From the summary at the book’s beginning:
“The report made in 1908 at the Geographic society by B. B. Baradiin on the results of his trip to Tibet from 1905-1907 is of great interest not only because of the details it provides about the realities of the daily life in the monastery – center of the Buddhist teachings in Labrang, but also because of the structure of his writing. . . . Baradiin’s attempt to expand the scope of analysis from the narrow religious perspective to the socio-economic analysis of factors in the Buddhist religious life (for instance, the economic factors in establishing the institute of “rebirth” in Tibetan Buddhism) undoubtedly made this work conceptually interesting.“. It should probably be followed by: Translator’s note: “Since neither English nor Russian are native languages to me, the translation is not entirely accurate and I had to paraphrase at several places.”
Baradiin, B. B.
A TRIP TO LABRANG
(A BUDDHIST MONASTERY ON THE NORTHEASTERN BORDER OF TIBET)
(translated by Vahe Galstyan)
The report made in 1908 at the Geographic society by B. B. Baradiin on the results of his trip to Tibet from 1905-1907 is of great interest not only because of the details it provides about the realities of the daily life in the monastery – center of the Buddhist teachings in Labrang, but also because of the structure of his writing. The typographic message of Baradiin adds to the work “Buddist-polomnik u svyatin Tibeta” by G. T. Tsibikov; in particular, in its aim to analyze the results of his observations instead of only documenting them. Baradiin’s attempt to expand the scope of analysis from the narrow religious perspective to the socio-economic analysis of factors in the Buddhist religious life (for instance, the economic factors in establishing the institute of “rebirth” in Tibetan Buddhism) undoubtedly made this work conceptually interesting.
The methods used in the report for structuring the observational materials were evolved and used in a later work by B. B. Baradiin: “The Buddhist Monasteries.”
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Beginning of the journey ………………………………………………………………… page 2
Trip from Urga to Labrang ………………………………………………………………. page 8
Arrival to Labrang ……………………………………………………………………….. page 8
Population of Amdo ……………………………………………………………………… page 9
Position of women ……………………………………………………………………….. page 10
Character traits of the Tangut people …………………………………………………….. page 12
Relations of the Tangut people with the Europeans ……………………………………… page 12
History of Buddhism in Amdo …………………………………………………………… page 13
Foundation of Labrang …………………………………………………………………… page 13
Geographic location of Labrang (omitted, geographic facts only) ………………………. page 14
General location plan of Labrang ………………………………………………………… page 14
Temples in Labrang ………………………………………………………………………. page 15
Dukans ……………………………………………………………………………………. page 15
The second kind of temples ………………………………………………………………. page 16
The living of monks ……………………………………………………………………… page 16
Demographics of the monastic community in Labrang ………………………………….. page 17
Khutuktus ………………………………………………………………………………… page 18
Regular monks ……………………………………………………………………………. page 20
Main traits of the monastic charter and life order in Labrang ……………………………. page 21
Monastic government …………………………………………………………………….. page 22
Schools of Buddhist knowledge in Labrang ……………………………………………… page 23
Lifestyle of the Labrang people ………………………………………………………….. page 24
Living conditions in Labrang …………………………………………………………….. page 25
Surroundings of Labrang …………………………………………………………………. page 25
Ritods …………………………………………………………………………………….. page 25
BEGINNING OF THE JOURNEY
Topics: B.B. Baradiin’s assignment, beginning of the journey from the Buryat land, meeting with the Dalai Lama at Vankhure, Dalai Lama’s appearance, character and routine, Tibet’s oracle “Choijen-chemo”, characteristic traits of the Tibetan race, meeting with the erudite Dandar Agramba, Mongolians’ opinion on the Westerners, the Khalkha people
The following report describes my trip made in 1905 to the North-Eastern border of Tibet – in Amdo, by the assignment of the Russian Committee for Middle and East Asia studies.
The main objective of my trip was to study the life in the large Buddhist monastery and to make a detailed description of both the monastery itself, and of its inhabitants – the monks.
For me, the completion of this task was the clarification of the foundations of the spiritual culture of all Mongol-Tibetan nations, since in our opinion that aspect of their lives had not been studied much.
The Labrang monastery was chosen as a location for study; it is the largest Buddhist center with a spiritual influence on Mongolia and Transbaikal, not at all behind the main center of the Tibetan Buddhism in Lhasa. The focus of my studies was the factual foundation of the spiritual culture of the place – its religion, language and literature. Also, my tasks included a brief survey of the geography of the location, where I was very limited in my capacities as a regular pilgrim.
Before proceeding to the main theme of my message, I would like to share with you several details about my trip.
My closest companion during my trip was my brother. According to the Buryat tradition, several days before our departure our parents had to consult with the astrologist lama, who would assign the fortunate date for starting the trip. Our trip was scheduled on September 9. That is why on that day a lama was invited to give additional prayers, assign the exact hour of departure and the direction of leaving our home. When the prayer was over, we took off and followed the instructions given by our parents and the lama. Also, at the moment of our departure the lama was throwing various sacrificial pieces of dough, and our mother was spraying milk in all four directions, so that we did not have any misfortunes and stayed protected from evil spirits.
Our relatives walked us with great happiness; they were happy that the representatives of their family circle were going to the sacred land of Tibet, where they would serve the holy ones and would bring joy back home.
Getting into the train at the Mogoitui station, we arrived to Kyakhtu from Verkhneudskiy, and on September 30 we were in the capital of Mongolia – Urga.
As a matter of fact, the period from 1904 to 1906 was known for His Holiness Dalai Lama’s visit to Mongolia, who left Urga two week before we arrived.
Here I would like to note that initially we planned to go to Tibet in the company of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. However, when the plans of the Dalai Lama changed and he had to remain in Mongolia for an indefinite time, we decided to go to Labrang separately.
In the evening of October 10, we left Urga in the direction of Vankhure and took the train free of charge, owing to the generosity of the consulate of Urga.
At all times we kept our direction to North-West. We went through mountainous regions and met with the local people – the Khalkha-Mongols. They were less spoiled than the Mongols and were comparatively well-off, though they complained about the annual depletion in the number of cattle; before each of them had about a thousand cattle, and then it was seldom that someone had even a hundred.
On our way we encountered many nomadic groups of Mongols and were surprised by the simplicity and the level of organization in their travels to different locations. In the fifth day we arrived to the monastery of Vankhure, which at the same time served as a venture of the local knyaz Khango-van. We stay at the place of our tribesman Dilikov, who at that time served His Holiness the Dalai Lama. On the next day I was honored a visit to the Dalai Lama, who, already being notified about my arrival, accepted me with an extreme kindness in his simplistic temporary living place.
Further details on my stay with the Dalai Lama are recorded in my diary. Here I will limit myself to only several observations about the His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama looked like a young Tibetan with a medium height, an energetic thin face, small black mustache and extremely beautiful large eyes. Traces of smallpox could be slightly noticed on the light-yellow skin of his face. He was slightly lean and round-shouldered; and his figure, face expression and manners all suggested his liveliness and youth – at the time of my visit he was 29 years old. At ordinary times he wore a yellow lama coat of a Khalkha-Mongolian style, and in official occasions he wore a dark-brown monk coat in a Tibetan style.
The behavior of the Dalai Lama was very simplistic. You could even notice how he experienced a great joy in the freedom of the camping life when he temporarily was out of the official monastic atmosphere of his mysterious castle in Lhasa.
The Dalai Lama usually woke up very early, between 5-6 in the morning, then from 9-10 he did the morning prayers, after which he was served a typical Tibetan tea with a small breakfast in the form of a soup. Afterwards, he usually accepted reports from people close to him. At noon, he was served lunch which consisted exclusively of a rice soup or a soup with different spices.
Of course, these were not the only items in the Dalai Lama’s table, but here I’m mentioning only the information that I have clear evidence for. It is worth noting that the Tibetan cuisine is much more complex and variegated compared with the Mongolian one, which is mostly limited to meat and milk products.
The time after lunch, until about 5-6 in the evening, the Dalai Lama either spent in his place or sometimes walked to the praying spot of the monastery, as an ordinary believer. This, of course, served as a break for him. He always walked in the company of 2-3 servant of a low rank, or with people close to him; and in fact, I noticed that he always walked separately, and his companions either walked several steps ahead or behind him. He sometimes visited the local elderly erudite Dandar Araba as an ordinary guest for religious conversations. I remember that 2-3 times he even went into the yurt of the local knyaz with two companions without even asking for permission. This greatly alarmed the family of the knyaz; he calmed them, set for several minutes, talked with the members of the knyaz family, sometimes using several Mongolian words known to him. But all this simplicity of his life was immediately disturbed when His Holiness gave a traditional blessing to the people – in these cases a strong etiquette was meant to be followed.
In the evening, from 7 o’clock after the evening prayer he read books and went to bed at 12-1 in the night in the presence of the monotonous religious melody played by a servant from the monastery.
He was very demanding and strict to the people surrounding him, but, at the same time, he was nice and tenderly with the people close to him, who, in fact, displayed an obedience of a slave to him in the presence of outsiders.
In conclusion, I would like to note that the 13th Dalai Lama was undoubtedly an extraordinary individual. In his homeland he enjoyed a well deserved humongous popularity for his independent and kind character, and the people consider him an authentic incarnation of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama.
For instance, the cancellation of the capital punishment, persecution of the peculators and many other reforms were attributed to him. Also in Vankhure we learn about the Dalai Lama’s plans for the revival of the Tibetan Buddhism and for the fundamental reform of the lama system, the shortcomings of which he realized clearly.
Finalizing our notes on the energetic personality of the Dalai Lama, we now would like to applaud the very successful Anglo-Russian agreement that he made about the Tibetan question, since His Holiness finds it very much possible to continue his prosperous activities for his nation and, at the same time, introduce the nature of the Tibetan culture into the circle of other nations. We regret that we could not get permission to make a portrait of the Dalai Lama. We only managed to make the portraits of two people that were close to him: the physician and the secretary, his two sincere counselors.
At the time of my stay there were about 150 Tibetans in Vankhure. The higher retinue of about 30 people, around 50 monks, and the rest were servants of a lower rank, including musicians, translators, chefs, etc.
Among the most interesting people in the retinue of the Dalai Lama was the oracle of Tibet “Choikon-chemo.” He was a good looking Tibetan lama of age 35. In rank he was only lower than the Minister of the Dalai Lama’s affairs.
As known, a cult of choikons exists in Buddhism, i.e. the genius-keepers of the sacred teachings. The older Tibetan Buddhism added the gods of the Tibetan national mythology to these geniuses, and started dividing all choikons into two categories: those “who departed from this world” and those “who did not depart from this world.” The first ones are considered choikons of the higher rank, and all of them are inclusively of Indian descent, and the second ones – the choikons of the lower rank, are exclusively of Tibetan origin. The gods of the second category, unlike the first, have the freedom to enter the souls of ordinary people and answer all questions about life. A person who has the capacity to interact with the divine spirits, enters a unique state of consciousness by pronouncing several words in response to the asked questions called “kurten,” and he will be able to enter the enlightened state at any moment by self-hypnosis, as well as by using external stimuli such as smoking, music, etc. There are many such people in Tibet and Mongolia, and there are even some amongst the Buryats. Such a person was also the above mentioned oracle of Tibet, who could accept the spirits of five gods of the ancient Tibetan mythology. This oracle was the most important Tibetan oracle, and only he had the sanction from Bogdoxan, which equaled him to the forth degree “dan.”
When an oracle dies, his successor is being searched.
Like Pythia in Ancient Greece, this oracle has a crucial influence not only on the spiritual but also on the entire political life of the country. The previous Dalai Lama, after the death of the old oracle, was puzzled with the question about choosing the successor. The Dalai Lama, wanting to have an oracle from the same party in hand, chose the present one and made him learn the skills of accepting the divine spirits. He learned his responsibilities very well, but became such an oracle that the Dalai Lama himself was not satisfied with. They say that at the times when the spirit descended, he was too silent and did not answer the asked questions. But when the Indo-British troops approached the borders of Tibet in 1904, the Dalai Lama became furious on his oracle for his passive stance regarding the troubling event, and beat him with a whip, forcing him to talk. The oracle, for the first time, in an ecstatic way started answering the questions in a way that dissatisfied the Dalai Lama and his party, saying that everything was lost, there was no survival from the British, that the Dalai Lama party brought the country misery with its lies, and that the majority of choikons and earthly spirits betrayed them and turned into the British side. How much of this is truthful is hard to say; we only tell what we heard from the Tibetans. At least it is an authentic information that the oracle does not enjoy the Dalai Lama’s and his party’s support, who treat him almost with hostility, saying that “evil spirits entered our oracle instead of divine spirits.” In any case, the Dalai Lama and his party have to consult the oracle who accompanies them as one of the highest members of the retinue.
All the Tibetans in Vankhur, starting from the Dalai Lama himself and ending with the lowest servants, presented enough material to make some understanding about the Tibetans overall, although it is true that one element was missing, there were no women in the retinue of the Dalai Lama.
A Tibetan in the beginning amuses with his courtliness and obviously fake politeness; he does not try to hide from you his non-attractive traits. And your first impression of a Tibetans will definitely not be in his favor. This trait of theirs is explained by the fact that, as a result of the political and socio-economic conditions, the Tibetans are governed with a principle: “never show your real self.” Although, if you manage to gain the trust of a Tibetan, he will become your real friend, even to a degree of naiveté. Then, he will display the actual traits of his nation: great impressionability, superstition, happy sanguine temperament. A Tibetan is gifted with a great imagination, but thinks very heavily and slowly, though deeply.
At the same time, a Tibetan is extremely persistent in achieving his goals; he is capable of undergoing any bodily suffering and will scorn death. Because of these traits, the Tibetans have the ability for abstract thinking. The proof of this is the emergence of many religious talents among the Tibetans and the foundation of many original sects of the Buddhist philosophy, which in the future may shed light in the dark corners of the history of the spiritual life in the cradle of the Aryan culture – India. Tibetans are quite healthy and strong, and mainly of a medium height. Their hair is black and thick, and, compared with the Mongolians, they have more hair on their face. The skin color of the higher class varies greatly from that of the lower class; it is bright-yellow, sometimes reaching the European brightness, whereas the lower class has a dark-yellow skin. It’s worth noting that the Tibetans hold the estate prejudices quite strongly. They have a very closed nobility, who allegedly represents the descendants of the king Srontsan-Gampo (VII century). The connection of the Tibetans with the Aryans is sharply noticeable: oval-shaped face, large nose, large eyes. Among the Tibetans in Vankhur, I did not notice any signs of mixtures with the Mongols; and they stand much closer to the Aryans in their racial descent than to the Mongols, although their language tells the opposite by assigning them to the Indo-Chinese group.
Among my friends in Vankhur was an old erudite lama Dandar Agramba, whom I already mentioned, saying that the Dalai Lama sometimes visited him for religious conversations. This old erudite, already an author of philosophical works in Buddhism published in four volumes in Vankhur, is from long ago famed as a prominent thinker not only in Mongolia and among the Buryats, but also in Tibet. We therefore find it necessary to tell about one of our conversations with that remarkable person.
When I entered the yuta, I noticed an 80-year-old person with an extremely fresh face and a voice of a teenager. The lama was still reading his morning prayer. With me there was another Buryat, and we each took a khadak to the lama and got his blessing. Soon the lama finished his prayer and we greeted him. The lama was amazed about me as a person who knew Sanskrit and asked his servant in a whisper: “Which one of them?” The servant pointed at me – the lama directed his view to me, and I, without any delay, expressed my desire to get acquainted with him. Soon afterwards we started an informal conversation.
I took out the Sanskrit writings of the teacher Chandrakurta “Prasannapada.” Our conversation became even more lively when he learned that this book was the original of that same book which, in Tibetan translation “Tsigsan,” was studied in the highest ranks of the Tsann school of Buddhist philosophy. The old lama investigated the book with great curiosity and was especially interested in the Tibetan additions to the text.
He asked, “where is the book published?” “In the capital of the Russian khan,” – I answered. Then he continued – “are many Sanskrit books being published, and do the Europeans study them?” I answered him: “many books are published in India, especially in Balba (i.e. Nepal), and the Europeans recently started intense studies of the Buddhist and Sanskrit monuments. Then he asked: “Do the Europeans read such Sanskrit books which are not translated into Tibetan?” “Sometimes they do,” I answered; to which he asked: “Don’t they translate it into Tibetan?” I explained him that they publish books so that the interested people study them in the original form; and if seldom they translate the books, then only into their languages, since they do not work only for the sake of the Tibetans. Then the old lama realized the incorrectness of his question and apologized, saying: “How interesting it would be to translate these books into Tibetan; without a translation they will forever be inaccessible to the Tibetans and the Mongols.” And then the lama asked: “are there Europeans who converted to Buddhism and how well do them understand its meaning?” I initially found it hard to answer him but them told: “Although there are Europeans who formally follow the Buddhist religion, among them there are quite a lot of people who are not only interested in the Buddhist ideal, but also penetrate with their entire soul into our teaching. The Europeans have a variety of their own sciences and religious-philosophical teachings. That is why the Europeans will not accept Buddhism like the Mongols did; and even if at some point they do accept it, them only from a critical philosophical point of view. After these words of mine, the lama, with a sincerity of an elderly person, said: “For real, the predictions of Buddha are being fulfilled; his religion is being spread from South to North, and it was for no simple reason that this cryptic book was published. Yes, they are indeed righteous people!” – concluded the famous Mongolian erudite and asked me – “how do the Europeans view the Buddhist theories on justice and incarnation, since they, as I heard, do not accept anything not experimental?” Apparently, someone passed him in a tendentious way the European methods of investigation, and he was sure, that the Europeans accepted only that which could be perceived by the senses. I had to make a remark on that: “For a long time I did the science of the Europeans and can state with great confidence that the opinion that during their investigations they are guided only by their senses, does not correspond to reality. Many sciences, independently created by the Europeans in the course of centuries, are based not only on experiment but also on logical inference. As a results, they accept the law of cause and effect, and also, the law of relativity of existence. In regards to the Buddhist theory of justice and incarnation: they did not resolve that questions, i.e. these questions, in their opinion, are not solvable by means of logic, which is generally accepted by the Europeans.” The old lama was quite satisfied by my remark and said: “Yes, the Buddha himself accepted that the law of justice, “karma,” was the hardest field of knowledge.”
About ten people were present at our conversation, including a young khubilgan, the student of the old lama. This khubilgan, listened to our conversation in silence, but afterwards expressed with fever his confidence that the Europeans were far from understanding Buddhism, especially the antinomian philosophy of “tangurva-dutma,” which was developed in the above mentioned book. I refuted him, saying: “I am not talking about the Europeans kyakhtinsk, who are the only ones you know; I am talking about Europeans, who you have not heard of and who study and know your faith.” He sharply replied: “I am not a frog living in a well” – apparently he was offended by my statement made in the presence of Mongols who respected him. Our conflict was over with this, and I did not want to get into a further debate with these Mongolian “saints.”
The old lama did not want to end our conversation, but I, not wanting to exhaust him, got off my place and said goodbye until the next meeting. When leaving, I noticed that all the present lamas, including the khubilgan, simultaneously stood up as a sign of respect.
This unexpected attention to me was the result of the conversations, especially with the young khubilgan.
Moving on to observation of the socio-political state of the modern Khalkha (Northern Mongolia), I would like to note that the population is experiencing a rapid drop in the quality of living due to the unfavorable socio-economic and political conditions. This fact, in relation with the cultural uprising in China, puts the Khalkha population, and in fact all the Mongols under the influence of China, in a very hard situation: their future as a separate nation is quite dark.
As one of the most characteristic traits of the nomadic culture of the Khalkha people, we clearly distinguish the cattle breeding, which, due to the specificities of their county, is completely dependent on the climate. Once the Khalkha knyaz very wittily characterized the state of cattle breeding: “We need the ram to take care of the sheep, and to make the goat take care of the female goat; and our job should only be the collectaion of the crops!” In these words, he wanted to express their advantage over the Buryats, while I was trying to prove him the opposite, saying that the Buryat pasture agriculture, although required a lot of human work and thought, was more reliable than the cattle breeding of the Khalkha people.
Sooner or later the Mongols will have to deal with the European culture. Then only one of those two will be in their large open lands: either the death of the weak wildman or the life of civilized people. Possibly, they will accept the advanced qualities of the civilized world and will free themselves from the current political slavery, from the lama-khubilgans, from knyazs, and would make their land a prosperous place for agriculture. This simple truth, unfortunately, is not accepted by many.
In Vankhure I was joined by my second companion – a young lama from the Tsugulski datsan – Denzin Namjilai.
On March 7, 1906 we left Vankhure to Urga in the old path. The Mongols usually took me as an important monk. Once when during our journey we were staying in yutas overnight, the hostess asked us why the wolves started to frequently take sheep from her cattle. She wanted me to throw my lama dice to understand the unusual reason of the behavior of wolves and also, wanted me to give advice on what deity to worship to stop the killing. I, of course, had to refuse the role of a lama. I told her to just be more attentive to the cattle and joked, saying why she did not address the issue to the lama living in the same yuta. The Mongolian lady honestly admitted that she for a long time did not believe in the sanctity of her dear lama.
On March 14, we arrived to Urga where we got provisions for our journey.
TRIP FROM URGA TO LABRANG
Topics: temporary stay at Alashan-yamin, local knyaz and the regular people
On March 29 we headed to Labrang with a small caravan of Alashan camel.
After a long and tiresome journey, on May 8 we arrived to Alasha-yamin, a mixture Chinese-Mongolian town that represented an oasis in the middle of the large sandy Alashan. There we were accepted with a great hospitality by Sir Badmajapov and Sir Simukhin, who were running a trade business, exchanging Russian products with the local goods, such as camel fur. The trade was overall sluggish because of the large distances involved in the process.
With Sir Badmajapov we took a look at all the pompous life settings of the Alashan family, which, in this poor country, was settled as a Chinese aristocracy with yards, parks, rich temples and castles.
All this was in an extreme contrast with the dull sandy neighborhood with its inhabitants, who were in grief both because of their severe fight for survival in the desert environment, and because of the jealously towards the knyaz family. I knew how much tears and struggle had cost for all the poor Alashan people, who were much more different from their neighboring Charkhas people with their diligence, humbleness, honesty and generosity.
On May 14, we moved on from Alasha-yamin, hiring new Alashan people until we reached Gumbum.
We went through the Chinese customs station Sayan-chin.
On June 8 we arrived at the monastery of Gumbum.
There we hired new carriers who made constant trips to Labrang from Gumbum on their hinnies, and left on June 15.
ARRIVAL TO LABRANG
Topics: first impressions on Labrang, documentation of the neighborhood
At noon of June 23, descending into the deep narrow valley of the River Sanchu, we approached to the famous Labrang monastery, located in the bottom of the valley. The air was very fresh and cool after the recent storm. At that time, we felt a great joy about standing at the end of the path, and our happy songs were echoing in the mountainous surrounding. Soon, through dirty streets, we approached Tava, and in front of us opened a grandiose image of the Buddhist monastery which captured the entire narrow valley of the river. The numerous hall temples of white, red and yellow colors with multiple floors and windows, built in a symmetric rectangular (right angled) architecture with flat roofs reminded me of an ancient Italian town; but immediately we started encountering people that looked very uncommon to me – fast paced Tangut people with humongous sheepskin coats, large tanned bodies and large military swords; and next to them – peaceful Buddhist monks in their red dressing. All of these instantly changed the impression.
In a few minutes we were already inside the unique community of the Labrang monks. We stopped at the place of our relative, Lama Aku Naidan, who did not even manage to treat us with tea, when the local Buryat lamas immediately gathers in our place and literally flooded us with congratulations and a swarm of questions.
The next morning, I already felt like a local of Labrang, and from then on I had to work in the course of eight months in the serenity of the monastic life, gradually trying to adapt to the local lifestyle. During the day I either went out with my photographic camera and took pictures of the surrounding and the temples, or took my large camera to shoot footages at the houses of famous Khutuktus (genens), or participated in the religious ceremonies and the noisy activities of the philosophical school under the open sky or inside the grand temple, or walked inside the variegated crowd of Tanguns, Chinese and Chinese-Muslims, or went into the field with the monks during their regular breaks from school activities, or walked in the neighborhood of Labrang and visited the monasteries located in mountains.
At nights I set in my small monastic room and wrote in my diary, read Tibetan books in the company of monks, or was in a peaceful conversation with fellow Buryat lamas and Tungus friends.
I will now move on to Amdo – the place that represents the North-Eastern region of the national territory of the Tibetan tribes. It is a mountainous region – the continuation of the Tibetan Plateau that borders the Gansu and Sichuan provinces of China.
POPULATION OF AMDO
Topics: community life of the Tangut people, cultural elements, clothing
The militant Tibetan tribes – the Tanguts, are the prevailing inhabitants of Amdo and have a lifestyle of either nomads or farmers. The Tanguts, like highlanders, live in separate groups or villages, and naturally have a hostile attitude towards each other. The Tanguts also differentiate themselves with their Tibetan dialect and by the different sects of the Tibetan Buddhism.
Politically, the Tanguts consist of separate independent tribes, only nominally complying to China. China does not intervene into the internal affairs of these militant tribes, and only seldom sends its representatives with a group of soldiers to mitigate the tension between the Tanguts and the Chinese.
In this case, the Chinese influence on the Tanguts could only be observed at the border of Amdo where the Chinese immigrants, who mainly do small trade, had moved.
In Amdo, and generally in the entire area of the Tibetan national territory, a strong political entity did not manage to form as a result of geographic conditions and the militant and independent character of the inhabitants. Indeed, a strong authority over the Tangut tribes was entirely absent, and they were only under influence of a local Lama or a monastery.
In the internal affairs, their interactions were regulated in accordance to the judgment and ideologies of the chosen elderly.
While doing their robbery excursions – one of their main activities, the Tangut people obey their chieftain. The Tanguts do not have any written laws, though they are relatively literate; but undoubtedly their social life is guided by their traditional laws. We did not manage to get a close acquaintance with this very interesting territory, but we would like to note several facts: for instance, the enemy was untouchable in a neutral house or village. Each community had to stand for the interest of their members, and if someone was harmed by the members of the foreign community, the community of the victim should demand revenge from the community of the offender, and should provide material help to the family of the victim.
According to my estimates, there were no more than half a million Tangut people of both genders in the Amdo highland.
The farmers live in villages where the houses are made of stone and clay, and the entire yard represents a miniature castle.
The herdsmen live in camps made of portable woolen tents.
The farmers and the herdsmen have identical clothing (sheepskin coat) and weaponry (matchlock musket, a pike and a dagger). At the same time, though, the herdsmen have fewer necessities. In Labrang I witnessed the following: for the first time in his life, a nomadic inhabitant from remote Amdo visits Labrang with his family. They were completely unfamiliar with the usage of any instrument – everything used in the past was self-made. Despite the summertime, they wore fluffy woolen coats with a bad manufacturing. The footwear – in a form of leather bags, sewed rapidly by hand, was worn without differentiating the front and back.
The female suit is indistinguishable in its style from the male suit. The only difference is that women wrap the suit in a simple way, whereas men do it in a peculiar way, creating a large “bag” around the belly where they put butter and other items; along with these items even a naked child could fit there. The Tanguts, especially the young generation, wrap the suit in that fashion and collect the remaining of the clothing into a tail. When a Tangut wears his protruding cone-shaped hat, and the tail is distinguished during walking, he is expressing his militant character. Only the elderly avoid that fashion of cloth wrapping, saying: “I am already an old man, and it is the time for me to part with the tail.” This taste in clothing represents the national Tibetan culture, for both men and women.
Women in all Tibetan tribes express their national culture by hanging different items from their braids, which go down as low as the bottom edge of the suit; and at the end of the items they attach a tail comprised of a thin bundle of yarn.
The Tanguts make little braids, but there are tribes that do not make braids at all.
The differences in the hairstyle and the decoration of the head part is an indicator of the woman’s affiliation to a certain tribe. The most characteristic hairstyle of the Tibetan women is in the form of multiple braids, which often are supplemented with yak hair and fall along the back.
POSITION OF WOMEN
Topics: marriage culture among the Tangut people, the role of men and women in the family, negative sides of the family culture
Among the Tangut people living in around Labrang it could be observed that the marriage was accompanied by the boy’s runaway from home into the bride’s house. If the young boy liked the girl and decided to marry her, then he left with her some piece of clothing. If the girl accepted the marriage offer from the young man, she collected his cloths like she would do with her cloths; and if she decided to decline the offer, she took the man’s cloths out into the street. And in fact, the parent had absolutely no influence on the girl’s decision. This way, the young man would understand her decision: either the clothing is left outside to be taken back home, or it is carefully collected and left in the girl’s house.
In the latter case, the young man would run away from his parents, breaking any existing relations relations with his parents. At most, he can take with him a military horse; but at minimum, he should present himself to his bride with a raffle and a dagger.
This way, the husband is like a permanent guest in the house of the wife and her parents; and the foundation of the family life in Tibetan tribes is such, that the husband and wife are quite independent in regards to possessions. The wife has control over the entire household and treats it as her property, and the husband in his possessions has only a war horse, a raffle, dagger and a peg, which he can use during robbery.
That is why the women in Tibetan tribes are very independent and self-sufficient, and can have multiple husbands simultaneously. In such cases the woman prefers to give birth to a girl instead of a boy, since only the daughter will take care of her parents, while the son is a superfluous person who leaves the home forever.
The degree in which the husband helps his wife in household affairs depends on his feeling on connection to his wife and on the level of his moral responsibility towards the family. Unfortunately, the topic of marriage and family in Tangut tribes could not be studied in more detail.
The Tangut people typically have a medium height, their face is oval shaped, their eyes are large and their nose is comparatively big. The skin color is red-brownish, but there are often people among the Tanguts, especially the important lamas, that have an absolutely white skin.
Their eyes and hair are black, but sometimes I encountered people with a red face and ginger hair. Often among them I saw people with a mustache and a beard. In their appearance, the Tangut people are quite different from the people of Central Tibet: a significant mixture of Mongolian blood is noticeable among them, while the Tibetans have a mixture of Indo-Aryan blood. In their physical buildup, the Tanguts are very strong and healthily. They, like the ancient Spartans, despise any sign of happiness, and enjoy severity and persistence.
That is why they do not care about cleanliness, and from early years get used to harsh conditions – the insensibility of the body to external influences. For that reason, the young girls would prefer men who are straightforward, harsh and persistent, to guys who are distinguished with their politeness and similar qualities. Yet, the women, compared with men, do take a lot of care about themselves, their beauty, etc.
Along with the admirable qualities of the Tangut national life it is also worth mentioning the negative traits that were originated under the influence of socio-economic conditions of the country: the Tangut people, like the majority of the Tibetan tribes, treat their elderly and teenager children very harshly. In Labrang I often saw old women, who left their children by fate, and had to survive with alms. Also, I encountered teenager children, who were banished from home by their parents, so that they earn for their living and come back home only at the time assigned by their parents. This kind of sparing technique is observed not only among the poor people, but also, among the riches.
The Tangut people, especially the lamas, have a peculiar way of buried the dead. The body of the dead person is taken to the dedicated location to be eaten by the vultures. This method also has a Buddhist flavor in it, since after death the human body turns into a simple frail material, which should be used righteously, in this case – by feeding the animals.
CHARACTER TRAITS OF THE TANGUT PEOPLE
Topics: idiosyncrasies of the Tanguts, superstition and wizardry in the Tangut culture
The Tangut people are a very talented and freedom loving nation; it is only due to the unfavorable geographic and social conditions that they are overly superstitious and ignorant of the outside world.
Tanguts are people with temper; they, as any other mountainous nation, are very proud and know what honor and good will are. For a Tangut, there is no worse offense than calling someone a girl. But they have a good will and are straightforward; and, unlike the central Tibetans, express themselves without shyness both in the presence of officials and amongst each other. So often the following scene can be observed in Labrang: a Tangut bows in front of a temple or the whole monastery, loudly saying: “I, in the name of someone, killed such number of people. Oh, all-knowing Zhamyan shadba, Serdun chen mo! Oh, the whole Labrang monastery! Help me, the unfortunate murderer!” And he pronounces this in a crowd without any shame and not afraid of being chased by court.
Yet, the level of Buddhism among the Tangut people, despite their superstitions and impoliteness, is much higher compared with the Mongols and the Buryats: a regular Tangut can clearly distinguish where wizardry ends and where Buddhism starts; and during shamanic rituals they do not consult their lama, while the later does not take part in those activities. For all the Mongols and Buryat people, there is a complete intermingle of wizardry and Buddhism; and the lamas there, not realizing themselves, perform the shamanic rituals with the local people that involve bloody sacrifices.
RELATIONS OF THE TANGUT PEOPLE WITH THE EUROPEANS
Topics: attitude of lamas and regular Tanguts towards the Europeans, the significance of high peaks as an indicator of domination
The lamas, as the more civilized element of the Tangut people, are very suspicious about the Europeans; they fear that the Europeans may affect their personal interests.
The regular population is quite indifferent about the Europeans, and simply expresses curiosity to foreigners. Also it is worth noting that the people believe that anyone who manages to reach the highest local peak has the right to rule over the people in the surrounding areas. Because of this belief, climbing the local peaks is strictly forbidden for foreign people. They look at it as an attempt to disturb their equality and rule over them.
When there is hostility between two communities, each of them tries to capture the highest point in the enemy territory and put there the military flag; and the community of the enemy, due to the existing superstition, tries its best to destroy the raised flag.
That is why it is understandable why the locals can be against the activities of the European travelers who often have to climb the mountain heights to make their measurements. And if the height belongs to the forbidden type, then the people can treat the actions of European travelers as a threat to their independence and freedom.
HISTORY OF BUDDHISM IN AMDO
Topics: the role of Amdo in the history of the Tibetan Buddhism
Amdo has its prominent place in the history of the Tibetan Buddhism. It is the homeland of many famous Tibetans – Buddhism preachers and thinkers, starting from Tsongkhapa himself, the founder of the reigning Gelugpa sect.
In addition, Amdo has always served a bridge for Buddhism from Tibet to Mongolia.
FOUNDATION OF LABRANG
Topics: the founding of the Labrang monastery, the first and second Jamyang Zhépa
In 1648, close to the current location of Labrang, in the place called Ganchzha-tan, a boy named Jamyang Zhépa was born in a poor Tangut family, who was destined not only to found the present Labrang, but to become one of the greatest thinkers in the modern history of the Tibetan Buddhism.
The boy obtained his initial education from a local Tangut layman, and then was sent to Lhasa as a teenager. In that regard, he was like the Tibetan Lomonosov, always gravitating towards his Moscow – Lhasa.
In Lhasa the teenage boy entered the philosophical school of Gomang in the monastery of Brayibun. There he discovered his outstanding skills and got the Great Fifth Dalai Lama’s attention. He lived in Lhasa for almost the entire century. He wrote new textbooks which substituted the old ones, and was chosen the provost of the Gomang datsan.
The literary and scientific activities of Jamyang Zhépa were the reason why the Gomang school gained prominence among other schools in Lhasa.
There was no one equal to Jamyang Zhépa among his contemporary philosophers and Buddhism preachers. And his popularity was so large in Lhasa that the populus gave him the title of “All-seeing diamond, that made the God of wisdom smile.”
He returned back to homeland as an old man, and settled in the proximity of the present Labrang, at one of the mountainous areas, to live the remaining of his life as a hermit. The great thinker, who was now a hermit, systematized his knowledge by meditating in the silence and glory of the highland weather; and around him the peaceful herdsmen life was reigning.
Finally, in 1710 Jamyang Zhépa inaugurated his religious activity by the foundation of the future Labrang. The local knyaz not only surrendered the designated area, but also helped to lay down the foundations of the great monastery.
Jamyang Zhépa died in 1722 when Labrang had not yet become a great monastery. The founder only managed to build a temple, the Buddhism schools and several houses for the monastic community. In the course of building the monastery, Jamyang Zhépa paid a particular attention on making the monastery look different from others by the simplicity and humbleness of monastic dormitories. Indeed, the moral purity and the extreme humble setting of monastic life quickly attracted attention of people from all parts of Amdo.
Two people should be given a particular mention for their input in the foundation of Labrang: Jamyang Zhépa II (the incarnation of the first) and his student Guntan Danbi Donme, who put the Labrang school of philosophy at a prominent place among other schools due to his talent in the knowledge of the Buddhist philosophy. At that time many Mongolian lamas and Buryats started visiting Labrang; and that is why the current spiritual influence of Labrang on the entire Mongolia and the Buryat people does not fall back from Lhasa.
And of course, one of the necessary conditions for the prosperity of Labrang as a Buddhist monastery was its hardly accessible geographic placement among militant and independent mountain tribes, who were not keen to alien people in their territory. Also, farming and any kind of noisy peasant activities that would disturb the silence of the monastic life could not develop in the labyrinth of rocks, rivers with their narrow valleys and at the high altitude.
GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION OF LABRANG (OMITTED, GEOGRAPHIC FACTS ONLY)
THE GENERAL LOCATION PLAN OF LABRANG
Topics: architectural planning of Labrang, prayer wheels
Many curved and narrow streets of Labrang form separate blocks of monastic houses or extensive yards of famous Khutuktus. The streets of Labrang and the monastery itself distinguish themselves from any other Buddhist monasteries with their cleanliness. The traditionally rigorous and strict discipline in the monastery maintained the distinguished neatness of the Labrang monks. The streets are being washed quite often since at each monastic yard there is a water well with a depth that sometimes reaches 10 fathoms. Besides, the cleanness of Labrang is also maintained by the Chinese and Tangut people who diligently take different kinds of uncleanliness away.
On the northern part of the monastery the most important temples are located, as well as the yard for the incarnations of Jamyang Zhépas and temples of various Khutuktus. On the steep slope of the north mountain of Labrang tens of monastic “kelyas” are located. There are stone made tiny habitats where a single person could only stay in a sitting position. In these toy houses the monks sometimes learn their lessons on Buddhist symbolism.
On the South-Eastern part of the monastery there is a small park enclosed with a stone fence. During summer school, activities on Buddhist philosophy are being held there. On the southern edge of the monastery, right at the shore of the river, shopping is being done until noon. Chinese and Chinese-Muslins trade their red colored and all different types of items often not necessary for the locals; nearby, the Tanguts trade products of farming and sheep keeping, as well as skins of wild animals – panthers, wolves, foxes, etc.
Around the monastery, except its northern part, canopies are put, and below there are rotating cylinders with sacred writings inside. Believers spend entire days rotating these cylinders (prayer wheels), which reach up to 1,500 in number. These cylinders are either decorated with different religious images, or are simply covered with leather.
I should note that these cylinders serve as a border of the monastic region, since the monks are not allowed to settle beyond these cylinders; and it is in accordance to the monastic belief that inside these cylinders piece and happiness should reign. Therefore, Labrang cannot increase the area of its occupation, but instead, has to expand in expense of constructing the inner buildings tightly.
TEMPLES IN LABRANG
Topics: two kinds of temples in Labrang with their subcategories
Temples in Labrang are of two categories in their purpose and planning:
Temples of the 1st kind – these are so called “dukans” which have a function of a school where the lamas gather for Buddhist studies. All temples of this type belong to the entire monastery.
Temples of the 2nd kind – these are the temples owned by important Khutuktus, and they have different names, depending on their purpose
a) “Lkhakans” – temples dedicated to a deity; there are mostly red and some yellow ones
b) “Tobkans” – temples for storing religious object; they are of white color
c) “Deyans” – these are “home” temples, and at the same time, serve as ceremony halls for prominent Khutuktus
d) Also, there is a gigantic “Chonten,” i.e. a religious building, which symbolized Buddha’s heart. The interior is decorated with statues and images. Here are also located the richest collections of Tibetan books and manuscripts, and numerous sacred relics.
Overall style of the Tibetan architecture is characterized by simplicity, linearity and plane roofs. It is also worth noting that the original plane roofs are often substituted with golden roof in Chinese style.
Topics: architecture of the dukans, five different types of dukans
From the outside, dukans are quadrangular buildings with a plane roof.
Dukans consist of two main parts: the Northern and Southern halves. The Southern half, which is the main part of the dukan, is the place for spiritual gatherings; while the Northern half is the place for the statue of the deity Mahākāla.
The dukans, like other Tangut temples, always have an open vestibule supported by pillars. Above this vestibule there are many closed rooms with a shared balcony.
The side walls of the vestibule are decorated with different religious paintings, usually on canvases attached to the walls. On both sides of the doors 4 deity protectors of “dzhel chen shi” are depicted. Additionally, symbolic paintings in the theme of Buddhist ideology and of different stages of the psychological state of humans are represented on the side walls of the vestibule.
Depending on their size, the dukans have either one or three entries. The interior of a dukan is a rectangular hall with multiple decorated pillars, between which lamas sit in lines during religious activities.
All inner walls of the temple are covered with religious paintings; and in the altar location, in the middle of the Northern wall, there is always the portrayal of Tsongkhapa – the founder of the Gelugpa school.
From the Northern wall of the dukan there are two doors that lead to different section of the gonkan. The Western door takes to the main part of gonkan, where the statues of keepers are located; and the Eastern door leads to the part where the stupas are located. The space in the upper floors serves as a storage for the temple inventory.
Here are the different types of dukans in Labrang:
1) “Dzok chen-dukan” – the main temple in Labrang. It is the largest one as well, and occupies an area of 34 feet in width and 26 feet in length.
It is located on the Northern side of Labrang, and was founded by the first Jamyang; but the present enlarged building was finalized by the second Jamyang.
2) “Dzubda-dukan” – the school of tantra. It is located on the Northern part of Labrang, close to the main temple.
3) “Manba-dukan” – the school of medicine, located at the center of Labrang.
4) “Duynkor-dukan” – the school of the “kalacharkra” symbolism, located at the center of the monastery.
5) “Kedor-dukan” – the school of the “khevaddzra” symbolism, located on the North-Western part of the monastery.
THE SECOND KIND OF TEMPLES
Topics: lkhakan and tobkan temples, the temple of Maitreyas, Tibetan statues
In regards to the temples of the second kind: I need to add that “lkhakans” and “tobkans” from the outside seem to have multiple floors, judging from the multiple rows of windows. In reality though, when you enter these temples, you notice that they are single-floored; and that only the side walls have double layers and, with multiple floors, serve as a storage place. The “lkhakans” are six-angled on the outside, which allows its sides to have one additional door; while the “tobkans” are always rectangular.
The most important “lkhakan” of Labrang is “Serdun-chemo” – the temple of Maitreyas belonging to the reincarnations of the Jamyangs; it is located in the North-Western border of the monastery. The temple has a golden roof in a Chinese style. Inside the temple there is a large statue of the Bodhisattva Maitreya. In the interior wall on the left from the entrance door there is a large handwritten manuscript. It represents the history of the temple in the Tibetan language, and also, descriptions of the sacred relics in the temple. As a matter of fact, there are listed the sacred items that are located inside the statue itself. Those include the most precious sacred relic – the Sanskrit manuscript on palm sheets, the essays of the teacher Buddhapalita.
It is worth noting that the Tibetans and the followers of the Tibetan Buddhism in general commonly store the treasured religious items inside the statues. Near this temple, on the Western side, there is a small yard where the winter classes of the school are held.
Besides the “Serdun-chemo” “lkhakan,” there are many more others in Labrang, the description of which would take too much time from me to write. Therefore, I will limit myself that all the sights of Labrang, including their history, have been largely depicted in the Tibetan literature. All of those literary works are among the collection of the Tibetan books that I brought with me, and which are of great interest to the Westerners who study Buddhism.
LIVING OF MONKS
Topics: houses of monks, details on the room setting
The living of the Labrang people can be divided into that of the famous Khutuktus and the living of regular monks. The first type differs from the second by the wealth and size of their houses (up to 100 in Labrang) with separate sections on the inside; while the second type has small houses without any interior separations. All the houses of Khutuktus and regular monks have a clay made or stone made fence, which also serves as the back wall for the buildings.
The Labrang people live alone in small separate rooms. Since they strictly follow the rules of the monastery, the living conditions and the design of the rooms is unanimously identical.
A regular monk lives in a small room with a size no more than 1 fathom squared and with a small kitchen. There is also a stove in the room and other necessities for living. Overall, the Labrang people live alone and each has his own household essentials. The entire interior of the room is covered with wooden desks which gives a very clean look to the room.
In the front there are the stove, plates and a small shelf attached to the wall for keeping cups and utensils. There is also a shelf for books in the room of monks.
Monks’ room have a single tracery window covered with a thin Chinese paper.
In the middle part of the frame, glass brought from China is sometimes installed, though its price is very high.
All houses of monks have a common roof, which is plane and is slightly sloped in the street side for directing the rain water. The roof is typically made of clay. The surface of the room is periodically cleaned to ensure that there is no accumulated dirt and that it is always dry.
The yards of the monks, though similar in planning, do differ from one another in the occupied area and in the quality of the premises, which strictly depends on the possessions of the owner.
Each new monk that comes to Labrang prefers buying a yard for having a somewhat independent life. When he leaves Labrang for a long period of time or forever, he sells his yard to some other monk. This way, all the monastic yards in Labrang constantly change their owners.
The price of a poor quality yard can reach up to 30 ℓ., for medium quality ones – up to 100 ℓ., and for the highest quality ones – up to 300 ℓ.
DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE MONASTIC COMMUNITY IN LABRANG
Topics: different nationalities in the monastic community, monastic fraternities of Mongols
There are up to 3,000 monks in Labrang, who differ in their nationality and status. Up to 500 of them are from Mongolian tribes; out of which up to 100 are Buryats and Tungus people. The remaining of the monks are exclusively Tanguts, and a very small portion of them (up to 30) are Lam-Chinese.
The Mongol monks have separate fraternities based on their tribes, while no distinctions are made amongst the Tangut monks. Each fraternity has a set of rules assigned by the Jamyang, funds for mutual help, and a yard where people from the same tribe can gather for prayers or for discussions about the fraternity. Each fraternity has an elder lama, a supervisor and an economist, which are chosen during the fraternity meetings. During the meetings the members can be trialed for their misdeeds. The number of fraternities reaches 16.
Topics: the current Jamyang of the Labrang monastery, famous khutuktus in Labrang, details of the custom of reincarnation, secular power of the monastic aristocracy, role of private property in the reincarnation tradition, political and economic influence of monasteries
Here the monks divide into two categories depending on their status: khutuktus (gegens) who are also called “alag,” and the regular monks.
Total number of khutuktus in Labrang reaches 100.
The word “khutuktu” is of a Mongolian origin and means “luminous,” recognized as an incarnation of a famous person.
The oldest khutuktu of Labrang is of course the owner of the monastery, the Jamyang. The current Jamyang, which is the forth incarnation of the first – the founder of Labrang, looks like an old man, though he is 52 years old.
He is round-shouldered and have an average height. His name is “Gassan Tubdan vanchug.”
His skin color is very bright, not at all behind the European brightness, and also, is very soft.
Judging from his face expression and speech tone, he leaves an impression of a mild and soft person.
He comes from a poor Tibetan family in the region Derge (in Eastern Tibet).
He authored many minor essays on different aspects of Buddhism and is considered a very ascetic person; but as an erudite he is not very famous. He does not stay in Labrang much; instead, he prefers a secluded life in the surrounding mountains, in the wondrous nature. He patronizes the local Buryats and Tungus monks, supporting them in their farming efforts; thereby showing kindness for the fact that Buryats started visiting Labrang during the time of his leadership.
Already the first Jamyang obtained the title “Dayanchi Khutuktu” (i.e. a hermit khutuktu), which transferred to the current Jamyang as well. Jamyang, as the ruling persona, not only has power over many affairs of the monastery, but also have a small army of 500 Tanguts, equipped with matchlock guns. The person in charge of the army is the minister of khutuktu affairs.
The most important person in Labrang after the Jamyang is Guntan tsan – the incarnation of one of the vicars of Tsongkhapa in Lhasa. Then follows the Goman tsan, the incarnation of one of the deans of the Goman school in Lhasa. This khutuktu is almost 70 years old at present. He is considered a prominent erudite and teacher in Labrang and has a popularity comparable to that of the Jamyang.
I was told that the brother of this respected Buddhist monk is a ferocious ataman criminal, a person of an athletic body formation. When his holy brother tried to convince him to abandon the evil path, he replied straightforwardly: “Leave me alone; my craft is dear to me, like your chosen field is to you; I will go my way, you go your way.” Besides these khutuktus, we would also like to mention about the khutuktus Gaman tsan and Nandag tsan, who we managed to take a photo with. The first is a man less than 50 years old, the incarnation of one of the Labrang erudite writers – Balman konchok dzhantsan. The second is a good friend of mine, who one was in our homeland. He gave me assistance in photographing the local khutuktus. He is now 40 years old.
The incarnations in Labrang are chosen by the order of the Jamyang.
After the death of each khutuktu, the minister of his affairs, together with the venerators of the dead, ask Jamyang for advice, to which he usually replies by pointing to one of the locations close to Labrang. Afterwards, they visit the location and ask for any exceptional children who were born after a month and before a year of the date when the khutuktu died. The traits of the children must include: proclivity towards the game of making statues of Burhans, towards forecasting, ability to speak about topics not corresponding the age, etc. Since the list of the children satisfying these conditions is very long, the seekers usually give that list to a Labrang saint who would shrink the list to about 20-30 people. Only after the shrinkage of the list, the group of children are presented to the Jamyang himself, who puts his seal on one of the names in the list. The name who has the Jamyang’s seal on it will be chosen. If the incarnation regards the saints who have a sanction from Bogdokhan, then the Jamyang must send a list of three candidates to Beijing, where the one will by chosen either by a draw or by a choice done by sealing.
The incarnations of the Jamyangs themselves, according to the word of lamas, are chosen by the spiritual will left before death concerning their predictions about their future incarnations. The new incarnation is chosen based on those predictions. The accuracy of this information, of course, is subject to a verification. But one thing is certain: the current Jamyang was searched by the order from Lhasa; and after the death of the first Jamyang there was a huge dispute among the Labrang people – some claimed that in his will he expressed his negative views on the custom of incarnation in general, while others claimed that he gave an approval for reincarnation again on the Earth for the well being of the human race. In the end they decided to look for the incarnation of the first Jamyang; and his student Se Agvan Dash was heavily ostracized for his negative attitude towards choosing the incarnation of his master. Beijing is usually informed of the incarnation of the Jamyang.
Besides this, there is also another rule in Labrang – every regular monk, who achieved the status of a lama, or a dean of a Goman school in Lhasa, or a supervisor in Labrang, has the right to be chosen a reincarnation after his death. Finally, the fans of a famous erudite can request a search for his incarnation after his death. This way, the custom of reincarnations is not limited; and indeed, everywhere where some sect of the Gelugpa school of Buddhism is practiced, an ever growing class of incarnations can be observed, who also represent the aristocracy of lamas.
Labrang khutuktus receive a very strict training to be capable of generating sympathy and obedience through preaching, to know how to keep dignity, etc. That is why from the very young age up to the time of maturity they are put under a very strict monastic and academic regime. They are put under a supervision and not seldom are punished harshly for some kind of connivance. Due to his kind of training and upbringing, the Labrang khutuktus are generally strict and hardworking, complete opposite to the majority of the Mongol and Khalkhas khubilgans.
All Tangut khutuktus of Labrang also have a secular power over their “flock.” For instance, the Jamyang himself is the head of not only Labrang, but also of a specific region in the neighborhood of Labrang with its Tangut population. He even has some power over the Muslim tribes who are required to pay a given amount of wheat annually, and, if necessary, provide their officers to help Labrang. Labrang and the Jamyang currently have about 80 small monasteries under their power, which have to provide products to the Labrang monastery; in case of denial, Labrang has the right to enforce its power. This way, the Buddhist monastery in Labrang can also play a political role in the neighboring lands.
Ending my remarks on the khutuktus with this, I would like to note that the Buddhist clergy with its ruler-incarnations, taking under control the entire area of the monastery, which has a religious-philosophical direction of operation, and also influence on the economic and political life of the Tibetan and Mongolian people, has had both positive and negative effects of the history of these people. It, of course, also affects the future of these peoples’ culture.
In the history of Tibet, due to its geographic setting, there is not a single example of a solidified centralized government. And currently the entire national territory of the Tibetans is a collection of domains of monasteries and khutuktus, of which the largest are the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama and the Sakya Paṇḍita (Panchen).
Certain is one thing – the difference between the Tibetan Buddhism and the Indian Buddhism in the tradition of sanctification and reincarnations, and the right for private property. While in Tibetan Buddhism these traditions are applied, in the entire history of the Indian Buddhism there is no account of a reincarnation of a Buddhist celebrity or the bestowal of a right to a monk to have a private property.
The tradition of sanctifying is related not only to the belief in reincarnation, but more to the question of who will inherit the possessions of the dead, who, due to his status, had gathered a lot of wealth and surrounded himself with many like-minded people, who have no desire to abandon their comfortable position after the death of the holy one. We would like to say that the beginning of this tradition in Tibet is undoubtedly related to the acceptable of monks’ private property, which is a violation of an essential living principle of Buddha’s close community.
We know that in the earlier periods of the Tibetan Buddhism, when the Tibetans were still following the traditions of the Indian monastic community, the monks did not have the right for private property; during those times there was no tradition of incarnations as well.
But when the religious community gradually increased, it had to make compromises and concede to using different activities like politics, for resolving economic and other issues. In that regard, out of all sects of the Tibetan Buddhism, Gelugpa is the more political and organized one for achieving the current dominant state, giving the religious community also a secular power; and thereby establishing a papacy – in the name of the Dalai Lama.
Topics: types of monks by their capacities, character traits of the Labrang monks, inappropriate behaviors in the monastery
The regular monks in Labrang fall into two categories: the ones that yearn for education and the ignoramuses. The vast majority of the Labrang monks fall into the first category; these are the ones who study in a Buddhist school of some type and who carefully take all the required exams.
In the second category of monks fall about 500 people exclusively of Tangut origin; these are the people who do not study in school because of their inabilities or living conditions. Since the strict Labrang discipline does not allow any monk to stay unoccupied, these monks are given specific tasks and jobs. Some are taught calligraphy to become a copyist, some study xylography for book printing, and some serve as guards or do other different types of services for the monastery.
The Labrang people are simple, amiable and exceptionally dedicated to their work. They are very open, talkative and can easily become very close friends. They also differ a lot in their moral values from the monks that I met in Buryatia, Khalkha, Alashin and Gumbum.
And of course, in such a large concentration of people at a single place where the level of moral values of supreme, there still are cases where I should tell: “many talented, but few chosen.”
I, unfortunately, did record in my diary quite a bit of gray facts, which I will not recite here. The monastic life, often going contrary to the natural inclination of a human, sometimes gives birth to sins and acts that are not compatible with the high ideals of the Buddhist monastery.
Besides the monks, an insignificant element of people, not included in the monastic community, live in Labrang. There are about 50 constantly changing Bogomol-Mongols and about 20 iconographers from the Amdo region of Rebgon.
MAIN TRAITS OF THE MONASTIC REGULATION AND LIFE ORDER IN LABRANG
Topics: secluded mountainous tenements – “ritods”, regulations of the monastic life, presence of women in the monastery, young sramanera students, strategies for increasing the membership of the monastery
There are two types of Gelugpa schools.
All the monasteries which have schools for studying Buddhism belong to the 1st category.
The small mountain tenements called “ritods” belong to the 2nd type: there exclusively live the monks-contemplators, who prefer the peaceful life of a hermit to the noisy monastic life.
Here we should observe that out of Tibetan sects, the old “ninmap” and “karmap” sects, found by Padmasambkhava and Milarapa entirely reject the noisy monasteries of the 1st type, and accept only the 2nd mountainous tenements; though it is true that in a lot of cases those tenements eventually turned into quite large monasteries.
The Labrang monastery belongs to the 1st noisy type, and its regulation consists of two parts: the first part is generic and contains the main rules of the Buddhism monastic community, whereas the second part only regards the rules of the Labrang monastery. Not entering into the details of the regulation established by the first and the second Jamyang, we would only like to note several characteristic traits which are expressed in the lives of the Labrang monks.
The rules dictate that the monks do all household activities prior to lunch. After lunch they all have to be at home studying with their textbooks or contemplating on religious topics; and they should not be seen in the streets. All of this is regarding the time when the monks are free of the monastic activities. During the monastic activities, all monks should be present without having any absences. Though these rules are not entirely followed by the Labrang people, they still try to avoid being seen in the streets by the monastic supervisors in order not to be accused of lounging. That is why I often noticed that the lamas quickly got out of the monastic supervisor’s view when they saw him.
Women are absolutely forbidden to enter the bounds of the monastic area, with an exception of 2-3 times each year for large religious ceremonies, or when a certain woman preacher from afar has an exceptional right to stay in the monastery. That is why I often saw lamas who treated their visiting female relatives with tea under the open sky, on the round path of the monastery.
Unlike the Mongolian or Buryat lamas, the Tangut lamas in Labrang, committing an act that deprives them of the monastic status, such as connection with a woman, murder, etc., strictly follow the custom of voluntarily leaving the monastery and beginning a secular life. A monk who committed one of the above mentioned acts, secretly leaves the monastery, changing his monastic costume with a military one with a dagger at the waistband.
This custom is conditioned not only by the strictness and vigilance of the monastic supervision, but also by the superstition that the keeper of the monastery “choikon” will not tolerate his stay in Labrang under the disguise of a monk who committed one of the above mentioned misdeeds.
Then, for maintaining the moral purity of the monks, the supervisors of the monastery often make public speeches where they briefly go over the history of Buddhism, admonitions and comminations. The latter is mostly related to the how the monks should behave and to various restrictions.
To be a sramanera, the student in Labrang needs to be of a young age, from 4-7 years old. Seldom are the cases when a student older than 7 enters as a sramanera. Parents, giving their children to the monastery, are required to bring fried flour and fuel (sheep litter). There is almost always no assistance in clothing and other aspects from the parents’ side. Only the very rich parents provide all the necessities of their child. Parents give their children to the Labrang monastery either voluntarily, based on their religious and economic calculations, or by the order of the local khutuktu. In the latter case, the khutuktu sends out letters to all the villages under his supervision, asking to send a certain number of children to the monastery. If the parents of the child are poor, the village should cover his expenses. That is why the majority gives their children very readily. While I was in Labrang, there was a relevant occasion: the chancellery of the Jamyang sent out letters to the villages asking to immediately deliver 40 children to Labrang to make them sramaneras. The laity quickly fulfilled the order. The selection of children was done in a quite arbitrary manner. An explanation of this can only be the fact that the monastic leaders wanted to strengthen their monastery by a progressive increase of its membership.
Besides the monastic rules, each individual school has its own special regulations.
Topics: de facto independence of the monastery, Labrang assembly, school committees
Though Labrang is formally under Xining’s control, de facto, due to its inaccessibility, it is absolutely free from the Chinese custody and enjoys a complete self-government.
Besides the chancellery of the Jamyang, there is also a monastic assembly in Labrang called tsogchen tsogangui.
This assembly consists of the main monastic supervisor, two representatives of the Jamyang, the main economist of the monastery and six elder members. The responsibilities of the assembly include the discussion and resolution of affairs regarding the monastery. It also assigns and sends out supervisors to the monasteries under Labrang’s influence, 80 in total. The supervisor of Labrang, the Jamyang, as a figure who fulfills his responsibilities as a leading professor-supervisor, does not participate in the assembly meetings. The assembly also serves as a buffer between Labrang and its khutuktus.
Besides this assembly, each Labrang school has its own committee for managing the school affairs.
Both the assembly and the committees of separate schools have regulations either assigned by the Jamyang, or written by the committee members and approved by the Jamyang for implementation.
SCHOOLS OF BUDDHIST KNOWLEDGE IN LABRANG
Topics: practical and theoretical Buddhism, five types of school in Labrang, curriculum of the Buddhist philosophy, tantric Buddhism, Tibetan medicine
We already mentioned above that Labrang is a school-monastery, and in that regard it can be looked as a large Buddhist University, divided into separate departments; and its students are the Buddhist monks with their peculiar lifestyle, different from that of the secular people.
We also mentioned that these types of school-monasteries are specific exclusively to the Gelugpa school of the Tibetan Buddhism. In this regard the Gelugpa school plays an exceptional role in the history of the Tibetan Buddhism. The Buddhist religion in its content can be divided into the practical part, which pertains to only religious and ethical questions, and the theoretical part, which concerns the philosophical questions. The latter part in mostly developed in Tibet through the Gelugpa school, which is alternatively called the “yellow-capped faith.”
As you know, this sect was founded in the 14th century by the prominent preacher of Buddhism from Amdo – Je Tsongkhapa, who created a new religious organization. Thanks to this organization it quickly ruled out other sects of the Tibetan Buddhism and achieved the current prominent state, creating a net of school-monasteries in every location where followers could be found. This newest sect of the Tibetan Buddhism completely shadowed other sects, the existence of which is known in Europe only by their names. Labrang in this case is a leading stronghold of the Trongkhapa’s Buddhist sect.
There are five types of schools in Labrang: tsannid, tzhud, duynkor, kedor and manba (medical).
Out of all these schools, tsannid is the major one, since the almost entire monastery studies there; while only 300 people are distributed among the other schools.
In the school of tsannid the Buddhist philosophy is being taught. The Tibetan word “tsannid” means the feature, definition, property of things, philosophy. Study of the Buddhist theory of cognition, developed by the Buddhist thinkers of India, is in the foundation of the school’s curriculum. The school has 13 one-year courses where 5 different sections of Buddhism are included: 1) “tsadma” – the theory of cognition, 2) “yuma” – the philosophy of the mean, 3) “panchen” – the ethical psychology of perfecting, 4) “dzod” – metaphysics (the descriptive philosophy of life) and 5) “dulba” – the ethics of monasticism. All these section have their textbooks. The textbook can be principal – the translations from Sanskrit, or interpretive – the essays of the Jamyang. The interpretive textbooks represent critical analysis of all five principal textbooks.
The method of instruction is dialectic: the students divide into the debaters and their opponents. The opponent suggests a question in a form of an interrogative conclusion, while the debaters answer in terms of conditional logical statements.
Students, who complete the entire coursework and publicly defend their dissertation, receive the highest degree of “doramb.”
Buddhist symbolism is being studied in the other schools. In Buddhism there is a section called “dzud” in Tibetan (Sansk. tantra), which is a secret part of the teaching. This system of Buddhism, for the purpose of keeping the secrecy, is not recorded in a written form, but instead, is transferred orally from teachers to students. Further development of the teaching were implemented through symbolic techniques of hand and finger positioning, character formulas, statues, sketches, painted figures, etc. The reason for keeping it secret was its incomprehensibility for unenlightened ones. Currently the system has lost its original secrecy and turned into a system of different rituals in Tibet, Mongolia and in the land of the Buryats. The students of this school study exclusively the rituals and the foundations of the Buddhism symbolism. The graduates of the school of symbolism obtain the title of “agramb.”
The subject of the medical school is Indo-Tibetan medicine, which, due to the centuries of medical practice based on strictly experimental studies of organic and non-organic nature, still remains as the main weapon of Buddhism among half-cultured nations. The medical school graduates are given the title of “manramb.”
LIFESTYLE OF THE LABRANG PEOPLE
Topics: classroom experiences, daily routine of student monks, extracurricular activities, theatre performances in Labrang, household activities of the Labrang monks, Buryats and Mongols
Regarding the lifestyle of the Labrang monks, I would like to tell that their entire life is a unique and noisy time spent on education. The whole year the Labrang monks incessantly study almost always under the open sky – with small breaks only.
The schoolwork of each day is distributed among the morning, pre-lunch, lunch, post-lunch and evening sessions and breaks, during which the monks manage to go home, drink some tea, get lunch and do their basic household work.
The school activities are very informal and unconstrained: students gesticulate, debate, get excited about their dialectic contends; and of course, under a supervision at all time. But overall, the school regulations are strict, and absences are not allowed. The breaks are also strictly scheduled: in the morning the students go to class in groups where they do practical exercises from their textbooks. And the evening is spent on top of their house roofs, where they learn by heart materials from the textbooks. And during that time, the monastic supervisors go around the houses to check if any of the young students did not show up on the roof; if the excuse of not valid, then a strict bodily punishment is applied.
Yet, these seemingly extreme regulations do not exclude varieties in the lives of the students, especially during summer time, when the entire neighborhood of Labrang is covered with greenery.
During the summer breaks there are appointed times when all monks regardless of age go into the fields for a day or several days with a tent and provisions. There the young monks organize different games, while the older ones share jokes and different stories from the lives of famous Buddhists.
Also, during the year various religious festivals, the most interesting of which is the theatre performance “Mila-tam” founded in the XVIII century in Labrang in honor of the famous Tibetan philosopher and poet Milarepa (XI century). This performance has a half-religious and a half-secular nature, and plays a unique role of publicism in Labrang. During the performance, the mountain hermit Milarepa, with his apprentice, and ex-hunter Gompo Dordze, who is the devout follower of Milarepa, enter the stage. Milarepa then discloses all the dark misdeeds of the famous people in Labrang through satirical and comical stories. Before entering the stage, the actor is required to give an oath in front of the statue of the genius-keeper that he will be just in his judgments and will not be bribed.
The domestic life of the Labrang monks is quite simple. Their day activities include the cleaning of the house, the yard and the area in the street in front of the house, making tea and food at a given time of the day, do shopping and other similar activities. And also, all of these activities must be performed solely by the monk regardless of age or position; the only exceptions are famous khutuktus. In the Buryat land and in Mongolia, however, the household activities are more complex, and are performed by the servants of the lamas – the khuvaraks. This circumstance makes the lives of the latter very laborious and demoralizing, and thus has serious negative consequences on the social life of the Mongols and the Buryats.
LIVING CONDITIONS IN LABRANG
Topics: inexpensive living in Labrang
In general, life in Labrang is very cheap. A modest monk with average possessions needs no more than 60 rubles for annual living. For that amount of money, he can obtain everything necessary – meat, vegetables, milk and wheat products, which are provided by the people living near Labrang with very low prices. Monks also wear simple regular lama costumes of red color.
SURROUNDINGS OF LABRANG
Topics: settlements near Labrang
1/2 kilometers on the East from Labrang there is a trading suburb called Tava with a mixed population of settled Tanguts, Chinese traders and Chinese-Muslims. There are about 2000 people in total of both genders. This suburb looks completely opposite to the monastery: the streets are extremely dirty, and it looks like a regular Chinese village. Then further away from Labrang there are several villages of the Tangut farmer.
Topics: ritods, hermit settlements near Labrang, end of the journey, acknowledgements
But the most interesting settlements in the neighborhood of Labrang are the mountain tenements of the monks – the ritods. We already mentioned that only the hermit monks live there. There are four such settlements near Labrang: the Mandala rated on the South-Eastern rock, Dzudza ritod on the wooded area 4-5 kilometers on the West from Labrang, then the Gom ritod at the base of the large rocky mountain Gempiri 6 kilometers on the North from Labrang (here the first Jamyang asceticised), and finally, the Shugma ritod near Labrang on the North-East.
All these settlements have their regulations and are somewhat dependent on Labrang. The community life there is distinguished by its extreme modesty; the monks there have almost no private property. The life of the monks is completely communal. In that regard, the communal life in ritods reminds in many respects the ancient Buddhist monastic community in India. No more than 20 people live at a given time in each of the settlements. Besides the permanent residents, select individuals from Labrang can temporarily live there to get some respite. In that regard, the ritods serve like a cottage for the Labrang population.
Such is the life at the large modern Buddhist monastery of the Gelugpa sect.
I left Labrang on the 23rd of January, 1907; and after three months of return journey through the same route, I was back to my homeland.
Finishing with this my report, I would like to express my deep appreciations to the Russian Committee for Middle and East Asia Studies for sending me out to Tibet, as well as to the Imperial Russian Geographic Society, and in particular, to the venerable vice-chairman Peter Petrovich Semenov-Tyan-Shanski, for giving me the opportunity to share my impressions on the spiritual journey to the North-Western border to Tibet with the members of the society. I am only afraid that I did not manage to convey in the scope of this report the rich and scientifically not yet studied material, which I had an opportunity to be acquainted with.