Pilgrims and Politicians
In addition to the pressures of its remote border location, LabrangBla brang was remarkable for its extraordinary number of prominent scholars. Even in comparison to central Tibet of the day, AmdoA mdo was home to key intellectual, literary, religious, and political innovators. As a result, at LabrangBla brang the Tibetan lamabla mas shaped public opinion and served as community politicians, mediators, and foreign diplomats. Several of the key figures are described here. The specific details of their lives, writings, affiliations and accomplishments are not included; the focus is as far as is possible on their roles in the religious and political network that functioned between LabrangBla brang and Wutai Shan.
The Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, Könchok Jikmé WangpoDkon mchog ’jigs med dbang po (1728-1791)
The Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa was arguably crucial to the survival of LabrangBla brang Monastery, a key figure who contributed enormously to the monastery’s physical and economic growth and to the monastery’s intellectual heritage. He was a prodigious scholar, author of twelve volumes of writings. He expanded LabrangBla brang’s physical infrastructure with the Kālacakra College (1763), the Medical College (1784), and the Serkhang ChenmoGser khang chen mo Temple (1788). He also expanded LabrangBla brang’s estate by acquiring territories, corvée, and contributions from NgülraDngul rwa, NgawaRnga ba, in SangkhokBsang khog, and in KhotséKho tshe. He negotiated successfully with LabrangBla brang’s neighbors, including regional Chinese, including the Xining amban, Muslim communities in Xunhua, and was in close contact with the Mongols. An important political tension that he could not resolve was between his supporters and detractors at LabrangBla brang itself, a result of his installation into his post over the Mongol candidate. The lamabla ma’s religious life was inherently political.
In 1770, in a period of growth, power, and prestige in LabrangBla brang’s sometimes volatile environment, he went to Wutai Shan. The account of his 1770 trip to Wutai Shan begins with his gradual departure from LabrangBla brang, and notably through nearby Mongol-inhabited territories, to GönlungDgon lung Monastery and a short stay with Tukwan Lozang Chökyi NyimaThu’u bkwan blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma. He then continues with a series of Mongol escorts to Wutai Shan, where he engages Changja Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje (1717-1786), his primary preceptor and from whom he took monk’s vows, and with whom he had a lifetime relationship, and who, as is well known, had a close relationship to the Qing court. While at Wutai Shan the two lamabla mas engaged in an extensive series of teachings and ritual practices. These events, the fact that Changja Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje was such a prominent figure in Beijing, and the extended endorsement and defense of Changja Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje’s book on philosophy in Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa’s biography signals a political conduit between the Qing court and LabrangBla brang.12 While there is [page 333] little explicit mention of politics in these accounts, like those of his predecessors the Fifth Dalai Lama and the First Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, politics were implicit in engagement with and recognition of key figures at Wutai Shan, in the Qing court, and in AmdoA mdo’s affiliated monasteries.
In 1773, after his 1770 return from Wutai Shan, the Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa started his description of Buddhism in China with a long discussion of the central importance of Wutai Shan. He describes the qualities of Wutai Shan with epithets and predictions from many sources, noting that the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī lives there with a retinue of ten thousand bodhisattvas, countless gods, Nāgas and eight classes of spirits. All of its qualities are sublime, and this Wutai Shan, he tells us, is the heart of China.13 He then continues with his history of China. This recognition of Wutai Shan and its place in China marks the understanding of Wutai Shan both as a religious and political meeting place for Tibetans, Manchus, Chinese, and Mongols.
Tsampa Lozang KönchokMtshams pa blo bzang dkon mchog (1742-d. ca. 1822)
This lamabla ma was born in Sichuan DzörgéMdzod dge, and was a prominent student of the Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa and other leading LabrangBla brang lamabla mas. He was proficient in Buddhist doctrines, tantra, astrology, and medicine at a young age and rose to religious and political prominence at LabrangBla brang. Like the majority of the other prominent LabrangBla brang lamabla mas, he went to GomangSgo mang College in LhasaLha sa, where he excelled in his studies, after which he returned for further study and practice at Dzörgé Nyinmé BeshingMdzod dge nyin ma’i be shing Monastery in Dzörgé MemaMdzod dge smad ma, founded by the Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa. While not overtly political, this lamabla ma’s religious expertise is relevant as a part of the Tibetan “register” at Wutai Shan, much as Susan Andrews shows how Chinese Buddhist traditions were well known, well sponsored, and recognized.14 We can expect that the LabrangBla brang Tibetans were articulate and engaging.
In recognition of his erudition the Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa sent him to Wutai Shan to study with LongdölKlong rdol (1719-1794) lamabla ma and Changja Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje. Among other activities, he discussed Buddhism with the Qianlong emperor, and went on pilgrimage to Wutai’s many holy places.15 Tsampa Lozang KönchokMtshams pa blo bzang dkon mchog is important not because of his overtly religious activities, but more for the fact of his association with the network of the Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa [page 334] and the LabrangBla brang lamabla mas, his LhasaLha sa education, and his lifetime commitment to the political infrastructures that held the LabrangBla brang estate together. His résumé of contacts, education, and notably travels to and audiences at Wutai Shan contains implicit evidence of his political authority at LabrangBla brang and in the eyes of the Qing and Mongol authorities. This person was clearly a member of the LabrangBla brang power network at Wutai.
Ling Könchok Gyepé LodröGling dkon mchog dgyes pa’i blo gros (b. 1773)
The next distinguished LabrangBla brang lamabla ma to visit Wutai Shan was the twenty-eighth abbot of LabrangBla brang Monastery, Ling Könchok Gyepé LodröGling dkon mchog dgyes pa’i blo gros, and therefore likely well aware of institutional administrative issues. He was born in SangkhokBsang khog, just south of LabrangBla brang, and identifed as the rebirth and heir to the estates and monastic seat of Ling Döndrup GyamtsoGling don grub rgya mtsho (1702-1769) by the Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa. He was known for his expertise in academics and Tibetan Buddhist ritual sciences, including in particular Tibetan chordal chanting techniques, all criteria for religious and political authority in Tibetan, Mongol, and Manchu circles.16 In addition to his work at Wutai Shan, this lamabla ma was very active in the LabrangBla brang and Mongol communities. Again, the religious backgrounds and specialties of such persons, while perhaps trivial for modern readers, served to qualify religious experts for engagement with foreign political authorities. Their religious expertise was likely a contributing factor to their success in the Qing court.
The Third DetriSde khri, Jamyang Tupten Nyima’Jam dbyangs thub bstan nyi ma (1779-1862)
After the Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa’s passing in 1791, it was not the Third Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa (1792-1855) who maintained the connections between LabrangBla brang and Wutai Shan, and not the Second DetriSde khri (1748-1778),17 but the much more prominent Third DetriSde khri, Jamyang Tupten Nyima’Jam dbyangs thub bstan nyi ma, the thirtieth abbot of LabrangBla brang Monastery, and the second abbot of ShitsangShis tshang. The Third DetriSde khri is known for expanding ShitsangShis tshang Monastery, and also for his extensive sponsorship of structures at LabrangBla brang. He also maintained a major estate at LabrangBla brang Monastery.
In addition to his regional influence marked by his extensive properties, DetriSde khri III was one of the great Labrang luminaries, with an extensive corpus of writings. He was further remarkable because like Changja Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje, he was educated not in LhasaLha sa, but in the major monasteries of AmdoA mdo and Mongolia. His repertoire of skills included expertise in the full range of GelukpaDge lugs pa philosophical and tantric teachings. He was a student of the Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, of Changja Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje, of Gungtang Könchok Tenpé DrönméGung thang dkon mchog bstan pa’i sgron me (1762-1823), and a contemporary of Pelmang Könchok GyentsenDbal mang dkon mchog rgyal mtshan. [page 335] His academic pedigree was thus of the highest order. In light of this and of his many contributions to LabrangBla brang, he was named as one of LabrangBla brang’s explicitly political four “Golden Throne Holders,” the only one of the four who did not hold the position of abbatial Throne Holder of GandenDga’ ldan in LhasaLha sa.
DetriSde khri III did not make his first trip to Wutai Shan until he was sixty-two years old, in 1841. He was on a teaching and development expedition through AmdoA mdo and Mongolia, to Wutai Shan and Beijing. After a long stay at Wutai Shan, in 1842, his sixty-third year, he performed the Kālacakra and other initiations in Yonghe Temple in Beijing. He was associated with ChangjaLcang skya IV (1787-1846), the LabrangBla brang GyanakpaRgya nag pa and AjaA kya Lamabla mas (Akya Lama in Standard Tibetan pronunciation), and had access to the emperor. He went to Wutai Shan again in 1847, at the summons of ChangjaLcang skya IV, but evidently ChangjaLcang skya passed away before his arrival. In 1856, at seventy-five years of age DetriSde khri made a third trip from LabrangBla brang to Wutai Shan. This trip receives the most detailed treatment of all his trips to Wutai Shan, in part because of DetriSde khri’s vision of Mañjuśrī in the sky over Wutai Shan.18
In 1856 at Wutai Shan DetriSde khri stayed at Jangchup Sempé Por DrakpaByang chub sems dpa’i spor grags pa, (translating the Chinese, Pusa Ding) and later at Tsarduk Kunyen LingMtshar sdug sku brnyan gling (translating the Chinese, Shuxiang si). It is written that in that year there was a severe drought and he made abundant rainfall, making a big harvest of fruits and crops. The Tibetans and Mongols and even the Chinese communities reportedly said with one voice that this lamabla ma was a bodhisattva, and all made him an object of perfect devotion.19
He went on to venerate the stupa of Changja Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje at Dharma Ocean Temple (Chö Gyamtsö Lingchos rgya mtsho’i gling, translating the Chinese, Zhenhai si) and in a vision, experienced a glittering cool shower of nectar, and went on to venerate and worship at the ChangjaLcang skya IV’s stupa. At that moment the pattern repeated itself. The lamabla ma, himself on pilgrimage and making offerings was invited by a Mongol community to visit, teach, ordain monks, empower tantric meditators, and perform ritual services. He continued on to a pilgrimage to the west and central peaks, where a swastika appeared on a large flat rock on which he had been sitting. He gradually went on to spend a few days at the north and east peaks and finished the pilgrimage on the south peak.
DetriSde khri III returned to AmdoA mdo and Mongolia and made one more important trip to China at age seventy-six. He was very active at Yonghe Temple in Beijing, sponsoring building projects, giving and participating in a large number of tantric initiations and ritual celebrations, including a Kālacakra initiation using a sand maṇḍala.20 He spent his entire life in the model of a traveling missionary lamabla ma and diplomat, arguably an individual who possessed both religious knowledge and [page 336] power and secular political power. He studied with some of the greatest teachers of the day and in his long life he went on to teach disciples, including the Third and Fourth Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, and others, some of whom rose to prominence in AmdoA mdo and the Tibetan Buddhist world.
GomangSgo mang KhentrülMkhan sprul, Kelzang Gelek GyamtsoSkal bzang dge legs rgya mtsho (1776-1833)
The thirty-third abbot of LabrangBla brang was GomangSgo mang mkhan sprul, Kelzang Gelek GyamtsoSkal bzang dge legs rgya mtsho (1776-1833), another prominent scholar-diplomat who spent time at Wutai Shan. He was from TsöGtsos (Hezuo), and studied at GomangSgo mang College in LhasaLha sa. He distinguished himself in scholarship and was active in communities in and around LabrangBla brang, including RongwoRong bo and in Mongol territories. His visits to Wutai and other sacred sites in China and his appointment as abbot of LabrangBla brang were later in his life.21
SunyiSu nyid, Gendün DargyéDge ’dun dar rgyas (1786-1848)
SunyiSu nyid, Gendün DargyéDge ’dun dar rgyas (1786-1848), the forty-third abbot of LabrangBla brang Monastery, was not especially active at Wutai Shan (there is only a brief mention of Wutai in his biographical sketch), but he evidently had a vision of the Kangxi emperor at the mountain, after which it is said, he understood emptiness.22 He was known for his erudition in philosophy and tantra, and his political work. The Ocean Annals notes that he “exercised the unified two-fold system as a Vajra holder and an abbot.”23 His brief record also includes mention of his relationship to DetriSde khri. In sum, this person was again a religious specialist, an expert in Buddhist subjects and notably in esoteric tantra which, to a modern observer has very little to do with politics and diplomacy. However, like others of the LabrangBla brang lamabla mas, in addition to the prestige that came with access to powerful and invisible beings and powers, Gendün DargyéDge ’dun dar rgyas was an abbot of LabrangBla brang and thus held considerable wealth and temporal political power. Moreover, in addition to his encounters with Buddhist deities he was reputed to have had a vision of none other than the Kangxi emperor, who had died about a century before. News of a vision of a Manchu emperor by an accomplished religious practitioner and regionally influential leader doubtless captured the attention of the Qing authorities. Gendün DargyéDge ’dun dar rgyas was an important individual in the LabrangBla brang power network.
GyanakpaRgya nag pa, Jamyang Tenpé Nyima’Jam dbyangs bstan pa’i nyi ma (1806-1858)
All of these important lamabla mas and abbots extended LabrangBla brang’s recognition to Wutai Shan. In addition, at least one of LabrangBla brang’s native AmdoA mdo Tibetan Buddhist [page 337] lamabla mas known as “Chinese” lamabla mas was active at Wutai Shan, in addition to the many GyanakpaRgya nag pa lamabla mas who were active in Beijing. GyanakpaRgya nag pa, Jamyang Tenpé Nyima’Jam dbyangs bstan pa’i nyi ma was recognized as a rebirth of the Kālacakra GyanakpaRgya nag pa, Ngawang PüntsokNgag dbang phun tshogs (1746-ca. 1805), the Seventh Throne Holder of the Kālacakra College at LabrangBla brang, who was active both in Mongolia and in the Chinese court.24
There is little information about Jamyang Tenpé Nyima’Jam dbyangs bstan pa’i nyi ma, but it is known that he was a prolific writer who spent a good deal of time at Wutai Shan. He was born in Mongolia in the community of Aru HorchenA ru hor chen, and when he was seven he was ordained by the Third DetriSde khri, Jamyang Tupten Nyima’Jam dbyangs thub bstan nyi ma, who identified him as the rebirth of Ngawang PüntsokNgag dbang phun tshogs.25 He taught in the lands of the Left-group Khalkha Mongols, sponsored by the Hubei Qinwang. He went to China four times between 1808 and 1856 and taught extensively. He held an important post at LabrangBla brang, the abbotship of the Kālacakra Temple.26 The brief information about his life and work at LabrangBla brang and Wutai Shan reveals that he was a prominent member of the LabrangBla brang and Mongol religious and political networks, and active in Tibetan, Mongol, and Chinese environments. Again, this individual was a religious expert, a wealthy estate owner, and the abbot of a highly regarded tantric college. He was known for his work in China to the extent that he was known as a “Chinese,” proof that his reputation and influence spread beyond the LabrangBla brang region. His reputation, status, involvement with both Mongols and Chinese, and numerous trips to Wutai Shan are indicators that he also had the recognition of the Chinese and Qing authorities, and that he served as a political diplomat for the LabrangBla brang community.
Jikmé Tenpé Nyima’Jigs med bstan pa’i nyi ma (1816-ca. 1861)
Jikmé Tenpé Nyima’Jigs med bstan pa’i nyi ma, the forty-seventh abbot of LabrangBla brang Monastery, was part of the LabrangBla brang-Wutai Shan constituency. His birth in NgawaRnga ba was prophecied and his recognition described in detail in the Ocean Annals. In his very early youth he is said to have displayed great devotion to Gungtang Könchok Tenpé DrönméGung thang dkon mchog bstan pa’i sgron me (1762-1823) and later became a disciple of Detri Jamyang Tupten NyimaSde khri ’jam dbyangs thub bstan nyi ma. He studied the major texts of Tibetan Buddhism and was known for his prodigious memorization of major scriptures. He traveled to LhasaLha sa several times and was received and recognized in the major central Tibetan monasteries. His travels included trips to SakyaSa skya, the YarlungYar lung Valley, and the major monasteries of central and western Tibet, where he received teachings and participated in [page 338] monastic rituals. He eventually went on to Mongolia, where he visited the major lamabla mas and monasteries, and then finally traveled to Wutai Shan in 1852. There he worshipped and taught before returning to Labrang. He was received by DetriSde khri and other prominent LabrangBla brang lamabla mas, and made and received generous offerings. After this he went to LabrangBla brang’s southern properties and served as a monastic officer, and eventually as abbot of LabrangBla brang. This lamabla ma obviously was well-traveled, well-endowed, but also well-known, and well-supported by hosts wherever he visited, including Wutai Shan.27
Like the other LabrangBla brang lamabla mas active at Wutai Shan, we know of this person because of his religious reputation. We might again assess him as a religious expert and nothing more, if it were not the case that the prominent religious figures at LabrangBla brang were the most powerful, the wealthiest, and held the most political control at LabrangBla brang and in foreign diplomacy.
The Fourth Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, Kelzang Tupten WangchukSkal bzang thub bstan dbang phyug (1856-1916)
The account of the Fourth Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa’s 1898 visit to Wutai begins with a typical description of the lamabla ma’s gradual travel through southern AmdoA mdo through Machu, a vision of a white goddess, and then on to Wutai. While en route he was greeted, escorted and showered with gifts by the local communities. In return he offered rain-making assistance, blessings and tantric initiations. On arrival at Wutai he witnessed and was guided by a magical rainbow. Of greater interest in this case is the fact that the record reports that he was met and escorted by representatives of the monasteries and was immediately requested to address the community. This was no itinerant pilgrim; he was obviously known and his arrival expected.28 The detailed day by day account of his visit to Wutai includes reception by the Ta LamaTa’a bla ma, evidently the chief lamabla ma of Pusa Ding, visions of deities and pilgrimages to the major temples, meditation sites, stupas, temples, verses inspired by memories of the Kangxi emperor, an encounter with one Gamchar Khenpo Khedrup GyamtsoGam bcar mkhan po mkhas grub rgya mtsho, prayers to accumulate merit with a view to attaining a good rebirth, visit to a meditation cave, a temple called “Seven Buddhas” (Qifo si), stays at places sacred to the Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, and in general an unusually detailed record of a pilgrimage all around Wutai Shan.29 In addition to the Ta LamaTa’a bla ma, who received him at Changja Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje’s residence, the account includes mention of meetings with other luminaries. The record states that he meditated and performed rituals in the Cakrasamvara Temple, and others. The narrative continues with accounts of teachings and initiations given to monks, and meetings with prominent lamabla mas.
The account of his visit includes a brief expression of the merits and heritage of Wutai Shan written by the author of the text. This includes references to Indian, Nepali, and Tibetan Buddhists, and it aligns Wutai with Indian and Tibetan Buddhist heritage and qualities. His inclusion of Wutai in the Tibetan Buddhist tantric world is obvious and emphasized, signaling the Tibetan “register” at Wutai. He mentions Chinese Buddhist monks and their good monastic qualities, setting them off somewhat from the extensive tantric rituals in common use by the Tibetans.
The Fourth Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa visited the KangyurBka’ ’gyur Temple, a place later listed as one of LabrangBla brang Monastery’s properties.30 He went on to engage in tantric practices, visited other Tibetan Buddhist sites at Wutai Shan, and networked with other lamabla mas from LabrangBla brang. His biography contains a detailed record of his religious and political activities.31
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 ).
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 ).