Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Review of Jokhang: Tibet’s Most Sacred Buddhist Temple, by Gyurme Dorje, Tashi Tsering, Heather Stoddard, and André Alexander
Cameron David Warner, Aarhus University
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5722, pp. 451-466
Section 2 of 7 (pp. 452-455)

Gyurme Dorje’s Contributions

In the Introduction, Dorje aims to frame the JokhangJo khang within the history and culture of Tibet for beginners, a difficult task given its almost 1400-year history and unequalled significance. Dorje starts with a brief overview of some of best-known sources on the founding of the temple. However, already on the first page of the introduction (7) under the boldfaced heading “Early Historical Sources,” we find Dorje referring to the Vase-shaped Pillar Testament (Kachem KakhölmaBka’ chems ka khol ma) and Mani KambumMa ṇi bka’ ’bum as "time capsules" inserted into JokhangJo khang by Songtsen GampoSrong btsan sgam po (d. 650) for the benefit of future generations. Nowhere in the introduction does Dorje explain to the reader that he is speaking only metaphorically. He does not provide the reader any information on the historical provenance of these texts nor their mythopoetic character. It is as if Dorje is announcing on the first page that this book is more of a celebration of the JokhangJo khang’s role in Tibetan culture, than a serious scholarly work. While a book of this caliber is certainly welcome, a careful student of Tibetan history should be wary of taking any of the historical information contained here on face value alone. For example, Dorje repeatedly refers to the Vase-shaped Pillar Testament in both the “Introduction” as well as in “Zhakabpa’s Inventory to the Great Temple of Lhasa.” The Vase-shaped Pillar Testament is a famous mythopoetic account of Songtsen GampoSrong btsan sgam po erecting the temple. Atiśa (Jowo Jéjo bo rje) supposedly extracted the hidden text from within a vase-shaped pillar in the temple. However Dorje says that Atiśa extracted the Vase-shaped Pillar [page 453] Testament from the Leaf Pillar (Kawa Shinglochenka ba shing lo can), not the Vase Pillar (Kawa Bumpachenka ba bum pa can), in the JokhangJo khang,

Adjacent to the Vase Pillar (ka ba bum pa can) he concealed treasures of the sacred doctrine. At the Leaf Pillar (ka ba shing lo can) he concealed the Testament of the King (rgyal po’i bka’ chems) and alongside it a treasure of gold... (52).

The Vase-shaped Pillar Testament is Dorje’s “Testament of the King,” but according to the Lanzhou edition of the Vase-shaped Pillar Testament, it was extracted from the Vase Pillar, not the Leaf Pillar:

The old woman said, “From on top of the Vase-shaped Pillar, inside of [a cavity] two and a half hand-widths in size, there was a text composed by the architect [of the temple]. Look there!” and then she disappeared. The next morning, the three of them, the Paṇḍita, the Master, and the servant, extracted three scrolls. The first, The Wish-fulfilling Moon, was the account of the actions of the Ministers. The second, The Brilliantly White Scarf, was on the actions of the queens. The final one, the third text, was this Testament, the history of the construction [of the temple] by the king himself. 1

Four times, in 2001, 2004, 2006, and in 2010, I have interviewed various monks in the temple regarding the Vase-shaped Pillar Testament. In every interview, the monks have indicated Atiśa extracted the text from the Vase Pillar.

Occasionally the footnotes will mention something truly innovative, such as note 53 on the previously unstudied seventeenth-century manuscript at RumtekRum theg regarding the history of the temple and Great Prayer Festival during the RinpungpaRin spungs pa period (1497-1518), but more often the footnotes are too few, inadequate or frustrating. It is unclear if references to secondary literature are missing because of the intended audience for Jokhang or because of the long gestation period for the project as a whole. For example, the Jokhang does not include any references to Sørensen et al.’s essential studies of the political history of the LhasaLha sa valley, the TselpaTshal pa, and the LhasaLha sa dykes.2 Regarding the Fifth Dalai Lama’s catalogue of the temple, Dorje references Grunwedel’s work (20), but none of the other translations of the text that have surpassed Grunwedel. On the Desi Sanggyé GyatsoSde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho’s (1653-1705) efforts to transform the architecture and ritual calendar [page 454] of LhasaLha sa, Dorje cites Hugh Richardson’s Ceremonies of the Lhasa Year,3 but does not reference Kurtis Schaeffer’s work on the Desi Sanggyé GyatsoSde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho’s actual texts on the subject.4 And in the “Introduction” (23) and “Personal Reminiscences of the Great Temple” (33), Dorje comments on the controversy surrounding the JowoJo bo’s crown and its connection to prophecies involving the erection of a Guru Nangsi ZilnönSnang srid zil gnon statue in the temple, but he does not refer to Blondeau’s ground-breaking article on that subject5 nor the chapter of my dissertation devoted to it.6 The Dalai Lama’s personal reflections on the temple and his own thoughts on whether the JowoJo bo is just a statue constitute one of the most valuable contributions of the entire volume and echo the comments he made to me in 2003.7 Later, in the guide to the temple, during the section on the Chapel of the Countenance/Face (Zhelré Lhakhangzhal ras lha khang), Dorje makes no reference Vitali’s important work on this chapel.8

The largest section of Jokhang is Dorje’s detailed guide to the temple. The section heading announces that this is a translation of Tsepön W. D. Shakabpa’s Catalogue and Guide to the Central Temple of Lhasa,9 however, it is not a translation. Fascinating pieces of information from Shakabpa’s Catalogue are missing, such as the account of the Gesar relics stored in the basement, which is translated within Tashi Tsering’s contribution to Jokhang (145-47), and Dorje has added a considerable amount of post-1982 information. Therefore, it should be considered Dorje’s guide to the temple, not Shakabpa’s. While on the one hand, Dorje should be complimented for the useful additional information he provides, it is unfortunate he did not translate Shakabpa literally, for the complete catalogue represents a rare glimpse into the significance of material culture to exiled Tibetans immediately after the mass iconoclasm of the Cultural Revolution. Dorje’s own account would have benefited from a closer reading of other recent catalogues of the temple, especially one by the former Vice-Chairman and current disciplinarian of the temple, Nyima TseringNyi ma tshe ring.10

[page 455]

Putting these matters aside, there is much to learn from Dorje’s Shakabpa-inspired guide to the temple including a detailed account of the construction of the JowoJo bo’s throne (58), the temple’s desecration during the Cultural Revolution (63, 69), and the re-opening of the temple (64). Dorje comments on the on-going renovations, including the precious artifacts discovered within the ancient walls (64), and the damage to the Vase Pillar (71), and occasionally corrects Shakabpa’s mistakes and omissions (71, 78). Unfortunately, Dorje does not make it clear enough to the reader what is taken from Shakabpa and what he has added himself, such as in the section on the large Guru Nangsi ZilnönSnang srid zil gnon (77). He also fails to provide explanations for potentially fascinating comments such as why,

Regarding the north-western turret:

Later, in accordance with the advice of the present Fourteenth Dalai Lama, the gilded copper images of the spiritual teachers of the graduated path (lam rim) were removed from the Śrīdevī Turret and installed here (87).

When did this event occur? Before or after the Dalai Lama left for India? How much influence does the Dalai Lama still have on the iconographic program of the temple? Were the Graduated Path images moved in accordance with a prophecy? Did it seem overly sectarian to have the Graduated Path images in the Śrīdevī Turret?

[1] ka ba bum pa can gyi steng nas ’dom phyed dang gsum gzhal ba’i nang na/ ’di bzhengs mkhan gyis mdzad pa’i yi ge yod do/ de thon la ltos shig zer nas rgan mo mi snang bar gyur to/ de nas sang nang bar paṇḍi ta dpon g.yog gsum gyis shog dril gsum bton gzigs pas/ sngon ma la blon po rnams kyis byas pa’i lo rgyus zla ba ’dod ’jo bya ba byung / bar ba gnyis pa la btsun mo rnams kyis byas pa’i dar dkar gsal ba bya ba byung / phyi ma gsum pa nas rgyal po rang gis mdzad pa’i lo rgyus bka’ chem[s] kyi yi ge ’di byung ba yin no/ (Jowo AtishaJo bo a ti sha, Kachem KakhölmaBka’ chems ka khol ma, ed. Mönlam GyatsoSmon lam rgya mtsho (Lanzhou: Kan su’u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1989), 4.2-4.11).
[2] Per K. Sørensen, “Lhasa Diluvium, Sacred Environment at Stake: The Birth of Flood Control Politics, the Question of Natural Disaster Management and Their Importance for the Hegemony over a National Monument in Tibet,” Lungta 16 (2003): 85-134; Per K. Sørensen, Guntram Hazod, and Tsering Gyalbo, Rulers on the Celestial Plain: Ecclesiastic and Secular Hegemony in Medieval Tibet, a Study of Tshal Gung-Thang, (Wien: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2007), 2 vols.
[3] Hugh Richardson and Michael Aris, Ceremonies of the Lhasa Year (London: Serindia, 1993).
[4] Kurtis R. Schaeffer, “Ritual, Festival, and Authority under the Fifth Dalai Lama,” in Power, Politics, and the Reinvention of Tradition: Tibet in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, ed. Bryan J. Cuevas and Kurtis R. Schaeffer (Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2006), 187-202.
[5] Anne-Marie Blondeau, “Défense de Tsoṅ kha pa: a propos d’un texte polémique attribué à Mkhas grub rje,” in Tibetan Studies, Klasse Denkschriften 256, Beiträge zur Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens 21 (Wien: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1995), 59-76.
[6] Cameron David Warner, “The Precious Lord: The History and Practice of the Cult of the Jowo Śākyamuni in Lhasa, Tibet” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2008), 271-324; Cameron David Warner, “Re/crowning the Precious Lord: Texts, Photographs, and Memory,” History of Religions 51, no. 1 (August 2011): 1-30.
[7] Warner, “Precious Lord,” 32, 47.
[8] Roberto Vitali, Early Temples of Central Tibet (London: Serindia, 1990), 69-83.
[9] Tsepön W. D. Shakabpa, Lhaden Rasa Trülnang Tsuklakkhanggi KarchakLha ldan rwa sa ’phrul snang gtsug lag khang gi dkar chag [Catalogue and Guide to the Central Temple of Lhasa] (Kalimpong: Shakabpa House, 1982).
[10] Nyima TseringNyi ma tshe ring and Ngawang JikméNgag dbang ’jigs med, Lhaden Rasa Trülnang Tsuklakkhanggi Logyü dang Drelwé Neshé Dordü Drilen DünchutsasumLha ldan ra sa ’phrul snang gtsug lag khang gi lo rgyus dang ’brel ba’i gnas bshad mdor bsdus dris lan bdun cu rtsa gsum (Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 2005).

Note Citation for Page

Cameron David Warner, “Review of Jokhang: Tibet’s Most Sacred Buddhist Temple, by Gyurme Dorje, Tashi Tsering, Heather Stoddard, and André Alexander,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5722 (accessed ).

Note Citation for Whole Review

Cameron David Warner, “Review of Jokhang: Tibet’s Most Sacred Buddhist Temple, by Gyurme Dorje, Tashi Tsering, Heather Stoddard, and André Alexander,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 451-466, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5722 (accessed ).

Bibliography Citation

Warner, Cameron David. “Review of Jokhang: Tibet’s Most Sacred Buddhist Temple, by Gyurme Dorje, Tashi Tsering, Heather Stoddard, and André Alexander.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 451-466. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5722 (accessed ).