Markus (Cluster “Asia & Europe”, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, GER)

In the first half of the 20th century, the Eastern Himalayas provided a particular important space for encounters between people of varied interests and cultural backgrounds. Embedded in the events of global histories, Tibet was exposed to an increasing pressure by its neighbors China, Russia, and British India, which culminated in the forced establishment of a direct trade connection to British India and the global market in 1904. In the subsequent economic improvement of the overall region, trading centers like Kalimpong emerged as hubs for exchanging not only consumer goods, but also general information about worlds that knew only very little about each other. While access to Tibet itself was still heavily restricted, the influx of Tibetan population in this area provided an ideal environment for Tibetophiles of various sorts, and in this way attracted government officials, missionaries, academics, religious seekers, and many others alike. In the pursuit of their respective goals they relied heavily upon each other, thus creating and depending on complex networks. While most of the Western individuals involved in these processes received much attention in their respective fields, the role of their “local assistants” remained understudied.

In my talk, I would like to take a fresh look at the intricate entanglements of these networks by following the trajectory of a particularly well-connected, though not commonly known Tibetan scholar. Originally from Lhasa, Rig 'dzin dbang po became a long term resident of Kalimpong, where he acted as a crucial link in the knowledge that was produced between Tibet and the world beyond it: as a research assistant to many Western scholars, but also as an assistant to Babu Tharchin whose Tibetan language newspaper Me long provided access to global events. It is also this special position, I will argue, that reflected back on his personal life, resulting in a reconsideration of his cultural background and a new orientation as Buddhist.


’Brug pa Monasteries in Lahul: Mystical Accounts and Art Historical Evidences

Widorn, Verena (Institut für Kunstgeschichte, University of Vienna, Vienna, AUT)

The religious legacy of Lahul, Himachal Pradesh, is a long-standing still not fully deciphered history based largely on legendary and mystical accounts. Traces of Mahāyāna Buddhism like rock engravings dated to the fifth/sixth century CE and archaeological evidences attributed to the phyi-dar point to the age-old tradition of Buddhism in this area.

Today Lahul is a stronghold of the of 'Brug pa bKa’ brgyud order. A dozen ’Brug pa monasteries overlook the entire Bhaga valley situated within eye contact of each other on both sides of the river high up the mountains. Some monasteries are associated with the mythical power of the yogi rGod ts’an pa, who travelled through the region on his way to Uḍḍiyāna and brought a regeneration of Buddhism to Lahul in the thirteenth century. Several adepts of the ’Brug pa bKa’ brgyud order followed his lead, longing to complete the internal and external ritual journey to the twenty-four pīṭha of the vajrakāya, and looking for extraordinary energetic places. Monasteries such as Shashur and Tayul, both on the right side of the Bhaga valley, are considered foundations of sTag tshaṅ ras pa of the seventeenth century, possibly as a direct result of his one year sojourn and teaching in this region.

The paper aims to identify and analyse the artistic environment of some of the monasteries in order to distinguish between mystical reports and art historical evidences. The study of iconography and style will further help to differentiate local elements and the influence and inspiration deriving from the ’Brug pa homeland. 


IABS 2014 | Universitätsring 1  | 1010 Wien