Poluonai Zhuan (Polhané’s Biography)
Polhané’s Biography is a description of the life of the 18th century Tibetan king Polhané by his close minister Dokhar Zhapdrung Tsering Wanggyel (Duokaxiazhong Cerenwangjie). The book is divided into nineteen chapters and describes the ancestral background of the king, his childhood, his marriage, and his political and religious accomplishments. From this story, not only do we see the dry political and religious accomplishments of Polhané, but also the many facets of his personality, which includes his arrogance, sagacity, and love of women, all of which allow us to see him as an individual.
The biography of Polhané began with a description of Polhané’s ancestors. He was descended from a line of aristocrats. Polhané’s grandfather and granduncle served as district governors for Gushri Khan. They were said to be just in taxation and donated a lot of money to the monasteries. Polhané’s grandfather would also provide food for the poor and monks and treat his servants well. All of this accumulated good karma would ripen in the birth of Polhané. Polhané himself was also described as having had a past filled with good karma, for he was said to be the reincarnation of Galdan Khan, eldest son of Gushri Khan, ruler of Tibet. Galdan Khan was described as having been brave and fought for the Buddhist faith against the non-believers, the Muslims of India. In the war against Ladakh and the forces of the Mughals, Galdan Khan won a great victory and drove the Muslims out of Tibet. This defender of faith would be reborn to help the Tibetans again, this time as a Tibetan rather than a Mongol.
Since childhood, Polhané had a bellicose nature and acted arrogant around others. On one occasion there was a local bully who denied water in a stream to people; Polhané was angered and beat him up with his fists until the bully was carried away on a wooden board. Although he greeted high priests, he boasted that “other than the Dalai and Panchen lamas (Ch. living buddhas), I have never bowed to other people before.” This kind of attitude affirmed his status as the reincarnation of Galdan Khan by his relatives, the high lamas, and the king of Tibet.
Polhané was also portrayed as a wise being in his youth. When his grandmother died and her servants cried, Polhané told them “Why are all of you so depressed? Would this benefit grandmother, who just died?” When others blamed the boy Polhané for not understanding human feelings, he replied: “All the Dharmas are impermanent, there is birth and death, and there is no need to be hurt. We should invite the great sramana [monk] here…and accumulate merit for the next life.”
All the wisdom and understanding of the intransient nature of all things did not prevent Polhané from sleeping with different women. Polhané had a lover since childhood, her name was Cerenbuchi (Tib. Tshe ring bu khrid). Eventually, he had to leave her to go to another monastery to see a high lama. Later on, Polhané married a daughter of a high aristocrat named Beisangjiba (Tib. Dpal bzang skyid pa). We are told that she was intelligent, attractive and tolerant. However, Polhané still kept the relationship with Cerenbuchi and often slept in her house. When his wife found out, she went to Cerenbuchi and told her she was not jealous but for the good of Polhané, she should leave him. Cerenbuchi agreed and was married off. Polhané was very angry with his wife and did not talk with her for a long time.
Apparently, Polhané’s affairs were not restricted to these two women; as an adolescent, he was often indulged in wine and women. Polhané would poke a hole in his wine bottle for the wine to leak out so he will not get drunk, since drunken men would not enjoy the company of the girls. When Polhané served in the council under Lhazang Khan, he had an affair with a Mongol girl name Bai Zhao. Even though his life was in jeopardy when he was captured by the Dzungar Mongols in 1717, Polhané did not spare a moment to be intimate with this girl. When the Dzungar chief that held him in custody was busy taking care of business away from home, Bai Zhao would leave her tent and come to Polhané’s tent and sleep with him.
After growing up and serving in the council of Lhazang Khan, Polhané more than once displayed his military and political genius. He won several victories against the Bhutanese. In the war against the Dzungars, Lhazang Khan set up a camp near Lhasa. Polhané suggested to the Khan not to attack and only defend since the enemy would not breach their defense. Lhazang Khan’s father in law mocked him; “Councilor Polhané, you are a child who grew up in Tibet, not a Mongol who is adapted to war. You know nothing. Shut your mouth and be still. I’ve followed Abale, Chechen Khan and Boshugtu (Boxiaotu) Khan to fight on the battlefield, I’ve had many battle experiences, and understand well that when the enemy attacks, we meet them with a powerful counter-attack, we never try to defend the pass.” The next day Lhazang Khan set up his battle formation and fought personally. Polhané entered the battle and slaughtered many enemies. However, the Dzungars were slowly overwhelming the Tibetans and Polhané again made many suggestions to the Lhazang Khan many of which were turned down. The picture given here was that Polhané would have made a difference in the war had the Qoshot Mongols been less arrogant and listened to his advice. But they didn’t and eventually Lhazang Khan was killed in battle in Lhasa. It was said that the Mongols used to mock the Tibetans as not knowing war, now the Tibetans were mocking the Mongols because of their defeats.
Polhané’s biography barely mentioned the Qing army’s attack on the Dzungars. It was only briefly touched upon, and the picture given was that Polhané and Khanchenné were the ones who drove the Dzungars out. After the victory, Polhané displayed his compassion by asking the Qing to spare the puppet king who the Dzungars put on the Tibetan throne since he was a good lama who had no choice in the matter. Despite his repeated pleas, the Qing maintained that death was the rule for such men and the poor old king was put to death. Khangchenné was put in charge of Tibet supported by the Kalöns of which Polhané was one. Of the four Kalöns, only Polhané was loyal to Khangchenné. Once again, Polhané displayed foresight by warning Khangchenné about the greed of the other Kalöns. Like all other rulers who never listened to Polhané, Khangchenné told Polhané that he was too suspicious, and suffered the consequences. Khangchenné went to a meeting with the other Kalöns and was assassinated like Julius Caesar. Polhané was smart enough to return to his territory and civil war broke out afterwards. Polhané defeated the other Kalöns and waited for the Qing court to execute them.
After Polhané was made the King of Tibet by the Qing, the biography focused on his political and religious accomplishments. The Miwang (Powerful One, the title by which he was know) was concerned for the people and asked the Chinese emperor to reduce the amount of soldiers stationed in Tibet. The emperor trusted Polhané and reduced the size of the Qing army from five thousand to two thousand, relieving the Tibetans of supporting the Chinese army. In addition, Polhané subjugated Bhutan, a feat which even Gushri Khan failed to do. In his last years, Polhané was preoccupied with a massive printing project on the Kangyur and spread copies of it afar. This was perhaps his greatest deed in the eye of the author of his biography, for he managed to spread the Buddhist teaching widely.
The biography of Polhané was written in a first person narrative by his minister. The book was in essence a eulogy, which boasted of the accomplishments of the Miwang. Like typical Tibetan biographies, the biography had a heavy religious theme. The book, not only included Polhané’s present life, but also his past life as Galdan Khan. Reincarnation was an important element of the book, as well as karma. The book was also written to support the Gelukpa sect, for the deaths of many of the people who perished were described as the result of bad karma and also because they were the enemy of the Gelukpa tradition. There was little objectivity and the book never pointed out Polhané’s weaknesses. Therefore the reader needs to view it through a critical eye and separate the man from the myth.