Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Bla brang Monastery and Wutai Shan
Paul K. Nietupski, John Carroll University
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5718, pp. 327-348
Section 2 of 4 (pp. 330-331)

No Borders between Religion and Politics

Distance from cultural centers can strengthen, emphasize, and redefine cultural identity. Already some distance from LhasaLha sa and apart from the ethnic border with AmdoA mdo, the LabrangBla brang Tibetans at Wutai Shan appear to have reinforced their sense of being a central Tibetan-derived institution.9 Similar forces were likely at work for other groups at Wutai, the Manchus, for example, and the Mongols. The result was a united but ethnically distinct environment at Wutai Shan, a cosmopolitan place where all could together recognize the authority of Mañjuśrī, who was more powerful than any of the individual groups, and yet endorsed by all.

Unity of purpose, co-existence, and tolerance is often used to describe the Qing dynasty, under the rule of emanations of none other than Mañjuśrī. Even so, Qing imperial politics fluctuated, especially in the case of the LabrangBla brang Tibetans. The Qing Empire exerted a good deal of strength in AmdoA mdo, and yet in a commitment to tolerance and cosmopolitanism did not seek to, or was rather simply unable to control the huge territory on the model of Western empires or conquest regimes. As a result, Qing polity was not consistent in all places and times in the empire. For their part, the LabrangBla brang Tibetans seemed to function well in such a tolerant environment, especially given that their ritual and religious expertise were in high demand in Beijing and at Wutai Shan. The understated Qing-Tibetan polity is evident in the stories of LabrangBla brang’s founder, the First Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa (1648-1721), and in his successors’ activities at Wutai Shan.

In 1642 the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) was given control over a unified Tibet by Gushri Khan, who remained a loyal supporter; the Fifth Dalai Lama became political leader of Tibet. Ten years later in 1652, at age thirty-five, endorsed and protected by the Mongols, the Fifth Dalai Lama traveled to Beijing for an audience with the then fourteen-year-old Manchu Shunzhi emperor (1638-1661). The accomplished monk, scholar, writer, tantric ritual master, and Mongol-endorsed [page 331] leader of Tibet had an audience with the adolescent emperor. The two exchanged diplomatic courtesies, and the meeting boded well for the Tibetans. It appears that coming from LhasaLha sa’s turbulent and politically-charged environment the Fifth likely considered political motives for his visit.

Then, in 1653, while en route to LhasaLha sa from Beijing, the Fifth Dalai Lama met the young First Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, later the founder of LabrangBla brang. In 1675, at age twenty-seven, Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa took full ordination from the Fifth. Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa went on to serve as abbot of GomangSgo mang and GyüméRgyud smad in LhasaLha sa (1700-1708), and gradually emerged as a powerful political negotiator between Lhazang Khan (d.1717), the Sixth Dalai Lama (whose ordination he attended), the Regent Sanggyé GyatsoSangs rgyas rgya mtsho (1653-1705), the KhoshudQošud Mongol chiefs, and the Manchus. He was no stranger to Tibetan, Mongol, and Manchu politics, and passed his knowledge on to his disciples and successors at LabrangBla brang. His immediate successor, the Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa visited Wutai Shan, and arguably promoted a kind of diplomacy, one inherited from his predecessor, cloaked in Buddhist mysticism, and open to trans-local engagement with neighboring cultures.

Gray Tuttle’s paper10 shows how in the years following the Fifth Dalai Lama’s visit to Wutai Shan the Manchu authorities worked to promote awareness of Tibetan Buddhism among the Chinese communities at Wutai and elsewhere, in Chinese language, the default language of the empire. This may well represent a diplomatic success, an environment favorable for the Tibetans, and important leverage for the LabrangBla brang lamabla mas. This diplomacy might have been merely a function of discussing concerns and not following a Tibetan or Qing policy, and only a good example of Qing and inner Asian political cosmopolitanism, not of a clever attempt to control the Mongols or Tibetans, as Natalie Köhle, Tuttle, and others point out. After Shunzhi the Tibetans enjoyed imperial favor in the following dynasties, at least during the Kangxi (1654-1722), Yongzheng, and Qianlong reigns, again as Tuttle and Charleux show, and in later years were able to assert themselves, as Sperling shows in his paper.11

Given the Qing endorsement, the Mongol and Chinese adoption of Tibetan Buddhism, and the efforts of the Tibetans, we might understand the Tibetan presence in Gray Tuttle’s sense as a further “register” or influence at Wutai Shan, in addition to the Confucian Chinese, Buddhist Chinese, Manchu bureaucratic, and that of the whole spectrum of Mongols, ordained, noble and commoner. These were all different, and yet all recognized Manchu imperial authority. All groups were different parts of the whole. The Tibetan religious presence was obvious, and the political motives, however passively expressed, were elements of LabrangBla brang’s activities at Wutai.

[9] See Alexander Horstmann and Reed L. Wadley, “Introduction: Centering the Margin in Southeast Asia,” in Centering the Margin: Agency and Narrative in Southeast Asian Borderlands, ed. Alexander Horstmann and Reed L. Wadley (New York: Berghahn Books, 2006), 1-24. In her essay in this volume Charleux notes the problems related to language use in religious activities at Wutai Shan; was it Tibetan, Mongol, Manchu, or Chinese; Gray Tuttle develops an argument for the use of Chinese language.
[10] Gray Tuttle, “Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai Shan in the Qing: The Chinese-language Register.”
[11] Elliot Sperling, “The Thirteenth Dalai Lama at Wutai Shan: Exile and Diplomacy,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011), http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5720.

Note Citation for Page

Paul K. Nietupski, “Bla brang Monastery and Wutai Shan,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5718 (accessed ).

Note Citation for Whole Article

Paul K. Nietupski, “Bla brang Monastery and Wutai Shan,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 327-348, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5718 (accessed ).

Bibliography Citation

Nietupski, Paul K. “Bla brang Monastery and Wutai Shan.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 327-348. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5718 (accessed ).