Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text

Tibetan Buddhism at Ri bo rtse lnga/Wutai shan
in Modern Times

JIATS, no. 2 (August 2006), THL #T2723, 35 pp.

© 2006 by Gray Tuttle, IATS, and THL

[page 1]

Abstract: This article examines the prominent role of Tibetan Buddhism at the major cult center of Mañjuśrī known as Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga or Wutai shan (sometimes spelled “Wutaishan”) in Shanxi Province, China. The late imperial presence of Tibetan Buddhism at Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga (fourteenth-twentieth centuries) has been studied, but the place of Tibetan Buddhism at Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga under the Republican government and the Communist regime has not previously been explored in detail. An examination of written sources and on-site investigations reveal that the twentieth century saw a major renewal of Tibetan Buddhist practice at Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga with a significant multi-ethnic following. The presence of ethnic Tibetan, Mongolian, and Chinese Tibetan Buddhists at this important Buddhist pilgrimage place has made Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga one of the pre-eminent sites of religious and cultural exchange in China. Many monasteries on the mountain now practice the GelukpaDge lugs pa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Two ethnic Chinese who were most influential in spreading the GelukpaDge lugs pa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in China had particularly strong connections with the mountain: Dharma-master Fazun and Nenghai Lama. One of Nenghai’s closest disciples, Dharma-master Qinghai, played a major role in reviving the practice of Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai shan since the end of the Cultural Revolution. Yuanzhao Temple (küntu khyappé lhakhangkun tu khyab pa’i lha khang), the central temple associated with Master Qinghai and the propagation of Tibetan Buddhism among the Chinese at Wutai shan, has been associated with GelukpaDge lugs pa and esoteric Buddhism for over five-hundred years. I pay special attention to the growth of visible signs of Tibetan Buddhist practice and presence on the mountain in the 1990s, based on four visits from 1991 to 1999.

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Introduction

Central Terrace viewed from new construction on West Terrace, 1997.

The prominent role of Tibetan Buddhism in China is most easily studied and illustrated by observing the place of Tibetan Buddhism at the major cult center of Mañjuśrī known as Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga or Wutai shan, located some two hundred miles west of Beijing.1 Tibetan Buddhists have a long association with this mountain from the first centuries of historical contact with China under the Tang dynasty, which heavily patronized the Buddhist temples and rituals there.2 Since at least the Yuan dynasty, this mountain complex has been an important site for Tibetan Buddhists, when Pakpa Lodrö Gyeltsen’Phags pa blo gros rgyal mtshan (1235-80) and Dampa Künga DrakDam pa kun dga’ grags (1230-1303) resided there. However, the late imperial Chinese and Tibetan language gazetteers concerned with the mountain only note the presence of Tibetans there from the Ming dynasty. The visit of the Fifth KarmapaKarma pa, Dezhin ShekpaDe bzhin bshegs pa (1384-1415), to the mountain is recorded in these works, as is that of Jamchen [page 3] Chöjé Shakya YeshéByams chen [page 3] chos rje shākya ye shes (1354-1435).3 In response to repeated invitations issued to TsongkhapaTsong kha pa by Ming Chengzu (reigned 1403-1424), the Yongle emperor, TsongkhapaTsong kha pa’s disciple Shakya Yeshé’sShākya ye shes was sent in his stead. Shakya YeshéShākya ye shes’s summer residence at Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga, Yuanzhao Temple, is today one of the most active of the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries on the mountain.

West, Central, North, & East Terraces from South Terrace, 1991.
Tourist map of Wutai shan, looking from the south.

Only with the advent of the Manchu Qing empire did Tibetan Buddhism establish a continuous institutional presence on the mountain. During the Shunzhi reign period (1644-61) a Tibetan Buddhist was put in charge of the entire mountain.4 This trend continued in the Kangxi period (1662-1722), with the conversion of Chinese Buddhist temples to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. By 1667 the first [page 4] guidebook for Tibetan Buddhists had been printed.5 Both the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors went on pilgrimage to Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga numerous times. The Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang GyatsoTshangs dbyangs rgya mtsho, is believed to have come to Wutai shan after he was forcibly removed from Tibet in 1706, despite the fact that his death was reported that same year. A temple, Avalokiteśvara’s Cave (Guanyin dong), has grown up around the cave where he was said to have meditated. Eventually the ChangkyaLcang skya incarnations – especially Changkya Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje (1717-86) – became established in a prominent position on the mountain, where his seat was the Zhenhai Temple.

Avalokiteśvara’s Cave (Guanyin dong), cliffside cave, and associated temples.

Though the late imperial presence of Tibetan Buddhism at Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga has received passing attention in the scholarship on this period, the place of Tibetan Buddhism at Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga under the Republican government and the Communist regime has yet to be studied in detail. An examination of the written sources and on-site investigations reveal that the twentieth century saw a major renewal of Tibetan Buddhist practice at Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga with a significant multi-ethnic following. Many monasteries on the mountain practice the GelukpaDge lugs pa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. These include five monasteries in the township at the center of the mountain complex and several outside this central region. The combined population of these temples comprises at least one quarter of the total monastic population at Wutai shan, one of the most active and vibrant centers of Buddhism in China.

The two ethnic Chinese who were most influential in spreading the GelukpaDge lugs pa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in China had particularly strong connections with the mountain. Dharma-master Fazun (1902-80) translated many of the major GelukpaDge lugs pa theoretical texts and thereby has given Chinese language speakers an opportunity to consult these important works directly. Nenghai Lama (1886-1967) trained many Chinese monks and nuns in the Tibetan tradition, translating shorter ritual and prayer texts associated with Buddhist practice. These two men are now famous for their roles, as translator and practitioner respectively.6 The biographical [page 5] material on these men overlap in places; unfortunately, they both end with the commemoration ceremonies held for the teachers in the early 1980s. Thus, my understanding of Tibetan Buddhism’s place at Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga was also supplemented through conversations with Chinese and Mongol second- and third-generation disciples of Nenghai who continue to practice Tibetan Buddhism there.

Zhenhai Temple, Changkya Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje’s temple.
Zhenhai Temple, stūpa courtyard, Tibetan style murals on walls.

Visiting the mountain four times in the 1990s also allowed me to chart the striking growth of the ethnic Tibetan presence from 1991 to 1999.7 The presence of ethnic Tibetan, Mongolian, and Chinese Tibetan Buddhists at this important Buddhist pilgrimage place has made Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga one of the pre-eminent sites of religious and cultural exchange in China. I hope this preliminary study sheds new light on the multi-ethnic nature of twentieth-century Tibetan Buddhism in East Asia. In fact, it only touches on a very limited portion of the rich history of the spread of Tibetan Buddhism among the Chinese in modern times.8

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Master Fazun from the Buddhist journal Haichao yin.
Nenghai Lama from photo still circulated by disciples.

[1] I will use the terms Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga, Wutai shan, or simply “the mountain” to refer to the area within the five peaks of the circle of mountainous terrain designated as the abode of Mañjuśrī. These “peaks” are closer to terraces which, as the Chinese tai indicates, are basically flat. This area covers somewhere in the vicinity of 250 square miles; whereas the name Wutai shan is also used to refer to a mountain range that stretches from this particular locality almost all the way to Beijing.
[2] On the early eighth century visit of a Tibetan to the mountain, see Christopher I. Beckwith, “The Tibetans in the Ordos and North China: Considerations on the Role of the Tibetan Empire in World History,” in Silver on Lapis: Tibetan Literary Culture and History, ed. Christopher I. Beckwith (Bloomington, IN: Tibet Society, 1987), 9n30, which also references the work of Jeffrey Broughton, “Early Chan Schools in Tibet,” in Studies in Ch’an and Hua-yen, ed. R. Gimello and P. Gregory (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1983), 1-68. For more on these early visits and the details of a ninth century Tibetan mission to the court of China seeking a map of the mountain, see Christopher I. Beckwith, “The Revolt of 755 in Tibet,” Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde Heft 10 (1983): 1-16, which also references earlier work by Stein and Demieville. For other notices of Tibetans who visited the mountain from the eleventh to possibly as late as the fourteenth century, see George N. Roerich, trans., The Blue Annals (1949; reprint, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1995), 220, 335-36, 669, 679.
[3] For details on these visits, see Elliot Sperling, “Early Ming Policy Toward Tibet: An Examination of the Proposition that the Early Ming Emperors Adopted a ‘Divide and Rule’ Policy toward Tibet” (Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University, 1983), 83, 152.
[4] For more details see Gray Tuttle, Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 21-23.
[5] See David Farquhar, “Emperor as Bodhisattva in the Governance of the Ch’ing Empire,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 38, no. 1 (1978): 30.
[6] Since I first wrote this article in 1998 for the International Association of Tibetan Studies in Bloomington, Indiana, much research on these two figures has become available in Western languages, including Françoise Wang-Toutain, “Quand les maîtres chinois s’éveillent au bouddhisme tibétain: Fazun: le Xuanzang des temps moderns,” Bulletin de l’école française d’extréme-orient 87 (2000): 707-27; Ester Bianchi, The Iron Statue Monastery ‘Tiexiangsi’: A Buddhist Nunnery of Tibetan Tradition in Contemporary China (Firenze: L. S. Olschki, 2001); Ester Bianchi, “The ‘Chinese Lama’ Nenghai (1886-1967): Doctrinal Tradition and Teaching Strategies of a Gelukpa Master in Republican China,” in Buddhism Between Tibet and China, ed. Matthew Kapstein (forthcoming); and Ester Bianchi, “The Movement of ‘Tantric rebirth’ in Modern China: Rethinking and Re-vivifying Esoteric Buddhism according to the Japanese and Chinese Traditions,” typescript. See these articles for references to some of the many translations these monks made from Tibetan. These two figures are also discussed at length in my book Tibetan Buddhists.
[7] I visited Riwo TsengaRi bo rtse lnga in 1991, 1994, 1997, and 1999.
[8] For a more detailed examination see Tuttle, Tibetan Buddhists, and Tuttle, “Translating Buddhism from Tibetan to Chinese in early 20th Century China (1931-1951),” in Buddhism Between Tibet and China, ed. Matthew Kapstein (forthcoming).

Note Citation for Page

Gray Tuttle, “Tibetan Buddhism at Ri bo rtse lnga/Wutai shan in Modern Times,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 2 (August 2006): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T2723 (accessed ).

Note Citation for Whole Article

Gray Tuttle, “Tibetan Buddhism at Ri bo rtse lnga/Wutai shan in Modern Times,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 2 (August 2006): 1-35, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T2723 (accessed ).

Bibliography Citation

Tuttle, Gray. “Tibetan Buddhism at Ri bo rtse lnga/Wutai shan in Modern Times.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 2 (August 2006): 1-35. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T2723 (accessed ).