Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Pabongkha Hermitage
by José Ignacio Cabezón
Section 5 of 5


[1] The account that follows is based on the narrative of the monastery in Sde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho, Dga’ ldan chos ’byung bai ḍūrya ser po [Yellow Lapis: A History of the Ganden (School)] (Krung go’i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 1991), 144; on the “PabongkhaPha bong kha” entry in Dung dkar blo bzang ’phrin las, Dung dkar tshig mdzod chen mo (Krung go’i bod kyi shes rig dpe skrun khang, 2002), 1313-1316; on a KarchakDkar chag of the monastery made available to me by PabongkhaPha bong kha monks in 2004; and on material from oral interviews with some of the resident monks conducted in August of 2004.

The title of the KarchakDkar chag reads Yul nyer bzhi’i ya rgyal/ de bi ko ṭi dang ming gzhan pha bong kha byang chub shing gi nags khrod du bkod pa’i dkar chag dad ldan padmo rgyas byed gzi sbyin ’od stong ’bar ba’i nor bu (hereafter Pha bong kha’i dkar chag). It appears to be an edited version of a text bearing the same name published in Three Khrid on the Nā ro mkha’ spyod Practice (Delhi: Ngawang Sopa, 1976), 454-532. (I have Gene Smith to thank for making a copy of this latter edition available to me.) References to the Dkar chag in this work are to the edition published in Tibet. The publication of the Tibetan edition of the Dkar chag was sponsored by a contemporary abbot (or perhaps now former abbot) of PabongkhaPha bong kha, Jampa Tupten RinpochéByams pa thub bstan rin po che.

In the colophon the author of the KarchakDkar chag identifies himself as the reincarnation of a LamaBla ma of Kongpojo DzongKong po jo rdzong, the reincarnation of the LamaBla ma of Chökhang Tsewa Monastery (Chökhang Tsewa GönpaChos khang rtse ba dgon pa); he also identifies himself as belonging to the Mé College (Dratsang MéGrwa tshang smad) of SeraSe ra, but gives his name only in Sanskrit as Wāginḍamatibhadrapaṭu bandashāsadharasagara (sic).

The introductory verse of the Delhi edition bears identifying marks (dots) under certain syllables. (These are missing in the Tibetan edition.) Those marks spell out “Ngawang Lozang Tupten Gyatso Jikdrel Wangchuk Choklé Nampar GyelwaNgag dbang blo bzang thub bstan rgya mtsho ’jigs bral dbang phyug phyogs las rnam par rgyal ba.” This resembles the name of the eighth Demo incarnation Ngawang Lozang Tupten Jikmé Gyatso (Demo Kutreng Gyépa Ngawang Lozang Tupten Jikmé GyatsoDe mo sku phreng brgyad pa ngag dbang blo bzang thub bstan ’jigs med rgya mtsho, 1778-1819), tutor of the Ninth Dalai Lama (Dalai Lama Kutreng GupaDa lai bla ma sku phreng dgu pa, 1806-1815).

The colophon tells us that the work was written between the female-fire-pig (MemopakMe mo phag) and male-earth-bird (SapojaSa pho bya) years. In the fourteenth calendrical cycle or RapjungRab byung, this corresponds to 1827-1828. The author of the Dkar chag further states that he based his work on a verse text compiled by KhardowaMkhar rdo ba (mkhan thog brgyad pa kha rdo sku thog bzod pa rgya mtsho’am/ blo bzang sgom chung pas bsgrigs pa tshig bcad ma), as well as on the constitution (ChayikBca’ yig) of the monastery written by Tatsak Yeshé Tenpé GönpoRta tshag ye shes bstan pa’i mgon po (1760-1810). On Khardo Zöpa GyatsoMkhar rdo bzod pa rgya mtsho (1672-1749) see the Introduction to the Hermitages. On Tatsak Yeshé Tenpé GönpoRta tshag ye shes bstan pa’i mgon po, see TBRC P302.

Still unavailable, to my knowledge, are: (1) the KarchakDkar chag of PabongkhaPha bong kha in six folios written by Khardo Zöpa GyatsoMkhar rdo bzod pa rgya mtsho, and (2) another KarchakDkar chag by Khöntön Peljor Lhündrup’Khon ston dpal ’byor lhun grub (1561-1637). The latter is mentioned in Akhu RinpochéA khu rin po che’s (1803-1875) list of rare texts; see Lokesh Chandra, Materials for a History of Tibetan Literature (Kyoto: Rinsen Book Co., 1981, repr. of the 1963 ed.), no. 11012. Bshes gnyen tshul khrims, Lhasé Gönto Rinchen PunggyenLha sa’i dgon tho rin chen spungs rgyan [A Catalogue of the Monasteries of Lhasa: A Heap of Jewels; hereafter Lha sa’i dgon tho] (Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 2001), 15, quotes Khöntön’Khon ston’s KarchakDkar chag, implying, perhaps, that he had the text at his disposal; he gives the date of composition of the work as 1619.

Sde srid sangs rgyas rgya mtsho’s account of PabongkhaPha bong kha in the Baidurya SerpoBai ḍūrya ser po, 144, is fascinating because it links the flourishing of Tibet to the flourishing of PabongkhaPha bong kha; and vice versa, it links political problems in Tibet with the decline of PabongkhaPha bong kha. Mention of PabongkhaPha bong kha is also found in Turrell Wylie, The Geography of Tibet According to the ’Dzam-gling-rgyas-bshad (Rome: IsMEO, 1962), 83 and 159 n. 400; and Alfonsa Ferrari, Luciano Petech and Hugh Richardson, Mk’yen brtse’s Guide to the Holy Places of Central Tibet (Rome: IsMEO, 1958), 42, 101-102 n. 86, and plates 6 and 7.

[2] Shenyen TsültrimBshes gnyen tshul khrims, Lhasé GöntoLha sa’i dgon tho, 15, gives the date of PabongkhaPha bong kha’s founding as “around 643” but cites no source for this.
[3] As with many monasteries, these include both exoteric and Tantric ritual practices that take place on the eighth, tenth, fifteenth, twenty-fifth, and twenty-eighth of the lunar month. PabongkhaPha bong kha monks also do special rituals for important lamabla mas in the tradition every Wednesday.
[4] Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 15b-16a; the author of this text, 57b, gives the Tibetan translation of this as LhamokharLha mo khar.
[5] For an account of other features of the surrounding landscape and various kinds self-arisen images found at or near the site, many of which are said to date to the time that Songtsen GampoSrong btsan sgam po and his two queens lived at the PabongkhaPha bong kha, see Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 22af and 29bf. This section of the text also contains a description of the special qualities of the plants and wildlife in the area.
[6] This statue has been variously identified by different sources and informants as Avalokiteśvara, Śākyamuni in his kingly or jowojo bo form, Amitāyus and Amitābha. Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 28a, states that the image is of Amitābha. The same text (26b-27a) also cites The Compendium on the Maṇi [Mantra] (Mani KabumMa ṇi bka’ ’bum) concerning the tradition that an image emerged from a stone as Songtsen GampoSrong btsan sgam po was gestating in his mother’s womb. A believer would see this as proof of the authenticity of the image housed at PabongkhaPha bong kha. A skeptic would see in this an attempt to read events of classical Tibetan mythography into the artistic landscape of PabongkhaPha bong kha.
[7] The cult of the Three Protectors at PabongkhaPha bong kha goes back at least to the seventeenth century. For example, in a vision that he had when he was forty-three years old, the Fifth Dalai Lama (Dalai Lama Kutreng NgapaDa lai bla ma sku phreng lnga pa) is told by Avalokiteśvara that “In Central Tibet, people must recite the six-syllable mantra (ngaksngags) 100,000,000 times and in PabongkhaPha bong kha the ritual method of realization (druptapsgrub thabs) of the three divinities, namely Avalokiteśvara, Mañjuśrī, and Vajrapāṇi must be established”; Samten Gyeltsen Karmay, The Secret Visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama: The Gold Manuscript in the Fournier Collection (London: Serindia Publications, 1988), 44.
[8] One might image two quite different etymologies of the word “PabongkhaPha bong kha.” The word might be (1) a corruption of pabongkhangpha bong khang, “The house (on) the Boulder”; or (2) a more euphonious form of the word pabongpapha bong pa, “The Man from the (Site of) the Boulder.” In the first instance, it is the architecture that gives the site its name. In the second instance, it is the first inhabitant.
[9] The following account is based principally on Dungkar TsikdzöDung dkar tshig mdzod [Dungkar Dictionary], but see also the version found in Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 20bf, which varies insignificantly.
[10] The legend and symbolism of the supine demoness has been discussed by Janet Gyatso in Down with the Demoness: Reflection on a Feminine Ground in Tibet, in Janice Willis, ed., Feminine Ground: Essays on Women and Tibet (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1987).
[11] The original name of Lha sa was RasaRa sa, that is, “Goat Earth.” There are many legends related to goats in LhasaLha sa – from the Great Female Goat [Temple] (RamochéRa mo che) to the statue of the goat inside the JokhangJo khang itself.
[12] Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 21b: sa bdag gser ma hā gser gyi rus sbal gyi dbyibs.
[13] Such a turtle is mentioned in other historical works. For example, the The Clear Mirror: A Royal History (Gyelrap Selwé MelongRgyal rabs gsal ba’i me long) states that “in the north at PabongkhaPha bong kha in NyangdrenNyang bran there is a black turtle”; Sakyapa Sönam GyeltsenSa skya pa bsod nams rgyal mtshan, The Clear Mirror: A Traditional Account of Tibet’s Golden Age, transl. by McComas Taylor and Lama Choedak Yuthok (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1996), 165. On the relationship of turtle spirits to divination, see R. A. Stein, Tibetan Civilization (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972), 209-210.
[14] Lhasé GöntoLha sa’i dgon tho, 15, quotes Khöntön’Khon ston’s karchakdkar chag to the effect that Maru Castle was built by Songtsen GampoSrong btsan sgam po “when he was fifteen years old in the female-water-hare (chumo yöchu mo yos) year,” and that he began meditating there when he was twenty-one years old.
[15] Songtsen GampoSrong btsan sgam po’s act of meditating inside the Female Turtle might of course be seen as an act of penetration of Tibet’s natural spirits, a subjugation of the indigenous spirits of Tibet through an act akin to rape.
[16] This goddess, who presumably as the same deity later known as Penden LhamoDpal ldan lha mo, came to be considered the protector deity of Tibet. After the rise of the Ganden Palace (Ganden PodrangDga’ ldan pho brang – the government of the Dalai LamaDa lai bla mas) the cult of Penden LhamoDpal ldan lha mo became incorporated into the rituals of the state. Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 31a, states that this cave is the actual palace (podrang ngöpho brang ngos) of the deity.
[17] Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 22a.
[18] Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 32b-33a.
[19] The account that follows is principally based on that found in Dungkar Dictionary (Dungkar TsikdzöDung dkar tshig mdzod). The account in Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 19bf, on the site’s relationship to TönmiThon mi and to the founding of the Tibetan written language, varies only slightly from the one given here.
[20] Lhasé GöntoLha sa’i dgon tho, 15, cites the Fifth Dalai Lama’s The Nāga Song of the Queen of Springtime (Chikyi Gyelmo LuyangDpyid kyi rgyal mo’i klu dbyangs) as the source for this tradition.
[21] Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 20a, states that therefore “(PabongkhaPha bong kha) appears to be the site in LhasaLha sa known as the ‘Moon Cliff,’ which is said to be where the first Tibetan letters were engraved.”
[22] In this narrative the Female Turtle takes the place of the supine demoness spoken of in the myths of the founding of the JokhangJo khang.
[23] There is a certain anachronism here, given that (at least in some versions of the history of the site) the stūpas are said to have been built by the early KadampaBka’ gdams pa masters who lived at the site, and who predate TsongkhapaTsong kha pa by several centuries.
[24] Lhasé GöntoLha sa’i dgon tho, 15: “from the time (of Songtsen GampoSrong btsan sgam po) up to the ordination of the seven original monks, about one hundred tantrikas with long locks of hair lived continuously at the site.”
[25] The claim is made not only in Dungkar Dictionary (Dungkar TsikdzöDung dkar tshig mdzod), but also in Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 33a-b.
[26] This is according to the oral account of one of the PabongkhaPha bong kha monks. According to the Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 34b, Pel LhamoDpal lha mo intervened by calling for Lhalung Pelgyi DorjéLha lung dpal gyi rdo rje, the monk who assassinated LangdarmaGlang dar ma.
[27] The only cave that exists at PabongkhaPha bong kha today is Songtsen GampoSrong btsan sgam po’s cave located inside the Female Turtle Boulder. And in fact Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 31a, confirms that it is this cave that is called the “Temple of the Tenth Day” (Tsechu LhakhangTshes bcu lha khang). The cave apparently got its name from the fact that members of Trisong DetsenKhri srong lde’u btsan’s inner circle used to perform rituals inside the cave on the tenth day of the lunar month. Since the monastery is in a fairly flat area, it is difficult to imagine that there was any other cave at the hermitage itself in the past. However, Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 30f, lists many caves. These, one assumes, are located in the hills above PabongkhaPha bong kha.
[28] Literally, “the eight great sons who received the oral instruction”; also called the “eight great ones who were named to receive the oral instructions” (Kabap Mingchen GyéBka’ babs ming can brgyad).
[29] The Fifth Dalai Lama, in fact, does not mention Potowa Rinchen SelPo to ba at all, and credits the re-founding of PabongkhaPha bong kha to Geshé DrakkarwaDge bshes brag dkar ba; see Ṅag-dBaṅ Blo-bZaṅ rGya-mTSHo, Fifth Dalai Lama, A History of Tibet, trans. by Zahiruddin Ahmad (Bloomington: Indiana University Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1995), 84.
[30] Lhasé GöntoLha sa’i dgon tho, 16, mentions a certain “Geshé Pabongkha” (Geshé Pabongkhar drakpaDge bshes pha bong khar grags pa) as having been responsible for increasing the size of the monastery to 400 monks after Geshé DrakkarwaDge bshes brag dkar ba’s tenure.
[31] The tradition says that hundred and eight stūpas were built. But it also claims that each stūpa contained one bead from TsongkhapaTsong kha pa’s rosary. This, of course, would be impossible if they were built during the KadampaBka’ gdams pa period, since TsongkhapaTsong kha pa was not born until more than 200 years after this time.
[32] Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 44b. It is unclear which (if any) of the present buildings this might be.
[33] Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 44b: rab byung gnyug mar gnas pa’i ja tshul thebs/ snye thang bkra shis gling/ gzhis ka dud ’dzin bcu/ lag ’bab khal drug brgya/ nyang bran ka ma can dud gsum dang/ lag ’bab la khal drug cu skor bstsal/.
[34] Perhaps TBRC P939 or P3188?
[35] Perhaps TBRC P162?
[36] Among the more interesting and important images or religious objects mentioned in Pabongkhé KarchakPha bong kha’i dkar chag, 47bf, are the following: a set of sixteen arhat statues made by Potowa Rinchen SelPo to ba rin chen gsal himself, a tooth relic of the Buddha Dipaṃkara, stone statues of Avalokiteśvara and of the protector trakshéTrak shad blessed by virtue of the deities’ dissolving into them, the self-arisen stone statue that emerged as Songtsen GampoSrong btsan sgam po was gestating in his mother’s womb, the statue of Khöntön Peljor Lhündrup’Khon ston dpal ’byor lhun grub commissioned by the Fifth Dalai Lama as well as the his highly ornamented funerary stūpa that contained his actual body, a silver funerary stūpa and statue of Jamyang Drakpa’Jam dbyangs grags pa, a one-story statue of the Buddha made in part from the gold extracted by King MewönMes dbon from “Gold Cave,” a speaking statue of Cakrasaṃvara (DemchokBde mchog) that conversed with the Dalai LamaDa lai bla ma Kelzang GyatsoBskal bzang rgya mtsho (1708-1757) while he was doing the retreat of this deity; the self-arisen stone images of the Three Protectors (mentioned above); TönmiThon mi’s “oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ” stone, statues of TsongkhapaTsong kha pa in the five-visions-forms, a volume of the dhāraṇī that dates to the SakyaSa skya period. This, of course, is only a sampling of the more important artifacts; there were many other images and religious objects beside those mentioned here. Most of the images in the hermitage were lost or destroyed after 1959.
Pabongkha Hermitage , by José Ignacio Cabezón

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Location and Layout
  3. History
    1. Founding Narratives
    2. Later History
  4. Glossary
  5. Notes
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