A Bronze Portrait Image of Lo-ras-pa's Disciple

Dan Martin,
Doctorate in Tibetan Studies, Indiana University

Tibetological Remarks on an Item in a Recent Asian Art Catalog

Jerusalem, May, 2006 — The purpose of this brief communication is to add some new information, based on my own research in Tibetan-language literary sources, to the description of an artwork published in a recent art museum catalog: 

Pratapaditya Pal, Art from the Himalayas & China (Asian Art at the Norton Simon Museum, Volume 2), Yale University Press in association with The Norton Simon Art Foundation (New Haven and London 2003).  ISBN 0 300 09926 6.

Not every product of a search into the Tibetan literary sources will be of equal interest to the general museum-going public or deserve to figure prominently in museum labels and catalogs.  Still, knowledge has consequences even for viewers with the most strictly aesthetic interests.  However striking the museum piece, we still want to know how, when, where, why and by whom it was made (in a word, 'provenance'), just as we want to know more about the subject portrayed.  Beauty and knowledge dance together, sometimes uncomfortably and awkwardly, but in the end both prevail, perhaps gaining somewhat in the process.  Not to push the analogy too far, we might also admit that a lack of knowledge may at times enhance the sense of the beautiful, since sometimes with art objects, as with dance partners, a bit of enigma may form part of the attraction.  Of course, it may be rather tedious to read about art without being able to see it, so I recommend getting a copy of this marvelously illustrated book right away.  If the book is not available in local bookstores or libraries, one may do the second best thing and view the object at its official website: www.nortonsimon.org (and once there, use their search facility to look for "Jamyang Gonpo").  Of course those who live in the Pasadena area ought to be able to visit the image in person.

In the published catalog, a small bronze image is labeled as "Lama Jamyang Gonpo (?)" (page 150 and color illustration no. 101).  The illustration of the image bears a legible inscription (which is correctly transcribed in the accompanying description): pha 'jam dbyangs mgon po la na moḥ.[1]  The question mark following the identification is justified in the text with the following words:

"Despite the inscription, however, the monk remains to be identified.  Very likely he belonged to the Sakya order for the style of the figure and design of the robes are more common for lamas of that order."

A rather thorough search through the resources available to me turned up only one historical personage known by the name 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po, and He is a disciple of Lo-ras-pa.  The fuller name of Lo-ras-pa is Rgyal-ba Lo-ras-pa Dbang-phyug-brtson-'grus, and His dates are 1187 to 1250 CE.  Lo-ras-pa initiated the special transmission of the Drukpa Kagyupa ('Brug-pa Bka'-brgyud-pa) school known as the 'Lower Drukpa' (Smad 'Brug).[2]  'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po was born in 1208,[3] and although we know He lived well beyond the age of 43, we do not know the date of His death.  It may be that He died during His visit to Wu-t'ai Shan, the holy mountain in China presided over by the Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī. His name 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po was received rather late in life.  The name is explained in the following way.  He supervised a ritual performance intended to avert an attack by the Mongol army, and afterward people said that He was so wise that He must be none other than the Bodhisattva of wisdom and eloquence, Mañjuśrī Himself (the 'Jam-dbyangs element in His name actually translates Mañjughoṣa, yet another name of Mañjuśrī, while mgon-po means 'lord' or in Sanskrit nātha).

Apart from His impressive studies of the Indic Śāstra literature (in Tibetan translation of course), He received a large variety of the most esoteric Vajrayāna transmissions that were available in the Tibet of His day.  Most significantly for posterity, He was the carrier of a special transmission called the Five Capabilities (Thub-pa Lnga, or in short form Thub Lnga).  This esoteric teaching was the main one that set the Lower Drukpa lineage apart from others.[4]  Lo-ras-pa expanded somewhat on the words of His teacher Gtsang-pa Rgya-ras-pa to create the 'root text' of this teaching.  These Five Capabilities are:

1. Being capable of [facing] death:  Mahāmudrā (Phyag-rgya-chen-po 'chi thub).

2. Being capable of the cotton cloth:  psychic heat (Gtum-mo ras thub).

3. Being capable of the tantric activities done in seclusion (Gsang-spyod-kyi ri thub)

4. Being capable of [facing] the disturbances by 'don spirits: sickness (Nad 'don-gyi 'khrug thub).

5. Being capable of [facing] circumstances:  counter measures [or 'antidotes'] (Gnyen-po rkyen thub-pa).

All these secret teachings are Completion Stage practices (rdzogs rim).  They are secret because they should not be studied by persons who are not directly involved in their practice.  It isn't so much that it is forbidden as that it would serve no practical purpose except to lead to misunderstanding.  Generally speaking, Completion Stage practices require first completing the Generation Stage (bskyed rim) and its very complex and demanding meditations utilizing mantra repetitions and visualizations.

Today 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po ought to be remembered not only as the main bearer of the Lower Drukpa lineage, but also as a figure in a number of 'Cutting' (Gcod) lineages that came down from Ma-gcig Lab-sgron, Tibet's most famous woman saint.  His known surviving works belong to the Cutting lineage[5] and not to the Lower Drukpa.[6]  Although certainly a monk, a scholar and a contemplative who spent many years of His life in seclusion, He had a rather unusual interest in worldly subjects, as may be known from the titles of works of His that, unfortunately for science, have probably not survived.  In addition to works corresponding to the typical Indic Śāstra genres -- on judging humans and horses, on medicinals and astro-sciences -- He is said to have written something about making Chinese stoves (Rgya thab).

Not much is known about His life apart from the rather short biographies found in the Blue Annals and in Padma-dkar-po's history.[7]  Still, there are indications of the one-time existence of a separately titled autobiography.[8]  If this ever becomes available, it may be possible to achieve a fuller certainty on the identity of the person behind this portrait bronze, perhaps even better understand His iconography.  Meanwhile, since there is no other candidate worthy of consideration, we may feel quite sure that the congenial Lama portrayed in this small statue is none other than the Lower Drukpa and Cutting master of the 13th century.  He was probably not a Sakyapa.[9]

Bibliographic Key:

Note: Works with complete citations in the notes are not repeated here.

Appey, Dkar-chag -- Khenpo Appey (= Mkhan-po A-pad Yon-tan-bzang-po), et al., Dkar-chag Mthong-bas Yid-'phrog Chos-mdzod Dbye-ba'i Lde-mig:  A Bibliography of Sa-skya-pa Literature (= Sa-lugs Gsung-rab Dkar-chag Rag-bsdus), Ngawang Topgyal (New Delhi 1987).

Bsod-nams-don-grub, Bod-kyi Lo-rgyus -- Bsod-nams-don-grub, Bod-kyi Lo-rgyus Dpe-tho, Bod-ljongs Mi-dmangs Dpe-skrun-khang (Lhasa 2000).

Dalai Lama V, Gsan-yig -- Dalai Lama V Ngag-dbang-blo-bzang-rgya-mtsho (1617-1682), Thob-yig Gangga'i Chu-rgyun, Nechung & Lhakhar (Delhi 1970-1971), in four volumes.

Dung-dkar's dictionary -- Mkhas-dbang Dung-dkar Blo-bzang-'phrin-las Mchog-gis Mdzad-pa'i Bod Rig-pa'i Tshig-mdzod Chen-mo Shes-bya Rab-gsal, Krung-go'i Bod Rig-pa Dpe-skrun-khang (Beijing 2002).

Essen and Thingo, Götter -- Gerd-Wolfgang Essen and Tsering Tashi Thingo, Die Götter des Himalaya: Buddhistische Kunst Tibets, Die Sammlung Gerd-Wolfgang Essen, Prestel-Verlag (Munich 1989).

Gangs-can Mkhas-grub -- Ko-zhul Grags-pa-'byung-gnas and Rgyal-ba-blo-bzang-mkhas-grub, Gangs-can Mkhas-grub Rim-byon Ming-mdzod, Kan-su'u Mi-rigs Dpe-skrun-khang (Lanzhou 1992).

'Gos Lo-tsā-ba's history -- 'Gos Lo-tsā-ba Gzhon-nu-dpal, The Blue Annals, George N. Roerich, et al., trs., Motilal Banarsidass (Delhi 1949/1979).

Grags-can Mi-sna -- Don-rdor and Bstan-'dzin-chos-grags, Gangs-ljongs Lo-rgyus Thog-gi Grags-can Mi-sna, Bod-ljongs Mi-dmangs Dpe-skrun-khang (Lhasa 1993).

Lo-ras-pa, Works -- Smad 'Brug Bstan-pa'i Mnga'-bdag Rgyal-ba Lo-ras-pa Grags-pa-dbang-phyug Mchog-gi Gsung-'bum Rin-po-che, Venerable Khenpo Shedup Tenzin & Lama Thinley Namgyal, Shri Gautam Buddha Vihar, Manjushri Bazar (Kathmandu, Nepal 2002), in 5 volumes.

Martin, Gling-ras-pa -- Dan Martin, Gling-ras-pa and the Founding of the 'Brug-pa School, The Tibet Society Bulletin, vol. 13 (June 1979), pp. 56-69.

Padma-dkar-po, Gsan-yig -- 'Brug-chen IV Padma-dkar-po (1527 1592), Bka'-brgyud-kyi Bka'-'bum Gsil-bu-rnams-kyi Gsan-yig, contained in:  Collected Works (Gsung-'bum) of Kun-mkhyen Padma-dkar-po, Kargyud Sungrab Nyamso Khang (Darjeeling 1973-76), vol. 4, pp. 309-496.

Padma-dkar-po's history -- Tibetan Chronicle of Padma-dkar-po, ed. by Lokesh Chandra, with a foreword by E. Gene Smith, International Academy of Indian Culture (New Delhi 1968).

Smith, Among Tibetan Texts -- E. Gene Smith, Among Tibetan Texts: History & Literature of the Himalayan Plateau, edited by Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Wisdom Publications (Boston 2001).


[1] The word na moḥ is slightly incorrect Sanskrit for nāmo, 'name' (less literally, and in this context, it means 'praise be [to]'), although in proper Sanskrit it would occur at the beginning, and not as here at the end of the expression.  The syllable pha prefacing the name is simply an ordinary word for 'father' (it is considered bad form in Tibetan to pronounce or write the proper name of a holy person without a respectful preface of one kind or another).

[2] In my youth, I published a brief paper on the Drukpa school (Martin, Gling-ras-pa), which is not especially recommended and moreover undoubtedly difficult to locate.  My conclusion was that the Drukpa ('Brug-pa) school was in fact founded by Gling-ras-pa, and not by His disciple Gtsang-pa Rgya-ras-pa.  The various smaller transmissions of the Drukpa school are quite difficult to trace, and little has been written on them in English apart from the brief outline in Smith, Among Tibetan Texts, pp. 44-45.  One section of 'Gos Lo-tsā-ba's history (pp. 672-680) is devoted to the Lower Drukpa, but in fact it contains nothing except the biographies of Lo-ras-pa and His disciple 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po.  At present, I know of no collection of biographies (no gser-'phreng) of Lower Drukpa lineage holders.

[3] The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center database (accessed February 10, 2006) dates His birth one 12-year cycle earlier, in 1196 CE.  At the moment I have no way of deciding which date is correct.

[4] The 'upper' transmission of the Drukpa school, the Upper Drukpa (Stod 'Brug), had in place of the Five Capabilities something known as the Eight Great Guidances (Khrid-chen Brgyad).  Its root text was composed by Rgod-tshang-pa Mgon-po-rdo-rje (1189-1258 CE).  Generally 'upper' in Tibet means the western highlands of the plateau, while 'lower' means the lower lands to the east of Central Tibet.  In any case it is important to stress that the words 'higher' and 'lower' in the lineage names have nothing at all to do with one teaching being ranked above the other.

[5] These Cutting works are to be found in Gcod Tshogs-kyi Lag-len sogs ["a collection of Gcod texts representing the ancient practices of the adepts of the tradition, reproduced directly from a rare manuscript collection from Limi, Nepal"], D. Tsondu Senghe (Bir 1985).  The two titles found here are: [Zab Don Thugs-kyi Snying-po] Bsdus-don, on pp. 101-103, and Spyi 'Khrid Chen-mo, on pp. 105-197 (these same texts may be found in the Gdams-ngag Mdzod as well).  Both texts supply the name of the author in the Sanskritic form Manydzu-gho-sha-na-tha (i.e. Mañjughoṣanātha).  I have located, but not yet inspected, another of His Cutting works in the collection of Tibetan books kept in the Oriental Institute in St. Petersburg.  It bears the title Dgongs-bskyod-ma, and the library number B6646/6.  It is a brief text, in five woodblock printed folios.  Padma-dkar-po, in His Gsan-yig, p. 464, confirms that the Lower Drukpa master and the Cutting teacher are one and the same person, in case any doubts remain in our minds.

[6] According to the Library of Congress records, both He and His teacher Lo-ras-pa cooperated in writing some or all of the three texts contained in: Dam-chos Thub-pa Lnga'i Sngon-'gro Skor, Topden Tshering, Tibetan Bonpo Monastic Centre (Dolanji 1976).  All the works contained in this volume are also to be found in Lo-ras-pa, Works, vol. 2, pp. 373-554; vol. 3, pp. 1-616.  In neither publication are there clear authorship colophons, with one single exception, which says it was composed by Lo-ras-pa.  Indeed, Padma-dkar-po (Gsan-yig, p. 420) seems to attribute the main collected teachings of the Five Capabilities to Lo-ras-pa alone (Bka'-tshoms-rnams Lo-ras-kyis mdzad-pa), but He does attribute to 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po some works on preliminary practices (Sngon-'gro Chen-po Khrid Lnga / Byin-rlabs sogs Mkhas-pa 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-pos rgyas-su mdzad-pa).

[7] 'Gos Lo-tsā-ba's history, pp. 676-680, and Padma-dkar-po's history, pp. 587-588.  The latter, although extremely brief, at least lists for us the titles of a few of His Cutting works: Gcod-yul Zab-don Thugs-snying and Thabs-lam Rdo-rje Tshig-'byed.  Most biographical reference works simply extract their information from the Blue Annals account; see Dung-dkar's dictionary, p. 884; Gangs-can Mkhas-grub, pp. 634-636; Grags-can Mi-sna, pp. 301-303.

[8] Nothing apart from the title is known: 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po'i Phyi Nang Gsang Gsum-gyi Rang-rnam.  It is listed in Bsod-nams-don-grub, Bod-kyi Lo-rgyus, p. 168, no. 0836 (this book does often list titles of works known only from the bibliographical literature, so there is no proof here that the book is presently available for inspection).  One might think that this could concern a different 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po than our Lower Drukpa master.  However, Padma-dkar-po, in His Gsan-yig, p. 450, confirms that an autobiography of the Lower Drukpa master 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po did exist ("Smad 'Brug-gi mkhas-pa 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po'i Rnam-thar nyid-kyis mdzad-par...").

[9] Without the help of a digital text done under the sponsorship of Carola Roloff (Hamburg), it would have been nigh impossible to locate a passage in Dalai Lama V, Gsan-yig (vol. 1, folios 287-292).  Here one named 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po is credited with writing an ancillary text to particular teachings associated with the Dmar-po Skor Gsum ('Three Cycles of the Red [Ācārya]'), one of the Gser Chos ('Golden Teachings') associated with the Sakyapa (Sa-skya) school.  The particular teachings are on Kag-chod [or Bkag-'chod] 'Dod-pa'i-rgyal-po; in Sanskrit, Ṭakkirāja.  For a remarkable painting of this rather rarely depicted deity, who is no doubt a Vajrayāna transformation of the god of desire Kāma, see Essen and Tingo, Götter, plate 100 on p. 162.  This would seem to raise the possibility that there was a 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po belonging to the Sakyapa, distinct from our Lower Drukpa master.  Still, He is mentioned here only as author of an ancillary text (and moreover one that was not part of the 'common' [thun-mong] pool of teachings on the subject), and is not listed among the lineage holders.  I believe He is none other than our Lower Drukpa master, who could have received the teachings related to this same deity via His Bka'-brgyud-pa predecessor Phag-mo-gru-pa, whose connections with the Sakyapa are well known (the Fifth Dalai Lama indeed mentions Phag-mo-gru-pa a few times in connection with these very teachings; see also Appey, Dkar-chag, p. 419, where both Phag-mo-gru-pa and 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po are mentioned in the context of a bibliography of the Ṭakkirāja teachings). The Fifth Dalai Lama, due to political problems with the emerging state of Bhutan ('Brug Yul), was opposed to the Drukpa school in general, which is why Drukpa teachings are very seldom mentioned in this work on the teachings He received.  Still, 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po is mentioned elsewhere in His Gsan-yig (vol. 2, folios 85-86) as author of works on Cutting, and as a member of Cutting lineages.  Note 'Jam-dbyangs-mgon-po's presence in a lineage listing for yet another teaching that descended from the Red Ācārya at vol. 2, folio 225, as well as the brief mention of the Lower Drukpa school at vol. 2, folio 151.  Some of the earliest teachers of the Sakyapa tradition composed works related to Ṭakkirāja.  Clearly more research could result in great clarity, which is the reason I hesitate to rush to any conclusion of one-hundred-percent certainty.

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