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 3 of 7 (pp. 455-457)

“Jowo Śākyamuni” by Tashi Tsering

One of the most captivating sections of Jokhang is Tashi Tsering’s idiosyncratic contribution to our knowledge of the JowoJo bo Śākyamuni. Tsering did not so much as write a chapter on the JowoJo bo as translate passages of a wide range of texts. In doing so, Tsering not only provided abundant raw data on the JowoJo bo himself, but also demonstrated the breadth and depth of the JowoJo bo’s significance within Tibetan culture. Unfortunately, Tsering almost entirely omits his own interpretation of these passages, many of which have already been studied elsewhere. His contribution lacks narrative framing, hypothesis, thesis, theme, interpretation or even transition sentences from quote to quote. This reader seriously laments the omission of Tsering’s own thoughts on the JowoJo bo and on this source material. It is not even entirely clear why the quotes are organized in this order. Therefore, his chapter is more akin to primary source material for the use of others than his own scholarly contribution to the significance of the JowoJo bo to Tibetan culture.

This problem is evident for example in his quote on the origins of the JowoJo bo from the writings of Chahar Geshé Lozang TsültrimCha har dge bshes blo bzang tshul khrims. Preceding the quote, Tsering briefly comments, “Although there are many extant records describing the origins and history of the Jowo Rinpoche, I have extracted the following passage from the writings of Chahar Geshe Lobzang Tsultrim” (127). What are some of the other sources? Why choose this one? How does it relate to the other sources? Tsering makes no comment on these crucial questions. The apparently earliest source for the origin narrative of the JowoJo bo Śākyamuni would [page 456] be the various redactions of the Vase-shaped Pillar Testament. From there it was redacted into a shorter version for the Mani KambumMa ṇi bka’ ’bum, the differences being small, but crucial to later Tibetan polemics. As Stoddard notes in her chapter, it is still unclear how Nyangrel Nyima ÖzerNyang ral nyi ma ’od zer’s (1124/36-1192) Essence of Honey Which is the Nectar of a Flower: An Ecclesiastical History (Chöjung Metok Nyingpö Drangtsi ChüChos ’byung me tog snying po’i sbrang rtsi’i bcud), fits into this picture. What we do know for certain is that the myth these texts share was again heavily redacted, but also expanded for the Gyelrap Selwé MelongRgyal rabs gsal ba’i me long.

In another example, Tashi Tsering quotes Gendün ChömpelDge ’dun chos ’phel on TsongkhapaTsong kha pa’s controversial transformation of the JowoJo bo’s appearance, but fails to connect Gendün ChömpelDge ’dun chos ’phel’s comments to the crucial differences between the various JowoJo bo origin narratives (126-27). Chahar Geshé Lozang TsültrimCha har dge bshes blo bzang tshul khrims’s narrative is rather benign. From what we see here, it appears to be a short, and rather uninteresting, late summary of the most common and least controversial details from the earlier origin narratives. It almost provides more information of the geomantic origins of the two LhasaLha sa temples than the JowoJo bos themselves. And in an odd twist, Chahar GeshéCha har dge bshes states that Songtsen GampoSrong btsan sgam po and his wives immediately installed the JowoJo bo Śākyamuni in the Rasa TrülnangRa sa ’phrul snang (JokhangJo khang), instead of the much more common story where the JowoJo bo Śākyamuni originally inhabited the RamochéRa mo che and was later moved to the JokhangJo khang to hide it from an invading Chinese army.

Tsering’s translation from Desi Sanggyé GyatsoSde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho’s Circumambulatory Measurements of Lhasa (Lhase KortséLha sa’i skor tshad) is another example of the pros and cons of his chapter in Jokhang (129-32). With this passage, Tsering provides rewarding details from an extant, and difficult to translate text, but he makes no reference to Kurtis Schaeffer’s previous and excellent work on the same topic. This reader would have also liked to see Tsering connect Sanggyé GyatsoSangs rgyas rgya mtsho’s work on the circumambulatory paths with first-hand measurement of the iconometry of the JowoJo bo Śākyamuni and cite David Jackson’s previous work on the subject.11 Put together, we see Sanggyé GyatsoSangs rgyas rgya mtsho’s almost obsessive use of empirical evidence alongside and even supersessionary to authoritative textual sources. Tashi Tsering also avoided making the obvious, yet still useful point, of why Sanggyé GyatsoSangs rgyas rgya mtsho would go to such lengths to connect circumambulation of the new shrine to the Fifth Dalai Lama and the entire new capital of LhasaLha sa to circumambulation of the JowoJo bo Śākyamuni. Only slightly obscured by his pedantic calculations, Sanggyé GyatsoSangs rgyas rgya mtsho had a deep-seated interest in establishing in the Tibetan mindset the Fifth Dalai Lama as a recent emanation of both Avalokiteśvara and Songtsen GampoSrong btsan sgam po through a triangulation involving the JowoJo bo Śākyamuni and MarporiDmar po ri.

Tsering’s translation of Yutok Yönten GönpoG.yu thog yon tan mgon po’s (790-833) visions of the JowoJo bo is a particularly useful contribution to our knowledge of the JowoJo bo’s role in [page 457] Tibetan literature. Not only do a number of attainments and miracles mentioned in other visions occur here together, but we learn that YutokG.yu thog learned to make medicine from the JowoJo bo himself (132-36). The lesser-known episode of Karma ChakméKarma chags med (1613-1678) offering his finger for a butter lamp is also a great reference (36-37).


[11] David Jackson and Janice Jackson, Tibetan Thangka Painting: Methods & Materials (London: Serindia Publications), 1984.

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 ).