Current materials represent partial translations of the microfilm copies of the “Life in the Tangutsk monastery Lavran. A diary of a Buddhist pilgrim.1906-1907.” which are currently archived at the institute of Mongol, Buddhist and Tibetan studies.
The materials are covering a research expedition to Lavran monastery undertaken by B.Baradin.(3) The expeditions agenda was to describe the life and traditions of the monastery and its inhabitants and, if possible, to investigate the basis of the spiritual culture of all contemporary Mongol-Tibetan nationalities, since, in the researcher’s opinion, the research into this topic remained incomplete.
(p.1)The diary materials are significant due to the historic-cultural emphasis and the assessment of the role of Buddhism and of the Buddhist monasteries that played in the social, spiritual and cultural life of the nations in the Central Asia and South Siberia.
(p.5) The territory Amdo, where the Lavran monastery is situated, is positioned on the crossroads of the Indian, Chinese and Arabic civilizations. A special significance of the diary is in the descriptions made by Baradin of the multitude** and specifics** of this region of Tibet with a multinational population. The diary materials are also valuable for the descriptions of the author’s observations of the interconnection of the Buddhist tradition and traditional beliefs of the locals. Lavran’s religious practices involved a multitude of local and appropriated non-Buddhist rituals and practices, as well as the practices of the Bon religion, commemoration of the non-Buddhist gods and deities.
(2) Baradin was contributing to the diary on a daily basis, without breaks, providing detailed descriptions of everything that he witnessed happening during that day. The diary highlights the details of the daily life of not only the inhabitants of the monastery, but the community of the upper social strata, as well as Tangutsk peasants.
(4) During the time of its existence, the Lavran monastery has become one of the 6 largest Tibetan monasteries and has gained the status of the exemplar educational religious center. It is famous for its libraries, lineages of hereditary teachers, practice of public philosophic debates and high quality monastery education. Technically, the monastery represents a university organized according to the traditions of classical Indian Buddhist universities, representing 6 major departments further subdivided into specialty faculties. The emphasis is placed on the studies and practice of the sutras and tantras and the entire Buddhist body of knowledge and related meditative and scholarly disciplines. All educational activities are organized around and take place strictly according to the moon calendar.
Overall Lavran observes traditions of the orthodox Tibetan Gelugpa School, but is not limited to it. Among the current inhabitants of the monastery one can find the followers of other, including much older traditions, for example Nyingma, and other schools. Though academically, Lavran has modeled itself on pluralism, the education was not available to everyone. (here the author changes the timeframe to the past)
(6)Baradin has pioneered the research into the practices of the Amdo’s Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, their internal structures and organizing principles, which he related to the ancient Indian type of Buddhist universities. The author supplies the detailed descriptions of Buddhist educational literature, systems of monastery education and development, instruction methods used at the specialized faculties of different schools and branches, as well as the information on the public defense of their title by Lamas.
Right before the dusk I observed the monks drawing whites swastika figures with powdered lime in front of their houses.
It was explained to me that the chief warden and his close aide are conducting a perambulation of the streets of the monastery. That was a way for monks to show reverence to their all-powerful and fear-instigating warden along his path.
I was sitting in my room talking peacefully with my buryats, two lama elders, and as soon as the evening settled, I began hearing a young voice reciting the words from a textbook for the beginning students of Tsannids school. Then I heard another, and the third voice, and then in a minute, one could hear thousands of voices. This was Skyor sbyangs, or recitation by heart by the young lamas from their Tsannids textbooks. It takes place every evening during the study breaks, chos ‘tshams, that begins the day after the school period is over.
My companions continued chatting lightly, though, it was an established rule that everyone non-reading should stay indoors without the lights in peaceful reflection and contemplation, and no one should wander the streets. Honestly, we did immediately blow out our candle.
Having left my companions for a bit, I went outside to stretch after along sitting and get some fresh air. It was a moonlight filled night. On the roofs of the neighboring houses I saw the young readers walking wrapped in their school cloaks. In a quiet of a moonlight-filled night a sea of young voices was rattling.
Then I heard a terrible knock on the door of one of the neighboring houses. I went back into the house to ask for an explanation. I was told that that was the warden’s suite checking on the reciting students. If one of the students was missing and wasn’t reciting on the roof of his house, someone else from the house must come out and explain. If the rogue student is found, he is immediately subjected to the physical punishment. The warden himself could attack his victim or force member of his suite of commoners (shului) to carnage the guilty. Every time when the warden – tshog chen zhal ngo with his aide chab bteg ma are conducting the evening tour, a couple of commoners carrying rods are walking in the front of the procession. The reading continued until 11pm.
** next few days -Page 22
The night fell. The moon is shining, the stars are twinkling above Lavran. The lights are off in the houses. It feels amazingly crisp to sit outside on the roof of our house and to listen to the traditional skyor sbyangs: it’s the height of the reading, everyone is reading energetically and clearly, one could even hear children’s voices. Some have noticeably beautiful and noble voices with unique manner and diction that inescapably inspire serious thinking; if a voice like this is reading about a familiar subject, one can get carried away with the readers logical flow of thought. Others, especially neighbors, having found themselves atop a common roof of their houses, gather together and leisurely chat and pass smoking tobacco pipes around. Some, wrapped in their cloaks, are trying to catch up on sleep, some are killing time repeating useless and unconnected sentences preserved by some miracle in their memory. These wretches must feel horrified or maybe even physically sick when the monastery warden is passing by their house, striking the ground with his heavy staff and scouting out furiously for those who are missing or aren’t reading well.
I had to choose a Tibetan text to study during my life at Lavran. I had 4 titles in mind: 1) tshad ma kun btus, Dignaga teacher’s body of work. 2) tshad ma rnam ‘grel, Dharmakiriti teachers work,3) Drang nges legs bshad snying po – Tsonhava’s work, 4) Dumta Chenmo, the writings of the first Tzhamijyan-shadby’s.
Given that the first two texts are extremely important as the major texts on the buddhist Gnoseology and logic, but can not be studied thoroughly until their Sanskrit originals are discovered, and, though the third text is extremely important, I ended up choosing the 4th work.
The last huge text represents a study of religion and philosophy of India. Due to it high research potential it will occupy a prominent place among the important works on the history of human thought when the study of the history of religious and philosophic thought of an Indian or Tibetan will become equally important for the historical science as the study of the European philosophy. Of course, the Tibetan literature has a multitude of other similarly important masterpieces, starting with the texts by Dogte (slob dpon legs ldan gyi rtog ge ‘bar ba and finishing with the genius work by stag tshang lo tsa ba’I grub mtha’ kun shes rab rin chen, the second lcang skya rol pa’I rdo the’I grub mtha’I rnam bshad, thu’u bkwan blo bzang chos kyi ni ma, 1737-1802 and others. Still the text by the first Tzhamijyan-shadby (1648-1721) remains the classic standard.
In the morning Losal, a buryat lama from the Anninskoi dastan, brought me the news that the text I was searching for, the famous work by the teacher of Djonanpass sekt dol by shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi(1292-1361) ri choi nges don rgya mtsho is currently herd by a local researcher ahy Lodoi. Losal mentioned that it could be possible to get that book from the buryat student of Lodoi gabshei Eshei Damba. Losal was himself interested in me obtaining the book at least for a short period of time. He was a hige bibliophile himself and mentioned: “I used to have a lot of rare manuscripts referring mostly to Tantra, black magic and such. During my illness in accordance to the advice from lamas, I donated them to certain gegens, since those books, having primarily non-buddhist focus were deemed the causes of it.”Eshei Damba, Lodoi’s student, was my neighbor. It happened so that, once Losal left, he came to see me. I asked him to get me the book. He promised, though, in doubts, mentioning that his dge rgan lends his books rarely.
In the morning Eshei Damba came back all light up and brought me the book. I had only 1-2 days to use it and I ventured onto studying the 400-page book almost immediately.
Some attention should be give to describe this rarest of books. Its title says “ The mountain of law and the sea of true meaning) **(could be sea of true sense) in Tibetan: ri chos nges don rgya mtsho zhes by aba mthar thug thun mong ma yin pa’I man ngag dbu phyogs bzhugs so.
Including the manuscript of over 400 pages in large Tibetan format with the red Tibetan staples written on a thick Chinese paper. The place and the print date are indistinguishable. The book was slightly damaged by water and moths. It was richly illustrated with the images of deities and famous lamas. It was probably an illustrated edition. Two images were placed in at the back of each page (one on each corner). The illustrations contained the images of the Indian and Tibetan lamas – hereditary teachers of the Djonanpansk sekt, as well as Tangutsk deities of the general Buddhist and sectarian kinds. Altogether around 816 illustrations were present. I have tried to compare the images to the collection of “500 burhan” of Urgin Edition and “300 burhan” of the Imperial Academy of Science edition, but got convinced there were little relevance. Each illustration had and inscription in verse and all together present an enormous interest for the Buddhist iconography.
The famous author of this text, dol bu shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi, 1292-1361 came from the Central Tibet and was a contemporary of a famous encyclopedist Budon (1290 -1364). He was famous as an outstanding translator of 34 Lotzav from Sanskrit to Tibetan. His epoch was a great era of Tibetan Buddhism, when several genius minds created the Tibetan national Buddhism from the Indian Buddhism, with its own streams of philosophic thoughts, therefore preparing the soil for the great TSonhava. The Tibetan authors are saying that the postulates of the Djonantsk sect are coming from yu mo mi bskyod rdo rje, who was a contemporary of the first Sakjya-pnchen, sa chen kun gda’ snying po, XII century. Then, with dol bu shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi, the following developed into an independent sect. Brilliant preaching of dol bu shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi has supplied the new teaching with the power and energy to spread quickly. A legend exists that no one could resist the preaching of dol bu shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi, without converting to his sect, and even Budon himself was convinced and converted. He transcribed the basis of his teachings in this book and (highly) raised the banner of his new sect.
Contrary to other Buddhist teachings, dol bu shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi develops in his writing an idea that every living being carries within it a real physical divine (godly, god-like) nature, first image of the Buddha. It is hidden behind the passions of the beings who do not comprehend that they are the carrier of the divine nature. Similarly to how a poor woman doesn’t know that there is a treasure hidden underneath her house. To reach the state of the Buddha, means to clean the substance( or to clean what is hiding) that hides/clouds the divine nature, and to recognize/see you true divine Buddha nature.
The followers of dge lugs pa, dge ldan pa, and other Tibetan sects consider the view of dol bu shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi a paradox, since it isn’t based on any of the buddhist traditions, therefore classifying his teaching within the pantheistic teachings of India. The deny the presence of the first image of the Buddha in beings, accepting just the sprout (could be smth like fetus as well), the ability of beings to reach, given a set of conditions is met, the state of the Buddha. After dol bu shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi there appeared multiple followers willing to continue his teaching and the sect climbed to prominence, especially during the historian Taranath. However, the 5th Dalai-lama, recognizing heresy in dol bu shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi teachings, or, most likely, realizing the real competition from the sect, subjected the sect to repressions, renamed the monasteries and converted then into dge lugs pa, and limited the circulation of their books. After the death of Taranaht, his rebirth was recognized in the 1st Urginsk hutuht (1635-1723). This meant that Taranaht has left his sect and converted to the yellow teachings (beliefs) and this way has ended the existence of the heretic sect.
At this time we do not have reliable information on the current state of this sect, in any case it remains one of the least visible sects in Tibet according to the numbers of current followers. The sect has some monasteries in the suburban Central and Eastern Tibet. There are some editions of the works of Taranath (17 volumes), currently present in the collection of Tsybikov in the museum of Asia, and rarely one find a collection of works by dol bu shes rab rgyal mtshan gyi.
The surroundings of Lavran, july 9th
(…) I ventured out to meet Lobsan to go to the monastery together. From there we headed towards a large temple in the north edge of the monastery. They were making grand repairs. The painters and carpenters were Chinese and Tanguts were working masons. We wanted to observe the inside interior of the temple but had continue onwards due to the repairs. We went on towards the gather place ston chos, the fall gathering place for tsannids school. It was a small plaza 30 by 30 Feet(?) lined with black weeds. On the southern side of the plaza there was a stone seat for the instructor of the tsanids school. The plaza was closed off in the noth by a beautify clock tower – ston chos lha khang. This open-design clocktower is very similar to the one at the garden gathering place of the tsannids school. A similar wall runs throuht the norther edge of the plaza and is decorated by a wall painting representing 3 images. 1-image on the right – Shakjamuni, in the middle – Tara, some choichzhohs, the second image – rgyan drug mchog gnyis, or the images of the famous Indian teachers, with Tzonhava depicted in the middle, the 3-image described the reincarnation of the Chzhamijyan-Shadby.
The plaza is located at the north-western corner of the monastery, inbetween the temple of Maitrejya, gser khang and pho brang – a wide backyard of Chzhamijyan-Shadby. From there, a dozen steps higher took us to a circular road of the praying monks. We joined in as the praying and stated to walk along the circular road that is running through the steep Lavran mountain. The road was very clean and comfortable for walking. One can see along the road a myriad of ceramic figurines placed into the little dents within the rock. We were outrun by the praying monks and commoners, young and old, of both ages. All of them were Tanguts. Especially original among them are the women, with their traditional headdress with multiple braids at the top gathered into a bunch with metal (?) accessories, running along their back to the edges of their coats. They are wearing heavy shearling coats and many of them unbutton their coat from the waist up and walk freely with their naked torsos. They often have young children with them and carry the infant on their backs.
We have found ourselves in front of a Tzhudsk temple and my attention was caught by dozens of tiny white little miniature homes, scattered around the mountain shoulder right outside the border of the monastery. They are surrounded by lush greenery and look toy-like. We needed to gain some altitude to view the houses in detail. These houses were made of stone and whitened with crushed lime. Inside a house like this could fit one adult in a sitting position. The total number of the houses was around 50, they had entrances form the west and a window with a southern exposure. My commuter explained to me, that at a later time, the lamas of tZhdudsk school were studying their lessons in them. There was a path from the monastery to these houses.
It is possible that these houses represent a type of ancient buddhist monk cells and were made in a sign of respect to the old followers.
They are empty now and I could see the fur of the dogs who probably come here during the night and storms. (…)
Soon we have reached the north-western edge of the monastery, where the belt of the turning cylinders for prayers begins. At the beginning of the turning cylinders path there are a couple of chapels with cylinders and religious iconography. The pilgrims and devotees walking along the circular road were diligently turning the cylinders with their right hands, protected by a glove, holding the prayer beads in their left hand, reciting/saying their prayers simultaneously and without a break. The average size of a cylinder is about ½ height, to 1,5 arshans wide. Most of them painted and decorated with religious ornaments and writings. Some are covered in leather. The cylinders often hold the scrolls with the prayer formulas, similar to the famouls “om-ma-ni-pad-me-hum”, repeated in tens of thousands of times, or with whole books finishing with the entire Ganjzhurah and Danjzhurah.
People place the cylinders out of different motives: to commemorate a death of a relative, to follow an astrologist lamas’ advice and so on. The religious importance of these cylinders lies in the fact that turning them is equal to commemoration of the words of Buddha, and the more one turns them, the more chances one gets to save his soul.