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Hidden Treasures and Secret Lives: A Study of Permalingpa (1450-1521) and the Sixth Dalai Lama (1683-1706)

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Item Code: NAM302
Publisher: Indian Institute Of Advanced Study, Shimla
Author: Michael Aries
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9789382396239
Pages: 241 (8 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 420 gm
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Book Description

This study was researched and written at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, where I was a fellow from October 1985 to August 1987. I am indebted to Wolfson College, Oxford, for granting timely leave to accept this fellowship. I am particularly grateful to the former director of the Institute, M.N. Sinha, and the present director, Margaret Chatterjee, for the invaluable help they gave me in numerous ways. Neither my family nor I shall forget the peace and good company we enjoyed in the former vice regal lodge and its inimitable surroundings where the Institute is located. My wife, along with me also held a fellowship at the Institute, and we received 'many acts of kindness from the fellows and staff. Our sons will increasingly relive the wealth of non-human life inhabiting this great place properly. We never chanced upon the ghost of the viceroys but the flying foxes, monkeys, bats and lesser beasties jazzed up their stay very much.

The book had its origins in a more general plan to review the main features of Tibetan Buddhist hagiography that would have concentrated not only on the lives of Pemalingpa and the Sixth Dalai Lama but also on such disparate figures as Dorjieff, the Buriatlama and agent of Russia (his verse autobiography having recently come to light) and the nineteenth-century Nyingmapa master from Amdo, Shapkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol (whose own autobiography is surely one of the greatest products of the literary tradition in Tibet). However, in the end they appeared such strange bad-fellows that I decided finally to concentrate on the two who formed a most natural pair. In pursuing them I was able to draw on my own travels and experiences in the districts of the eastern Himalayas where they were born. Those travels took place in what now seems like a previous life of my own, the period 1967-79. The friends and informants who assisted me in my enquiries at that time are too numerous to mention, but none are forgotten.

The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives at Dharamsala, which lies fourteen hours by country bus to the west of Simla, gave me a great deal of assistance in locating some of the sources required for this study. It is difficult to thank my friends there sufficiently for their help, particularly the director, Gyatso Tsering, and the research officer, Tashi Tsering. I must also express my warm gratitude to Sangye Tendzin Jongdong and Tendzin Namdak, the abbot and the head teacher of the Bonpo Monastic Foundation at Dolanji, for providing much stimulation and hospitality.

Among our Simla friends who helped to make our time there a happy one I must particularly mention our dear neighbours Rameshwar and hede Dayal, both stalwart supporters of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study since its inception, also our old friends Narottam and Sarala Sahgal, and likewise the Governor of Himachal Pradesh and his wife, Admiral and Mrs Gandhi. Charles Bawden obliged me very much by identifying several of the Mongolian names and terms found in Tibetan rendering in the so-called "secret" life of the Sixth Dalai Lama. After returning to Oxford, Nick Alien and Hugh Richardson very kindly offered comments and encouragement on the final draft, and Jim Benson, Wlodzimierz Brus and Helmut Eimer helped me with points of detail. To all of them I offer my sincerest thanks. The views expressed, however, remain entirely my own.

Since one of the main purposes of this study is to communicate the human qualities of these saints to a rather broader audience than my fellow students of Tibetan culture (though I hope they will read it too), I have purposely avoided what is often regarded as a major obstacle to the wider appreciation of Tibetan studies, namely the rendering of Tibetan names in exact transliteration. Instead I have used a simple phonemic system of my own that should not cause much difficulty to the general reader. To satisfy the specialists, however, in the index I supply the original orthography of all names alongside my own renderings. Sometimes I found it difficult to avoid introducing Tibetan spellings in the body of the text. Where that happened I have tried to put them in italics within brackets, except for transliterated text titles which have not been isolated in that way. I can only apologize for any inconsistencies that remain. For specialists I have also included two appendices containing chronological analyses of the life of Pemalingpa and the "secret" life of the Sixth Dalai Lama according to the principal sources.

While this book was still in press there appeared a most interesting article on Pemalingpa's main residence at Tamshing: Yushiro Imaeda and Francoise Pommaret, "le monastere degTam-zhing (Tamshing) au Bhoutan central”, Arts Asiatiques, xlii (1987), pp.19-30. I have written a sequel entitled The Temple- Palace of g Tam-zhing as Described by its Founder", which will appear in Arts Asiatiques, xliii (19 8 8).

This book is dedicated to my father, John Arundel Aris, who some thirty years ago first set me on the path of Tibetan and Himalayan studies. He continues in his seventieth year to give me much help and encouragement.


SINCE THE TIME OF Marco Polo the mysteries of Tibet have exercised an abiding hold on the western imagination. Even as Europe moved slowly towards science ~d rationality it retained the image of a high, forbidden plateau where esoteric skills were cultivated to the exclusion of almost everything else. When first-hand reports began to be transmitted back by the few travellers who finally succeeded in reaching the Roof of the World, the accounts of magic and mystery actually increased rather than diminished. Today there is still a minor industry devoted to cultivating that image. It has, however, been brought into much sharper relief now that Tibetans have become truly accessible. The dismantling of their traditional society at the hands of Communist China has forced many of the supposed miracle workers to leave their country and come right up to our doorsteps. But the only really significant modification to the popular conception of Tibet as the land of magic occasioned by these steadily increasing contacts since the late eighteenth century has been the humanizing one which has clothed the Tibetans in an abundance of warm emotion and sympathy.

The realization that the west has not been alone in spinning webs of mystery around Tibet comes when Chinese, Indian and Mongolian attitudes prevalent in certain periods are examined. Though less accessible and articulated, they tend to confirm the idea that the wonder-working image of Tibet seems to have developed in very different cultures in response to what looks like a universal fascination for the remote and inaccessible. At the same time one begins to wonder whether perhaps there is some genuine mystery at the core of Tibetan civilization since it attracted the independent notice of very different peoples in this way. Indeed one does not need to look very far into Tibetan literature of any period to see that every traditional account rests on a fundamental basis of magic. In fact there must be few parallels in world history to such a close harmony between the internal and external conceptions of a civilization's character, at least on a popular level. It would be quite easy to demonstrate in the case of Tibet that the view from the outside has been determined to some degree by the view from within, that the Tibetan accounts of supernatural happenings provided inspiration for the foreign accounts. But the influence of the one on the other can only have occurred in the way it did if the ground was ripe for it.

This book is a study of a pair of mysteries manifested in the lives of two Buddhist saints from the eastern Himalayas. Both had their origin in an area which, for reasons of geography, language, and ethnic identity, lies outside and beyond the main centre of Tibetan culture. Nevertheless, much of the eastern Himalayas still participate in that empire of the Buddhist religion in its Lamaist form which subsumed so many peoples and regional cultures throughout high Asia. The homes of these saints now lie in the independent kingdom of Bhutan and in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Pemalingpa and the Sixth Dalai Lama suggested themselves as subjects for a case study in the mystique of Lamaism for various reasons. As already noted, they came from adjoining regions and so offer a reasonable basis for comparison. Moreover they are linked by genealogy, since the Sixth Dalai Lama was the direct descendant of Pemalingpa's youngest brother. The significance of the biological connection, however, is probably outweighed by their close cultural relation: both were born to families of hereditary tantric priests of the Nyingmapa School, which claims historical priority over all other schools in Tibetan Buddhism. It can also be argued with reason that Pemalingpa and the Sixth Dalai Lama were the most important and best-known religious figures to emerge from the eastern Himalayas. Still more important from the point of view of the of the coherence of my subject, the literature in Tibetan concerning these two figures allows the mysteries surrounding their lives to be subjected to a degree of historical analysis. On a more personal note, having myself had the chance of exploring their homelands and visiting their family temples in the Bumthang and Tawang regions, the literature came alive for me in a way that might not otherwise have been possible.

Although in all these respects Pemalingpa and the Sixth Dalai Lama complement each other conveniently to form a single subject, in other ways they stand well apart. Broadly speaking, the mysteries of Pemalingpa were of his own making while those of the Dalai Lama were made by others. The former were in the nature of spiritual miracles while the latter were human puzzles, though there is an' element of both in each. Their lives, moreover, were separated by over one and a half centuries, and whereas Pemalingpa spent most of his on the local level of isolated frontier districts long before Bhutan was unified, the Dalai Lama's fate was naturally conditioned by matters of state that lay at the very centre of Tibetan political life. Yet it is hoped these very differences will help to underline the broad dimensions and wide potential of the subject: the issue of mystery crops up almost everywhere one looks in Tibetan and Himalayan culture in all periods. It is both a condition and a tool, influencing attitudes, motivation and character. As a fitting subject for historical enquiry it belongs to the realm of mentalities, whose effect on the real process of history is now often held to have surpassed that of battles, kings and constitutions.

There are many theoretical positions open to the modern historian: structuralism, nee-structuralism, post-structuralism, nihilism, individualism, pragmatism and doubtless many others too. All are western constructs which developed out of conditions very far removed from those obtaining in the societies that gave birth to the mysteries studied here. To impose on oriental societies the models which these various schools have developed for the analysis of European societies can only lead to confusion, distortion or over- simplification unless those societies are first studied from their own viewpoints and through the products of their own great and literate cultures. But to what extent can the symbols, habits of thought and belief systems of one people be made truly intelligible to another whose own are very different? Many people today seem content to disregard this basic problem in epistemology when it comes to Tibet. Particularly the great number of westerners who now go through the motions of adopting the external forms of Tibetan Buddhism seem to believe that the myths, gods and symbols of Tibet can be transposed to a western setting and have precisely the same relevance, value and power there as in their land of origin. Perhaps after all this is one way in which the mysterious process of acculturation sometimes operates in human society. It seems to me, however, that a serious respect for another people's culture must start with a real effort to understand it. But in trying to do that, all we can rely on to start with are our own cultural presuppositions and personal prejudices from which escape is difficult.

One key to the problem, I believe, lies in language-in the simple recognition that habits of mind and attitudes of belief are revealed not just through a choice of words but through tone and nuance. It is a question of trying to cultivate the ear to formal clues at a semi-conscious or intuitive level. Even grammatical analysis depends on such intuitive grasp. This sort of fluency, which depends more on mental sympathy than on verbal dexterity, is not easy to teach and can really only be acquired by one's own efforts. In seeking to understand cultures as seemingly remote from our own as those of the Himalayan regions and Tibet I believe this approach will continue to yield more dividends than any amount of neo- or post-structuralism.

So I have tried to write this by paying close attention to what is heard in the original sources though I readily grant that what I have heard is bound to be different from what others will hear. Often the language of Tibetan religious texts, particularly some types of hagiography, is as convoluted and abstruse as to elude me completely. At other times' I think one can hear truly human voices speaking directly across the barriers of time and culture, and it is upon those that I have tended to focus. For Pemalingpa, I have depended very heavily on his autobiography. I read it in the hope that, true to the genre wherever it is found, the author would reveal more of himself in it than he ever intended. This proved to be the case and so some of my effort went into isolating a sub-text of unintended revelations. A large part of the secret biography of the Sixth Dalai Lama turned out to be taken from an invented autobiography, so the true tone of that work also demanded careful listening.

Above all, I have tried to reveal these saints as human beings rather than as gods. Though I certainly have no wish to displace them from the latter category, I believe their future reputation will not benefit from the sort of uncritical adulation western devotees reserve for such figures. There one finds a conscious suspension of disbelief that is a contradiction both of traditional faith, which is deep and uncontrived, and of modern rationalism, which is our own heritage.

However, while seeking to disclose the human motivation in the lives of these saints I am conscious of having had to go to the other extreme by using some words that have pejorative connotations in any language. "charlatan" "rough", "impersonator" and the like. No amount of verbal or mental wriggling can help 'one to escape the fact that the people to whom these descriptions apply sought to disguise their true nature in the interests of self-advancement. Nevertheless I would contend it is not unreasonable to look on them with compassion, sympathy, and even admiration-if only for the ingenuity of their stratagems. By their use of description they not only enriched other people's lives besides their own, they surely also made a lasting contribution to the cultural and spiritual life of their regions. They did no harm to anyone. One could even argue that in a certain sense they became the people they pretended to be when accepted as such by their devotees. With that realization one begins to enter the peculiar area of twilight in which they operated to everyone's mutual profit. So I believe it is possible to regard them in terms other than the conventional one which would see them as monsters of enquiry. Instead Pemalingpa and the Sixth Dalai Lama's impersonator might perhaps be seen as angels in disguise. As for the true Sixth, he is a different case altogether. He strove against all opposition to be the person he believed himself to be. His rebellion against the role imposed on him by society was certainly one of the causes of his death.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that although deceptions form the recurring leitmotif to this study, it would have been easy to select the lives of other saints -that convey a very different picture to the one given here. One has only to read the biographies of those lamas who were principally concerned with the insights of philosophical logic to become aware of another strand in Tibetan Buddhism that is only hinted at here. Nor should we fall into the trap of supposing that all those who followed the esoteric path were necessarily frauds. Indeed it would be most presumptuous to try and pass value judgements of this sort. Where, however, the evidence appears to lead one directly to that sort of conclusion then it must be squarely faced.

While 'it is hoped the lives of these lamas can be appreciated on their own grounds as unfolding narratives, to understand the significance of their careers (and indeed the careers of many other powerful lamas who preceded and followed them) it is necessary to situate them briefly in the context of history. Pemalingpa in particular stands in that long period which extended from the o-called "time of fragmentation" following the collapse of the Tibetan empire n the ninth century until the Fifth Dalai Lama came to power in 1642. These centuries were filled with a number of rivals and overlapping hegemonies linked o the rising schools of Tibetan Buddhism and their patron families. Several If these monastic schools (notably the Sakyapa, Tselpa, Drikhungpa and Karmapa) owed their secular ascendancy in large part to Mongol support and favour. The period of direct Mongal governorship began in 1207 with Tibetan submission to Genghis Khan, and the relationship took on the character of priest and patron" when firstly Sakya Pandita and then his nephew Phakpa were appointed viceroys of Tibet by the Mongol rulers. It was a relationship which all succeeding Chinese dynasties claimed to inherit from the Mongol emperors of the Yuan dynasty.

The period of the Sakyapa viceroyalty came to an end in 1358 when the leader of the Phamodrupa family, Changchub Gyaltsen, took over control rorn his capital at Nedong in the Yarlung valley. The succeeding heads of his family, which descended from an ancient clan known as the Lang had occupied the throne of the prince-abbots of the Thel monastery and they had been appointed by the Sakyapa authorities to control the hierarchy of Nedong centred in the Yarlung valley. By playing on the rivalries of neighbouring anarchies and by acting with great personal courage in a succession of bitter conflicts, Changchub Gyaltsen eventually brought all power into his own hands. The Phamodrupa rule which he instituted and which survived through several generations was similar to that of the Sakyapas in so far as it was based on monastric principles, but it achieved a definite break with the past by "Tibetanizing" the hitherto Mongol character of government.

The Phamodrupa rulers were eventually displayed in 1481 by a line of their own ministers, the Rinpunga. Pemalingpa's life spanned the transition and there are several references in his autobiography to the struggles accompanying the change-over. As we shall see, he was peripherally involved in these conflicts as a result of his search for the patronage of the Tibetan ability, a quest which took him far beyond the confines of his home in the Bumthang district in what is now Bhutan.

The Rinpugpa were in turn supplanted in about 1565 by their own ministers, the governors of the Tsang province. Neither the Rinpungpa nor the Tsangpa families ever provided the hereditary incumbents to a powerful ecclesiastical estate in the manner of the Sakyapas and Phamodrupas, and to that extent they represent a return to the principles of lay rule which had disappeared with the early dynasty of kings. Both families, however, acquired atleast part of their legitimacy from their religious aura as patrons of the eat Karmapa lamas who stood at the head of the Kagyupa ("School of Oral ansmission").


Illustrations and Tablesviii
Part One: Pemalingpa and his Hidden Treasures 13
The Autobiography14
The Treasure of the Burning Lake29
The Treasure Hunt Continues33
Dreams and Trances of a Buddhist Shaman42
Enemies and Patrons49
The Last Years62
The Man, his Cult and Legacy75
Part Two: The Sixth Dalai Lama and his Secret Lives89
Ancestry and Homeland90
From Rebirth to Recognition99
The Years of Waiting110
From Enthronement to Deposition and Death120
The Secret Life134
The Impersonator and his Fictions145
Amdo and Alashan156
Appendix 1: Chronology of the Life of Pemalingpa according to his Autobiography173
Appendix 2: Chronology of the Secret Life of the Sixth Dalai Lama, according to Dargye Nomunqan179

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