"Like Pouring Water into Water:" Buddhist Lineages, Modernity, and the Continuity of Memory in the Twentieth-Century History of Tibetan Buddhism (Submitted in partial fulfillment of the Requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences)

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"Like Pouring Water into Water:" Buddhist Lineages, Modernity, and the Continuity of  Memory in the Twentieth-Century History of Tibetan Buddhism (Submitted in partial fulfillment of the  Requirements for the degree  of Doctor of Philosophy  in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences)

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"Like Pouring Water into Water:" Buddhist Lineages, Modernity, and the Continuity of Memory in the Twentieth-Century History of Tibetan Buddhism Annabella Claudia Pitkin

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the Requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences


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ABSTRACT "Like Pouring Water into Water:" Buddhist Lineages, Modernity and the Continuity of Memory in the Twentieth-Century History of Tibetan Buddhism Annabella Pitkin

This thesis focuses on the life of the Indo-Tibetan scholar and yogi Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen (Khu nu bla ma Bstan 'dzin rgyal mtshan, 1895 - 1977). It considers the role of teacher-student transmission lineages (Tib. brgyud) in enabling or limiting intellectual innovation among Himalayan Buddhists. By examining oral and literary narratives of Khunu Lama's lineage relationships from multiple biographical and autobiographical genres, this dissertation investigates Tibetan Buddhist strategies for re-appropriating the past, and demonstrates that these strategies are marked by profound intellectual independence. The thesis further argues that such independence subtly locates authority within individual scholar-practitioners, resonating with intellectual moves associated with modernity, and calling into question common understandings of the term modernity (and its double, tradition) in both Religious Studies and Tibetan Studies. Via the example of Khunu Lama's life and work, this dissertation offers a preliminary view of alternative ways to understand modernity in the Himalayan context, while at the same time enriching understanding of related intellectual issues, including the role of life narratives in creating individual and communal Buddhist identity; the question of Tibetan Buddhist sectarianism and non-sectarianism; and the creative role of individuals from areas long thought of as at the Tibetan periphery.

Table of Contents



Technical Note on Transliteration






Chapter One. Modernity, Tradition and Memory in Tibet and the Himalayan Region 22

Chapter Two. Biography, Remembrance and Memorialization


Chapter Three. The Life Story of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen, Part I


Chapter Four. The Life Story, Part II: Travel and Study in Eastern Tibet


Chapter Five. The Life Story, Part III: Travels and Teaching After 1937


Chapter Six. Disruption and Continuity: Sites of Innovation


Appendix A. Translation of Khu nu rin po che bla ma bstan 'dzin rgyal mtshan dpal bzangpo'i mdzadmam tharpa'i them skas.



Appendix B. Chronology

Appendix C. Bodhisattvacaryavatara Transmissions Received By Khunu Rinpoche in Eastern Tibet


Appendix D. Partial Reception History of the rnam ihar and of Khunu Lama's Published Work






It is a Tibetan Buddhist commonplace to acknowledge the kindness of others, and one's great debt to them. It is very suitable, then, that I acknowledge that this project owes its being, and any small good qualities it may have, to a host of kind and generous people, all of whom deserve far more extensive thanks than that offered here.

Deep gratitude is due to my advisor, Robert Thurman, and to the members of my doctoral committee, for their guidance, encouragement and moral support. Professor Thurman's tireless energy, passionate interest in Tibet and Tibetan topics, and vivid gifts as a teacher drew me into the field of Tibetan Buddhist studies. His belief in the value of this topic and his generosity as a mentor has enriched this project at every level. Gray Turtle went out of his way to read drafts and offer extensive comments during the writing, acts of altruism that made this work stronger in a host of ways than it otherwise would have been. I have benefited enormously from his example of how history can be done, and from his exemplary model of meticulous scholarship united with collegiality and humor. Courtney Bender offered insightful guidance and warm encouragement at key moments; among other transformative suggestions, she made the crucial introduction to the work of Danielle Hervieu-Leger. Chun-fang Yu graciously joined the committee at a later stage in the development of this project, and provided wise advice and kind support during the taxing final months of work. Gary Tubb has inspired me throughout my graduate career with his erudition, his luminous example as scholar, teacher, interpreter of texts and


cultures, and his humor, (including his wise suggestion that if Sanskrit studies did not work out, my classmates and I might consider careers in music as a backup).

The financial support of many institutions made the research and write-up of this study possible: Columbia University Faculty Fellowships supported the early stages of my graduate training; Weatherhead East Asian Institute Ph.D. Summer Training Grants, a Columbia University Summer Presidential Fellowship, and a Daniel and Marianne Spiegel Fund Grant allowed me to do important preliminary language training, and later, follow-up research in Asia. A Fulbright-Hays Dissertation Fellowship in 2004 and a Blakemore-Freeman Fellowship in 2004 - 2005 allowed me to complete the central components of research and study in Tibet, India, and Nepal. A Whiting Dissertation Fellowship in 2006 - 2007 gave me the precious gift of time to write. The staff members at Columbia and hosting institutions, and at the offices of these grantors were unflaggingly helpful. Many thanks to the attentive board members and staff of the Blakemore Foundation, Cathy Scheibner in particular; to the program officers and staff of the Fulbright program in the U.S and in India, especially S.K. Bharathi and Anishya Madan, to Janet Moy and Kerry Gluckman, the wonderful officers at the Financial Aid Office of the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; to the staff of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Sikkim, and to the faculty and staff of the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath. I am particularly grateful to the many outstanding Tibetan educators and administrators in Tibet who facilitated and enriched my time there, and regret that circumstances discourage me from thanking them by name.


The remarkable Gene Smith has been a mentor since this project's earliest days. Gene's unflaggingly generous willingness to share his vast knowledge with younger scholars is legendary. I have benefited at every turn from his wise counsel, his introductions to senior figures throughout the Tibetan world, and his belief in this project. This study would never have seen the light of day without his encouragement. I am grateful for the assistance of the staff of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center over which Gene presides; their work made my own infinitely easier.

One of the most important friends of this project has been the brilliant scholar and indefatigable companion Tashi Tsering, of the Amnye Machen Institute, who shared crucial archival data and wise advice on all matters connected with this work. His generous help saved me from many errors, and his hospitality made Dharamsala a welcoming place during long and often taxing research travels. Likewise, the gracious Tashi Densapa Burmiok Athing Rinpoche made the Sikkimese portion of my research a delight in every way.

Special thanks are due to everyone who agreed to be interviewed about their memories of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen. Their generosity, their interest in the success of the research, and the warmth of their memories of Khunu Lama were exceptional. Meeting the many remarkable individuals who were students of Khunu Lama made this challenging project a pleasure to pursue. I have done my best to honor their recollections v

in this work, even where my interpretations may have differed from those of people I interviewed. Needless to say, all interpretations put forward here (where not otherwise indicated), and all errors, are my own, and should not reflect on the interviewees.

Throughout this project, I have benefited from the help of a handful of international scholars working on Kinnaur, on the life of Khunu Lama, or on closely related figures of the period. The support and assistance of these scholars demonstrates the best qualities of scholarly community, and makes me proud to work in such a field. K. Angrup, the main Tibetan language biographer of Khunu Lama, was hugely generous with his own work, both published and unpublished, as well as with his encyclopedic knowledge of Khunu Lama and of contemporary Himalayan history. His generosity took this project to an entirely different level. Likewise, Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche, author of an important biographic essay on Khunu Lama's life, was unfailingly kind and helpful.

Heartfelt thanks go to three scholars who have previously written about Khunu Lama's life for western audiences: Gareth Sparham, Thierry Dodin, and Jurgen Manshardt. All three have shared their extensive knowledge with me, over email and in person, and I could not have progressed in this study without them. Gareth Sparham's beautiful translation of Khunu Lama's verses and description of his life helped to initially draw me into this work, and his willingness to brainstorm research strategies gave me courage at the very beginning. Thierry Dodin's groundbreaking essay about Khunu Lama poses questions that remain central today, and his research is a repository of fascinating detail. vi

Jurgen Manshardt devoted more than a decade to his own exhaustive investigation into the life of Khunu Lama, and is truly steeped in knowledge of the subject. He has shared the exceptional wealth of his own work with rare kindness.

Likewise, John Bray, whose work on Ladakh has opened many new avenues in my own thinking, Linda LaMacchia, whose dissertation on Kinnauri women's songs offers fascinating insights into the culture of the Kinnaur region, and David Jackson, whose biography of Dezhung Rinpoche sets the gold standard for studies of Tibetan lamas' lives, have all also been outstandingly helpful and generous with their own research, published and unpublished. David Jackson and Linda LaMacchia graciously shared their own interviews with people who knew Khunu Lama, as well as their insightful perspectives on the material, and added significantly to this project. Carole McGranahan and Shayne Clarke responded to questions with lightening speed and great reservoirs of rich material.

Many other mentors have encouraged and guided me. Special thanks go to Professors Jack Hawley, Wendi Adamek, and Susan Shapiro, who enriched my time at Columbia, and contributed in many ways to the shape of my intellectual interests. Also at Columbia, Gen Lobsang Jamspal repeatedly transformed my thinking on this project through his invaluable person recollections, his own insights as a scholar, and the precious primary source materials he was willing to place at my disposal. Without the unfailing kindness of Geshe Gelek Chodak, Gelek Rinpoche, and Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Tsetan I might vii

neither have begun nor completed this project, nor any other, to say nothing of their willingness to be interviewed, to arrange interviews with others, and to provide instruction on any topic I could come up with. My gratitude to them is too great to express here.

The staff of the Latse Library in New York City were unfailingly helpful. Kristina DyLiacco was never too busy to field my queries. Lobsang Tengye offered crucial information about the Varanasi and Sarnath portions of Khunu Lama's story. Many thanks are also due to Rich Jandovitz, Lauran Hartley and Chopathar Wayemache at Columbia's Starr East Asian Library. The participants in the workshop series "Rethinking Tibetan Auto/Biography," organized by Sarah Jacoby and Andy Quintman, enriched my thinking in many ways, and I am grateful to the organizers and participants. I must also acknowledge the inspiration I have derived from the work of Janet Gyatso and Georges Dreyfus.

My dear graduate colleagues at Columbia and elsewhere, in particular Carla Bellamy, John Campbell, Andrea Pinckney, Travis Smith, Marina Illich, Laura Harrington, Dominique Townsend, David Kittay, and Alex Gardner, encouraged me, read drafts, and always kept my thinking fresh. The friends who shared the joys and challenges of studying and traveling in the Himalayan region and in many parts of China and India helped to make this research a joy rather than a trial. Marlies Morsink was a stalwart on the rainy roads of Khams. Jann Ronis was a wise, patient advisor, and a peerless


connoisseur of Sichuan cuisine. My classmates and co-residents in the Foreign Students' Dormitory at Tibet University, Lhasa added a cheerfulness that made even difficult circumstances enjoyable. Many dear Tibetan friends I shall not name offered brilliant instruction, humor, good food and hospitality, and constant encouragement. Their friendship is a blessing. In Delhi, Arjun Mahey, Manju Singh and the entire Mahey family offered hospitality of an exceptionally high order, making my visits there high points of my research travels. In a special category, I must thank the incomparable Nyima Drolma, without whose tireless kindness and effort this would literally not have been written. I owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Last because most important, the love of my family provided the foundation for this project, as for everything I do. My father sadly did not live to see me finish, but his passion for people and ideas are reflected in every aspect of my work. My mother, who handed me my first book about Khunu Lama, has been editor, sounding board and support system for as long as I can remember, and my greatest advocate. My sister Rosie has always believed in me, even when my interests took me far away. Without her love and friendship my life would be infinitely poorer. John, the love of my life, has had my back during the most difficult times, in every way imaginable. The joy I take in him sustains me at every moment. At the heart of that joy, of course, is our daughter Eleanor, for whom all of this was written.



For my parents and teachers, whose kindness is unrepayable. For Rosie, because she is the good sister. For John and Eleanor, who make everything worthwhile.


Technical Note on Transliteration In view of the difficulties posed for the non-specialist reader by many of the existing systems of transliterating Tibetan, I have chosen a two-fold approach: I provide the Wylie transcription of each Tibetan term at first appearance (following the system described in Turrell Wylie, "A Standard System of Tibetan Transcription," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 22 (1959) :261-267. Specialists should note that I capitalize initial letters only, and not the "root-letters" or ming-gzhi; I follow standard English conventions for capitalization of names, etc.) At subsequent appearances of a term, I render it phonetically according to pronunciation in the Lhasa dialect. These phonetic renderings follow the sensible guidelines offered by the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library (THDL). These guidelines can be found in full at: www.thdI.org/collections/langling/tibetan-transliteration.html. In a handful of cases, where a term or name is well-known already, I use the best-known phonetic version. I italicize Tibetan terms (but not proper names) in both Wylie and phonetic formats.

I do not italicize Sanskrit words that have been widely incorporated into English usage, in particular Buddhist terms such as Dharma, Buddha, samsara, karma, and the like, nor do I mark diacritics for these words. For Sanskrit titles of works, and less well-known terms, I do mark diacritics and make use of italics where appropriate.




In the early 1960s, a brief meeting occurred in the northern Indian city of Varanasi. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, then in the early years of his exile in India, met an obscure religious teacher and scholar from the Indian Himalayan region of Khunu (Kinnaur, Tib. Khu nu) named Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen. The meeting was apparently highly informal, and took place in Khunu Lama's cramped, unfurnished room, on the top floor of the Hindu ashram of Tekra Math.1

One account describes it thus: "[His Holiness Dalai Lama] came to meet Negi Lama [Khunu Rinpoche] accompanied by his personal secretary only. At that time Negi Lama was just recovering from a serious illness and was still feeling very weak. As the disease had affected his eyes he couldn't see properly. He was also very poor and his only property was the old torn-up blanket he was wrapped in in his empty cell. Negi Lama noticed two monks entering his room and asked who they were. When he was informed by the private secretary who the visitor was, he objected that he wore no appropriate clothing and had no chair for His Holiness to sit on. He claimed not to be able to receive


Dodin 1997:90.

2 him under such conditions. As the Dalai Lama insisted on speaking with him they both remained standing and had a talk."2

This, the narrator3 goes on to say, marked the real beginning of the teacher-student relationship between Khunu Lama and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama - a relationship which the latter often says was a great inspiration to him in many ways.4 The Dalai Lama frequently mentions Khunu Lama during large public teachings as one of his teachers, and as a contemporary master and exemplar of the seminal Mahayana Buddhist quality of bodhicitta.5 Indeed, during the course of the Dalai Lama's study with Khunu Lama, the


Dodin 1997:90. Dodin's groundbreaking 1997 article helped introduce Khunu Lama to many English-speaking scholars, and raises important questions that continue to be of interest. In the conclusion of his article, Dodin writes of his own hypotheses about Khunu Lama, and suggests avenues for further investigation with impressive insight. He anticipates some of the broad findings confirmed by my research, as well as arguing (although along slightly different lines) for Khunu Lama's role as both an innovator and an important force for continuity of contemporary Tibetan Buddhism. Dodin's article represents a significant attempt to piece together the chronology and events of Khunu Lama's life from an extremely limited set of sources. His primary source for the anecdote described here and for Khunu Lama's life story in general was his oral interview with Sangngak Tenzin (Gsang sngags bstan 'dzin). Sangngak Tenzin was the father of Roshan Lai Negi, a well-known Kinnauri scholar who was a biographer of Khunu Lama, and the author of Bodhisattva Shasandhar Dhvaja Ji ka Sankshipt Parichaya, a paper read at the All India Seminar, Keylong Lahual, 1986, which forms one of the sources for K. Angrup's first 1989 edition of the Tibetan-language biography of Khunu Lama, as well as for Angrup and Lall 1987. Many more sources were available for the writing of the present work then were available to Dodin. As a result, it has been possible both to address a number of the valuable questions and points of interest Dodin raises, while at the same time correcting or filling in some gaps in the material. This includes revising a number of dates and chronological matters. I address these points in what follows, acknowledging my debt to Dodin for his pioneering work in opening up many lines of inquiry. 3

That is, Sangngak Tenzin, or more precisely, Dodin, summarizing from his interview with Sangngak Tenzin.


Fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso interview 2005, as well as public talks and publications as cited below. 5

For example, Amaravati 2005, Dharamsala 2004, etc. See for example also Dalai Lama XIV 1994:1, and Sparham 1999.


most important material Khunu Lama transmitted to him consisted specifically of texts and practices on the topic of bodhicitta.

The above anecdote creates quite a remarkable mental picture, not to say a somewhat odd one. Adding in a few details drawn from other oral and textual sources, one can almost visualize the tall, skinny Khunu Lama, wrapped in his tattered red blanket, unable to see perfectly even with the thick coke-bottle-lens glasses he habitually wore. In the image of him evoked in this story, he is the very picture both of Buddhist renunciation (small room, tattered blanket, no furniture), and also of a humorously gruff reluctance to experience the honor of a visit from the Dalai Lama. In this reluctance, one might imagine one sees traces of a deep humility, intertwined with what looks suspiciously like rudeness, or an irascible disinterest in the proprieties of the ordinary world of honors and politics.7

Khunu Lama's peculiar dress is evocative of poverty and perhaps disengagement from possessions: he is wrapped in something tattered - here a "blanket," although other accounts of his life specify that he habitually wore a red wool man's chuba (Tib. phyupa, Tibetan traditional dress). In any case, all accounts agree on the worn and simple


Fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso interview 2005; see also Dalai Lama XIV 1994:1, and Sparham 1999.


Of course, this stance of gruff resistance to fame or to new students, and of apparently unconventional disregard for the political and social niceties is in fact itself a kind of convention, one that will be quite familiar to those who have read or heard other accounts of Tibetan Buddhist masters' lives. I discuss this pattern in what follows.


character of this garment, with several informants mentioning that his chuba was always too short for his tall frame. The current account, consistent with other sources, does not describe Khunu Lama as wearing a monk's robe, and that too is of interest.

The external circumstances of the meeting are peculiar as well. The anecdote's narrator does not give many details about the location. But just the simple fact that the room in which this meeting took place was Khunu Lama's room at Tekra Math, (a still-extant Hindu ashram in the Godaliya section of Varanasi), is quite striking. It is rare to the point of being virtually unheard of for a lama in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition to spend extensive time with Indian Hindu religious practitioners, to say nothing of actually living among them. The mere location of Khunu Lama's residence at a Hindu math thus strongly suggests that Khunu Lama was an unusual person.

Perhaps the most striking element of all is the fact that this story shows the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet visiting such an unusual person, and in such an unlikely place, with such informality. The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. Until his 1959 flight into India, he was the temporal leader of Tibet as well, at least in name, and was the head of Tibet's Ganden Potrang (dGa' ldan pho brang) government. At the time of this meeting, he was the official head of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Precisely

Despite various problems with the generalized term "Hindu," I am employing it here for purposes of convenience, and also because many Tibetan interlocutors with whom I spoke during research for this project used the English word "Hindu" themselves (even if conversations were in Tibetan).

5 calibrated, meticulous and elaborate protocols existed for all of his meetings and audiences, for his retinue, and for the behavior of those who came into his presence. None of these protocols seem to have been followed in the case of this odd encounter.9

Perhaps because of its elements of surprise, and its positioning of Khunu Lama as a unique and unconventional personality, the above anecdote (like related, similar stories) is a popular one among Tibetan Buddhists. People familiar with the figure of Khunu Lama will often choose some variant of this story or closely parallel ones to recount to those interested in his life. People who repeat some part of this anecdote tend to present it as a story that is both moving and hilarious, the rhythm of their narrations delivering the sequential punch lines in the manner of a joke. ("And he tried to send His Holiness away!" "Because he didn't have proper clothes or a chair!") Here, indeed, amidst these unconventional and funny details, we have the core of the myth of Khunu Rinpoche, and of his special relationship with the Dalai Lama.

Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen (Khu nu bla ma Bstan 'dzin rgyal mtshan, 1895-1977) was a scholar, polymath and Buddhist yogin, whose twentieth century lifetime and activities overlapped with a period of dramatic change and upheaval in the Tibetan Buddhist world. Reclusive as he apparently was, he nevertheless had contact with some of the most important Tibetan Buddhist figures of the twentieth century. Perhaps surprisingly, given


Many thanks to Tashi Tsering of the Amnye Machen Institute for highlighting this point to me in our discussions. I discuss its implications further in what follows.

6 the picture of him presented by the brief story above, the patterns of his life illuminate important aspects of the dynamic relationship between modernity and tradition among Tibetan Buddhists.

The most significant elements of Khunu Lama's life and character — as these are generally described by those who knew him personally, or by those who have come to know of him either by hearing or reading about him — are all on display in this story. Khunu Lama is first and foremost remembered as an outstanding example of the personal practice of renunciation and bodhicitta, two core Buddhist values. In particular, he is presented in stories such as this one as someone whose style of life was marked by a thorough-going disregard for possessions, personal comfort, wealth, fame, reputation or ordinary success; as someone who frequently resembled a beggar in appearance; and as one who attempted to avoid the attentions of the rich and famous, even though such people often sought him out.

The disregard for his own personal comfort that his students mention as a hallmark of his identity is commonly perceived - in both the biographical literature and in contemporary Tibetan culture - as indicating the depth of his own practice of renunciation. (This kind of disregard for comfort, and the profound renunciation that it is thought to display, are a recurring element of Tibetan Buddhist masters' biographies.) Such a practice of renunciation is understood to go hand in hand with the practice of bodhicitta, and these two taken together are among the most important themes in the biographies of Tibetan

7 Buddhist practitioners.10 In particular, renunciation is understood to accompany and support bodhicitta's dimension of altruistic, selfless compassion. Khunu Lama's disregard for his own needs is thus seen as having created what we might call in modern American usage the 'psychic space' for him to be concerned with the needs of others.11 In our present story, the details of his peculiar small "cell" in an odd location, his tattered "blanket," and his lack of a proper place for His Holiness to sit all reconfirm his disengagement from material comfort or accumulation, and this contributes to, and expresses, a view of him as a true, renunciant bodhisattva, the core of his remembered identity.

Khunu Lama's curious blend of humility and rudeness here, in his funny refusal to allow the Dalai Lama to visit (even though the latter had already arrived), for the reason that he himself and his surroundings were too humble and inadequate, is also a characteristic element of the Khunu Lama story. The humor, the unconventionality and gruffness, and the evasive attempt to avoid someone important are all significant themes that recur repeatedly in accounts of his life. These qualities are often linked with the more general portrait of Khunu Lama as a renunciant by the Tibetan narrative convention that

10 11

For instance, Willis 1995, Gyatso 1998, Jackson 2003, Schaeffer 2004.

See for example Sparham 1999, who summarizes many communal recollections about this point; my own encounters with this aspect of Khunu Lama's remembered persona in interviews are too numerous to cite, although people who especially emphasized this dimension include K. Angrup interview 2004; Tashi Paljor interview 2004; Tashi Rabgyes interview 2004; Sem Tinley Ongmo interview 2004; Ven Karma Gelek Yuthok interview 2005; Ani Pemo interview 2005; Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006. At a more subtle level of analysis, from the Buddhist point of view, it would also be correct to say that Khunu Lama's renunciation and bodhicitta represent two aspects of a single attitude or understanding, the former vis a vis himself, and the latter vis a vis others.


associates renunciatory practices with a more general ability to disregard social norms (a pattern about which we will have a great deal more to say in what follows).12

And yet of course, the story also makes clear that Khunu Lama is in fact someone very important: he lives in obscurity and may resemble a beggar, but he is one whom the Dalai Lama personally visits, even insists upon seeing, and for whom the Dalai Lama foregoes convention. In fact, the entire point of the story, from one point of view, is that Khunu Lama becomes one of the Dalai Lama's gurus, at the latter's strong urging. Whatever obscurity Khunu Lama may have enjoyed prior to this relationship, and evasive as he may have been, he is now remembered by Tibetan Buddhists as the Dalai Lama's teacher, and this draws him to our, and the community's, attention.

Also contained within this one short episode are hints about some of the unusual dimensions of Khunu Lama's relationships with Indians, and with non-Buddhists. Although it is mentioned only as a background detail in the above account, the fact that Khunu Lama had a room in a Hindu ashram in Varanasi points to several salient facts about his identity and orientation: Firstly, Khunu Lama was in fact not from Tibet proper, but rather was from the Indo-Tibetan border region of Kinnaur, in the Indian Himalayas

This will become more clear in the chapters below as we consider the widespread narrative tropes of saintly asceticism, wandering beggars, "crazy yogins" and similar figures in Tibetan literature, figures to whom Khunu Lama was often assimilated. Treatments of these themes include Ardussi and Epstein 1978, Dowman 1982, 1985; Dudjom 1991; Samuel 1993; Ricard 1994, Gyatso 1998; Mullin 1996, 2001; White 1998, 2003; Smith 2001; Davidson 2002, 2005; Thondup 2002, Quintman 2006 and forthcoming.

9 (Khu nu, in Tibetan). Ethnically, linguistically and in terms of his geographic origin, he was from a place where Tibetan and Indie cultures, religions and languages mingle. This made him a bi-cultural — indeed, tri-cultural — person, who could navigate between Tibetan, Indian and Himalayan border societies. At the same time, this background set him slightly apart from the mainstream of both India and Tibet, giving him a partially 'outsider' identity in each place. This border identity seems to have had an effect on many of his life choices and experiences, and affects the way different groups remember

For example, Khunu Lama's roots in the polyglot Indo-Tibetan culture of the Kinnaur Valley may have played a role in his interest in and mastery of both Tibetan and Sanskrit learning, as well as in his social comfort within Indian society, so different from that of most of his Tibetan peers. Both Khunu Lama's mastery of Sanskrit, and his residence in Tekra Math (to which his Sanskrit studies directly led him, as we will see) were strikingly unusual among traditionally-educated Tibetan Buddhists. While his complex cultural location is not the only explanation for his unusual choices (I discuss other significant

Tenzin Choedak, among other interviewees, emphasized the consistent prominence of individuals from border regions among the greatest Tibetan intellectuals and religious practitioners during many eras (Tenzin Choedak interview 2009). See also Gray Turtle's important treatment of this topic (Turtle 2005). The example of the early nineteenth century yogin Shabkar from the Amdo Rebkong region of northeast Tibet is a noteworthy instance (and there are in fact a number of parallels between Shabkar's activities and Khunu Lama's.) (See Ricard 1997.) Multiple dimensions of the so-called Tibetan "borderlands" and the people that live there are increasingly receiving scholarly attention, remedying previous long-standing neglect. In addition to Turtle's important work, other timely and groundbreaking studies include Tibetan Border Worlds: A Geohistorical Analysis of Trade and Traders (Van Spengen 2000), and the essays in Tibetan Borderlands (ed. Klieger, 2006), and in Territory and Identity in Tibet and the Himalayas (eds. Buffetrille and Diemberger, 2002).

10 explanations in what follows), it may have played a role in shaping the options available to him.14

Secondly, and perhaps related to his border identity and to the range of personal and intellectual options it may have facilitated, Khunu Lama is moreover specially remembered for one other outstanding quality in addition to renunciation, bodhicitta, and teaching the Dalai Lama: He is described by contemporaries and commentators on his life as a paradigmatically non-sectarian figure within Tibetan Buddhism, one whose personal religious practice and style of teaching were marked by an unusually evenhanded presentation of sometimes competing Tibetan Buddhist philosophical views and soteriological approaches.15 The image of him as a non-sectarian figure indeed turns out to be a major aspect of Khunu Lama's significance within twentieth century Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history. His perceived non-sectarianism contributes in important ways to his association with the teaching and practice of bodhicitta, and to how his relationship with the Dalai Lama is understood. While the above anecdote does not directly address the non-sectarian aspect of Khunu Lama's activities, his residence in a Hindu ashram does flag for the audience his (often surprising) openness to a range of traditions and religions. Indeed, his willingness to engage Hindu interlocutors as well as Buddhist ones emerges in his life story as a quite exceptional dimension of his nonsectarian interests. 14

I am grateful to Gray Turtle for encouraging me to emphasize Khunu Lama's identity as a border person, and to consider the effect this may have had on his life and choices. 15

1 treat this aspect of Khunu Lama's interests and the complex topic of ris med, or non-sectarian, ideas in more detail in subsequent chapters.

11 All these points suggest that this quirky anecdote about Khunu Lama meeting the Dalai Lama and inaugurating their teacher-student relationship provides a useful touchstone for understanding Khunu Lama's lifestory as a whole, and for understanding aspects of his place in Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history. And yet, there is one important caveat: the story may not in fact be true. Or at least, a number of details in the story — for instance the precise chronology, the idea that this visit was the beginning of Khunu Lama's teaching to the Dalai Lama - may not be quite accurate.16

Specifically, there are the following problems with the details of the story: It is not clear from Sangnak Tenzin's account to Dodin as Dodin summarizes it precisely when the Varanasi meeting described here took place. Dodin, following Sangnak Tenzin's recollections, says that this was Khunu Lama's first real encounter with the Dalai Lama after their brief introduction in 1956 (a meeting which I describe more fully in later chapters here). According to Dodin, the meeting described in the anecdote came on the heels of the important 1963 Mussourie gathering of exiled Tibetan religious leaders and educators. Khunu Lama attended this meeting and impressed many people. As a result of this, Dodin says the Dalai Lama became interested in Khunu Rinpoche and made the trip to Varanasi described here to request teachings. However, this sequence of events is not fully consistent with the account presented in Khunu Lama's diary, which reveals that Khunu Lama received a request to meet the Dalai Lama in 1959, and remained in Mussourie teaching and sharing books with both the Dalai Lama and the Dalai Lama's Senior Tutor, Ling Rinpoche, for two months at that time, October through December, 1959. (Sparham 1999.) In addition, a little over a month later, on January 21st, 1960, the Dalai Lama came to the Varanasi Sanskrit University (where Khunu Lama was a Sanskrit professor), and Khunu Rinpoche acted as His Holiness's Tibetan-Hindi interpreter there. (Original program from the January 21st, 1960 Visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Varanasi Sanskrit University, shared by Tashi Tsering of the Amnye Machen Institute.) Thus, while a meeting such as Sangngak Tenzin describes may well have taken place, it would have had to occur substantially earlier (which does not seem to fit well with the rest of the sequence of events), or else it would have occurred in the context of a relationship that had already begun several years previously, and thus this particular episode would not have marked the dramatic commencement of that relationship. In fact, the story as it is presented here may be partly a combination of several events or stories. There is in fact a kind of mini-genre within the oral literature about Khunu Lama (if I can so formalize the stories about him), of startling episodes of prostration by famous lamas, or mutual prostration, and especially of remarkable marks of esteem and respect on the part of the Dalai Lama. On that front, worthy of particular mention is interview material from the western nun Ani Pemo regarding Lama Zopa Rinpoche prostrating "flat on the ground" to both Khunu Lama and to his reincarnation, who is currently a student in India (Ani Pemo interview 2005); and interview material from Tethong Rakra Rinpoche about the Dalai Lama leaping from his car in Sarnath to prostrate in the street to Khunu Lama (Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006).


The question of historical truth, of 'accuracy,' and of how one makes sense of competing narratives, remembrances and experiences is a complex and large one: Hay den White, among others, has helped to problematize any simplistic notion of unitary or linear historical truth. At many levels, history can be thought of as a process of overlapping narratives, in which memory, communal and personal need, and open-ended processes of revision and contestation all play a role. Biographical narratives - the histories of persons, one might say - are likewise interested, contextually-motivated accounts. The agendas of narrators, audience and subject all come into play. And of course, all accounts of lives lived and times past continue to change, as they recede in time from the shifting location of an individual interlocutor.

For the present work, which draws on elements of biography, intellectual history, and social history, as well as on ethnographic research, a particularly important consideration is the role of memory in biography, and in intellectual and social history more generally. This project in part explores the role of memories about teachers in constituting the community of their students in the Tibetan Buddhist context, via the life-narratives of teachers that students compose, share and consume. (The category of 'students' here should be understood very broadly, including to some degree all those who encounter stories of a given teacher).

13 It is therefore in fact appropriate that the story with which I began should be both a touchstone of key themes in Khunu Lama's lifestory, and an elaboration of memories not all necessarily locatable in other accounts and texts. Certainly, part of the work of this project is to present data collected during more than four years of research on Khunu Lama's life, and to tease out the most convincing picture of his activities. Such historical research is vital, both for responsible scholarship, and for the expansion and preservation of knowledge of Himalayan societies during a time of rapid social change. However, for the purposes of this project, the various ways in which Khunu Lama is remembered, and the processes by which the community (or communities) who remember him narrate those memories to various effects are also topics of central importance. In certain ways, indeed, the communal idea of Khunu Rinpoche and its implications for Tibetan intellectual history are here the real story, particularly for understanding what modernity means in Tibet — or more accurately, for understanding what structures Tibetans have created for negotiating both novelty and the ongoing role of the past.

In particular, this essay contends that Tibetan Buddhist intellectual culture in general, and the individual lineage communities that compose it, simultaneously enable or generate innovation, and yet nevertheless maintain continuity with and continually re-appropriate a deeply valorized past. Indeed, many innovative or creative choices (intellectual, religious, behavioral) made by individuals are framed by those individuals and by the community more generally as re-appropriations of the past, not novel in the strict sense at all. Moreover, this essay suggests that the innovation and re-appropriation of the past for novel ends that does occur takes place by means of specific cultural mechanisms deriving

14 from the relationships between students and teachers, (including relationships Tibetan Buddhists have with honored figures from the distant past, whose examples inspire emulation), as well as from the narrative structures through which these relationships and the Buddhist identities they facilitate are remembered. Tibetan Buddhist intellectual and spiritual communities are in fact constituted in large measure on the basis of the memorialization and recollection of gurus (both personal teachers and more remote lineage figures), and on students' significant practical, intellectual and emotional affiliations with those gurus. The communities so constituted are the lineage networks that form a vital basic structure within the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual, intellectual and social world. These are the networks of relationship respectively associated with particular transmission lineages (bla ma 'i brgyud), through which intellectual, meditational and ritual content is shared between individuals and across generations, in sequences of teacher-student pairs.17 These lineage relationships form the subject matter of narrative and biographical accounts belonging to a number of genres, both oral and textual. These narrative accounts work to substantialize Tibetan Buddhist ideals of continuity with the honored past, and the concomitant authenticity of teachers and teachings, while at the same time revealing, and in some sense producing, considerable opportunities for innovation and individuality. This project considers the operation of transmission lineages at the level of such narrative accounts, and looks at the narrative mechanisms producing innovation, using the specific context of Khunu Lama's oral and written lifestory(ies) as a window into the question of Tibetan modernity. 17

It is very much the case that Tibetan Buddhists participate simultaneously in multiple transmission lineages and thus are part of multiple and overlapping communities. This factor, more than any other, should nuance any discussion of so-called "sectarianism" within the Tibetan context.

I have said memory plays a crucial role in Tibetan Buddhist lineage relationships and m the oral and textual genres that document these. The terms I use here of remembrance, memorialization, and recollection should all be understood as special operations of 1 J?

memory. In remembrance, individual experiences are repeatedly recounted to oneself and others. These remembrances then become formalized as part of a communal and community-constituting process of memorialization.19 The process of memorializing a teacher can, and usually does, take formal expression beyond the oral. Such formal expression ranges from biographical and autobiographical texts, such as the Tibetan genre oirnam 'thar ("individual liberation (story))," or gser 'phreng ("golden rosary," collections of life stories of lineage masters), to include semi-biographical or autobiographical prayers and supplications (gsol 'debs),20 eulogies and praises, as well as physical funeral monuments.

Tibetan Buddhist practices of guru devotion operate within the matrix of memory, remembrance and memorialization, and generally involve regular recollection of one's personal guru as well as other, potentially more remote lineage figures, including the


1 explain these terms, discuss my choice of words and consider the recent literature on this subject in detail in Chapter Three below. 19

Important discussion of various dimensions of memory in Buddhist contexts appears in Gyatso 1992, although (as Gyatso notes in her introduction) the specific aspects with which I am concerned here are not explored. On religious and "collective" memory more broadly, see in particular Hervieu-Leger 2000, Halbwachs 1992. 20

I discuss these genres in Chapter One and Two. New media such as film and video seem to be starting to also play a role in the memorialization of teachers in the present day, especially (although not always) contemporary teachers.

16 historical Buddha Shakyamuni.

Such devotional recollection occurs on the basis of

accounts of masters' lives learned orally, and from texts such those just mentioned, as well as often drawing on visual supports from many different artistic genres. In such practices, the students regularly bring these masters and their qualities to mind, to varying effect, but in general ultimately cultivating a sense of a deep (although subtle) form of identification with the guru. The ultimate goal of such practice in the Tibetan tradition is for the student's mind and guru's mind to be experienced as being one, as expressed for example in the evocative Tibetan phrase "ro gcig" or "one taste" (Skt. ekarasa), or as implied in the phrase that provides the title of this work, "like pouring water into water" (Tib. chu la chu bzhagpa Itar).

See for instance Paul Harrison's highly relevant discussion of anusmrti and recollection of the Buddha in the above-mentioned volume, Gyatsol992, as well as other essays in the volume. Regarding practices of guru devotion, including daily and semi-monthly individual and group ritual services, prayers, and meditations, see for instance Beyer 1978; Samuel 1993; Gyatsol998; Davidson 2002. Guru devotional practices have provided the impetus for a vast swath of Indie and Himalayan artistic production, ranging from a substantial portion of Tibetan Buddhist painting and sculpture, to music, poetry, and arguably dance (inasmuch as important works within the chain ritual performance repertoire center on guru-devotional themes, although certainly in a less personal way then the visual arts, in which a patron might request images of his or her own personal teachers.) See among others Beyer 1978, Watt n.d., Casey-Singer 1998: 14ff, Linrothe 1995, Rhie and Thurman 1999. 22

A common variant of this phrase is chu la chu thim pa Itar, like water dissolving into water. The verb bzhag is often used in the mam thar literature in the context of describing one of a lama's main students, someone who is qualified by this specially complete transmission to be a lineage holder in their own right, capable of continuing the transmission. The lama is said to "pour" his or her teachings completely and without reservation into such a primary disciple, who is supposed to receive the transmission without error, so that the process is "like pouring water into water." Such a future lineage holder-disciple is distinguished from the many students who may have also received instruction and initiation from the teacher, but only of the more limited content suitable for their own personal use, which does not qualify them to transmit the material to others.

As this essay discusses, lineage communities are the bedrock of Tibetan Buddhist ritual, meditational and intellectual life and culture, as well as subtly (and sometimes overtly) inflecting various dimensions of social life. This means that Tibetan Buddhists are involved with projects of memory, and closely affiliated with a valorized past, in structural ways that shape many levels of personal and intellectual activity. Lineage communities and the memories of previous generations that these communities protect and maintain continue to be important for Tibetan Buddhists in contemporary societies. This persistence of lineage communities, and of individual and communal involvement with valorized figures of the past, has long led observers of Tibetan culture to characterize that culture as 'traditional,' a category frequently opposed to 'modern' for good or ill (although few observers have focused their attention explicitly on lineage communities as a key building block in Tibetan 'traditionalism.')23

As a result, the topics of memory, and of the lineage connections that embed Tibetan Buddhists in an ongoing relationship with remembered figures of previous generations, lead inexorably to the vexed question of modernity in the twentieth century Tibetan Buddhist world: In the most simple terms, if Tibetan Buddhists are so involved with recollecting the memorialized past, how can they possibly embrace, participate in, or produce modernity? This question, and the assumptions about the nature of both modernity and tradition that underlie it, haunt many contemporary discussions of Tibetan


Gyatso 1998, Mills 2003, Dreyfus 2003 and Diemberger 2007 represent important contemporary moves toward incorporation of lineage concerns into study of Tibetan Buddhist societies. I discuss the scholarly literature on lineage and community structure more fully in subsequent chapters.

18 Buddhist culture. The intellectual biography of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen suggests a number of ways in which Tibetan Buddhists have in fact both participated in a traditional engagement with the past, and have at the same time participated in, or helped to shape, dynamics of Tibetan and Himalayan modernity.

The British scholar Peter Bishop has described the way in which Tibet has appeared, in the minds of Westerners, as a "sacred place" within which "time and history are suspended," and this view remains surprisingly durable. And yet of course, "Such a static, fixed, and isolated view of Tibet is a gross exaggeration...It was the Western imagination which needed an unchanging Tibet."24 But if "Tibet" (understood broadly) is not unchanging, then what might be the nature of social and intellectual change in the Tibetan context?25 And moreover, are there developments - perhaps late nineteenth or twentieth century ones - that partake of that global shift in consciousness that English speakers term "modernity?" Of course, simple chronological location within some particular decade - after 1850, say, or after 1900 — does not in itself constitute a meaningful definition of modernity. Nevertheless, many changes, of many kinds, have occurred in Tibet and its environs in the last hundred years, as in the world more generally -- technological, economic and political, as well as intellectual and social. If we do not accept a view of the Tibetan region and Tibetan cultures as "static, fixed and

Bishop 1992:34. As I discuss in Chapter One, the list of those whose projects require an "unchanging Tibet" is not limited to Westerners. 25

1 consider the complicated question of appropriate geographic and cultural terminology for Tibetan and Himalayan areas and societies below. McKay 2003(b) and Kapstein 2006 both offer useful discussion of various geographic and cultural designations.

19 isolated," then we must enquire about what kinds of changes those were, and ask what they mean, and how and whether they are 'modern.' While an exhaustive treatment of all aspects of modernity and modernization in the Tibetan Buddhist world or the Himalayan region is clearly too vast for the scope of a project such as this, this essay seeks to explore certain intellectual and social patterns visible in the twentieth century context, with an eye toward re-assessing the mapping of both modernity and tradition.

The six chapters of this study treat these interests from several vantage points. In Chapter One, I explore several ways of thinking about modernity, in the context of the highly charged background of scholarly study of Tibet and modernity there, and in the context of how modernity has been understood vis a vis Buddhism, Asian societies, and indeed, religion more generally. This complicated history includes the legacy of European colonialism in Asia, debates about the kinds of relationships possible between religious culture and modernity, as well as dynamics and experiences unique to Tibet.

Chapter Two considers questions of memory, and of how the genre of biography intersects with the communities constituted by lineage relationships. Chapters Three, Four and Five present the lifestory of Khunu Lama in greater detail. The particular episodes of Khunu Lama's life and his distinctive and independent choices reveal the interplay between tradition and innovation, memory and modernity, in the specific historical circumstances of the Himalayan cultural sphere. The present study presents the first full-length, detailed intellectual biography of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen in a


western language, and the first biography in any language to attempt to situate his contributions and importance within the broader context of twentieth century Tibetan and Himalayan intellectual history. By focusing in detail on the life of one significant individual, and locating him within the broader intellectual, social and religious milieu of which he was a part, I attempt to reframe the terms of discussion opposing modernity and tradition in the Himalayan context. In addition, this study sheds light on little-understood dynamics of Himalayan intellectual culture, including the participation of individuals from so-called 'border' regions, and the role of geographic mobility and trans-regional travel in fostering scholarly and spiritual linkages across the region.

Chapter Six considers the role of teacher-student transmission lineages within which religious and secular intellectuals pursue their training in the context of continuity of memory and of maintaining the perceived authenticity of the tradition, concerns that operate powerfully within oral and written narratives of Tibetan Buddhist teachers' lives. Chapter Six then discusses a set of narrative mechanisms and rhetorical tropes that act to produce or support innovation and individual independence, while coexisting with concerns about continuity. These narrative and rhetorical tropes are: 1. the ideal of renunciation; 2. the assimilation of unconventional behavior to figures from the valorized past, and specifically to two powerful cultural models, that of the "beggar/hermit," and that of the "crazy lama;"26 3. the crisis produced by the death of the guru, and by other

In particular, I consider the Tibetan figures of the bya bral ba, the sprang, and the bla ma mnyonpa in the life story of Khunu Lama. I define and discuss these terms and others in detail in what follows.

21 separations between students and teachers. This chapter explores the forces that work to limit or domesticate the disruptive potential of these mechanisms, as well as the way that this disruptive potential can create opportunities for students in a given generation to individuate themselves, creating crucial sites where innovation can occur. These developments must themselves then be addressed in the narratives of religious lives. As Chapter Six describes, despite the tradition's emphasis on the importance of the past, the structure of teacher-student lineage relationships nevertheless contains the potential for fluidity and innovation on the part of each generation of students. These are forces that open up the Tibetan intellectual world to the dynamics of modernity in ways previously unexplored by scholars.

Throughout this analysis, I challenge both simplistic accounts of Tibetan 'traditionalism' and overly reductionist mappings of tradition versus modernity. In their place, I explore aspects of Tibetan Buddhist practices of memory in the construction of lineage, and individual Tibetan negotiations between traditional and 'modern' elements in religious life and personal choices. Nuanced attention to these particulars both complicates our understanding of tradition and modernity, and may also contribute to current debates about the place of religion in modern societies.

Chapter One Modernity, Tradition and Memory in Tibet and the Himalayan Region

I. Background and Baggage

Explorations of modernity in Tibetan Buddhism, especially in the twentieth century context, must thread a sort of middle path (if I may) between two problematic extremes. On the one hand, there is the danger of what we might call "Tibetan (or Himalayan27) exceptionalism," in which Tibetan Buddhist cultural forms and intellectual history are described as constituting a unique special case, different from the rest of the world. In its extreme form, this approach has the effect of cutting Tibetan subjects off from any analysis of historical links to larger dynamics in Asia or elsewhere, postulating a Tibetan object of study that is both isolated and potentially precious, naive or intrinsically alien. This extreme represents the potential risk posed by any theory of local or 'alternative' modernities in the Tibetan context. In response to these kinds of concerns, some have written against the notion of alternative modernities altogether, precisely because of the risk that certain cultures will be subtly marginalized by the very theory that purports to attend to them. Ivy and Harootunian, for example, urge instead the concept of a "coeval modernity," one that "insists that modernity in China, or Sri Lanka or Myanmar is not

I turn to the issues involved in selecting a geographic, political or cultural label for this broad area below. Some of the many issues involved are addressed in Klieger 2006, Buffetrille and Diemberger 2002.

alternative but simply and coterminously saturated with the same contradictions and complexities of any modernity whatsoever."

Such "a sense of coeval modernity" would

in Ivy's view "disar[m] fetishizations of historical and spatial origins (arguably Europe) as somehow privileged," and thus in fact allow for more attentive and careful consideration of all societies.

And yet, localized approaches to modernity may in fact offer significant, even indispensable, potential for elucidating the particularity and distinctiveness of the Tibetan case (and others). Benavides among others has suggested the value of thinking in terms of "multiple modernities," in part because of the differences in the historical circumstances between societies, and in part because of the multiple ways of understanding modernity as a category (for instance, in cultural versus technological versus aesthetic terms).29 The individual experiences of particular societies shape their ways of manifesting modern developments, and their responses to the social changes that ensue. For if we ignore the importance of such distinctiveness, we run the very real risk of tumbling to the other, equally troubling extreme: namely, the false universalism of the one-size-fits-all, progressivist or universalist approach. In this case, as Chakrabarty and other subaltern studies historians discuss, a one-size-fits-all, universalist approach to modernity can mean in practice the imposition of categories developed in Europe onto other parts of the world, according to an implicitly or explicitly progressivist charting of

Ivy 2005:315, drawing on Harootunian 2000. Benavides 1998: 188, ff.


social change.30 Such charting of social change, frequently mapped onto the rubric of "development," can often share discomforting similarities with older European and American rankings of societies, in which non-European societies inevitably suffer by the comparison. Progressivist or specifically Weberian accounts of modernity, having developed on the basis of individual European experiences of industrialization and colonialism, run the risk that in subtle and not so subtle ways they will imply that there is only one way of being modern. Moreover, progressivist and universalist accounts of modernity often strongly imply that to be modern is better than to be the alternative, i.e., to be traditional. Thus, a notion like "coeval" modernity, while potentially very useful as an antidote to one dimension of the privileging of Western models, itself runs the serious risk of imposing a homogenizing and ultimately hegemonic vision of how modernity is to be defined and understood.

Both problematic extremes into which these competing theories may fall - the preciousness or exceptionalism of the localized theory, the hegemony of the universalist one - are similar inasmuch as they involve a problem of essentialization. On the one hand, what is essentialized is real or perceived cultural difference. On the other, it is a singular, unitary definition of modernity. Either way, intellectual triumphalism may creep in, potentially appearing both in assertions of "alternative modernities" (to the extent that certain trajectories of modernity are privileged as the standard from which the so-called "alternatives" are seen to deviate), as well as in assertions of a single global experience or

Chakrabarty 2000, 2002.

25 process of modernity (in which some societies are measured as further along — more fully "modern" — than others).

These concerns emerge with considerable force for studies of Tibetan and Himalayan societies, and specifically for the study of Buddhism in those societies, in part as a result of the complex colonial and quasi-colonial historical background of such study. Non"> 1

Tibetan scholars since the nineteenth century (and in some cases, since much earlier) including Western, Chinese and Japanese writers - have made a range of competing and highly interested claims about Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture, variously attributing or denying to them attributes of rationality, openness to change, entrenchment in tradition, and ultimately, level of modernity. Such claims are rooted in the history of Western and Asian colonizing, trading and missionary contacts, and Western and Asian responses to such contact experiences. Additionally, discussions of modernity in the Tibetan cultural context in the present day are inevitably weighed down with contemporary political baggage, whether or not this is directly acknowledged. This unspoken baggage can often impel scholars toward one or the other of the above progressivist or exceptionalist extremes.

Indeed, the analysis of modernity in Tibetan societies turns out to fall into its own set of loaded oppositions. One extreme pole in the analytic dichotomy vis a vis Tibet societies


The essay "Lamaism" in Lopez 1998 surveys much of this history.

26 might be the view that Tibetan culture prior to the middle of the twentieth century (or arguably even today) is unshakably traditional, and therefore in urgent need of modernizing transformation, or perhaps replacement by another, more modern and 'improved' cultural paradigm. The other extreme might be, conversely, that Tibetan culture is unshakably traditional and for this specific reason uniquely valuable, (as long as it remains purely traditional). Alternatively, the second option in this apposition of contrasting views on Tibet might be the stance that Tibetan culture is, in fact, far less unshakably traditional than previously supposed, and thus does not, after all, require modernizing transformation or replacement. In light of the widespread acceptance (for a variety of reasons) in Asia, as well as in Europe and elsewhere, of subtly progressivist accounts of modernity, locating modernity in Tibet may thus in fact at times function as a way of asserting the value of Tibetan culture.

Now, asserting the value of Tibetan culture by locating modernity there may be a tempting, and possibly desirable, move to make (and is a move that, as I describe below, is being made with increasing frequency in academic and political settings as of this writing). Nevertheless, a strategy of discovering modernity in Tibetan culture in order to increase the value of that culture does still accept the terms of the general progressivist stance that is so problematic in universal theories of modernity. For this reason, even if we embrace such an intellectual move, we must do so cautiously. In particular, we must be aware of the possible external pressures to locate or impose the categories of European modernity in Tibet, and the risk that this may obscure or even distort dynamics within the Tibetan materials.

In what follows, the "middle path" I suggest is an attempt to navigate between the extreme versions of localized and universalist accounts of modernity described above, and between the competing agendas for, and appropriations of, modernity in Tibet. I take as my guide in developing this middle path the advice of the French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas: namely, to attend to the particularity of a given text, person, or in this case, cultural and intellectual history, as an ethical imperative, striving neither to distort what is present, nor to ignore or re-write what is unwelcome or difficult.


exhorts us to give a quality of attention to the problems of interpretation that is similar to the quality of attention an interpersonal relationship demands. While this model (which sets the bar for practices of interpretation quite fearfully high) emerges out of Levinas' work on textual interpretation, Talmudic interpretation specifically, taken more broadly, it offers fruitful guidance for navigating between the various extremes that can dog the steps of interpreters of culture in general.33

32 33

See for example Levinas 1996; 1994a; 1994b; 1980.

Levinas emerges as a particularly interesting interlocutor for a number of themes in this essay, for several reasons. By coincidence, he happens to be a rough chronological contemporary of Khunu Lama, having been born (into a Jewish community in Kovno, Lithuania) in 1906, and having died in 1995 (in Paris). As the locations of his birth and death reveal, Levinas as a Jew, as a naturalized French citizen, as a European, and as an active participant both in the terrible struggles of the Second World War, and in the manifold developments of twentieth century European philosophy, appears to have been in almost every way profoundly remote from the social experience, cultural location and intellectual concerns of Khunu Lama. And yet, it is not only the general thrust of Levinas' remarks on interpretation, or even Levinas' interest in how to engage the inherited textual tradition of a valorized past that are relevant for the concerns of Khunu Lama. More profoundly, Levinas' prime philosophical concern, which is ethical (as Levinas himself puts it, "ethics is first philosophy") ~ namely, how to engage with the suffering of other people and living creatures — closely parallels what might be described as Khunu Lama's main interest also, as expressed via Khunu Lama's lifelong emphasis on the study and practice of bodhicitta. Moreover, there are a number of provocative points of engagement between Khunu


While I will have reason to return to Levinas' ideas in what follows, for the moment let us simply take his approach to interpretation as encouragement to consider the individual details of certain specific Himalayan and Tibetan Buddhist materials from the twentieth century - the oral and textual materials that together constitute the lifestory of Khunu Lama - and explore the dynamics of innovation and continuity, individuality and authority, the modern and the traditional, as they appear in this Himalayan cultural context, while holding as lightly as possible our assumptions about what either modernity or tradition may mean here.

A Levinasian attention to particulars and an awareness of some possible pitfalls do not mean we can avoid grappling with the problem already noted in the Prologue, however namely, that the classic account of modernity developed in the European and American sociological literature emphasizes a general experience of discontinuity, or even rupture, with the past. In particular, the classical accounts of modernity describe processes of ever-increasing rationalization in every area of life; industrialization and rapid technological change; a concomitant secularization; and a dramatic rise in individual and social autonomy. While some of these processes have indeed been experienced in the greater Tibetan cultural world, in particular within the last one hundred and fifty years, in

Lama's practice of renunciation and its expression in his wandering lifestyle, and Levinas' ideal of an ethical homelessness at the service of the Other ~ the open-ended "Hebrew" ethical dimension symbolized by Moses, that for Levinas must complement and correct the closed circle of "Greek" philosophy, as symbolized by Odysseus. I return to these themes in what follows.

29 order to pursue a middle path between universalist and localized theories of modernity, and in order to navigate around the delicate terrain of competing agendas with regard to Tibet, we will have to step back, temporarily at least, from this classical account. In place of simply searching for structures of modernity along European or western lines in the Tibetan context, I suggest instead exploring two dynamics often associated with modernity, though certainly not solely constitutive of it. The first is innovation; the second is individual independence, both intellectually and on an institutional level. In the operation of both innovation and individual independence, the location of authority and truth may be said to subtly shift toward the individual. My own biographic research into the life of Khunu Lama and his intellectual environment has revealed the extent to which elements in the structure of Tibetan Buddhist intellectual life turn out to enable a remarkable degree of individual agency, intellectual independence and freedom from institutionalized authority, strongly resonant with many themes of modernity, on the part of individuals such as Khunu Lama. Exploring these elements allows us to expand and nuance our understanding of what modernity may be, while avoiding many of the pitfalls of essentialism described above.

In particular, it appears that the structure of lineage relationships, and the ways in which lineage structures encourage Tibetan Buddhists to relate to the inherited past, play a crucial role in the dynamic relationship between tradition and change in the Tibetan Buddhist context. Lineage structures turn out to be pivotal sites both for continuity with tradition, and for the emergence of the individual agency, intellectual independence, potential for innovation, and freedom from institutionalized authority visible within


Khunu Lama's life story and choices. Teacher-student lineage relationships in the Tibetan Buddhist context, by definition, create conditions under which participants experience profound levels of connection to, and investment in, previous generations, and in ideas and materials transmitted from the past. However, this connection does not prevent innovation or individual intellectual independence in quite the ways sometimes assumed. Rather, it is precisely in the complexity of their negotiation with the past that Tibetan and Himalayan approaches to authority, innovation and truth demand a re-thinking of the terms of modernity in the Himalayan context. Tibetan and Himalayan approaches to authority, innovation and truth demand reconsideration of the assumption that modernity requires a rupture, often radical, with the past of tradition. I suggest that this assumption in particular, as well as closely linked ideas about secularization as a necessary part of modernity, leads quickly to a view of religion, tradition, and traditionally religious societies such as those in the Tibetan Buddhist world, that almost inevitably excludes them from the realm of the modern (for good or ill).

II. Theories and Definitions of Modernity: A Preliminary Sketch

Certainly, in much European literature on the subject, modernity is both explicitly and implicitly bound up with a sense of historical change and novelty. In his influential essay "Modernity — An Incomplete Project," Habermas says "the term 'modern' again and again expresses the consciousness of an epoch that relates itself to the past of antiquity, in order

31 to view itself as the result of a transition from the old to the new."34 Even more dramatically, modernity is often associated not only with the idea of a transition to what is new, but specifically with the sense of a disjunction or rupture with the past on which we have just remarked, a break which permits (and may be caused by) innovation, in any or all areas of intellectual, social and technological life. As Benavides puts it, "a condition of modernity presupposes an act of self-conscious distancing from a past or a situation regarded as naive."35

This is a crucial notion, from which a number of important conclusions flow, including the idea that modernity is characterized by the decline of religion.36 Indeed, in the words of one sociologist of religion, "the decline of religion" appears in the classical literature of the sociology of religion "as a defining feature of the modern world," since, in that literature, "The process of rationalization which informed the advance of modernity went hand in hand with the process of 'dismantling the gods,' and the triumph of autonomy — both of the individual and of society — implied the ineluctable disintegration of the


Habermas 1983:3. Importantly, as Habermas reminds us in this essay and as I will consider more fully below, this process occurs "again and again," thus calling into question the very idea of "the new." 35

Benavides 1998:187. Benavides 1998:196.


religion-bound societies of the past."37 Indeed, so widespread is this idea that it has come to have its own name, the "secularization thesis."38

The notion that modernity must be accompanied by the decline of religion seems to be compelling in large measure because religion and religious tradition are so clearly characterized by a deep mnemonic connection to the past.39 To the extent that modernity is understood to involve or require a rupture with the past, then it is understood to involve a break in the continuity and the validity of religious tradition and meaning as well, and this in turn is often seen as instrumental in producing new kinds of psychic discomfort. Indeed, the processes of rationalization, secularization, bureaucratization and technological change generally characterized as integral aspects of modernity, as well as the profound economic changes that both produce and result from these, are often seen as the cause of the various forms of psychic and cognitive distress that make up the "generalized cognitive instability that characterizes modernity."40 Many social theorists in this context thus diagnose modern life as characterized by increasing fragmentation, dislocation and disruption, as old structures of meaning and coherence are destroyed, and


Hervieu-Leger 2000:1.


For discussions of this idea see for example Gauchet, Marcel. The Disenchantment of the World. (1985/tr. 1997), Berger, Peter. The Sacred Canopy. (1967), Berger, Peter. The Desecularization of the World. (2005), Casanova, Jose. Public Religions in the Modern World. (1994), The Secularization Debate, Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, Sacred and Secular. Religion and Politics Worldwide, Cambridge University Press, 2004. Chapter 1. For valuable discussion of the secularization thesis in the modern Tibetan Buddhist context, see Zablocki, in press as of this writing, and Zablocki 2009. 39

Hervieu- Leger 2000.


Benavides 1998:188.


are supplanted by a social order whose rationalization is a fragmented one. The earlier work of the American sociologist of religion Peter Berger offers one example of this perspective. He has pointed to a condition he calls "homelessness" as a fundamental aspect of the shifts in psychological and social life associated with modernity. Due to the "modern rationalization of consciousness" that results from such social forces as pluralization, bureaucratization, and the division between public and private selves, "modern man has sufferedfrom a deepening condition of 'homelessness'' [original italics]. The correlate of the migratory character of his experience of society and of self has been what might be called a metaphysical loss of'home'."41 This loss of home is in part a loss of the sense of an overarching, sacralized world of meanings (generally understood as part of a 'religious' understanding of the world and one's place in it), and in part a shift in individuals' perceptions of themselves and their identities, which become increasingly subject to a kind of fragmentation.42

One may therefore ask whether, together with a break from the past and a process of increasing rationalization, some dimension of cognitive distress should itself in fact be considered a defining feature of modernity. Berger sometimes seems to be suggesting precisely this, while twentieth century social theorists of many persuasions, even where

Berger et al, 1973:82. Note that Berger, once a strong advocate of the secularization thesis, for instance in the 1973 work cited here, nevertheless has now reconsidered in light of global events and has recently written about "desecularization" and related phenomena. See Berger 2000 cited above, and The Economist 2006, cited below. 42

Although for an alternative conceptualization of modernity/ modernization / post-modernity, see Stephan Feuchtwang's valuable introductory essay in Making Place: State Projects, Globalisation and Local Responses in China (2004).

less thoroughly pessimistic, generally take the "problem" of modernity and the need to address this problem as their starting place.43 Many writers are moreover often deeply suspicious of the strategies available for remedying this cognitive distress, characterizing most attempts to produce or discover renewed possibilities for meaning as anti-modern, and potentially as dangerously coercive, naive, or anti-rationalist. For a number of modern and postmodern social theorists, the fragmentation and cognitive distress of modern life thus can be combated, but not necessarily to any liberative effect - often rather the contrary.44 The work of such social theorists is in fact in many ways characterized by an underlying skepticism about the possibility of liberating alternatives or responses to the psychic costs of modernity. One may think here of Adorno's dark view of such apparently harmless phenomena as the astrology pages in American newspapers, which he (somewhat convincingly) argues exist on a continuum of authoritarian irrationality that connects them to fascism.45

Outright rejections of modernity can in fact often be seen to be associated with irrationality, for example when they involve a denial of science. Moreover, anti-modern movements such as religious fundamentalisms (including Buddhist varieties) are often framed by their participants as attempts to return to an imaginal pre-modern golden age of 'tradition,' in which various forms of social change will be reversed or prevented. It is

Berger 1973. For instance, Adorno 1994, Habermas 1984, Arendt 1968; or from a slightly different intellectual strand, consider Maclntyre 1984; examples are far too numerous to cite. 44

Berger 1973; Hervieu-Leger 2000.


Adorno 1994.

indeed in the contemporary context of rising fundamentalisms around the world that much discussion of the relationship between religion, tradition, rationalism and modernity occurs. Largely in view of contemporary fundamentalist and authoritarian movements, there is (perhaps understandably) considerable anxiety surrounding the possibility that modernity might not produce secularization, or that 'traditional' social forms might persist.

Yet arguably, fundamentalist attempts to re-institute a society of unbroken tradition are themselves deeply modern, in the sense of being inescapably intertwined with the history and structures of modernity that they reject. Certainly, the situation of modernity may indeed go hand in hand with a potentially totalizing social order, and with a capacity for irrational violence, even genocide (which may be highly rationalized while remaining fundamentally non-rational).46 Indeed, a primary concern for a number of influential post-Holocaust thinkers - such as those in the Frankfurt School, or Levinas and those influenced by him, like Edith Wyschogrod - is that authoritarian irrationality may be deeply imbedded in, even intrinsic to, European Enlightenment thought. Fundamentalisms partake in this in some sense modern dynamic, even as they selfconsciously hearken back to a pre-modern time. At the same time, not all 'traditional' social forms or religious structures necessarily imply rejection of modernity, as Himalayan examples perhaps demonstrate.

For instance, Adorno 1994; Habermas 1984; Arendt 1968; Levinas, 1980; Wyschogrod 1998.

The fact of resistance to modernity notwithstanding, for many, if not most theorists of Western modernity, one of the basic hallmarks of the modern experience, and an experience which Western societies have increasingly managed to export elsewhere in the world, is the experience of a loss of meaning, of social atomization, individual fragmentation, and concomitantly, an intense individual experience of loss and psychic distress, which has been described variously as anomie, or as 'the problem of modernity' — in Berger's term, as a psychic "homelessness."

Before we ask whether this situation obtains in the Tibetan and larger Himalayan contexts, and whether the presence or absence of this disruption and psychic distress is an important (necessary?) or meaningful indicator of conditions of modernity, we must first acknowledge that there is a curious doubleness to the diagnosis of distress itself. That doubleness rests in the fact that, problematic and indeed burdensome as modernity and its fragmentations are thought to be, nevertheless, the identification of these problems does not alter the fact that many of these same chartings of modernity are subtly progressivist in their historical outlook. That is to say, (drawing on the critique of subaltern studies historians such as Chakrabarty) the disciplines of sociology and sociology of religion — which crucially begin as one and the same project, one we can conveniently situate in the foundational work of nineteenth and early twentieth century progenitors such as Weber, Durkheim, and Freud — are marked by their basis in European examples and historical experience, as already noted. These disciplines are also marked by their common

37 assumption that historical development involves a 'progress,' in which all societies will follow the course of development (both in the sense of historical unfolding and in the literal and hierarchical sense of economic and 'social' development) of European 47


Thus even where the processes of increasing rationalization, industrialization and individuation identified as characteristic of modernity are seen by social theorists as producing psychic distress and communal breakdown, these same processes and the developmental patterns that underlie them - the constitutive elements of western modernity, if you will - are nevertheless implicitly valorized as the necessary, mature, fully-developed - indeed on some level, desirable - norm. This is in part because of the idea that people the world over want the material prosperity and technological and medical innovations associated with technological and industrial modernization. That people do indeed desire electricity and improved treatment of disease, not to mention cars, televisions, pop songs, and fast food, seems in my own ethnographic experience to be very much the case. But the existence of this desire is not necessarily at all synonymous with a desire to be socially assimilated to western models, or to be dominated, either by the mechanisms of global capitalism, or by the imperialism, latent or outright, of other societies, Western or Asian. In particular, the Western experience of fragmentation and anomie, to the extent that people in other societies are aware of it, as for example Tibetans increasingly are, is often described in ethnographic encounters as


See Feuchtwang 2004 for a useful discussion of the idea of "progress" in the context of modern China.

deeply unappealing. This distaste should not be dismissed as a simple example of regressive or reactionary attitudes. Rather, it corresponds to a dismay that one can often find in Western sociological studies as well - the difference is that in the Western formulations, anomie and fragmentation are often understood as necessary and inevitable problems, by products of the operations of modernity in its single and universal form.

This is in large measure because the problem of anomie and fragmentation is often seen in Western studies as an inescapable correlate of something basically desirable: and here is where we can see that the notion of 'progress' is in fact not absent, even from theories of society that claim to eschew it, (whether sociological or historical) in Western languages. There is a more or less explicit assumption that the processes of social rationalization which produce fragmentation and anomie are not only inevitable, since all societies will evolve toward the same (Western) pattern, but also are on some level simply the price one pays for the undeniable and indispensable benefits of the only real modernity there is. This idea - that modernity as experienced by Western societies, with its particular mix of benefits and losses, is the only option available - locates even the analysts of social fragmentation within the one-size-fits-all model of modernity. Once one assumes that all societies will, and in fact should, modernize along the lines suggested by the western experience, then even the costs of this modernity will become indicators of social maturity, and it would not be too much to say, of social worth, or of the relevance of a society.

39 In light of the foregoing discussion, if modernity is characterized by self-conscious distancing from the past, and furthermore by cognitive distress and a loss of religiouslyderived coherence in understandings of the world and self, then the question posed in the Prologue becomes even more pressing: can any developments within the Tibetan Buddhist intellectual milieu can really be considered modern? The framework of lineage relationships that conditions Tibetan Buddhist intellectual life lends itself to a strong Tibetan Buddhist affiliation with the past and commitment to the continuity of tradition, as noted. This continuity, and the network of meanings that operate within it, furthermore work to reduce or preclude the kinds of cognitive distress that many associate with the fragmentations and ruptures of modernity.

This being the case, how can the dynamics of such a Tibetan environment be associated with modernity? Even if one found evidence of modernization in the Tibetan world, would one need also to identify patterns of social or intellectual change that explicitly break with the past, as well as an accompanying cognitive distress, in order to locate modernity there? In order to approach these questions, it may be helpful to reflect briefly on the history of how categories like 'rational' and 'modern' have been applied to Asian Buddhist societies.

III. The Colonial Legacy

The conceptual positioning of Buddhism in general by nineteenth and twentieth century Western scholars vis a vis modernity and rationality had a great deal to do with the historical relationship between Western interest in and study of Buddhism as an "object of scholarly contemplation,"

and the particular kinds of colonial projects that were

enacted in various parts of Asia since the late eighteenth century.49 This has now become quite well known. The multifaceted, quasi-colonial contexts in which the study of Buddhism emerged form a crucial stratum in the genealogy of Buddhist Studies, especially for Tibetan Buddhism. Recent genealogies of the study of religion as a whole for the most part situate the emergence of the discipline and its categories within the larger context of the colonial experience. For example, in the words of Chidester's study of Southern Africa: "The discipline of comparative religion emerged ... not only out of the Enlightenment heritage but also out of a violent history of colonial conquest and domination.. .[It is] a story not only about knowledge but also about power... (T)he study of religion was entangled in the power relations of frontier conflict, military conquest and resistance, and imperial expansion."50 As virtually goes without saying, the present-day genealogical project of unpacking these knowledge-and-power relationships (not by any

Ivy 2005:317, following Almond 1988. See for example Almond 1988: 130-131. Chidester 1996: xiii. This point is also made by Long 1986.

means unique to the discipline of Religious Studies)

takes place in light of Said's

pivotal Orientalism.52 Indeed, Lopez says of his 1995 volume Curators of the Buddha, "The volume is admittedly a belated attempt to explore the intricate connection of Buddhist Studies to colonialism, to perhaps draw Buddhist Studies into the larger arena of postcolonial cultural studies, of which Edward Said's 1978 Orientalism was the most celebrated harbinger."53

Nevertheless, colonialism in Asia was not monolithic. Rather, particular historical and political circumstances shaped each regional moment of encounter in unique ways. Tibet is a particularly interesting case, and in some ways unique, in part because it has only

Scholars in other fields, perhaps most especially anthropology, have explored the role of the colonial period in shaping their disciplines. Indeed, the early study of religion and anthropology often went hand in hand as a single effort, especially around ideas such as 'magic' and 'ritual.' Sharpe 1986. 52

Significant examples include Almond 1988; Asad 1993; Bishop 1989, 1992, Chidester 1996; King 1999; Lopez 1995, 1998. 53

Lopez 1995:11. Related histories of the discipline are Sharpe 1986, Ziolkowski 1993. However, especially in genealogies of Buddhist Studies, authors have often nuanced or reworked aspects of Said's analysis, even as they acknowledge their debt to it. One central area of such (re)investigation is indeed the exact relation between European colonial projects and the emergence of Buddhism as an intellectual category in the West. This reworking is of particular relevance for the history of Buddhist studies in Tibet, where Western nations did not establish direct colonial administration, and the Himalayan region, where such control as was established by the British Indian government was relatively limited in comparison with the rest of India. King and Lopez for instance have suggested (with slightly different emphases) that the European study of Buddhism in fact did not precisely coincide with the colonial endeavor, at least as colonialism is commonly construed. They question "Said's elision of colonialism with Orientalism," (King 1999:153) and seek to describe a more diffuse relationship in the case of Buddhism. (King 1999; Lopez 1995.) King, and other scholars such as Thomas Richards, have paid particular attention to the significant role of colonialist "fantasies" in the extension of Western influence over Tibetan and Himalayan regions. (I touch on this again below.) On the other hand, as Tuttle, Mills and others have described, the degree of British and other European involvement in policies having a direct impact on Tibet and other Asian regions (for instance, through the British invasion of Tibet in 1904) should not be underestimate. (Mills 2003; Tuttle 2009; Tuttle 2005.)


relatively recently come fully under a colonial administration, that of the People's Republic of China, in the 1950s, having largely avoided the main experience of European colonial control (although Tibet did experience the Younghusband invasion of 1903-4 and other colonizing and quasi-colonial encounters).54 Thus, much writing by outsiders about Tibet remained at the imaginal or aspirational level, until quite recently.55 This may account for the unusually diverse and contradictory nature of non-Tibetan representations of Tibet, since these representations were perhaps less grounded in actual contact than was the case in, for instance, British views of other parts of South Asia. Moreover, since the particular Tibetan experience of colonial control as a mediator of scholarly scrutiny and of encounters with modernity is a twentieth century one, and involves a relationship with an Asian power that is itself wrestling with issues of modernity and the legacy of cross-cultural encounter with Western societies, the Tibetan case differs in a number of significant respects from the more general historiography of Asia and Asian Buddhist societies. Discussion of modernity in the Tibetan context takes on different nuances and dimensions as a result of this context.

54 55

See Lopez 1998.

See in particular Richards 1993; Lopez 1998; Bishop 1989. The aspirational and imaginal quality of writing about Tibet is particularly marked in the case of Western language authors, but a similar pattern can be seen in early twentieth century Chinese works on Tibet. The earlier aspirational tone in Chinese writing shifts toward the more explicitly sociological and ethnographical through the 1920s and 1930s, and is now well established, in keeping with shifts in the level of Chinese strategic interest in Tibet and the degree of access that Chinese scholars have had to Tibetan subjects.

IV. Tibet as Shangri-la: Purity and Backwardness, Virtue and Vulnerability

Whether or not we ultimately conclude that the word "modern" is a productive term for referring to Tibetan and Himalayan dynamics, it is certainly the case that the twentieth century saw tremendous change in the Tibetan and Himalayan cultural zone, as in many other places around the globe. Economic and social shifts created new possibilities, opportunities and stresses. In the Tibetan case, these shifts were colored by particular experiences of violent social upheaval and domination. This context has shaped many aspects of late-twentieth century modernity in the Tibetan world. At the same time, this history has indelibly shaped scholarly perceptions of the entire question of Tibetan modernity, as we have noted already.

During the decade of the 1950s, the People's Republic of China (PRC) succeeded in acting on a long-standing desire to consolidate Chinese military and political authority over the Tibetan plateau, as over other parts of western Central Asia, such as Inner Mongolia and the Uyghur region now known as the province of Xinjang. The establishment of Chinese control over Tibetan areas may be said to have culminated in the events of 1959, when an uprising in Lhasa was suppressed and the Dalai Lama, together with many members of the Central Tibetan government, religious and lay leaders, and large numbers of ordinary people fled into exile in India. Tibetans to the east of Lhasa in the provinces of Kham and Amdo had already undergone similar experiences of military conquest, imposition of Chinese political and administrative rule, suppression

of local resistance and purges of community leaders, as much as ten years earlier. These events, and those that followed as the Cultural Revolution took its early hold in Tibet, served to produce tremendous change and dislocation in Tibetan society. Repercussions from these events were also felt in neighboring Himalayan societies with close ties to Tibet, such as Bhutan, Ladakh, Sikkim and other areas of the Indian Himalaya. One important dimension of the social transformations of that mid-century period and its aftermath was the often-forcible encounter between traditional Tibetan societies and the particular vision of modernity embodied within and espoused by the PRC.57

This history has colored contemporary scholarly discussion of the question of modernity in the Tibetan and Himalayan world, both before and after 1959, raising and politicizing the stakes of any characterization of Tibetan societies either as modern or as traditional, as we have already begun to discuss. As a result, the question of Tibetan modernity, both in the context of the crucible of the 1950s, and in other historical moments as well, is a delicate one, and one that does indeed appear to have certain "distinctive" problems associated with it.

In fact, even the precise valences of the categories 'traditional' and 'modern' in this context are hard to pin down. Upon closer inspection, it is not at all clear that a simple

See for instance Epstein 2002. 57

1 discuss the ways in which these events may lend themselves to a narrative of rupture at the end of this work.

opposition can, or should, be made between tradition and modernity in the Sino-Tibetan encounters of the mid-twentieth century. More generally, it is hard to tease out themes of modernization, innovation and social change in the Himalayas, even in periods before the 1950s, without falling into stereotypes made highly charged by this history. Loaded, often subtly (or not so subtly) politicized claims underlie characterizations of Tibetan society as not-modern (or pre-modern, or traditional) and Chinese Communist society as modern. This is despite the fact that close examination suggests that not only is the homogenous traditionalism of Tibetan culture open to question, but the nature of the modernity espoused by PRC leaders and cadres during this period is itself profoundly complex. Suspicion of all simplistic claims is warranted, since notions of Tibetan traditionalism, exceptionalism and non-modernity have tended to play powerful, though often contradictory, roles in the imaginations of outside observers, both Western and Chinese. This has influenced not only ways of understanding Sino-Tibetan encounters in the twentieth century, but at a broader level, understandings of Tibetan culture and its intellectual history more generally.

One major strand of rhetoric about Tibet, which is often associated with Westerners but which also has Japanese and more recently Chinese adherents, among others,58 asserts a

Examples of the latter include contemporary Japanese travelers and spiritual seekers in Tibet, and their counterparts among young, educated, urban mainland Chinese, who often perceive Tibet as a repository of spiritual, cultural, artistic - and sometimes sexual - authenticity and inspiration, precisely inasmuch as Tibet remains, or is imagined to remain, a traditional rather than a modern society. See Dodin and Rather 2001 :ix, ff. For a classic case of this imaginative dimension, see the writings of the Chinese novelist Ma Jian, who is all the more relevant as an example because his portrayals of 'traditional' Tibetan society remain deeply ambivalent, even while valorizing Tibet's supposed romance and primitive immediacy. (Ma Jian has courageously chosen to publish

vision of pre-1959 Tibetan society as exclusively non-modern, and as a result, exceptional in the world and uniquely valuable. Lopez and others have described the widespread fantasy of Tibet as an ideal society of tradition, "hermetically sealed" off from the disenchanted modern world found elsewhere. Lopez quotes the mountaineer Marco Pallis, for example, who writes, "Sheltered behind the rampart of the Himalaya, Tibet has looked on, almost unscathed, while some of the greatest traditions of the world have reeled under the attacks of the all-devouring monster of modernism."59

When Tibet is defined as a pre-modern Shangri-La "from an eternal classical age, set high in a Himalayan keep outside time and history," preserving romance, mystery and pure religion, and threatened by any contact with the "monster of modernism," then the Chinese and Tibetan conflicts of the 1950s are correspondingly mapped such that "Tibet embodies the spiritual and the ancient, China the material and the modern." In this schema, of course, "spiritual" and "ancient" are 'good,' while "material" and "modern" are 'bad.' In such a reading, "Tibetans are superhuman, Chinese are subhuman."60

This is not the only caricature possible, however. If Tibetan culture is dis-embedded from its history, particularity and context, it is equally possible to describe the events of the

works about Tibet that defy current PRC rhetoric in various ways, taking considerable personal risks in the process. This courage should not, however, prevent discussion of his ambivalent or distorting portrayals of Tibetan society.) 59

Lopez 1998:8, quoting Pallis, Peaks and Lamas, 3d ed., rev. London: Woburn Press, 1974:358.


Lopez 1998:7. See also Dodin and Rather 2001, especially 402 ff.

1950s according to an opposite mapping of stereotypes, in which Tibetan society, qua traditional, was feudal, backward, primitive and uniquely oppressive, and Chinese Communist society and its intervention in Tibet was and is modernizing, civilizing, liberating and necessary. This has in fact consistently been the PRC's official presentation. Indeed, this way of understanding China's role in Central Asian regions dates back to well before the existence of the PRC itself. Chinese activities in western areas like Tibet, Xinjiang and Mongolia have been presented by successive Chinese governments as part of a civilizing project, in both Confucian and Communist terms.61

More generally, the contradictory uses to which claims about Tibetan traditionalism can be put are part of a larger pattern in the imagining of Tibetan societies by outsiders. As Lopez and others have described, outsiders have repeatedly woven fantasies involving "a continual play of opposites" around Tibet and Tibetan culture, in the process of which

See for instance Steven Harrell 1995:18, who characterizes the Qing state as engaging in a Confucian-framed civilizing project vis a vis 'peripheral peoples,' and the Communists in a Communist-framed version; more generally see Dodin and Rather 2001: 401 ff; Barnett; Gladney 1991. For an example of the official PRC rhetoric about the "Peaceful Liberation" of Tibet in the 1950s, see 100 Questions About Tibet, Jing Wei. Beijing: Beijing Review Press, p.25 ff. This is further developed in Chinese Communist Party rhetoric about Tibetan development: See for example, "Thanks to the loving care of the CCP Central Committee and the great support of various provinces and cities, Tibet has entered its best period of development." (Headline, Renmin Ribao, Beijing, 1 August 1994, text of dispatch from Lhasa by staff reporters Liu Wei and He Guanghua.) A parallel may be found in Mao's attitude to Inner Mongolia. See Bulag, 2000. Of course, as Schneiderman 2006 has insightfully summarized, civilizing projects are integral to the rhetoric of other multi-ethnic nation states in the region as well, namely Nepal and India. Tibetans themselves have also been the enactors of a civilizing discourse vis a vis the socalled "Tibetan borderlands," in ways both tied to the former Tibetan state, and in more diffuse cultural dimensions. (These issues indeed are factors shaping the background of Khunu Lama's own cultural identity as a Himalayan border person.)

"Tibet's complexities and competing histories have been flattened into a stereotype." This pattern of projecting essentialized, contradictory "opposites" onto Tibetan culture appears directly connected to the lack of actual knowledge of Tibet on the part of outsiders, perhaps a consequence in part of Tibet's not having come under systematic colonial control until very recently, as noted already.

If the stereotyping process is so widespread when observers are describing Tibetan traditionalism, than one might suspect that claims about modernity in Tibet would also be highly charged. This seems indeed to be the case, generally in one of two ways: On the one hand, underlying much recent interest in teasing out or simply asserting elements of modernity in pre-1959 Tibetan culture, there is as described often an explicit or implicit wish to rebut PRC claims that Tibet was primitive, pre-modern, and in need of development and liberation by Chinese forces. On the other hand, there is often also the explicitly acknowledged desire of authors to free Tibetan social history from the confining romantic caricatures made by Western image-makers, which themselves are seen to limit and obstruct Tibetan cultural possibilities.64 In both of these sorts of analysis, we might say that for many contemporary authors, "modern" corresponds with "powerful," while "traditional" corresponds with "vulnerable." Those sympathetic to 62

Lopez 1998:10; Dodin and Rather 2001.


See Lopez 1998, Richards 1993.


Lopez 1998 is in part an example of this phenomenon, as are the essays in Dodin and Rather 2001, especially the final one by Dodin and Rather which makes these concerns explicit. Toni Huber's essay in that volume, while itself exemplifying a version of the dynamic I am describing, specifically documents efforts by Dharamsala Tibetans in exile to define Tibetan society as modern, feminist, environmentally sensitive, and therefore worthy of preservation, in a partisan version of this process.

49 Tibet wish to locate modernity there as a way of defining Tibetan culture as significant, sophisticated and relevant - the opposite of backward or retrograde. Clearly, the stakes are high in any sweeping analysis of Tibetan culture along the axis of modern/traditional.

Nevertheless, despite, or because of, these high stakes and the delicacy of the project, scholars from many different disciplines and backgrounds have begun to do considerable work on the question of whether and where elements of something that could be called modernity existed in pre-1959 Tibet. Recent conferences and publications provide examples of such exploration, including works already cited here, such as Lopez 1998 and 2006, Dodin and Rather 2001, and Klieger 2002, among others. Other examples one might give include sessions at the 2006 meeting of the International Association of Tibetan Studies (IATS) that addressed aspects of modernity; the 2003 Columbia University Weatherhead East Asian Institute conference entitled "Tibet: Roots of Modernity," which has led to a reader on modernity (in progress at the time of this writing); and the 1996 International Symposium "Mythos Tibet" (which gave rise to the Dodin and Rather 2001 volume).

V. Twentieth Century Tibetan Buddhist Intellectual History: Modernity, Tradition and the Re-Appropriation of the Past

The present study addresses this multi-vocal (not to say contentious) conversation on several fronts, attempting to navigate some of the aforementioned rhetorical challenges by looking closely at specific elements in Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history in the twentieth century, according to a method I have called 'Levinasian.' By approaching an aspect of Tibetan intellectual history, rather than the history of ideas about Tibet, I seek to re-focus attention on the particularities of Tibetan culture, and by doing so, to show how such particularity resists easy categorization and labeling.65

The historical background for study of Tibetan societies and Tibetan Buddhism is distinct from other Asian and Buddhist examples, even as it partakes in a larger genealogy of Buddhist Studies and the cross-cultural history of Asian and Western encounters.66 But the particularity of Tibetan and Himalayan experiences of modernity goes beyond this distinctiveness of unique historical experience. More generally speaking, Tibetan Buddhist intellectual structures themselves condition Tibetan approaches to modernity in particular and specific ways, and these must be considered on their own terms, as Levinas

In this approach to "historical evidence that does not easily fit our categories," I follow in part in the footsteps of the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty, who, surely not by coincidence, also derives his "fragmentary" method from Levinas. (Chakrabarty 2002:36-7) 66

For discussion of this distinctiveness, see the lengthy exchange between Lopez and King in Lopez 1995 and King 1999.

51 arguably would have us do. This is necessary first of all in order not to distort or diminish Tibetan intellectual developments. Such an approach may furthermore also enable a richer and more nuanced understanding of what modernity can mean in general, and how theories of modernity can better take into account the vividness of cross-cultural distinction.

Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history is, as it happens, a particularly important site for exploring questions of modernity in Tibetan and Himalayan societies, and for unmasking a range of stereotypes, both about the omnipresence of static traditionalism in Tibetan culture, and about what one might call Tibetan proto-modern 'virtuous exceptionalism' (the image of Tibetan culture as naturally feminist or environmentally sensitive, for example, such as described by Huber 2001 or Norbert-Hodges 200167). This is in part because, among the many and varied strands that make up Tibetan culture, Buddhism and Buddhist thinkers have played central, culturally formative roles in Tibetan and Himalayan societies across many time periods and regions. While Tibetan and Himalayan intellectual history certainly should not be reduced to a history of Buddhist ideas (as they sometimes have been), Buddhism and Buddhist thinkers nevertheless deeply shape the landscape in which Tibetan and Himalayan intellectual life occurs. Thus no analysis of Tibetan intellectual history can be complete without serious study of developments in the Buddhist context.

Both in Dodin and Rather 2001.

Interestingly, moreover, Tibetan Buddhism has consistently been a lightening rod attracting both deeply negative and romantically positive stereotypes.

This lightening-

rod effect is particularly aggressive where questions of modernity are concerned. Caricatured as "Lamaism," Tibetan Buddhism has been portrayed by outsiders alternately as superstitious and oppressive (in part because of its supposedly mindless, traditionbound stasis), or as uniquely authentic, pure and spiritually valuable (because it is traditional and unchanging).69

6S 69

For example Lopez 1998; Almond 1988; Bishop 1989; Dodin and Rather 2001.

Lopez 1998; Bishop 1989; Dodin and Rather 2001. Tibetan Buddhism has indeed often understood as constituting a dramatic departure from other forms of Buddhism, in a way usually understood as a degradation. Buddhism, more generally speaking, as it was constituted as an object of study in the West, came to be viewed in two quite different ways. On the one hand, "Buddhism...came to occupy the space of a premodern, non-Western 'reason' formed through detached observation and non-theistic, rationalized techniques of tranquility (one thinks of the early Theravada texts here and the European obsession with the rational purity of 'primitive Buddhism.') This kind of rationality could retrospectively be seen to form a kind of preinheritance for modernity with its models of self-regulating rationalism." (Ivy 2005:318.) But this perspective was not extended to Buddhism in all its living forms, as Almond in particular has described. (Almond 1988:95 ff.) In Ivy's words, "In opposing instances, Buddhism occupied the place of magical pre-modernity; one thinks immediately of Tibetan 'Lamaism' (Lopez 1998)" and of "Japan's syncretic mixture of'Shintoism' and 'Mahayana Buddhism'." (Ivy 2005:318.) Ritual, devotional practices, cosmological complexity — all of these were felt to conflict with the intellectual simplicity and rationalism which Western scholars liked to impute to the historical Buddha. While Buddhism in those Pali texts believed to contain the originary form of the Buddha's teachings could be seen as fundamentally rational and in that sense, proto-modern, this stood in contrast to perceptions of the Buddhism of present day northern and central Asia, which was seen as degenerate or corrupt. The Sanskritist Monier-Williams "wrote of'true Buddhism that is, the Buddhism of the Pitakas or Pali texts,' and contrasted it with the 'corrupt phase' of Buddhism in Tibet, Mongolia and other Northern countries." (Cited in Almond 1988: 95.) One might also think of the Buddhologist Rhys Davids' taxonomy of "earlier Buddhism as 'pure Buddhism,'...Tibetan Buddhism as 'corrupt Buddhism,' and...Tantric Buddhism as loathsome and nauseous." (Cited in Almond 1988:95.) As both Almond and Lopez note, this purity/corruption division was itself moreover interwoven with the mapping of European Protestant/Catholic anxieties onto Buddhism. (See Almond pp. 123-128; Lopez 1998.) While few writers today would use such terms to describe Tibetan Buddhism or Himalayan societies, these oppositions and assumptions about Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, and rationality form the background against which explorations of modernity and tradition in the Tibetan Buddhist context still proceed.


In general, Tibetan Buddhist ideas and institutions have been repeatedly presented by both Western and Asian observers (and sometimes by Tibetans) as resistant to change, whether this resistance is presented as positive or negative: if Buddhist ideas and institutions are valorized, it is in terms of their authenticity, their uncorrupted pristine and ancient quality; if they are denigrated, it is as stifling of curiosity, creativity or innovation, enslaving practitioners to tradition-bound repetitious and ignorant rites. It is in large measure in order to move beyond such polarities that this study investigates the institution of teacher-student transmission lineage in Himalayan and Tibetan Buddhist culture and life narratives, via the example of one man's experience within it, asking how the structure of transmission lineages in general, and narratives about lineage gurus in particular, might work to enable or limit innovation and individual independence.

The Tibetan Buddhist framework of lineage relationships is the interpersonal mechanism through which Buddhist concepts, meditation and ritual instructions are transmitted from teacher to disciple and from one generation to the next. The intellectual formation of Buddhist individuals occurs in the context of these relationships. It is thus in the context of lineage relationships extending both forward and backward across generations that people pursue their various projects of study, teaching, composition or meditation. (In fact, this pattern is also true in a more sociologically general way in Tibetan and Himalayan societies, across many non-Buddhist fields, although such a broad topic falls outside the scope of this essay. Intellectuals pursuing non-Buddhist projects likewise tend

54 to work in the context of teacher-student lineage networks, partly because the structures of Buddhist learning permeate societies so widely, and partly because even the knowledge of other topics, such as literary or historical studies, tends to be transmitted between persons according to the lineage pattern.)

Because of this primacy of lineage relationships, and because of the trans-generational continuity created by these lineage ties, there are as noted already, serious consequences to defining modernity in such a way that only those individuals or developments that break with the past can qualify. Such a vision of modernity, going hand in hand with the assumption that religious ties should diminish in a modern context, screens out a great deal of social and intellectual change in twentieth century Tibetan intellectual history, as well as excluding all but a few individuals from consideration as modern. If we rely on definitions of modernity that prioritize breaking with the past, a person such as Khunu Lama, whose innovative choices and independence involved re-appropriations of the past rather than distance from it, then naturally falls outside the charmed circle of the modern. Moreover, it may also then appear, as it often has in common stereotypes, that the general orientation of Tibetan culture is actively resistant to modernity, which it certainly is not. Finally, those dynamics of innovation, independence, creativity and change that do exist within Tibetan culture will not be seen to "count" as authentically modern.

Yet closer attention reveals that there are nuances within these Tibetan patterns of lineage relationship and concern with the past that show a more complex picture. These dynamics

55 of intellectual independence are seen most fully in all their permutations via the study of individual intellectuals and the lineages in which they are embedded. As becomes clear via the lifestory of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen, Tibetan Buddhist intellectual culture incorporates the possibility of a re-appropriation of tradition that can enable a high level of individual agency, intellectual independence and freedom from institutionalized authority.71 This occurs in the specific (and apparently paradoxical) context of individuals' intellectual and emotional embeddedness within transmission lineages, which link them in important relationships stretching back toward the past, as well as forward toward the future. Yet the intellectual culture of Tibetan Buddhism does not simply permit, or occasionally facilitate, individual agency, independence and sometimes innovation. Rather, the narrative mechanisms through which life stories of masters are remembered, recounted and memorialized work to assimilate individual figures to past models, in such a way that particularly unconventional or potentially disruptive elements (not only personal choices, but also potentially disruptive aspects of the tradition itself) are integrated into a manageable narrative whole. Such a narrative whole reaffirms both the community of practitioners within the lineage, and the vitality of their individual teacher-student relationships.

As Dreyfus points out, it is particularly important to consider the "views and practices of...intellectuals" when attempting to understand "non-Western traditional cultures," since if the views and practice of local intellectuals from those traditions are "dismissed as irrelevant and bypassed," the cultures involved "are thus deprived of their intellectual content and reduced to an atomized network of rituals and narratives displayed and controlled by modern scholars." Dreyfus 2003: 9. 71

In exploring Tibetan intellectual culture along these lines I am very much indebted to those who have already asked these kinds of questions. In particular see Dreyfus' extremely helpful analysis of tradition, authority and freedom in Tibetan scholasticism (Dreyfus 2003) and Gyatso's discussion of agency and individuality (Gyatso 1998), both of which have much influenced this study.

Is It Modern? Preliminary Reflections on the Life of Khunu Lama

Khunu Lama, like others with whom he was connected, creatively engaged concerns of authority and truth via re-appropriations of the past - a past with which he at the same time remained in continuous contact, through his lineage relationships, through his topics of study, and through his personal behavior. In his life choices, Khunu Lama enacted ideals of self-cultivation that maintained continuity with traditional, valorized Buddhist models. Yet his life choices were nevertheless marked by a profound intellectual independence, subtly locating authority within himself, the individual scholarpractitioner. The choices made by Khunu Lama and other Tibetan intellectuals of his period have not necessarily fit the models of modernity derived from European or American examples. Nevertheless, in their intellectual and personal independence, in many ways, their activities resonate with, and in some cases enable, intellectual moves associated with the notion of'modernity.'

One can make a revealing comparison between Khunu Lama and his close contemporary, the famously iconoclastic 20th century Tibetan intellectual Gendun Chophel (dGe 'dun chos 'phel, 1903-1951).72 Gendun Chophel, a brilliant and unconventional scholar and polymath, is frequently classified as a modern figure. Indeed, Gendun Chophel has 72

Stoddard (1985) gives his birth date as 1905; Hopkins (1992, 1998) follows her. Lopez (2006) gives 1903.

increasingly emerged as a kind of audience favorite in recent discussions of Tibetan modernity. Publications about Gendun Chophel's life and work, a film treatment of his activities, conferences devoted to his contributions and influence,73 awards given in his name, the homage of young Tibetan writers and artists in many regions of Tibet and India, an important (indeed, essentially the only) contemporary art gallery in Lhasa named after him (the Gendun Chophel Artists' Guild) — all of these examples, and one could give others, attest to his current stature as a cultural touchstone and icon, as the modern Tibetan intellectual figure of the twentieth century.74 As one study of his life puts it, "the savant dGe-'dun-chos-'phel...was the first 'modern' scholar of Tibet."75

Khunu Lama and Gendun Chophel did a number of the same things, knew some of the same people, and in fact knew each other, during the 1940s in India, where they were Sanskrit classmates. Some of the parallels in their activities include their travel to India from Tibet, and their travels around the Indian sub-continent; the patronage they received from important Khampa trading families in Calcutta and Kalimpong, in particular from the Pamdatsang family; their interest in and outstanding mastery of Sanskrit grammar and

For instance, in November 2003, Latse Tibetan Library in New York City held a two-day symposium, revealingly called the "Gendun Chophel Centennial Conference: In Commemoration of the Life and Legacy of Tibet's First Modern Scholar." 74

Publications on Gendun Chophel's life and work include Stoddard 1980, 1985; Huber 2000; Lopez 2006; Mengele 1999; Hopkins 1992, 1998; Ruegg 1989; Khetsun Sangpo 1973 vol. 5; Goldstein 1989; Bkras mthong Thub btan chos dar (Rakra Rinpoche) 1980; A ngags Tshe ring bkra shis 2000; Hor gtsang 'Jigs med 1998. The award in his name, established in 1994, is given every three years by the Amnye Machen Institute in Dharamsala to "an outstanding Tibetan writer who has maintained dedication and courage in the face of persecution and hardship." The film treatment of his life is Luc Schaedler: "Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet," Dokumentarfilm, Schweiz 2005. Lopez 2006: 4 contains a valuable bibliography. 75

Mengele 1999:1.

58 literature; their interest in Tibetan literary topics; their curiosity about and openness to different ways of presenting Buddhist ideas and categories; and indeed, the wide-ranging nature of their intellectual interests in general. Both men pursued personal courses of study and explored topics and lifestyles that were in many ways outside the mainstream of their religious and intellectual milieu. Both men had relationships with women that were unusual, though of quite different kinds.

And yet, they were, at least in some ways, significantly different, in particular in terms of their perceived relationship to Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Moreover, beyond any actual differences in their relationship to Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the inherited past, they are remembered and memorialized, by Tibetans and by non-Tibetan scholars, in markedly different ways, in particular vis a vis the category of modernity. Gendun Chophel is widely perceived (accurately or not) as having made deep, controversial and dramatic breaks with the past of Tibetan Buddhist tradition, (as Lopez's 2006 study for example discusses), through his unconventional lifestyle, his setting aside of his monastic vows, and through his interest in and writings about science, medicine, technology, geography and politics. These writings are often deeply critical of the received wisdom of Tibetan Buddhists of his day, and many of them were shocking to his contemporary audience. (Indeed, some of his writings retain their power to shock Tibetan audiences, as well as readers who have cultivated a monolithic view of Tibetan Buddhism.)

Khunu Lama, on the other hand, is generally remembered and memorialized, both by those who knew him personally and by contemporary Tibetan Buddhists and scholars who know him only by reputation, as being a paradigmatically Buddhist figure along highly familiar, traditional lines. Khunu Lama is remembered as someone who made considerable personal effort to maintain valuable lineages and to continue the transmission of traditional forms of knowledge. He is not remembered as critiquing traditional knowledge or in some way disrupting its assumptions, as in several senses Gendun Chophel may be said to have done.

Khunu Lama lived a famously renunciant lifestyle, as already mentioned, though he was not a monk. Because of this, and because of his close association with the teaching and practice of bodhicitta, as well as a host of other philosophical topics and meditational systems, many students, including his main Tibetan-language biographer, identified his lifestyle closely with two classic traditional models of idealized Buddhist behavior, that of the beloved eleventh century Buddhist adept Milarepa, and that of the early Kadampa masters.76 Such an identification with great figures of the past - a common pattern in accounts of Tibetan Buddhist masters' lives - would seem to tend, at least on the surface, to mitigate against a view of Khunu Lama as an innovator, or as an explicitly modern or modernizing figure (although in fact, we shall see how the reverse can actually be the case). Similarly, Khunu Lama is most famous for his practice of and teachings about bodhicitta, and this too certainly does not represent a departure from the classical model

I describe this more fully in the next chapter.

of the Mahayana saint. Moreover, Khunu Lama taught and wrote about bodhicitta using traditional verse and song forms, both classical and popular (in the sense of traditional "folk" song forms), and employing classical metaphors and analogies. As described, Khunu Lama entered into numerous lineage relationships via the traditional activity of seeking out transmissions of esoteric and exoteric Buddhist materials from important masters all over the Tibetan Buddhist world. Indeed, Khunu Lama's travel in pursuit of these transmissions and teachings was one of the major projects of his life. He invested enormous time and personal effort in visiting teachers both famous and obscure, in regions from western Tibet and Sikkim, to Khams and Amdo in the east.

Khunu Lama wrote, studied and taught extensively about classical Sanskrit and Tibetan grammar and literary topics. These topics of study are strongly marked in the Tibetan Buddhist context as flags for scholarly excellence.77 They are, however, also topics that involve substantial intellectual connection to the past - not only the comparatively recent past of Tibetan intellectual history, but the ancient Indie past of Tibetan Buddhism's Sanskritic inheritance. The pursuit of such knowledge, while eminently compatible with innovative, even explicitly "modern" ideas in the Tibetan intellectual world (as for example in the case of Gendun Chophel himself, who, like Khunu Lama, made considerable effort to study Sanskrit in India, and was interested in traditional Tibetan

The valuation of Tibetan and Sanskrit grammatical and literary learning is a common theme in the interview data I have collected, almost too widespread to cite. For example Tashi Paljor, Tashi Rabgyes, Gen Lobsang Jamspal, Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Tsetan, Khen Rinpoche Losang Delek, etc. (All of these, it should be noted, are themselves scholars, teachers or intellectual luminaries in their own right.) See also for example Pettit; Dreyfus 2003; Smith 2001.

61 literary arts, but who wrote and drew in innovative as well as traditional styles) nevertheless might not suit an image of the modern thinker as one who renounces the past and its claims.

Is Khunu Lama thus a 'traditional' figure who simply happened to live in the twentieth century, while Gendun Chophel is a truly modern figure? It depends in part on our understanding of modernity. If we define modernity as a break with the past, then indeed, Khunu Lama appears to be a "traditional" figure who merely happened to live in recent times, while Gendun Chophel can sometimes appear to be the only modern Tibetan figure of his generation. But this bifurcation in understanding the two men would be a mistake, and would represent an unnecessarily restrictive insistence on ways of understanding modernity drawn from outside the Tibetan context. If we look instead for innovation and individual independence, both intellectually and on an institutional level, then what emerges in the lifestories of Gendun Chophel and Khunu Lama are a number of striking parallelisms, (as well as important and substantive differences, to be sure). Indeed, Gendun Chophel himself, if we do not insist on narrowly assigning him a certain role as a 'modern' - which itself represents a stereotyping - appears as a more complex figure. He emerges as someone who does not need to be situated outside the stream of Tibetan Buddhist life, but rather can be seen to participate in it. Examples of this can be found in the various dimensions of Gendun Chophel's lifelong relationship with Buddhism,

62 notwithstanding his renunciation of his monk's vows, as well as in his interest in Sanskrit, among others.78

In considering Khunu Lama's independence, both intellectually and institutionally, the individually distinctive nature of his choices as student and teacher, and the wide diversity of his interests, however, it is important to specify what this individuality and independence is not. It is certainly not of a piece with the "atomization of systems of meaning" often thought of by sociologists as characteristic of modernity, or the "fragmented, shifting and diffuse nature of the modern imagination." Khunu Lama's choices were characterized by their diversity and independence, but they nevertheless cohere in important ways, both internally and in terms of their intelligibility to the communities of which he was part (despite sometimes being surprising). This intelligibility is itself a central part of what I have characterized as Khunu Lama's continuity with the past of tradition.

In fact, Khunu Lama is an excellent example of a Tibetan religious figure whose innovation and individual independence occur embedded within a landscape of communally legible forms of behavior that are deeply continuous with the traditional past. These legible forms of behavior include paradigms for saintly action, ideals of

Lopez 2006 does touch on this point, although his work tends to emphasize the radical nature of Gendun ChophePs activity. 79

Hervieu-Leger 2000: 29, discussing the work of Michel de Certeau.

63 virtue, and notions of meditative and scholarly accomplishment and renunciation. Many choices in Khunu Lama's life (teaching women, dialoging with Hindu sadhus, taking renunciatory lifechoices to an extreme, wandering from monastic institution to institution, declining prestigious invitations to teach or minimizing their prestige in some way) to some extent involved dispensing with traditional norms of behavior, and were more or less surprising to members of the broader communities in which he found himself. Nevertheless, all these choices can be made to fit intelligibly into the narrative of the life of an unconventional saint, a la Milarepa. Indeed, the paradigm of the unconventional saint is perhaps the Tibetan tradition's most powerful tool for narratively absorbing potentially disruptive individual choices and for domesticating potentially challenging dynamics internal to the structure of Buddhist lineage relationships. I discuss this in more detail in the following chapters.

Thus, to return to the question of modernity, if modernity is held to be characterized in an important degree by elements not only of rupture with the past but also of fragmentation, anomie, or cognitive distress, the example of Khunu Lama certainly does not seem to fall within the margins of the modern. Indeed, if one assumed a 'requirement' of cognitive distress for modernity in the Tibetan case, Gendun Chophel would again appear as a more logical representative of modern dynamics, not only because of his moves to make a break from a naive past, but in view of the dislocation produced by his ideas in his own life. Indeed, while this is delicate ground, there may be a degree to which he is an attractive figure for contemporary appropriations (both inside and outside Tibet) precisely because he appears to be a sort of martyr for modernity - homeless in both Berger's sense

and more literally; imprisoned and tormented not by Chinese Communists, but by the pre-1959 Tibetan establishment.

Setting aside the fascinating question of whether modernity in fact requires martyrs of this kind (narratively speaking at least), one confronts the fact that Khunu Lama does not appear to fit this particular pattern at all. Though he was certainly homeless, his was a Buddhist homelessness, the very opposite in many ways of the homelessness of modernity that Berger had in mind.80 Khunu Lama's homelessness was embedded in and ultimately valorized by his community, both by the communities of living people with whom he interacted, and within the context of the lineages to which he belonged after his death, consistent with the narratives of many recognized religious virtuousi of the past. Notwithstanding criticism he occasionally encountered early in his career, he was by the end of his life widely respected, and even more so posthumously - when, of course, his behavior was less disruptive, to be sure.

The subsequent chapters trace the movements of his life and career in greater detail, and attempt to draw out these central tensions in his life and cultural context more generally: the dynamic tension between innovation and assimilation to traditional models; between individual independence and authoritative participation in the chain of teachers; between the disruptive potential of Khunu Lama's idiosyncratic choices and the profound


I consider the central issues of homelessness and renunciation in Khunu Lama's case more fully below.

65 valorization of him as embodying seminal Buddhist ideals.


Chapter Two Biography, Remembrance and Memorialization

If an autobiography may be said to reflect, or attempt to reflect, the complex interiority of one individual,81 then perhaps a biography should be thought of as in part a portrait of a different interiority, that of a relationship.82 In the case of a biography of a teacher composed by one of that person's students, such as the mam ihar presentation of Khunu Lama's life, while on the surface it appears to be specifically a description of its protagonist's life, in fact, it is likely to also reveal something about the person who authored it, and about his or her relationship with the teacherly subject. This is perhaps even more evident in the case of oral life stories. As a result, one may mine these accounts not only for information about the episodes of the life, but at a more subtle level, for information about how the subject, here Khunu Lama, is being remembered and memorialized. In a sense, as we glean aspects of the narrative / thematic mechanisms and possibilities within Tibetan religious biography (here both written and oral) via the life stories of Khunu Lama, we are forcing ourselves to become conscious of the obvious, or

81 82

As for example Janet Gyatso discusses in Gyatso 1998.

Here I am speaking specifically of biographies of gurus written by their disciples; as Gene Smith has recently described, there are a number of kinds of biography within the rich and diverse Tibetan literary spectrum, with different kinds of authors, filling a range of literary needs and roles. Some of these, for example, biographies of prominent individuals written by biographers-for-hire, would certainly seem to fall in a somewhat different category than that described here. Gene Smith, workshop presentation at November 2008 Auto/Biography Seminar, Columbia University.

what ought to be obvious. We tend to think we know what we are about with biography, perhaps more so than in the case of autobiography, which appears to have a greater ambiguity and complexity at its heart. In what follows, some of our task then is to force aspects of biographical dynamics to surface, to become visible.

The Selves of Biography and Autobiography: Memory, Remembrance and Memorialization

Janet Gyatso in particular has done a great deal to illuminate the complexity of voices and of the versions of the self that are on display in Tibetan religious lifewriting.83 Although autobiographies are her main focus, her analysis is revealing of many dynamics involved in Tibetan religious biography as well.84 Gyatso observes that the selves of


Gyatso uses "religious autobiography" to translate the Tibetan term rang rnam through out her work, although as she notes, first-person autobiographical accounts are sometimes simply called "rnam thar" ("liberation story," a general term that can mean biography or hagiography as well), or "rnam thar zhal gsungs ma" ("liberation [story] told by [his/her own] mouth"). Gyatso 1992:469. See also Gyatso 1998. 84

I am here following common current scholarly custom in generally rendering rnam thar in English as "biography" throughout this essay, although there are reasons why the Tibetan term might in many cases also be translated by the term "hagiography." I prefer the term biography on several counts. One is the fact that the Tibetan term rnam thar has a wide application, including contemporary, non-hagiographical accounts. Another is the fact that the term "hagiography" in English has both potentially derogatory implications (of naivete, exaggeration, unreliability, etc.) and strong specifically Christian associations, neither of which seems suitable to import into the study of Tibetan material. Nevertheless, I will occasionally make use of the term hagiography where it seems to shed extra light on the subject matter. See also Willis, Jacoby, Geary, Scheaffer, Gyatso 1992, 1998, Diemberger and Havnevik. I will distinguish textual and oral accounts, saving the term rnam thar to refer primarily to formalized textual narratives. As I have mentioned already, I use the broader term lifestory to describe the larger project of narration and compilation in which this essay is involved, for which I draw on a variety of oral and written sources.

68 autobiographies written by Tibetan religious figures are developed in an intimate kind of collaboration between author-teachers and disciple-readers. The disciples are in fact often the editors, and may indeed be co-authors of written autobiographies, or may be transcribers and redactors of dictated oral accounts. They often noticeably shape the tone of a narrative, and the self-presentation of the teacher who is the subject and ostensible source — for example adding honorifics — but also in more subtle and pervasive ways. In Gyatso's apt phrase, "The disciple's presence is to be felt throughout the text."85 As she explains, "[T]he disciple-editors/readers .. .have a theoretically determined role in the creation of the self presented in the text, and one that is even more far-reaching than mere overt editorial tampering. Within the context of the teacher-disciple relationship, the desire to provide a self that can be an exemplary role model is, at least theoretically, the only reason why autobiography is written at all [in the Tibetan Buddhist context]... As the intended reader, the disciple stands as the completer of the autobiographical act, the fulfiller of the 'contract' of selfhood (or 'signature' as Jacques Derrida would have it)."86

This central role played by disciples in completing the "self of the teacher, as well as in the mechanics of making that self narratively available, also obtain in the more general case of religious biographies of Tibetan Buddhist teachers. Indeed, inasmuch as biography is understood as a genre in which the lifestories are written by individuals other than their protagonists, the disciples tend to be involved in an even more explicit way in composing the teacher's narrated "self." As in autobiography, disciples tend to be 85

Gyatso 1992: 469.


Gyatso 1992:469.

involved at a similarly intertwined level of audience and author, although certainly there are examples of people who were not personal disciples of a given teacher composing biographies, and immediate disciples do not form the only intended audience of textual accounts of teachers' lives. Nevertheless, so significant is the role of the disciples that we can re-work a Buddhist trope, and say that it is on many levels the "needs" of the disciples that produce the remembered self of a teacher in religious biography.

This production of the teacher's narrated self occurs in Tibetan religious biography at two distinct though intimately related levels, in keeping with the two main (interrelated) aspects of what we can call the disciples' needs, and in keeping with the two main functions of religious biography in Tibet. Let us call these two levels the "inspirational/pedagogical," and the "lineage-building" or "community-building."87 The inspirational level may be the easiest to observe, as it is often mentioned directly in the course of a biography, and it is the explicit starting point of both biographical and autobiographical accounts. Taking the Tibetan word rnam thar (which can in fact refer on

both to biographical and autobiographical materials, ) in its specific meaning of "individual liberation [story]," a major and often directly-avowed purpose of such a story is to inspire, encourage and instruct the audience, as Gyatso notes.89 As a result of this pedagogic and inspirational goal, the self of the teacher that is presented in biographical accounts is, as in autobiography, first and foremost that of exemplary role model, 87

Gyatso uses these terms, though her characterization emphasizes slightly different elements.


Gyatso 1992:469.


See Gyatso 1998; Willis 1985; Jackson 2003.

(although the parameters of behavior this implies are not necessarily fixed). Of course, as we have noted, biographies of religious teachers are written not only to inspire, but also to define and establish a teacher's legacy.90 Thus the self of the teacher that is presented is a dual self, one not only exemplary but also charismatic. Biographies articulate a remembered and memorialized self of the teacher that defines his or her reputation. This reputation, or remembered and memorialized self, is what posterity will inherit, and thus the characteristics of this self have consequences at the communal level.

The communal dimensions of Tibetan Buddhist biography begin to be visible if one considers that the intended audience can include personal disciples of a teacher, succeeding generations of practitioners in the same lineage, and other people who may come in contact with the narrative within the broader community of Tibetan Buddhists and beyond.91 In significant ways, a teacher's reputation - specifically, how spiritually realized or filled with good qualities he or she is understood to have been, and how effective his or her Buddhist teaching and personal practice is thought to have been - is his or her legacy. This legacy, beyond any tangible inheritance, may be the most important one for the disciples who come after. In crucial ways, it defines who the disciples are, by defining the quality and effectiveness of the teachers within the lineage of which they are a part.

See Gyatso's discussion of this dimension in her 1998 study of Jigme Lingpa. 91

For discussion of the mam ihar genre as a whole see for example Willis 1985, as well as Gyatso op. cit.

71 Religious biographies, in the sense of both textual and oral life stories, are significant components of establishing or strengthening a given transmission or incarnation lineage, because of their role in describing a charismatic and memorable self for the teacher, one worthy of perpetuation or ongoing relationship in some form.92 Such a self is naturally defined largely in terms of the teacher's activities as a Buddhist. Gyatso notes this "Buddhistic" dimension of lifewriting, and links it to what she terms "one of the polemical agendas of life-story writing in Tibet, namely, to assert the religious achievements of a master and his or her lineage in contrast to those of rival schools," in the context of, as she puts it, "the competitive climate of Tibetan sectarian politics."93

It is because of the role of religious biographies in defining the legacy and lineage of a given teacher, both in the competitive or sectarian sense, and more generally for the public at large, that the project of constructing the teacher's self that occurs in Tibetan religious biography is simultaneously a project of defining community. Religious biographies demarcate and help to create the identity of the synchronous community of direct disciples who surround the teacher during his or her life, and the diachronous community of disciples who are part of the lineage sequence across generations. (As might be expected, these identities, together with the memories, formal narratives and


For incarnation lineages, indeed, the decision to conduct a search for the new incarnation of a deceased teacher, and thus to begin a new, recognized sprul sku lineage, seems to be connected in large measure to the importance the deceased teacher is felt to have. This understanding of a teacher's importance is very much bound up with the way the teacher is characterized and memorialized in biography(ies) of him or her, as well as to a host of other factors ranging from the wishes and hopes of the disciples, to the political climate. The topic of incarnation arises in the case of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen, and I discuss these issues further in the last chapter. 93

Gyatso 1998: 103. Gardner makes a related point, Gardner 2006. See also Samuel 1993.

72 memorializations that shape them, change over time as well, so that the perceived identity of a given lineage, like that of individual teachers within the lineage lists, can sometimes shift.)94 We can thus see that the role of the disciple who is the author of a biographical narrative extends well beyond that of neutral recorder of events, if such a neutral role were even imagined to exist.95 The disciple/author faces an extremely important task, and his or her choices will affect the lineage itself.

The nature of this biographical task,

which falls most heavily on the shoulders of any official biographers, but which is shared by all the people who remember and recount memories of the teacher, is itself twofold: I call the two aspects of this task the work of remembrance and the work of memorialization.971 intend "remembrance" here to mean a special version of personal memory, in which the individual memories have been stabilized and ordered into a narrative. One's personal memories of one's teacher have become a familiar story one

Various examples of this exist; one might think for instance of the development of Tsong Khapa's (now quite solid) memorialized identity as the 'founder' of the Gelukpa tradition, itself perceived as a separate entity distinct from other Tibetan traditions; during Tsong Khapa's lifetime and shortly after, while he was already revered as a great master, he and his teachings were not clearly seen as breaking new ground. See Ary 2007. 95

On a more general level of course, the lack of neutrality, and the difficulty of 'simply recording,' applies for all biographical projects, regardless of cultural context. (Indeed, arguably, the view of biographer-as-recorder is a deeply naive one that in fact obtains nowhere, and is rooted in a naively European Enlightenment view of history, such as that so effectively critiqued by historians including Hayden White). Recent reflections on the problems of writing biography in English compare the experience to being "haunted" by the self of the subject one is writing about; see for instance Richard Holmes' fascinating Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (1985), or Simon Schama's Dead Certainties (UnwarrantedSpeculations) (1991). 96

In fact, the model of the neutral recorder is not necessarily the desired authorial archetype at all in this cultural context, although I will discuss the degree to which Khunu Lama's main biographer is unusually concerned with playing that role, or at least with making gestures toward doing so. Hagiography, indeed, may at certain junctures more properly be the comparative term of choice with which to engage rnam thar (although see Willis 1985, Jacoby 2006, and Gyatso 1992, 1998 on this point). 97

Important studies of memory, both in Buddhist and in biographical contexts, in addition to the works cited elsewhere in this essay, include: Gyatso 1992; Dreyfus 2003, especially chapters 6 and 7; Faure 1991; Kapstein 2000; Halbwachs 1992.


tells to oneself, and possibly to others. Memories become remembrance in this sense when a person who has had direct knowledge of a teacher reaffirms to themselves, and to others, which details are the salient details of the teacher's life and qualities, and they do so with some consistency. Remembrances differ from memories in that remembrances involve repeated retelling of a particular version of events, and employ a process of selection; they have a more formal, narrative quality than first-order memory does, and they involve some element of direction and choosing on the part of the rememberer. In fact, we could say that a person transforming the raw material of their memories into remembrances performs the activity of biographical composition at an individual and personal level, sorting out episodes and experiences of their teacher meaningful to them, and ordering these into a coherent work of memory. This they may then not only savor themselves, for example in the context of their practice of guru-devotion, but in addition they are likely also to pass on their remembrances of the teacher to others, including in the context of oral interviews for a project such as the one involved for this essay.

This fact should of course remind us that even in cases where oral histories from living participants in events are used in the compilation of a life story, as in this essay, a prior work of biography, of narrativization, may well have already taken place internally, before the people interviewed even begin to speak. This issue is more subtle even than obvious issues of bias or opinion, and has to do with the identity of the self of the teacher that is being remembered, aspects of which may have already been "decided" (consciously or not) by the remembering disciple. Thus the work of remembrance is a personal and individual dimension of the communal work of biography that disciples and

more peripheral community members engage in, in particular after the death of a master. Such remembrance, moreover, in part because of its resonance with practices of gurudevotion, and in part because of its role in affecting shared, common ideas about a teacher, contributes to the identity and vitality of a given lineage, even while having a strongly personal quality. Memorialization, on the other hand, is the more explicitly communal dimension of the biographical process. It is the process of defining and perpetuating the reputation of the teacher. As such, it is also a process of communitybuilding around the validity of the lineage, since that validity derives from establishing the religious authority and authenticity of each successive teacher within the lineage sequence. Memorialization, building on the sum total of individual remembrances (and with more powerful voices often dominating) creates what might be called the "official story" about a teacher's life and accomplishments. Such memorialization is often most powerful and most obvious in the case of textual presentations of biographies, but it is also at work when particular, preferred stories of a teacher's life are orally circulated. (We also see processes of memorialization operating in other, non-narrative forms, such as in eulogies and supplication prayers, and even in physical markers, such as visual representations of lineage figures.)

Although I have defined remembrance as more personal, and memorialization as communal, it would also be correct to say that remembrance itself can be in part a communal project. This is true on the one hand in terms of dissemination as noted above, inasmuch as the collected remembrances of individual disciples can be incorporated into textual biographies that circulate within the community (as in the case of Khunu Lama's

rnam thar). It is also true in the sense that readers of rnam thar may construct a kind of second-order remembrance of a teacher, based on what they have read (or on stories they have heard), deriving their own remembrances from what is in fact a communally constructed work of memorialization. People may then carry a remembrance of the teacher derived from the biography and from common knowledge of the teacher's reputation that they find personal and valuable to them. This can happen partly because, in a sense, anyone who reads a rnam thar account is drawn in to a disciple-like relation with the teacher who is the subject, at least temporarily. Thus the work of the biography in constituting a teacher's reputation is a work of attracting disciples, including posthumous ones. The community of disciples can expand not only via the subsequent transmissions of the teacher's teachings by his or her spiritual heirs, but also (in a different and less intimate way) via the impression or connection made on people by the lifestory - oral remembrances, written rnam thar, etc. — in its many forms.

Neither my characterization of remembrance or my characterization of memorialization should be interpreted as assertions that oral or textual presentations of teachers lives are homogenous, or centrally organized by powerful figures within a given lineage (although this may occur, and certainly important people sometimes commission the writing of rnam thar) Often there is considerable diversity and indeed contradiction among the textual and oral variants of teachers' biographies that circulate. Moreover, as Willis and others have described, the genre of rnam thar in Tibet traditionally encompasses three levels of narrative, the outer, the inner and the secret. These three layers of narrative concerning a single master may not entirely agree: they may emphasize different

elements; most obviously, the outer mam thar will generally omit details that the inner or secret ones include. But in each of these rnam thar levels, and within each strand of the circulating oral narratives of a teacher's life, the processes of remembrance and memorialization are operating. This means that the way in which the teacher's life story is constructed and understood is both a communal process, and a process of communityconstitution as described, community here being specifically the community of the lineage (even if not all who encounter the narratives locate themselves within that lineage). Consideration of this communal and community-constituting dimension urges us to recognize the nature of the stake the disciples have in the kind of self their teacher is remembered as having, thereby suggesting a carefully nuanced reading of the material. When we turn to consideration of Khunu Lama's death and funeral, we will see with particular clarity how complicated and challenging this may be.

For certainly, both remembrance and memorialization can be contested, just as both can involve processes of repression, willed forgetting, the exclusion of some kinds of voices, and similar processes. The ground of contestation may range from overtly political or economic concerns relating to the tangible and intangible estate of a powerful and wealthy figure (the labrang), to questions of the interpretation or attribution of controversial texts and views, as in the case of Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen, for instance, or Gendun Chophel more recently. Or contestation and its resolution in the triumph of one voice over another may occur in more subtle ways, as differing memories of students are

See for instance Stearns' revealing treatment of Dolpopa (Stearns 1999), or Lopez 2006.

77 elided into a single 'official' version of who a teacher was, how he or she did things, and how he or she should be remembered. One can see several of these types of processes at work in the oral and written life-stories of Khunu Lama. There are revealing divergences, for example, between the nun disciples' oral accounts of his death and funeral, and the written mam thar account (authored by a male disciple with a senior community role). There are also more general differences between oral accounts of persons who knew him at different stages of his life and in different contexts - between those who knew him as a middle-aged literature teacher, for example, and those who knew him as a religious teacher at the very end of his life.

Moreover, the various major episodes of Khunu Lama's life and activities took place contained within geographically and culturally distinct Himalayan regions whose inhabitants may have limited direct contact with each other. As a result, those events that took place in Khams (eastern Tibet), for instance, may be virtually unknown, and their significance hard to perceive, for students who live thousands of miles away to the south in the Indian subcontinent. By the same token, Khunu Lama was and remains in many ways a foreigner in geographic Tibet, and perhaps for this reason is less well remembered there today than in India, where he played a much higher profile role, both for exiled Tibetans and for people living in the Indian Himalaya, by whom he is proudly embraced 99

as a native son.

The types of materials included, the derivation of coherence and (inspirational) meaning from the potentially fragmentary events of a human lifetime, even the decision to record a teacher's life story in writing and have it published - all these are choices that shape the remembered and

Sources for the Present Study

The sources for Khunu Rinpoche's life story partake in several ways in the general concerns found within Tibetan Buddhist life-writing, both for documenting lineage information and for managing the tension between innovation and continuity. These concerns express themselves (in different ways) across the genres in which the sources for his life may be found, which include textual and oral materials of several kinds.100 Textual materials include two editions of the rnam thar of Khunu Lama in prose and verse by the Lahauli scholar K. Angrup (Tibetan name, Ngodrup Gashawa) himself a long time student of Khunu Lama, and a fellow Himalayan, who hails from the valley of Lahaul, not far from Kinnaur. The first rnam thar edition, Khu nu rinpo che'i rnam thar tharpa'i them skas zhes bya ba bzhugs so (hereafter rnam thar 1) was published in 1989 in a print run of 1000 copies, by the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath (CIHTS), as was the recent second edition, Khu nu rinpo che bla ma bsTan 'dzin rgyal mtshan dpal bzangpo'i mdzadrnam tharpa'i them skas, (CIHTS: Sarnath. 2005, a limited edition of 550 copies. Hereafter all my references to the rnam thar are to this text,

memorialized self of the teacher, and thus the teacher's legacy. Indeed, what one may think of as the "reception history" of a teacher's biography - in the twentieth century context of Khunu Lama's rnam thar, this could include purchases of the book, its readership, and the uses made of it - is also the history of the development of the teacher's legacy. The moments of the book's reception are also components of determining how the contemporary Tibetan Buddhist community(ies) view Khunu Lama. See Appendix for discussion.

A full listing of sources appears in the Bibliography.

except where specifically noted.) Textual sources also include a highly informative biographical essay by the Tibetan Buddhist religious teacher, scholar and encyclopedia author Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche's (Mkhas btsun Bzang po Rin po che, also a direct student of Khunu Lama), based on his personal interview with Khunu Lama in 1974, entitled Khu nu bla ma rinpo che'i rnampar tharpa nyid kyi zhalgsungs ma (undated), as well as a handful of shorter magazine articles and memorial essays by K. Angrup and others. Information about Khunu Lama's activities can further be mined from institutional histories of places he visited, such as that of the Lhasa Astronomical and Medical Institute, or Dzogchen Monastery in Khams, for example,101 as well as found in passing in the biographies of other contemporary individuals.102

My main oral sources for this project are the 75 recorded interviews in Tibetan and English I conducted with Khunu Rinpoche's students, colleagues and friends between 2003 and 2007, in Tibet, Nepal, India, the Indian Himalayan region, Europe and the United States, including with his Tibetan-language biographers K. Angrup and Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche. The persons I interviewed knew Khunu Lama in various capacities and at different stages in his life, some quite intimately, some only at a distance. They include monks and nuns, lay disciples, and wealthy patrons; people who studied Tibetan and Sanskrit literary and grammatical topics with him; people who received religious

See Byams pa Phrin las 2000 and Bstan 'dzin Kun bzang Lung rtog bstan pa'i Nyima 2004. A full list of all textual and oral sources is provided in the Bibliography and Appendix. 102

For instance, the recent rnam thar of the important twentieth century Drikung Kagyu master Amgon Rinpoche, rGya mtsho, 'Bri gung dKon mchog. 2004 'Bri gung Grub dbang A mGon Rin po che'i rNam thar.

teachings; devoted long-time disciples and more casual acquaintances. In terms of cultural/ethnic background, interviewees hailed from many regions of geographic Tibet, Ladakh, Kinnaur, Sikkim, and other parts of the Himalayan region, Nepal and India, as well as five western students of Khunu Lama.

In addition to the interviews I conducted personally, I have benefited from two exceptional resources. The first is a recorded interview with Khunu Lama himself, conducted by the Tibetan scholar and Buddhist teacher Lama Kunga and a group of American students of Buddhism in the early 1970s, near the end of Khunu Lama's life. (A copy of the cassette tape of this interview was generously provided to me by Gen Lobsang Jamspal.) This interview offers a tantalizing, fragmentary contact with Khunu Lama in his own words, although unfortunately the recording itself is difficult to hear in places, mixing ambient street noise with the physical degradation of the cassettes over the intervening forty years since the tape was made. Moreover, perhaps contrary to expectations, this recorded interview does not function as any kind of ur-text of Khunu Lama's life, in the sense of trumping all other interpretations. On the contrary, Khunu Lama himself is extremely brief, almost telegraphic, in his replies to questions about his movements, teachers and activities. Thus in fact, the oral recollections of surviving students and friends, and in some cases the mam thar and Khetsun Sangpo's textual

A full list of all interviewees, together with a brief introduction of each person is presented in Appendix. In the process of collecting these interviews, I lived in Tibet and India for two years (2004, 2005), as well as during three summers (2001, 2002, 2006), and was able to travel to virtually every major site of activity for Khunu Lama's life, in eastern, central and western Tibet, the Himalayan region, and India.

accounts as well, often offer the greatest detail about Khunu Lama's life, based as they are on earlier and more detailed questioning by close disciples.

The second exceptional source is a work based upon unique oral histories that provides considerable background on the very end of Khunu Lama's life. This is the unpublished doctoral dissertation of Linda LaMacchia, on the lives and music of Kinnauri nuns. Several of the nuns LaMacchia interviewed were among the group of Kinnauri nuns who became Khunu Lama's disciples in his last years and were with him when he died. LaMacchia's presentation of their transcribed accounts is invaluable, in particular because several of these women have died or are otherwise inaccessible now.1041 have made use of this source in several places for events that happened in Kinnaur, and most especially for treating the narratives of Khunu Lama's death from the point of view of the nuns who were present.

The mam thar and associated textual sources like the magazine articles were often cited by people I interviewed as the authoritative accounts of the lifestory. Yet these texts are themselves often incomplete or limited in certain ways. This bears mention, since scholars working in western academic settings have often, and until very recently, tended to assume that textual materials are the most reliable and useful. After all, once a print run of a published text is issued, within a given edition the 'story' appears fixed in a way 104

Dr. Lamacchia, like other scholars involved in Himalayan research and in projects connected to Khunu Lama's life, has been extremely generous in sharing her research, for which I am very grateful.

that oral accounts do not, however multi-layered or polysemic readers may find the material within the text to be. Moreover, there has been a disciplinary preference within the realms of Buddhist studies and Tibetology, as in the study of religion more generally, for a textually-based approach (resulting in large part from the origin of these fields in connection with the early European study of philology, linguistics and 'Oriental languages'), although this has begun to give way in recent years.

Yet in Khunu Lama's case, the rnam thar accounts, rich, engaging and valuable as they are, nevertheless are at best only partial records of his activities. The rnam thar texts themselves have been subject to authorial revision - a strength, rather than a weakness, and a rather unusual feature, to which I shall return - but a fact that underlies the contingent quality of the narrative. Some details of certain episodes are contradicted by other materials and in particular by oral accounts. Some important periods and topics are simply not covered at all. Throughout the rnam thar, as one would expect, the choices and priorities of the narrator shape the dimensions of the material. Therefore, although I discuss the textual sources extensively in what follows, and I give the main rnam thar account some priority in organizing the chronology and sequence of the lifestory, I do so because of the role the rnam thar plays for the community that remembers Khunu Lama as a conceptually authoritative source, and not because its authority is never called into question or contradicted by my other research.105

The full text of my translation of the rnam thar appears in the Appendix.


There are a handful of previous Western language treatments of Khunu Rinpoche's life, of varying length and detail. They are Manshardt 2004 (a biographical introduction to the German translation of Khunu Rinpoche's famous poems on bodhicitta); Sparham 1999 (a biographical introduction to the English translation of these poems); Dodin 1997 (a short biographical essay written on the basis of an oral interview with a Kinnauri scholar, Snagngak Tenzin, who was a personal student of Khunu Lama); Angrup and Lall 1987 (a brief memorial summary of Khunu Rinpoche's activities published in English in the Tibetan Review ten years after his death, by the mam ihar author, together with the son of the aforementioned Sangngak Tenzin, the son being himself also a scholar and student of Khunu Lama). These western-language presentations themselves rely upon a combination of the first prose and verse mam thar editions by K. Angrup, on the biographical summary by Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche, and on oral accounts, a number of which are from the same individuals whom I also interviewed.

Western language studies of other contemporaneous Tibetan people and developments have also yielded much vital information. These include David Jackson's monumental 2003 biography of Dezhung Rinpoche,107Jackson's unpublished interview notes from his forthcoming biography of Chogye Trichen Rinpoche (himself also a personal student of Khunu Lama), and Manshardt's fascinating, as yet unpublished biographical essay about

The authors of these works have been exceptionally generous in sharing and discussing their research with me. This project, which has benefited from the pioneering studies that have come before, attempts to synthesize and integrate the material from these studies with my own original research. Jackson 2003.

the Drikung Khandroma Sherab Tharchin, otherwise known as Neni Rinpoche or as Am Khandro (Ne ni Rin po che Shes rab Thar phyin, 1927-1979), who was Khunu Lama's main female disciple and close companion in his last years.108

The sources are nevertheless limited in several ways. In particular, certain periods of Khunu Lama's travels are difficult to learn about, because he traveled alone and did not always record his activities. Khunu Lama did keep a diary during the year 1959/1960, in which he composed his first drafts of the verses on bodhicitta that would become his most famous published work. However, this diary has never been edited or published, though it is available to me (in a somewhat difficult to read Xeroxed form); at the time of this writing, no diaries for other years have surfaced. Khunu Lama never published an autobiography, although he did several times agree to record oral interviews with various people, mainly his students, and I have been able to draw upon some of these. In general, however, the lack of an extensive and accessible autobiographical record; the protean nature of the sources that are available; the fact that important sources are oral as well as textual; that sources are sometimes contradictory; and that each source is, to different degrees, heavily invested in specific ways of remembering Khunu Lama — all of these factors shape the kind of multivocal yet partial narrative that emerges.

While the Drikung Khandro's life unfortunately has not become the subject of a Tibetanlanguage rnam thar thus far, her students and friends have preserved some information about her. Happily, the German scholar Jurgen Manshardt (author of the German translation of Khunu Lama's bodhicitta poems) has assembled information about her life into a German-language biography, which he very graciously shared. In general, the kindness of these fellow scholars has been outstanding, and crucial to this project.

In response to this, I do not simply attempt to create the most thorough reconstruction of Khunu Lama's intellectual biography possible at the present time, although that is an important part of the purpose of this project. But in addition, I also consider the ways in which narratives of teachers' lives are built up, memorialized, and transmitted to new generations, both shaping who a teacher such as Khunu Lama is understood to be, and determining how those who remember him choose to see themselves.

The Events of The Life

With the forgoing in mind, we can now turn to Khunu Lama's life story itself. As we have noted, Tibetan biographical literature often traditionally presents multiple renditions of teachers' lives, in brief, middling and long versions, as well presenting different kinds of material in outer, inner and secret biographies.109 The combined narrative that follows here may be thought of accordingly as a "mid-length version," from which a number of details and anecdotes have been omitted for reasons of brevity, and because they will only be of interest to specialists (many of these details may be found in the Appendices). It is most certainly an "outer biography," since many mysteries and secrets of Khunu Lama's life and activity remain undisclosed (secrets likewise undisclosed to me). This narrative, compiled from the mam thar and other textual sources combined with oral accounts, highlights in particular the concerns with which I began this essay: Namely, I attempt to tease out of the sometimes elusive material clues that reveal patterns of innovation and independence in Khunu Lama's life, as well as a sense of his investment and embeddedness in tradition. In asking what his life story can tell us about the dynamics of modernity and tradition in Tibetan Buddhist culture, this account explores the kinds of processes that may have enabled, or at least permitted, the independence and innovation that we find. Because, as we have seen, the lives of Tibetan Buddhist figures

In Tibetan, these are the phyi 'i mam thar, nang gi mam thar, gsang ba 'i rnam thar, respectively. For discussion of these terms see Willis 1995.

are memorialized, narrated and shared in the communal context of the lineage, and the broader public in a sense takes its cues from the memories of the lineage, this treatment of Khunu Lama's life also investigates how the narratives and recollections of his life written and told by those who knew him handle the moments of independence and creativity that arise, both in their creative aspects, and in their possibily disruptive implications.

Chapter Three The Life Story of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen, Part I

Home and Leaving Home

In the year 1914, while the continent of Europe was in the process of collapsing into war,110 a tall young man of nineteen left the small village in Kinnaur in the Indian Himalaya where he was born, traveling on foot.111 He began to walk through the neighboring Himalayan regions of Spiti and Garzha, down toward the Kullu Valley, in what is today the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. In the words of the rnam thar, the young man had "nothing more than 8 rupees for his subsistence and travel expenses[.W]ithout even any suitable boots to put on his feet, he abandoned his homeland for the sake of the Dharma."112


I here follow the lead of Manshardt 2004, who reminds his readers that as Khunu Rinpoche left home, across the world World War I was just beginning. The contrast that Manshardt implicitly points out is an instructive one; Khunu Lama's life took place in a century marked by momentous events, which seem on the surface to be far from the regions in which the events of his life occurred, yet which nevertheless had repercussions for the societies in which he lived. On the other hand, see Lopez 2006, in which he juxtaposes the dramatic events of the 1930s in Europe and the United States with Gendun Chophel's article attempting to persuade Tibetans that the earth is not flat; Lopez's point in that juxtaposition appears to be the remoteness of Tibetan and western concerns from one another. 111

Angrup 2005. Many sources mention the detail of Khunu Lama's height, with oral sources often noting it in the context of pointing out that his robes were often too short. 112

Angrup 2005:16. See also mKhas btsun bzang po Rinpoche, Khu nu bla ma rinpo che'i rnam par thar pa nyid kyi zhal gsungs ma bzhugs so, p. 2a.


The young man's name was Tenzin Gyaltsen (sTan 'dzin rGyal mtshan). Later, he would come to be known respectfully by many Tibetan speakers as Khunu Lama (Khu nu bLa ma) or Khunu Rinpoche (Khu nu Rin po che), in honor of his learning and spiritual accomplishments, and in acknowledgement of his origins in Kinnaur, or Khunu (Khu nu) in Tibetan. He would have other names as well, in different places, the names often reflecting something about how he appeared to people in different regions of the IndoTibetan world. For people in the western Himalaya, in Kinnaur and nearby, he is most often remembered as Negi Lama or Negi Rinpoche, the lama of the Negi castegroup/family.113 In central Tibet, where the Kinnauri caste/ household name of Negi presumably provided little relevant information, the name Khunu Lama stuck. This name seems to have followed him back to India, where Khunu Lama spent the later part of his life and where he maintained his connections to central Tibetan people and institutions, as many Tibetans came into their post-1959 Indian exile. By contrast, in the eastern Tibetan areas of Kham and Amdo, where Tenzin Gyaltsen traveled, studied and taught for a decade and a half in the nineteen-twenties and nineteen-thirties, he was rarely known as Khunu Lama. More often he was called Gya Lama (rgya bla ma) - the "Indian lama" - or sometimes, Dra Lama (sgra bla ma) - the "Sanskrit/Linguistics lama," in recognition of his erudition and teaching on that topic. We may infer that Kinnaur was simply too remote from eastern Tibet, and that the distinctiveness of someone from Khunu blurred into a more generalized "Indian" identity.114 Conversely, in the Hindu ashram in Varanasi


For discussion of the name Negi in Kinnaur, where it is the name shared by upper-caste Rajputs, see Angrup 2005(the mam thar); LaMacchia 2001; Tiwari. 114

More complicatedly, in Kham, Khunu Lama was also known as an "atsara" - the Tibetan pronunciation of the Sanskrit term acarya. (Gyumed Khenpo Tuthob interview 2005, Jackson 2003:). This term astsara / acarya is quite complex. It is a respectful scholarly epithet in the Indie

where he spent many years in the second half of his life, he is remembered as "Bhot Baba," Bhot being the Hindi word for Tibet (presumably from the Tibetan word for Tibet, Bod).115 Seemingly, in Varanasi the specificity of Kinnaur was again elided (in the opposite direction), into a more general Tibetan-ness.

As already briefly hinted in the previous chapter, and as this list of names and places would suggest, Tenzin Gyaltsen's youthful departure from Kinnaur in 1914 would prove to be only the beginning of a long life of traveling "for the sake of the Dharma," a life that would take him throughout the Himalayan region, across Tibet, and ultimately all over the Indian subcontinent. His travels would eventually bring him into contact with rural villagers, Buddhist scholars, hidden meditator hermits, Hindu ascetics, Himalayan royalty, and some of the most renowned figures of Tibetan Buddhism in the twentieth century, most famously the Fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet. As described in the previous sections, Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen would become an influential figure in Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist intellectual and religious life, teaching two generations of monks, nuns, lay practitioners and scholars across Tibet and India, including foreigners

context (many Indian institutions of traditional learning offer an acarya degree, for example); but in Tibet, the term atsara and the figure of the atsara in cham religious performance and in ache lhamo (Tibetan opera) has a very mixed valence. Atsaras are figures of auspiciousness in drama, but they are also figures of fun, quasi-clowns in many cases. The epithet atsara is often rendered as "Indian beggar" (Tib. rgya gyar gyi sprang) with the term "beggar" carrying both the unpleasant connotations of poverty and dirt that the English word conveys, while also being a common term for modest self-reference on the part of highly literate widely venerated Tibetan Buddhist authors. I discuss these terms and their important range of implications more fully later in Chapter Six. 115

For discussion of the term "Bhot" and the related Anglicized terms Bhotia and Bhotian, see Schneiderman and Turin in the volume Tibetan Borderlands, Klieger ed., Brill 2006.1 discuss these issues of identity repeatedly in what follows.

91 and many individuals now living outside Asia. And yet, this early image of him — traveling alone, simply, on foot, with minimal possessions of any kind, pursuing Buddhist learning and practice - apparently remained characteristic of him through out his life, and is at the core of how he continues to be remembered, as oral accounts widely attest.116

Like the oral accounts, the written mam thar too emphasizes the importance of this early home departure within Tenzin Gyaltsen's life story, via a number of literary flourishes, presenting the departure in such a way as to draw out multiple elements of the episode's significance. The text builds up to the moment of departure gradually, however, first discussing (as is standard in the mam thar genre) the qualities of the Kinnaur Valley where Khunu Lama was born, Khunu Lama's own family background, his early interest in Buddhism and the beginnings of his Buddhist education. Let us follow the mam thar's lead in this, and consider the place and social world into which Khunu Lama was born, which seems to have shaped aspects of his adult identity in several ways.

The future Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen was born in the Kinnauri village of Sumnam (gsung gnam) in 1895.117 Kinnaur is a Himalayan valley region at the border between

The almost universal mention of Khunu Lama's wandering, renunciant persona in the interviews makes them too numerous to cite in full here; literally every person whom I interviewed who was not sure I had understood this basic fact about Khunu Lama took pains to explain it to me again. 117

Angrup 2005:8-9; K. Angrup interview, 2004. See also Dodin 1997:94, n.8, 9. As described in the Appendix chronology, the earlier edition of K. Angrup's mam thar (Angrup 1989) gave Khunu Rinpoche's birth year as 1894, the date also given in Dodin, but this date appears to be incorrect. The date of 1895 was provided by Khunu Rinpoche to Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche in

92 India and Tibet, presently part of Himachal Pradesh state in northern India.118 It is a fertile area of deep interlocking river valleys, filled with terraced fields and orchards set between steep slopes, with white peaks of snow mountains jutting into the sky in the background. Due to the steepness of the mountainsides and the height of the passes leading in and out of the area, there are very few roads even today, and it is hard to enter and leave the valley during several seasons of the year. Perhaps as a result of its relative geographic isolation, Kinnaur is distinctive in aspects of dress, culture and language from the nearby areas of the Indian Himalaya, such as Ladakh, Tabo, Spiti and Lahaul, although at the same time there are many cultural ties and interconnections.119

their 1973 interview, which Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche published in an undated woodblock print. K. Angrup has used this interview as the basis for the chronology of the current 2005 rnam thar edition. This affects the dates given here and in Angrup 2005 for several subsequent life events. However, David Jackson reports that on several occasions, the Tibetan scholar Dezhung Rinpoche (who was one of Khunu Lama's students, and a formidable scholar in his own right) gave 1896 as the correct date of his birth. (D. Jackson, personal communication, 2006.) See Appendices and footnotes that follow for discussion of the chronological issues. 118

There are few studies of the Kinnaur area, culture and language, and of those that exist, many are marked by various limitations or inaccuracies. However, the following are valuable resources: LaMacchia 2001, Sankrityayan 1956, Tiwari 2001; Bajpai 1991; Indian Census 1971 Series 1 Language Monograph 3 Survey ofKanauri in Himachal Pradesh; Bray 2005 b,c, 1992; PIATS 2000: Territory and Identity in Tibet and the Himalayas, ed. Buffetrille and Diemberger, Brill and PIATS 2003: Tibetan Borderlands, Klieger, ed. See also Klimberg-Salter 2000 (PIATS 2000: Buddhist Art and Tibetan Patronage Ninth to Fourteenth Centuries, ed. Klimburg and Allinger, p. 1-28). 119

Existing studies of Kinnauri language are few in number, and quite limited. A full linguistic analysis remains to be done. Even the term "Kinnauri language" is highly problematic; there are multiple language groups in the valley, and the question of whether the situation represents multiple languages or dialects is imperfectly established. Some resources that do exist include: Indian Census 1971 number 3 Survey ofKanauri, which addresses the question of the relationship between Kinnauri language groups and the Tibeto-Burman language family; LaPolla. Bajpai 1991. The significant work of Sara Shneiderman and Mark Turin on Himalayan languages in Nepal offers extremely revealing parallels with Kinnauri language (and culture). See for instance their "Thangmi, Thami, Thani?" published electronically on the THDL website (May 18, 2005). A sense of the kinds of difficulties that plague the field of Kinnauri linguistics may be found in Sharma 1988, which argues that Kinnauri is "a curious amalgam of the linguistic elements of three major language families (viz. Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic)"


The most obvious commonality for outsiders is the shared religious and literary heritage of Tibetan Buddhism, which especially characterizes the top half of the Kinnaur Valley, Upper Kinnaur (Khu nu stod), the area closest to Tibet. Like much of the Indian Himalayan area, Kinnaur is also home to complex religious dynamics, in which Tibetan Buddhism, traditional practices relating specifically to local deities, and various forms of Indian religion that may be loosely grouped together as "Hindu" all coexist, and often intermingle in the religious lives of individuals, families and villages. Each strand among these various forms of practice has its own (shifting) cultural valence, and the relative status and prominence of each of these components varies by historical period and specific community.120 In Kinnaur, these socio-religious patterns follow a roughly geographic mapping, in which the upper part of the valley (Khu nu stod) is primarily

(Sharma 1988:v). One of the great losses of recent years was the tragic and untimely death of the emerging scholar of Himalayan societies, Julian Greene, in the summer of 2006 in eastern Tibet. Julian's research in the linguistics of Himalayan languages, Kinnauri in particular, would have revolutionized this woefully understudied area. This current project, like so many others, is indebted to Julian, for wise suggestions, travel advice, introductions to Kinnauri scholars, and general encouragement. I am also indebted to Jim Matisoff, the leading eminence in TibetoBurman linguistics, for his helpful suggestions. (Matisoff, personal communication). 120

Isabelle Riaboff s fascinating article "The Bod of Kabon (Jammu and Kashmir, India) How to be a Buddhist in a Hindu Land?" documents a process of "Buddhicization" in the Kabon valley at the end of the twentieth century, in which villagers identify Buddhism as "Tibetan" and higher status, and speak of wishing to separate themselves from "Indian" and "Hindu" practices and associations. While Riaboff explicitly does not generalize from her data, she briefly touches on the situation of Kinnaur, Lahaul and other nearby valleys. (PIATS 2000: Territory and Identity in Tibet and the Himalayas, ed. Buffetrille and Diemberger, pp324-340). On the other hand, the recent research of Toni Huber and others in Himalayan regions such as Assam calls into question any notion of a consistent or universal pattern of "Tibetanization" or "Buddhicization" among peoples of the Himalayan regions adjoining Tibet. (Toni Huber, paper presented IATS 2006.) See also the important volume PIATS 2003: Tibetan Borderlands, Klieger, ed. Shneiderman's work on the Thangmi of Nepal is extremely revealing, offering a number of parallels with the Kinnauri case. Shneiderman 2002 (in Territory and Identity in Tibet and the Himalayas), Shneiderman and Turin 2000. See also Shneiderman 2006 (in Tibetan Borderlands).

Buddhist, and more closely tied to Tibetan culture and language, while "Lower Kinnaur" (Kinnaur smad) reveals a more complex and Indian-identified religious situation, with far fewer Buddhist practitioners and institutions. Of those Kinnauris who are Tibetan Buddhists, there is a mix of affiliations among the Tibetan Buddhist schools, with Drukpa Kagyu, Nyingma, and Gelugpa institutions active in the area, while Sakya connections are apparently no longer part of the valley's make-up.121 Affiliations tend to be local in character, with entire individual villages often being oriented toward a specific tradition.122

Despite the fact that travel to the region is difficult, Kinnaur nevertheless turns out on closer inspection to defy the stereotype of the isolated Himalayan valley devoid of influences from the world around it. Indeed, Himalayan communities in general are linked to each other and to other places far away, through trade, religious relationships between teachers and students, and by pilgrimage travel.123 Kinnaur has historically been involved in reciprocal trade networks that have connected it economically and socially with Tibet, Ladakh, Nepal, and with lower-altitude areas of India.124 Fruit, grain and other lower-altitude agricultural products from Kinnaur, as well as Indian jewelry, leatherwork, and cloth traveled north into Tibet. Tibetan exports such as borax, tea, salt,


According to Dung dkar Rinpoche 2002, Khunu previously included people and institutions with Sakya ties, but these have now become Gelukpa. Tethong Rakra Rinpoche (interview 2006) also mentions this point. 122

LaMacchia 2001.


See Pitkin 2004. LaMacchia makes a similar point in particular vis a vis Kinnauri nuns. LaMacchia 2001:222. See Bray 1992:370.

95 butter, wool and Tibetan medicinal products in turn were brought south.125 Such trading patterns mean that while there might be many villagers who never or rarely left their home area, there were also many individuals, some in nearly every family, who had regular contact with neighboring societies. Tenzin Gyaltsen's family fit this pattern, combining farming with trips to nearby regions by men in the family for business and trade. More recently in Kinnauri history, European Christian missionaries, Moravians in particular, visited the Kinnaur Valley, as did European scholars of Tibetan language and culture, who found Kinnaur more accessible than Tibet proper, and warmer than Ladakh, that other popular substitute for Tibet.

In addition to the regular movements of traders and the presence of foreign missionaries, the valley was also linked to the broader region, and especially to Tibet, by important and long-standing educational networks. These networks brought enterprising Kinnauri Buddhists up to Tibet to study, either at one of the major monastic university centers, or directly with a particularly charismatic individual teacher. Many of these Kinnauri students ultimately returned home, where they taught others, thus creating another avenue for Kinnauris to hear about and have some knowledge of other places.127 Thus, taken as a


Bray 1992:370; Rizvi 2005:309-310; Fewkes and Khan 2005. See also Himmendorf, and the work-in-progress of Harris. 126

See for instance Francke 1914, 1926; Marczell 2005(a), (b); Bray 1992, 2005(b); Heyde 2005; PIATS 2000: Territory and Identity in Tibet and the Himalayas, ed. Buffetrille and Diemberger. Dodin also comments on Kinnaur's historical location along an important India-Tibet trade route, and notes the shift of this trade to Sikkim and Kalimpong, a point of interest in view of the subsequent travels of Khunu Lama. (Dodin 95, n.9.) 127

These travels for the sake of learning were interestingly not limited to men, although the vast majority of such students were indeed male. Nevertheless, Kinnauri nuns have also made trips to

whole, the Kinnaur Valley into which Tenzin Gyaltsen was born had important ties to both Tibet and India, and to neighboring Himalayan regions, although it was distinct from them in language, history and many customs. It was not an utterly isolated region, but rather a place in which a boy growing up in a small, remote village might hear reports of other places, and come into contact with ideas and people formed by a diverse mix of regional connections and identities.

Tenzin Gyaltsen himself, as such a boy, did indeed have such contacts and experiences, both within his own family and with his early teachers. These experiences seem to have informed some of the early choices he made, perhaps encouraging him toward a path rather different from most of his neighbors and age mates. He was a middle child, sandwiched between two brothers, and with one sister, Dunku (Dung sku).128 Tenzin Gyaltsen's older brother, Dondub Gyaltsan (Don grub rgyal mtshan) grew up to look after the family farm and household,129 and seems to have also been involved in business of some kind,130 while his younger brother, Dondrup Tenzin (Don grub bstan 'dzin) became a wool trader, bringing wool from Western Tibet and selling it in the Indian markets to the south,131 probably in Ramapur.132 The children's father, Kalanpur (Ka Ian

Tibet to study Buddhism, though often without the family or institutional support that male students received. (LaMacchia 2001.) 128

Little information is available about Khunu Lama's sister; the rnam thar mentions only that, like his parents and uncle, she died while he was away studying in Tibet, {rnam thar.26.) 129

K. Angrup and S. Lall 1987:15.


Angrup 2005:16 describes him as having made loans in the Kullu Valley to the south of Kinnaur. 131

K. Angrup and S. Lall 1987:15.

pur), and their mother, Norgyi (Nor skyid), were both devout Buddhists,

their father's

family being Nyingma and their mother's being Drukpa Kagyu.134 Although as noted, many Kinnauris, in particular in the lower part of the valley, blend Buddhist and Hindu practice, K. Angrup stresses in the mam thar that this was never the case in the young Tenzin Gyaltsen's family, his parents being purely Buddhist.135 Indeed, according to Angrup, Tenzin Gyaltsen's "grandfather was a devout Buddhist who had travelled to Tibet and had built a temple [in Kinnaur] known as Labrang Temple," which is now associated with Khunu Rinpoche Tenzin Gyaltsen.136

The mam thar, based as it is in large part on interviews done by Angrup with Khunu Lama during the latter's lifetime, and with people who knew him shortly after his death, supplies the best picture we have of Khunu Lama's childhood and early studies, as few people alive today know very many details about this early time. Consistent with the narrative pattern generally found in mam thar accounts of teachers' lives, the mam thar

On the well-established and important wool trade conducted by Kinnauris between Western Tibet and the Indian wool markets in Ramapur, see for instance Tiwari 2001:71, LaMacchia 2001; also Van Spengen 1992. 133

Angrup 2005:8. On the use of Hindi versus Tibetan personal names in the valley, and the frequent use of two names, see LaMacchia 2001:26, citing Chib 1984:78. 134

Ven. Gurucharan Singh Negi (Bisht), interview, April 2005.


Angrup 2005; K. Angrup interview 2004. This is certainly what one would expect the author of a Buddhist figure's life-story to assert. However, other informants additionally confirm it, as does the fact that Khunu Lama's grandfather went to Tibet and founded a Buddhist temple. Trulku Pema Wangyal also mentioned this same information, received from Khunu Lama. Interview 2004. K. Angrup and S. Lall 1987:15.

presents Tenzin Gyaltsen as specially interested in Buddhism and religious activity from early childhood, and as deeply compassionate: "As for the middle son, he is now the holy lord Lama Rinpoche himself. He had a nature that completely transcended careless, childish activities, and naturally refrained from wrongdoing. His mind always considered only the endless suffering of Samsara, and he lived in a constant state of sadness and disillusionment with Samsara. He had absolutely no interest in deliberately pursuing a worldly career, nor likewise did he have any enthusiasm for the preoccupations and business of a household. Every time he saw a poor person, or a destitute person or those with physical disabilities, the completely genuine thought "Oh! What a terrible pity!" arose in his mind. Accordingly, Lama on his own at age seven suddenly had the idea to be a Dharma practitioner himself and set out to realize his own holy nature. Therefore, having in his heart entered the door of the Dharma, he engaged in [studying] all the good qualities [of cultivation] with his own mother's brother, the lama Rasvir Das. [With Rasvir Das, Khunu Lama] established a firm footing in the science of the writing system of Tibet, the land of snows, which is the basis of expressing all names and words: the thirty consonants together with the four vowels, and the correct ways of reading, writing and spelling."137

Although Angrup suggests here that the young Tenzin Gyaltsen himself developed the wish to pursue a religious life while still a child, it is also true that when he began his studies under the guidance of his maternal uncle, Rasvir Das, a Drukpa Kagyu practitioner,138 his family was following a model common in Tibetan Buddhist societies, in which a younger child or children, especially a younger son, receives a formal religious education.139 Especially after a family's farming, herding and trading interests have been secured by other children, parents will often encourage younger children toward the religious life, both for the benefit and happiness they believe this will bring

Angrup 2005:9-10. Note that in their earlier article, Angrup and S. Lall say that Tenzin Gyaltsen was sent to live and study with his uncle at age three. K. Angrup and S. Lall 1987:15. 138

K. Angrup, Khu nu rinpo che'i rnam thar tharpa'i them skas zhes bya ba bzhugs so. Note that Kinnauris who practice Tibetan Buddhism do not necessarily have Tibetan names. The question of how Tibetan and Hindi names alternate in the valley is an interesting one for further study. 139

See Mills 2003; Drefus 2003; Ortner 1978, Childs ; this is widely reflected in my own ethnographic experience as well.

99 the child, and for the parents' own religious benefit.140 In the case of the young Tenzin Gyaltsen, his mother followed the common pattern of having her young son study with his learned Buddhist uncle, her brother.141 Poignantly however, she and the boy's father seem not to have anticipated that Buddhist study would take their son far out of the valley and away from them for most of the rest of his life (and for the rest of their own lives). The parents seem to have hoped to educate their son while keeping him nearby. Later on, when Tenzin Gyaltsen came to them as a teenager and asked their permission to travel elsewhere to study and to devote his life to Buddhism, they refused and pressed him to stay.

A complicating factor may have been that Tenzin Gyaltsen was only the second son, rather than the youngest. His parents may have planned on having him play a role in the family trading and farming economy, in which such tasks are often divided among the siblings.142 It is also the case that Kinnaur is home to many religious practitioners who

That is, through the religious benefit that will accrue to the parents from the meritorious action of having encouraged a child into religious life, as well as through the merit that child will presumably dedicate to them through the course of their religious life. I discuss aspects of this benefit to the parents below. 141

The pattern by which uncles, specifically maternal uncles, take care of their nephews is very consistent across the Himalayan region, perhaps in part reflecting a continuing closeness between adult brothers and sisters. Boys entering a monastery will generally be looked after by, and will often live with, their uncle or another older male relative at that monastery. Thus intimate family bonds connect many groups of teachers and students, in addition to the close ties of the teacherdisciple relationship itself. I discuss this in more detail in following chapters. See for instance Dreyfus 2003; Jackson 2003. Kapstein 2000 offers an analysis of the uncle-nephew (dbon-zhang) relationship as a more general (and centrally important) theme in Tibetan culture and history. Kapstein 2000: 28, 35, 41, 221 n. 77. 142

For discussion of this pattern and of Himalayan family structures in general, see Pirie 2007; Childs 2004; Mills 2003; Ortner 1978. Childs 2004:56-73 contains a fascinating in depth

have maintained their connections to household life simultaneously with their religious engagement, including both women who have chosen to live as jomos, (female religious, who may or may not be formally ordained nuns) and who, either by choice or through lack of opportunity (very often the latter), continue to live at home, as well as men who are lay lamas in tannic ngagpa traditions, or who otherwise combine religious practice with family life, as Tenzin Gyaltsen's own grandfather seems to have done.143 It is therefore possible that Tenzin Gyaltsen's parents may have imagined that he might follow a path of this kind, and so manage to mingle his religious interests with household life. However, this was not to be - as we will see, Tenzin Gyaltsen chose instead to pursue a path in which those who remember him particularly emphasize a powerful component of renunciation, specifically pursuit of a wandering lifestyle and disengagement from settled family life. This extra-household lifestyle of renunciation places Khunu Lama squarely in the mainstream of Buddhist tradition. Yet at the same time, this way of living served in various ways to enable his independence vis a vis that tradition, as we shall see.

The young Tenzin Gyaltsen's early education generally seems to have followed a quite conventional pattern, in terms of what he studied, and in terms of the kinds of teacherdiscussion of the family tensions and dynamics that can surround the desire of adolescents to become full-time Buddhist practitioners and renounce family life. 143

This is a common pattern in the Himalayas; Angrup himself, the rnam thar author, is also located within this tradition, which represents the dominant pattern in Angrup's own home valley of Lahaul. For discussion of Kinnauri nuns in general and their difficulties leaving home, see LaMacchia 2001, as well as Paula Green on Ladakhi nuns (in Osmaston and Tsering 1993); for other examples and discussions of the ngagpa model from a variety of points of view, see for instance Quids, Ortner, Samuel, Gyatso 1998, Dudjom.

101 student relationships he entered into, both with a close male relative (his aforementioned maternal uncle), and with important local figures and institutions. As the mam thar tells it, during his early studies with his uncle, Tenzin Gyaltsen "learned in appropriate stages about the teachings of the Tathagata, exactly as novice monks and nuns of monastic centers [should learn], studying the texts which are part of the system of passing on knowledge in a sequential way. First in particular, he trained in the reading and recitation of the blissful Vajracchedika that holds the spirit of enlightenment, and the abridged versions [i.e., of the Prajnaparamita Sutras].. .In order to awaken the power of his memory, his teacher set him to learn the Blade Wheel of Mind Transformation. Likewise, he engaged in orally memorizing and reciting the stages of religious practice connected with the Praise of the Twenty One Noble Taras, which is the means for clearing away all relative and ultimate obstacles and negative forces. And thus succeeding in [these trainings], he entered the gate of Dharma. Having done so, he requested the kind father [teacher] who looked after him at that time to bestow the initiation, authorization and explanation for memorizing the liturgical texts."144

Building on this typical early basis of literacy and memorization of crucial texts, Tenzin Gyaltsen continued to study with his uncle until the age of fifteen, in his uncle's village of Ropa, after which he had a brief taste of life in a local monastery:145 "After that, for a short time he entered religious life at the scholastic college of Ngari Choling, the monastery of that very place [Ropa Village]. Having done so, for about three and a half years, he studied and practiced with constant effort." At this juncture, his studies then took a new turn, extending outside the monastery, and outside the immediate family circle. He made a connection with an important local, and translocal, figure:146

Angrup 2005:10-11. For a discussion of typical curricular patterns, see Dreyfus 2003. 145 146

Angrup 2005:11.

We have no information about what led to this connection. Specifically, it is not clear how for "outside the family circle" this connection was - it is certainly more than possible that his uncle may have suggested Tenzin Gyaltsen meet Sonam Gyaltsen, or may have introduced them, although given Tenzin Gyaltsen's subsequent independent choices, it is also possible he sought out this famous teacher on his own.

102 "Then having gone to the encampment in Lippa [a nearby village] of the renunciant lord of siddhas, the great Lama Sonam Gyaltsen [bSod nams rgyal mtshan, b. 19th century], — who was a direct student of the lama from Domey [mDo smad, i.e, Khams, in eastern Tibet], Drupwang Togden Shakya Shri [Grub dbang rTogs ldan Shakya Shri, 1853-1919] ~ he received complete and unmistaken instruction in accordance with the practice tradition of the glorious Drukpa [Kagyu], in the preliminary practices of the stages of the path to enlightenment."147

Here, the rnam ihar introduces us to the first of Tenzin Gyaltsen's connections with one of the famous lineages and cross-regional transmissions of Buddhist material that would so greatly shape his life. As the text indicates, Tenzin Gyaltsen's next teacher, Lama Sonam Gyaltsen, had himself been a student of the well-known Togden Shakya Shri in Khams, far to the east of Kinnaur, near the border between the Tibetan cultural area and China.148 Togden Shakya Shri was one of the great intellectual and spiritual luminaries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Tibet, and had an influential legacy throughout the Himalayas, through his many students and biological descendants who spread his teachings and ideas. Togden Shakya Shri was himself a student of some of the most famous names in nineteenth century Buddhist intellectual life in eastern Tibet, names often closely associated with non-sectarian (TO med) ideas,149 including Mipham




On Togden Shakya Shri see for instance Grub dban Shakya shri'i rnam ihar me togphreng ba, by Sherab Gyaltsen, Gangtok:1980; Rje btsun bla ma rdo rje 'chang chenpo sha kya shri jnana'irnam thar me togphreng ba by Situ Chokyi Gyatso (Si tu Chos kyi rgya mtsho, 18801925, who in fact became one of Khunu Lama's gurus); Wangmo: 2005:66-67, 358 n.147; Crook 1997; Tulku Urgyen 2005:331; Tulku Thondup: 1996:341; Stutchbury and Samuel 1996(?) and the unpublished Ph.D. dissertation by Amy Holmes, and Holmes 2007. 149

1 discuss the complex term 'non-sectarian' (ris med) in more detail in the following section. One may be struck by the fact that this famous connection to a lineage associated with ris med ideas should be identified here in the rnam thar with the moment at which the young Tenzin Gyaltsen made a profound connection specifically with the Drukpa Kagyu lineage. I will explore the slippery question of Khunu Lama's sectarian affiliation (or lack thereof) throughout the remainder of this work. In general, one should remember the fact that the rnam thar author, K.

103 Gyatso ('Ju Mi pham rgya mtsho, 1846-1912), Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo ('Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po, 1820-1892), and Jamgon Kongtrul ('Jam mgon kong sprul bio gros mtha' yas, 1813-1899). 15° These are all figures with whose lineages Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen would later make important connections as an adult. Interestingly, several of Shakya Shri's students, as well as his biological grandson, subsequently gathered in northwest India near Kinnaur, in Ladakh and the Kulu-Manali area. Much later in his life, Khunu Lama would form relationships with some of the people connected to this Shakya Shri "extended family," and would teach in places associated with Shakya Shri's lineage around Manali.151 Thus already in his earliest studies in his remote home valley, Tenzin Gyaltsen was affected by the great movement of ideas and teachers between far-distant regions of the Plateau. One scholar has in fact suggested that his early connection with Sonam Gyaltsen may have planted the idea for Tenzin Gyaltsen's own future travels, and indeed that Sonam Gyaltsen may have urged the young 1 S7

Tenzin Gyaltsen to one day go to Khams himself.

Angrup, is himself a Drukpa Kagyu practitioner. This may color the narrative here, as it does later on. 150

See for instance Smith 2001.1 turn in more detail to these figures, their role in Tibetan and Himalayan intellectual history and Khunu Lama's relationship with them in what follows. 151

On Togden Shakya Shri's influence and that of his descendants in the western Himalayan area, see for instance Crook and Low 2006:21 ff; Crook 1997:44-48, as well as references in Smith 2001; on Khunu Lama's ongoing connections with Shakyashri's lineage, Chris Fynn interview 2006.1 discuss Khunu Lama's teaching in Manali at the end of his life in the next section. I am deeply indebted to Gene Smith for numerous personal communications on the life and descendents of Togden Shakya Shri. 152

BSod nams dbang grags, unpublished manuscript: 3. However, there were certainly many other sources of influence that might have encouraged Tenzin Gyaltsen toward Tibet. As mentioned already, Tenzin Gyaltsen's grandfather had been to Tibet and one of his brothers traded regularly there. It is difficult to say how the young Tenzin Gyaltsen first became interested in traveling to other countries to study Buddhism, but he surely would have heard stories from his brother and other trader relatives. He even could have accompanied his brother on some trading

Be that as it may, the future Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen did continue with his studies in his home area of Kinnaur until the age of nineteen. At that point, however, the mam thar tells us that Tenzin Gyaltsen wished to devote himself completely to the study and practice of Buddhism. But, as already noted, he apparently encountered resistance from his parents, who wanted him to remain at home and participate in the life and work of their farm and family. This was the context in which the young man ultimately departed his valley, a momentous leave-taking that the rnam thar describes with the dramatic phrase, "How He Turned His Back on His Homeland and Departed for the Dharma," (the title of Chapter Four of the mam thar). The image of Khunu Lama renouncing home, family ties and worldly comforts for the sake of the religious life is fundamental to how he is understood and remembered by those who knew him, and seems to have been integral to how he presented himself.153 We will consider the impact of this renunciation

or business trips, since as the rnam thar subsequently makes clear, he knew something about one brother's business affairs. On the trans-Himalayan spread of Buddhist transmission lineages, see Pitkin 2004, and the discussion that follows. It is difficult to be certain how old Tenzin Gyaltsen was when he met Sonam Gyaltsen. The rnam thar quotes an excerpt from a tape-recorded interview done with Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen later in life, in which he says, '"When I had reached the age of sixteen years, in my own native land, by the great loving compassion of that very lama, I obtained the experience of the nature of mind...in a ravine in a secluded place in Khunu.'"152 The rnam thar then explains, "Investigating this statement in detail, [we see that] the lama (mentioned above) is Sonam Gyaltsen himself. "(Angrup 2005:11.) However, Tenzin Gyaltsen may have begun his studies with Sonam Gyaltsen before he was sixteen ~ the German scholar of Khunu Lama's life, Jurgen Manshardt, reports that Tenzin Gyaltsen met Sonam Gyaltsen at age thirteen, and one might expect their connection to have involved some years of study. (Manshardt 2004:19.) 153

In particular, Khunu Lama is remembered by Tibetan speakers as a chatralwa (Tib. bya bral ba), a homeless, wandering, renunciant yogin. (The best contemporary Tibetan dictionary, the Tsig mdzod chen mo, defines bya bral ba as: 'jig rten gyi las don spangs pa'i rnal 'byor pa (p. 1863). I discuss this label, widespread in oral and textual accounts of Khunu Lama's life, further below.

105 separately below, as it is one of the key factors enabling his independence and the innovative choices he made.

It was thus despite the resistance of his parents and with very little preparation or provisions that we find Tenzin Gyaltsen leaving home in 1914, in the rnam thar passage with which we began our exploration of his life: "Acting on his heartfelt intention, at the age of nineteen, in the male wood ox year — the western year 1914 — with nothing more than 8 rupees for his subsistence and travel expenses, without even any suitable boots to put on his feet, he abandoned his homeland for the sake of the Dharma."I54

The First Leg of the Journey: Sikkim

The journey "for the sake of the Dharma" would become in many ways the bedrock of Khunu Lama's life's work, bringing him into contact with the ideas, people and lineages that would make him such an important contributor to Tibetan intellectual life later on, and helping to define his identity as a traveler and a scholar, as well as a person with a complex regional persona. Because Khunu Lama's pre-1959 Tibetan training is such an

Angrup 2005:16. See also mKhas btsun bzang po Rinpoche, Khu nu bla ma rinpo che'i rnam par thar pa nyid kyi zhal gsungs ma bzhugs so, p. 2a. However, there is a chronological problem here, since 1914 was not a male wood ox year. Sparham gives the date as 1913, as does the earlier rnam thar (Sparham 1999:2), which better fits the Tibetan calendar. One possibility is that Tenzin Gyaltsen traveled in mid-winter, when the western year had already changed but the Tibetan year had not.

106 important part of who he became, and his eventual role as a teacher to Tibetans in India, some mam thar readers may already know when they pick up the book that this journey took Tenzin Gyaltsen to Tibet. Moreover, as Angrup and others have pointed out in interviews, Tibet was at that time the center of the Himalayan Buddhist world, in the sense of containg centers of learning, major pilgrimage sites, famous teachers and high Buddhist culture, just as India had been for generations of Tibetan seekers over a thousand years before.155 Tibet in fact remains an important source of education, religious knowledge, and the cachet that goes with them even today in Kinnaur, as already mentioned. Until 1959, when study in Tibetan institutions became nearly impossible for Kinnauris due to the Chinese takeover of Tibet, Tibet steadily attracted Kinnauri students, and some Indian citizens (Kinnauris, like many other Himalayan people, are Indian citizens at the present time) even now have found ways to visit as tourists and pilgrims.156

But curiously enough, it is not completely clear that Tibet is actually where Tenzin Gyaltsen was initially intending to go. In a small hint of his unconventional willingness to explore paths less traveled, as well as an intimation of his wide-ranging interests even as a young student, there is one oral account that states that Tenzin Gyaltsen's initial destination when he left home was in fact Burma.157 This is rather remarkable, and one

K. Angrup interview 2004. 156 157

See LaMacchia, 2001 for a fascinating discussion of this aspect of cross-regional travel.

Khenpo Sonam Topgyal Rinpoche interview 2006. Khenpo Sonam Topgyal Rinpoche, a Dzogchen master and scholar who is a former student of Khunu Rinpoche's, says that when he himself had asked Khunu Lama about his early life, Khunu Lama had said that when he first left home, Burma was where he had actually hoped to travel.

107 wonders how a young Kinnauri villager in 1914 would have thought of Burma in the first place, remote as it is from Kinnaur. Perhaps the answer is that, since Burma was under British administration like Kinnaur and India in general, and since as described above, Kinnaur was not entirely cut off from outside contacts, Khunu Lama had heard of Burma through visitors or traders in Kinnaur, who may have described it as a Buddhist country. In any case, it is thus possible that when Khunu Lama left home to study, he originally headed east for Burma, and only turned toward Tibet after the first leg of his journey had brought him to Sikkim. An attempt to visit Burma would represent a highly unusual choice, and one far outside the spectrum of Khunu Lama's Himalayan peers, for whom Tibet would have been the far more usual (if still ambitious) destination. An interest in Burma on the part of the young Tenzin Gyaltsen would also offer a curious parallel to Gendun Chophel's visit to Sri Lanka in the early 1940s, and to his interest in learning about the practice of Theravadin Buddhism there.

It is also possible that Tenzin Gyaltsen did not have a clear plan when he left home. We know that Sikkim is in fact where he did go first, and he may have gone there not so much en route to Burma or Tibet as because Sikkim itself was known to him, since other Kinnauris, including relatives, were living there.159 In that case, Tenzin Gyaltsen may

158 159

See Lopez 2006; Stoddard 1985; Mengele 1999; Bkras thong 1980.

Interview material collected by Thierry Dodin from the Kinnauri scholar Sangngak Tenzin suggests that Tenzin Gyaltsen may have intentionally made Gangtok his destination in his early search for teachers because Kinnauris he knew had already been there. Dodin 1997, p. 85-86; p. 94 n. 9, 10. Another close student of Khunu Rinpoche, Trulku Pema Wangyal, suggested much the same thing. Trulku Pema Wangyal, interview, April 2005.

108 have developed the wish to continue on to Tibet once he was already in Sikkim, as a result of the important contacts he made there with people who had trained in Tibet.160

The mam thar does not mention Burma, and is not able to provide answers to these questions, assuming as it does that Tibet was always Tenzin Gyaltsen's destination. But the mam thar does describe a funny episode, in which, having left his home, the teenaged Tenzin Gyaltsen recognized that he could not make the kind of long journey he envisioned without proper shoes, and without any supplies. Painting a practical picture at odds with any romantic notion of renunciation as a dreamy transcendence of mundane economic realities, or as a total break with family ties, the mam thar explains that the empty-pocketed Tenzin Gyaltsen "went first to the upper part of the area called Kulu, on the right bank of the river, where a group of Khunu people had settled a long time before, in a town called Rayesan. There, his elder brother, Dondrup Gyaltsen, had made

This is the view of Gen Sonam Wangdak, oral communication 2004. It is true that for travelers aiming at Tibet, Sikkim offers a particularly attractive place to cross the border, at the Nathu La pass ~ a relatively low and easy route. Indeed, Sikkim remained a major trade and travel point of entry between Tibet and the lower Himalayan region up until the Chinese consolidation of power in Tibet and the Chinese standoff with India in the 1960s brought this to a halt. (As of this writing, the Nathu La has just been re-opened, in a much heralded Sino-Indian joint agreement. However, according to the scholar of trans-Himalayan trade Tina Harris, travel there remains much restricted, leading other passes to remain preferred routes for contemporary traders and travelers. (Tina Harris, personal communication, 2008)). Nevertheless, there are several direct routes from the Kinnaur Valley itself over the high passes into western Tibet, used by traders, which Tenzin Gyaltsen did not use. (See also Sparham 1999:2.) The most likely explanation for this may be the already mentioned conflict with his family over his plans. If Tenzin Gyaltsen was effectively running away from home, then it would make sense that in the small, intimately interconnected society of the Kinnaur Valley, he could not be certain that any trading caravan would be willing to take him along. Indeed, he may have feared that his relatives would find him and force him to return. Moreover, the mountain passes from the Kinnaur Valley feed into a remote, high and geographically challenging part of Ngari (western Tibet). One can guess that he would not have wanted to attempt the trip alone, and at some seasons of the year, those passes are closed in any case.

109 loans."161 Apparently familiar with at least some of the details of his brother's business, Tenzin Gyaltsen paused briefly here and collected the repayment of his brother's debts, as a way to finance his trip. As the rnam thar puts it, "In order to get provisions for practicing the Dharma, he [Tenzin Gyaltsen] collected the repayment on the loans, having given a discount on the interest. The Great One [Tenzin Gyaltsen], having a sense of modesty and being embarrassed about that business, in which he had no other methods save those of a greedy person, set forth a detailed record of the whole situation in a letter to his older brother and sent it to him, in the hope that he would not be displeased."162 After this, somewhat better fitted out for his travels, he continued on his way east. (The rnam thar does not provide his brother's reaction. However, in later life, his brothers certainly seem to have prized their relationship with their scholarly, religious sibling, and as already noted, at least one brother financially supported Khunu Lama.)

After thus provisioning himself, Tenzin Gyaltsen would have then have faced a journey east toward Sikkim that was too long to easily pursue on foot. The most logical way to travel would have been by rail, using the extensive Indian train network maintained by the British. Tantalizingly, the most convenient rail lines would seem to have taken Tenzin Gyaltsen south as well as east, past the great Indian holy city of Varanasi on the Ganges, through what is now the modern state of Bihar, and then north again, into what is now West Bengal.163 An additional provocative question, therefore, is whether Tenzin


Angrup 2005:16.


Angrup 2005:16-17.


Robert Thurman encouraged me to consider this point. Personal communication 2007.

Gyaltsen stopped off at any point along the way, in particular either in Varanasi, that great hub of Indian religious practice and Sanskrit learning, or in Bodhgaya, seat of the Buddha's enlightenment, located in Bihar near where the train would have passed.164 Although the Buddhist sites in Bodhgaya in the early twentieth century were badly maintained and poor — a far cry from the bustling pilgrimage hub that now exists there — Bodhgaya has remained the central pilgrimage site for all Buddhists from all over the world for centuries. It is very difficult to imagine that a devout young man, just leaving home to devote himself to religion, would have missed the chance to visit it. And in fact, Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen did indeed spend most of the second half of his life living alternately in Varanasi and Bodhgaya. The two places are extremely central in his life story. Nevertheless, there is no record of his having seen them as a youth. One would think that such a visit would not go unrecorded if it had happened, since it surely would have been an important experience. Yet there is no mention of such a visit in the mam thar, or in the oral accounts I have collected. It is thus after a long journey about which we know almost nothing that the young Tenzin Gyaltsen arrived in the forested hill country of West Bengal. Having traveled north, past Darjeeling with its British residents and tea plantations, he ascended into the Himalayan foothills until he reached Sikkim, where he made the first major stop that the mam thar records, in the large town of Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim then as now.

My thanks to Robert Thurman for bringing this point to my attention (personal communication 2007). Manshardt also raises this question, though he too is unable to provide a definitive answer. Manshardt 2004:20.

Ill Situated along the busy route leading to the Nathu La pass, one of the most important entry points to the Tibetan Plateau, Gangtok has long prospered as a hub of trade between Tibet and India. The Lhasa-to-Kalimpong trade route enriched many of the communities along its way, and connected Tibetan and other Himalayan markets all the way to the seaport of Calcutta many miles to the southeast.165 Indeed, later on his life, Khunu Lama was to receive financial support from wealthy Khampa (eastern Tibetan) trading families in the Kalimpong and Calcutta areas, who had made much of their fortunes through this trade network. As for Gangtok itself, though located in remote and steep Himalayan foothill country, at the top of a high hill reached by narrow, twisting roads that even today are challenging to navigate, the town has long been a remarkably cosmopolitan and elegant place, perhaps as a result of its lengthy history as a commercial center. Its sharply pitched and winding streets lead from the Takse palace of the Chogyals (the hereditary kings of Sikkim from the seventeenth century onwards, whose rule officially ended in 1975) and the royal park, past the expansive homes of aristocrats, to shops, stacked multifamily dwellings, and many schools both religious and secular.166 Gangtok bustled in the early twentieth century with a range of people, including Sikkimese, Tibetans, Nepalis and Bhutanese. Wealthy and aristocratic Tibetans, Bhutanese and Indians have long sent their children to the prestigious schools and colleges in the Gangtok area as well. Given this diversity, it is not surprising then that when Tenzin Gyaltsen arrived, he was quickly able to make contact with a Kinnauri conducting business there, who seems to have been

165 166

See for example Harris, n.d.; Van Spengen;

Now abdicated in an arrangement with the Government of India, the Chogyal of Sikkim and his family, like many of the Sikkimese and Himalayan aristocracy in general, had close ties by blood and marriage to important aristocratic families in Tibet. See Milliard n.d.; also BalikciDenjongpa 2006 and Arora 2006, both in Tibetan Borderlands.

112 a relative, and to make important intellectual connections that drew him toward Tibet.167 Apparently at the urging of a Kinnauri relative living in Gangtok, perhaps the same person, who wanted to see him perfect his study of Tibetan, Tenzin Gyaltsen soon went to study at the major Kagyu monastic center of Rumtek (now the seat of the Karmapa, the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage), which faces Gangtok from a nearby hill.168 Although in 1914 the monastery was smaller and less impressive than it later became after the post1959 flight into exile of the Sixteenth Karmapa, it was nevertheless a significant place of learning when Tenzin Gyaltsen first arrived in Sikkim, and must have offered an important taste of study at a larger Tibetan monastic educational establishment.

In Sikkim, Tenzin Gyaltsen met the second of his major teachers, someone whose teaching would begin to shape the kind of scholar and yogi he ultimately became, and with whom he first began to develop the great interests in Sanskrit, Tibetan grammar, and poetics (as well as possibly Dzogchen meditation) that would engage him for the rest of his life. This teacher was the great Sikkimese literary scholar and Nyingma lama Urgyen Tenzin Rinpoche (Khang gsar ba O rgyan kun bzang bstan 'dzin rdo rje Rin po che, 1863

167 168

Trulku Pema Wangyal, interview, April 2005. See also Dodin 1993:95, n.9, 10.

Trulku Pema Wangyal, interview, April 2005. It is not clear if this is the same relative whose presence drew Tenzin Gyaltsen to Gangtok in the first place. Dodin suggests, based on his interview with Sangngak Tenzin, that Tenzin Gyaltsen may have studied at the one western-style school in Gangtok, namely the "Bhutia College" headed by Kazi Dawa Samdup, since Sangngak Tenzin stated that Tenzin Gyaltsen received a degree called "Master of Tibetan Language" while in Gangtok. I have not found any confirming evidence, but it would be a fascinating element in Khunu Lama's already highly eclectic educational path, and one that would add a sense of him as in some way engaged with western ideas, institutions and people.

113 - 1936).

In his younger days, Urgyen Tenzin Rinpoche himself had travelled

extensively in Tibet, in particular in Khams (eastern Tibet). As a result, he is often remembered in Sikkim under the nickname Bod Rinpoche ("Tibet Rinpoche"). While in Tibet, Urgyen Tenzin had studied at the important Kagyu monastery of Tshor phu during the time of the 15th Karmapa, Khakyab Dorje (Mkha' khyab rdo rje, 1870/71 - 1921/22), and was especially noted for having been the student of the meditator and scholar Togden Karma Monlam (rTogs ldan Kar ma smon lam od zer lhag bsam rgyal tshan).170 Indeed, Urgyen Tenzin Rinpoche, like Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen after him, was very fortunate in his teachers, and became the student of some of the most important scholars associated with non-sectarian (ris med) ideas in Central Tibet and Khams.171 Urgyen Tenzin Rinpoche is particularly known for his commentarial works on the Mirror of Poetics {sNyan ngag me long, the Tibetan translation of the Sanskrit Kavyardarsa of

K. Angrup, Khu nu rin po che'i rnam thar thar pa'i them skas zhes bya ba bzhugs so, p. 52. Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006. 170

See Tashi Densapa (Bermiok Rinpoche) Introduction, to O rgyan bstan 'dzin's sNyan ngag me long le'u bar pa'i 'grelpa, which provides brief but valuable biographic information. Urgyen Tenzin Rinpoche was the son of the Sikkimese minister Samdrup Khangsar Ating Lhundrup (bSam 'grub Khang gsar A thing Lhun grub). Although relatives of Urgyen Tenzun still live in Gangtok as of this writing, extensive research into his activities lies outside the scope of this project; nevertheless, his life and work would be an important subject for future research. 171

Many decades later, the great Sakya scholar Dezhung Rinpoche (sDe gzhung Rinpoche) itemized two lineages for the Sanskrit lexical tradition taught by Urgyen Tenzin as a result of his own extensive travels in Khams. The first transmission comes from Zhe chen dBon sprul 'Gyur med mthu stobs rnam rgyal via Kong sprul bio gros mtha' yas, to Yongs 'dzin Lhag bsam rgyal tshan (who was tutor to the Karma pa mKha' khyab rdo rje), and from him to O rgyan bstan 'dzin. The second comes via Zhe chen dBon sprul 'gyur med mthu stobs rnam rgyal to 'Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po and then to Ngor dPon slob Ngag dbang legs grub, and from him to O rgyan bstan 'dzin. It seems likely these are the lineages for the grammatical and poetic teachings that Urgyen Tenzin shared with Tenzin Gyaltsen as well. The lineage lists give a sense of the intellectual and spiritual world of which Urgyen Tenzin's journey to Khams made him a part, (an intellectual world which I discuss more fully in what follows). Tenzin Gyaltsen would later meet and study with other masters from these same famous lineages. See D. Jackson 2003:597, n.233.

114 1 79

Dandin, which remains the classic treatise on poetics in the Tibetan literary world).


transmitted his knowledge of the kavya tradition of poetics to Tenzin Gyaltsen, who himself later became an important exponent of Sanskrit and Tibetan grammar and poetics, and whose poems on bodhicitta are written in a style that draws on the kavya tradition.

Tenzin Gyaltsen remained in Sikkim for almost three years, studying poetics and grammar with Urgyen Tenzin Rinpoche.173 During that time, Tenzin Gyaltsen worked on the classical Tibetan poetic and grammatical topics ofsNyan ngag (ornamental poetics) and Sum rtag (grammar), and studied the two major Sanskrit grammars that are the most commonly taught and used in Tibet, the Sarasvati (Tib. dByangs can) and Candrapa (Tib. Candra pa) grammars, beginning what would be an exceptional mastery in both Tibetan and Sanskrit literary topics.174 We sadly have little information about other aspects of Tenzin Gyaltsen's relationship or study with Urgyen Tenzin Rinpoche, but there are hints that the two men became close. According to Sikkimese sources, teacher and student did

See Tashi Densapa (Bermiok Rinpoche) Introduction, to O rgyan bstan 'dzin's sNyan ngag me long le'u bar pa'i 'grelpa. On the sNyan ngag me long and its role in Tibet literarary culture, see for example van der Kuijp 1996; R. Jackson 1996. 173

K. Angrup Gasha, Khu nu rinpo che'i rnam thar tharpa'i them skas zhes bya ba bzhugs so, p. 53. 174

mKhas btsun bzang po Rinpoche, Khu nu bla ma rin po che'i rnam par thar pa nyid kyi zhal gsungs ma bzhugs so, 2a; Angrup 2005:17. These Sanskrit grammars are the ones most commonly studied by Tibetan intellectuals. Note that Dodin 1997 quotes Sangngak Tenzin as saying that Khunu Lama spent only 3 months in Sikkim, and also as saying that he obtained a "Master of Tibetan Language" degree, a degree about the details of which Dodin says he himself is somewhat at a loss. Dodin speculates that this English title may indicate that Khunu Lama could have attended a western-style school, which is an intriguing idea. No other evidence on this point has yet surfaced. (Dodin 1993:95, n. 10.)

115 not remain in the Gangtok area all the time, but may have traveled together to the more remote higher-altitude areas of North Sikkim, perhaps suggesting a shared retreat, or perhaps simply some form of pilgrimage or sightseeing.175 But despite the lack of detail, we do have evidence that the relationship with Urgyen Tenzin was an important connection for the young scholar. The mam ihar comments briefly, saying, "At that time, he [Tenzin Gyaltsen] took up the supreme scholar Lama Urgyen Tenzin as the crown ornament of his [Buddha] family, and with the greatest diligence, in the proper way, studied the Sanskrit treatises...."

Even more revealingly, Khunu Lama lists Urgyen

Tenzin Rinpoche as the first of his nine Nyingmapa root lamas, in a handwritten list that he composed later in his life at the request of a student, in which he listed his root teachers (rtsa ba'i bla ma) in each of the four Tibetan Buddhist lineages.177 Perhaps it is even possible to see Urgyen Tenzin Rinpoche's influence in some of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen's later travels in Central Tibet and Kham, as Tenzin Gyaltsen's movements in many ways mirrored those of his teacher. Several years afterward in Tibet, for instance, Tenzin Gyaltsen may have been following Urgyen Tenzin Rinpoche's example (and possibly using contacts or introductions gained from his teacher) when he formed a mKhan Rin po che bDe chen rdo rje mentioned that Khu nu Rin po che also travelled in areas of North Sikkim during his time of study in Sikkim. mKhan Rin po che speculated that Khunu Lama might have been travelling there together with bLa ma O rgyan bstan 'dzin. Interview, September 2004. Sem Tinley Ongmo also said she had heard that Khunu Rinpoche and Bod Rinpoche had traveled to northern Sikkim. Sem Tinley Ongmo interview 2004. 176 177

Angrup 2005:17.

This handwritten list is not exactly a gsan yig or thob yig (two standard Tibetan genres that record "teachings received") but is merely a listing of root lamas grouped by sectarian affiliation. Angrup obtained a copy of this handwritten list, the contents of which he shared with me. The list records nine Nyingma lamas, three Sakya lamas, five Kagyu lamas and five Gelug lamas. I discuss these names and their significance more fully later. K. Angrup interview, September 2004. As of this writing, I have not been able to find an extant gsan yig or thob yig, although according to Angrup and to an interview with Khunu Lama's cousin, Geshe Rigdzin Tenpa as quoted in the rnam thar, a gsan yig existed.

116 relationship with the Lhasa Mentsikhang (Tib. sMan stsis khang, the Medical and Astronomical Institute), as both a teacher and student. Both Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen and Urgyen Tenzin taught (and at least in Tenzin Gyaltsen's case, studied) with the Mentsikhang's great doctor Khyenrab Norbu (mKhyen rab nor bu, 1883-1962), who was personal physician to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.178 Certainly, Khunu Rinpoche's subsequent great accomplishments and efforts in the fields of literary scholarship, Sanskrit and Tibetan grammar and poetics suggest that his studies with Urgyen Tenzin Rinpoche made a profound impression on him.

Departure from Sikkim and Studies at Tashilhunpo

In 1917, after studying in Sikkim for three years, Tenzin Gyaltsen left Gangtok.179 According to Manshardt, he traveled with a Nepalese merchant, Newari Kullu Rena,


Byams pa Phrin las, Gangs Ijongs gso rigs bstanpa'i nyin byedrim byon gyi mam tharphyogs bsgrigs, p. 437. K. Angrup explains that Khunu Rinpoche was mKhyen rab nor bu's student, as well as his teacher in the literary sciences. Interview, September 2004. Angrup 2005:18.

117 presumably together with a trading caravan.180 Whether Tenzin Gyaltsen had at this point given up his dreams of Burma, if he had ever had them, and been urged toward Tibet by his Sikkimese friends and teachers; or whether he had planned and prepared to travel to Tibet for some time after he left home is difficult to say. Certainly he did not change course after leaving Gangtok, and went straight on to Tibet, probably crossing the border at the Nathu La.

Once in Tibet, Tenzin Gyaltsen quickly made his way to the great Gelukpa monastic university of Tashilhunpo (bKra shis lhun po), seat of the Panchen Lamas. Located in Shigatse, the main urban center of Tsang Province in west-central Tibet, relatively convenient to the Sikkimese border, Tashilhunpo is a famous center of learning, both in Tibet and throughout the western Himalayan region. Indeed, in the western Himalaya, it is one of the most well-known and prestigious Buddhist educational institutions. Tashilhunpo has historically been welcoming of students from Kinnaur and other areas of modern-day Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh.181 Students from Kinnaur were traditionally housed in the Guge Khamtsen (Gu ge khams tshan), the regional college associated with the Guge or Ngari area of western Tibet, together with the monks from that western region. In fact, there were apparently several Kinnauris there even in the forties and early fifties.182 Moreover, and very importantly, monks from far-off regions residing at


Manshardt 2004:21.


See Shakspo 2005, LaMacchia 2001.


Rintan, interview, May 2005. I have discussed the question of how monks from different areas of the Himalayan region were categorized in terms of ethnonyms and residence units by Tibetan monasteries elsewhere. This remains an important topic for further study. (See Pitkin, "Central

118 Tashilhunpo could qualify for monthly scholarships of grain and thus be guaranteed support while they studied183,184. Nevertheless, in the mam thar, Angrup seems to feel it necessary to indicate that Tashilhunpo was a surprising choice for the young student, because it is a Gelukpa institution: "Privately, Je Lama Rinpoche [Khunu Lama] had taken up the mantle of the Kagyu Buddhist tradition, but he temporarily entered into the Tashilhunpo Gelukpa monks' assembly and residence and stayed there."185 This comment is somewhat curious in the biography of a man who would go on to be well-known precisely for his non-sectarian approach to Buddhist learning and practice, such that

Asian 'Foreigners' in Tibet at the turn of the Twentieth Century." Paper presented at the 35th Annual Mid-Atlantic Region Association for Asian Studies Meeting, Seton Hall University, October, 2006.) 183

Rintan, interview, May 2005; K. Angrup interview, September 2004. K. Angrup mentioned that when he himself studied at the Panchen Lama's school adjoining Tashilhunpo in the late 1950s, he personally received such a scholarship. See also Shakspo 2005, who describes financial assistance although not a scholarship for a Ladakhi student at Tashilunpo. Note that Manshardt explains the food and lodging support Tenzin Gyaltsen received as being given in return for the teaching duties he undertook at the Panchen Lama's invitation. This however would make it seem as though he had been invited to teach almost immediately upon his arrival at Tashilhunpo, something the primary sources I have available do not say. 184

The experiences of Kinnauris, Ladakhis and other monks from the Indian Himalaya at Tashilhunpo offer an interesting topic for further study. The role of the great monastic seats in recruiting and socializing young men from outside the borders of Tibet has barely been explored. An interesting comparison would be to the experiences of students from Mongolian areas at Drepung, Sera and Ganden. Mongolian students were often famously brilliant debaters and ultimately met with considerable success in both their spiritual and political activities following their Tibetan studies. Nevertheless, sometimes there were conflicts with the Tibetan students. See for instance the autobiography of the great Mongolian scholar and statesman, Aghvan Dorjiev, advisor to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. (Dorjiev, 1991.) On the other hand, in a recent interview, one former Tibetan resident of the Gu ge khams tshan at Tashilhunpo in the early nineteen fifties said that he remembered no instances of conflict between various Kinnauri and Ngari ba residents there. Rintan, interview, May 2005. By way of contrast to the experiences of Himalayan and Mongolian students at these Gelukpa seats, one might consider the experiences of Sikkimese monks, who primarily studied at the Nyingma centres of rDo rje brag and sMin 'gro gling, and the Karmapa's seat at Tshor phu. (Anna Balikci Denjongpa, personal communication.) 185

Angrup 2005:18.

119 many who knew him found it impossible to say which was his 'home' tradition.186 K. Angrup is himself a lama in the Drukpa Kagyu tradition, and lives in the Drukpa Kagyu milieu of Lahaul, in northern Himachal Pradesh. Thus he may well be writing here in part to reassure any Kagyu readers, especially those from his and Khunu Rinpoche's own part of the Himalayas, that Khunu Rinpoche was not abandoning his familial and early childhood connections to the Kagyu lineage by going to the Gelukpa seat of Tashilhunpo.187

Nevertheless, despite this apparently sectarian rhetorical flourish, the cross-sectarian educational choice of studying at Tashilhunpo is very consistent with the other activities Tenzin Gyaltsen pursued through out his life, both as a student and as a teacher. Moreover, given Tashilhunpo's reputation in the western Himalaya (its reputation, perhaps one might say, as part of the 'Ivy League' of western Tibet), it is very easy to understand why a young man, especially from a western Himalayan border area, would

The issue of Khunu Lama's 'home' or 'root' tradition (Tib. tsa ba'i chos lugs) is one I take up later on. In brief, during my interviews I found that interviewees would either say that they did not know his root tradition, or in a remarkable majority of interviews, they would claim him for the tradition they themselves happened to practice. The best-informed people I interviewed, such as His Holiness Dalai Lama, simply noted the difficulty of pinning down an answer to this question in Khunu Lama's case, since he was so well informed and respectful of so many different systems, although they noted the importance of Nyingma and Kagyu lineages and practices for him, and often spoke of his Mahamudra and Dzokchen interests. (Nevertheless, other interviewees, such as Gyumed Khenpo Thuthob, emphasized how knowledgeable Khunu Lama was about Gelukpa presentations.) 187

This concern may moreover represent the relatively modern development of more clear cut sectarian boundaries and anxieties, which seem to have increasingly become a factor in the period of Tibetan exile in India, and concurrently with the interest of non-Tibetans in Tibetan Buddhism.

120 wish to study there, regardless of sectarian tradition - as indeed, many young men continue to do today.188

What is more striking are the particular topics the young Tenzin Gyaltsen pursued once he had arrived at Tashilunpo, which demonstrate the breadth of his interests in a way somewhat anomalous for that particular setting. Tenzin Gyaltsen continued his studies in grammar, poetics and the literary sciences (riggnas). He also studied the major Buddhist philosophical subjects including logic, for which the great Gelukpa monastic universities such as Tashilhunpo were, and are, particularly famous. His studies at Tashilhunpo were well within the mainstream of Tibetan Buddhist education, but there were also a number of unusual dimensions to his activities, both in terms of the subject matter he studied, and in terms of his position at the monastery.

In general, the classic and normative model for Tibetan intellectual life and education revolves around a rubric, originally Indian in origin, in which topics are grouped into the so-called Five Major and Five Minor 'Sciences' {riggnas). The most important distinction made in this system, as one might expect, is that between the study of Buddhism and the study of all other topics, which while important, play a secondary role.

In fact, Dreyfus 2003 discusses the phenomenon of non-Gelukpa monks, including monks from potentially quite divergent traditions, such as the Bonpo and Jonangpa, who enroll as students in the great Gelukpa monastic universities, in order to benefit from their curricula and intellectual prestige. This remains quite common in the present day.

The Five Major Sciences are: 1. Buddhism ("inner science," 89 nang rig pa), 2. logic and epistemology (gtan tshigs rig pa), 3. grammar (sgra rig pa), 4. medicine (gso rig pa), and 5. arts and crafts (bzo rig pa). The Five Minor Sciences are poetics {snyan ngag), metrics (sdeb sbyor), lexicography (mngon brjod), theater (zlos gar) and astrology/astronomy, which also includes calculation (rtsis).190 As Dreyfus points out, this curricular and conceptual mapping (which leaves out certain other fields of knowledge that classical Indian culture did make provision for, such as erotics, as Dreyfus notes) is heavily centered around language, reflecting the importance of language in general and of Sanskrit language in particular.191 This gives some hint of the importance of the grammatical and literary topics the future Khunu Lama had begun to study. At the same time, in actual practice, monks, in particular those who are serious students at the major Gelukpa educational centers, traditionally spend almost the entirety of their time on the first two sciences, Buddhism and logic/epistemology, which are further subdivided into the components of the standard Gelukpa debate curriculum.192 Literary studies, in Khunu Lama's time and now, are largely available to be pursued through private tutorials within the monastic setting, and although different monasteries have varied slightly in their estimation of literary topics, in many places, including in Tashilhunpo at many periods,


Here I follow Dreyfus 2003; "inner science" seems to me an admirable rendering of this term, capturing several dimensions of the Tibetan term. 190

Dreyfus 2003:101-3ff; also see Dudjom Rinpoche 1991; Ruegg 1995.


As Dreyfus discusses, in a measure of the ongoing Tibetan engagement with Indie cultural forms, although Tibetan and Sanskrit are unrelated (and in fact quite structurally different) languages, Tibetan grammar and literacy are traditionally taught according to Sanskrit paradigms, which also inform poetics and other areas of literature (often with linguistically peculiar results). Dreyfus 2003:102. This fact helps to understand the cultural importance of Khunu Lama's Sanskrit mastery within the Tibetan milieu. 192

On the Gelukpa curriculum in particular and on debate, see again Dreyfus 2003; see also Perdue. On Buddhist education more generally see: Blackbourne; Collins.

122 literary study was seen by some as less than serious, a sign that a man was angling for a clerical position in the government bureaucracy, rather than being a serious philosophical student or Buddhist practitioner.193 Literary topics were sometimes correspondingly seen as the province of well-educated lay aristocrats and officials - a symbol of such people's education and gentlemanly erudition, but not the main work of serious Buddhists.194 In general, literary studies in Tibet have thus often played a secondary and more or less supportive role vis a vis Buddhist studies, which have tended to be understood as the main event both intellectually and spiritually speaking. Of course, such prejudices were not, and are not, by any means universal; a number of the most intellectually and religiously important figures within recent Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history have been brilliant poets and grammarians, such as the late Trijang Rinpoche, Junior Tutor to the present Dalai Lama, or Ling Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama's Senior Tutor, who studied literary topics with Khunu Lama himself195 (to say nothing of the great luminaries of the past, ranging from Tsong Khapa and many of his heirs, to Sakya Pandita, to the Karmapas, virtually all of whom were masters of verse forms, poetic theory, and related topics).196 Nevertheless, in the major Gelukpa monastic educational centers in particular,

Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Tsetan interviews 2005, 2006; Ven. Sonam Gyaltsen interview 2006; Duboom Tulku Rinpoche interview 2005. 194

Sparham comments to this effect, Sparham 1999.


2006 interview with Tethong Rakra Rinpoche; 2005 interview with the Dalai Lama; 2005 interview with Gyumed Khenpo Tuthob; 2004 interview with Khyongla Rato Rinpoche; 2004 interview with Tashi Peljor. Also see Sparham 1999 on Ling Rinpoche's relationship with Khunu Lama. Trijang Rinpoche also apparently knew Khunu Lama later on in India, but I have no record of his having studied with him. 196

See on the topic of poetics in general, and on his own poetry-related relationship with Trijang Rinpoche, the excellent book on Tibetan poetry by Thubten Jinpa, Songs of Spiritual Experience. Jinpa and Eisner 2000, as well as Kilty 2001 and Smith 2001.

literary topics usually had to be explored via tutorials outside the formal monastery curriculum, which focused on the first two Sciences.

Perhaps for this reason, a love for and interest in the literary arts, while by no means unheard of, nevertheless often seems to have functioned as a kind of secret handshake, creating networks of aficionados and often linking people across generations and across differences in social status.197 This seems at several junctures to have been precisely the role that literary topics played in Khunu Lama's life, and his literary skills seem to have been one of the factors that opened doors for him across Tibet and India, and that linked him to people with whom he might otherwise have had little in common. At the same time, a strong focus on studying literary topics would have been an unconventional choice at Tashilhunpo. It moreover would have been a course of study that did not map exactly onto the formal monastery curriculum, and there are hints within the sources that this rendered the young Tenzin Gyaltsen's status within the monastery unusual in some way, as well as apparently also meaning that he pursued his studies primarily through individual relationships with teachers, rather than via the ordinary sequence of group classes. We may thus see here the beginnings of what one might call Khunu Lama's lifelong pursuit of traditional knowledge in unconventional ways.

On this point see Thupten Jinpa's charming personal reflections, in Jinpa and Eisner 2000. See also for instance, Hartley 2006; Beth Newman, The Tale of the Incomparable Prince (1997).

124 Tenzin Gyaltsen did however also work on major philosophical topics with the teachers he made contact with (and indeed, later on in life, was discovered by his students to be highly knowledgeable in philosophical topics like epistemology).198 He became a student of the Tashilhunpo Kachen Sangye Pelzang (dKa' chen sangs rgyas dpal bzang), at that time a very well-known teacher of philosophy.199 It seems to have been an important relationship: Kachen Sangye Pelzang appears on Khunu Lama's handwritten list of root lamas as one of his five Gelugpa root gurus.200 With him, Tenzin Gyaltsen studied in particular the classic work on logic and epistemology, the Tshad ma mam 'grel (Skt. Pramanavartika) by the circa seventh century Indian master Dharmakirti, studying the root text together with an unspecified commentary.201 This would later be a text that Khunu Lama would teach to students in India, where his sophisticated knowledge of it would be noted.202 Kachen Sangye Pelzang also taught Tenzin Gyaltsen the Bodhisattvacaryavatara,

the seminal eighth century Indian work on the topic of


For instance, His Holiness Dalai Lama interview 2005; Gyumed Khenpo Tuthob interview 2005; Khyongla Rato Rinpoche interview 2004; Tashi Paljor interview 2004. 199

The monastic degree of dKa' chen is the highest one offered at Tashilhunpo, and is equivalent to a Geshe degree as offered at the other main Gelugpa seats. See Zenkar Rinpoche Tsig Tso Chenmo. On Sangye Palzang's fame, Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006; Gen Jamspal personal communication 2009, 2008; Ven. Sonam Gyalpo interview 2006; Trulshig Rinpoche interview 2005. Rakra Rinpoche emphasized the important connection between Kachen Sangye Palzang and the influential lama Serkhong Dorje Chang, which may suggest part of the latter's and the latter's son's interest in Khunu Lama many years later in India. 200

K. Angrup interview 2004.


mKhas btsun bzang po Rinpoche, Khu nu bla ma rin po che'i rnam par thar pa nyid kyi zhal gsungs ma bzhugs so, p. 2a. Angrup interview 2004. 202

For instance, Tashi Paljor interview 2004; Lobsang Jamspal interview 2005; His Holiness Dalai Lama interview 2005; Sera Je Khen Rinpoche Losang Delek interview 2006. 203

Ven. Sonam Gyalpo, interview 2006. As several informants pointed out, the Bodhisattvacaryavatara is material that an individual is likely to receive repeatedly in the course of a lifetime, and Khunu Lama received teachings and transmissions on it multiple times. Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006.

125 bodhicitta and the bodhisattva's way of life, of which Khunu Lama would himself later become a particularly illustrious teacher, and which he would later teach to the current Dalai Lama.

Sangye Pelzang was apparently not the only important personage at Tashilhunpo with whom the young Kinnauri student formed a connection. According to Khunu Lama's close cousin,204 the Kinnauri scholar Khunu Geshe Rigdzin Tenpa, the youthful Tenzin Gyaltsen received novice monk (Skt. sramanera, Tib. dge tshul) vows from someone with the title Guge Yongdzin (Gu ge yongs 'dzin, literally the "tutor from Guge in western Tibet"), who was a tutor of the Panchen Lama.205

However, although this

personage sounds impressive, in fact the identity of the person at Tashilhunpo who bestowed vows on Khunu Lama is not at all clear, although the sources are consistent that it was someone prominent, and that this person held the title of yongdzin.206 Moreover,

The Tibetan language does not force a clear distinction between cousin and brother. However the oral and written sources confirm that Geshe Rigdzin Tenpa was not Khunu Lama's brother, but rather a close cousin. Interestingly, the two men are often confused by people who have heard of them secondhand, especially by people living in Central Tibet. This is probably because so few Kinnauri scholars are familiar to contemporary Tibetans in Tibet, and partly because the two men looked extremely alike, as attested by surviving photos. They were also only three years apart in age (Angrup 2005: 21), and had very similar personal styles of voluntary poverty, renunciation and intensive meditative practice. Geshe Rigdzin Tenpa made an extremely strong impression on those who studied with him, including the present Dalai Lama, who commented that he had had two Khunu gurus in his life, Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen and Khunu Geshe Rigdzin Tenpa. (His Holiness Dalai Lama interview 2005; also Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok interview 2005; Gelek Rinpoche interview 2007.) The life and activities of Geshe Rigdzin Tenpa are an important topic for future research. 205

Angrup 2005:22. This passage is an excerpt from a tape-recorded interview with Geshe Rigdzin Tenpa which Angrup conducted with him in 1979 at Ganden Pelgyeling Monastery in Bodhgaya. (Angrup 2005:21-22.) 206

Geshe Rigdzin Tenpa, as a close relative and peer of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen, would seem to be a reliable source, lending credence to this account of the future Khunu Lama's taking

126 although the novice vows just mentioned sound unexceptionable, in fact, the highly significant question of which vows the youthful Tenzin Gyaltsen took turns out to be equally difficult to answer definitively, with some sources saying those of a committed layperson, and some those of a novice monk/"' Such vows are crucial biographical information for the record of a Buddhist life, offering important clues about an individual's self-identity, about his or her approach to Buddhist practice and location vis a vis Buddhist institutions of various kinds, and about the particular way that the community remembers him or her. A monk is one kind of Buddhist role model, virtuoso, and teacher, one who can help to ordain others, who may emphasize monastic practice to students, and who may, at least at times, have significant (even lifelong) affiliation to a

novice monk vows from Guge Yongdzin. A wrinkle arises, however, because the rnam thar goes on to specify that the personal name of this Guge Yongdzin was Losang Tenzin (bLo bzang bsTan 'dzin). The rnam thar passage says in full: "As for the "Guge Yongdzin" who is mentioned above, he was from Tsang, from the [place] called "Gya khar" [hundred forts], and his name was Losang Tenzin. At Tashilhunpo Khyilkhang scholastic college, he reached the summit of studies about philosophy, and so was given the title of "Ka cu" [the one who can give ten interpretations of a text]. He became the tutor of the All-seeing Panchen Losang Tenpai Nyima. From that time onwards, he became extremely famous under the name 'Guge Yongdzin.'" (Angrup 2005:23.) However, based on the identifying details the rnam thar provides, there has clearly been a conflation: Guge Yongdzin Losang Tenzin was the famous tutor of the Fourth Panchen Lama, Losang Tenpai Nyima, and passed away in 1813, far predating Khunu Rinpoche's birth, much less his arrival at Tashilhunpo. This leaves open the possibility that the Guge Yongdzin mentioned by Geshe Rigdzin Tenpa was a different person, but someone with the identicle title. (Gene Smith, personal communication.) Unfortunately, research both in the major Tashilhunpo history Chos grwa chen pa Bkra shis Ihun po dpal gyi sde chen phyogs thams cad las rnam par rgyal ba 'i gling gi chos byung no mtshar dad pa 'i sgo; in the major recent biography of the Ninth Panchen Lama by Fabienne Jagou (Jagou 2004); and within the TBRC catalogue all fail to turn up any information on a Guge Yongdzin; neither source mentions Khunu Lama. Manshardt describes Kachen Sangye Pelzang as himself having the title of tutor or yongs 'dzin to the Panchen Lama, and this may provide the explanation. (Manshardt 2004:21.) Gen Losang Jamspal suggests that the person in question was indeed the yongs 'dzin to the 9th Panchen Lama, and that this would have been — yongs 'dzin. (Gen Losang Jamspal personal communication 2009.) 207

For discussion of the three main kinds of vows in Tibetan Buddhism, see for instance Sparham 2005; Rhoton2002; Sobisch 1997; Gyalpo 1996; Kongtrul 1998.

127 particular monastery. A non-celibate tantric yogi, perhaps one holding lay vows, pursues somewhat different virtuoso practices and represents a different kind of model. Such a person may be likely to be associated with other kinds of (often less formalized) institutions such as a community of tantric practitioners, or not to be affiliated with an institutional home at all, and there are other combinations and permutations of vows and identity possible as well in the Tibetan Buddhist context).208

In Tenzin Gyaltsen's case, there is considerable evidence that he never took the full monks' ordination (Skt. bhiksu, Tib. dge slong) at any time in his life, and that this was the result of carefully considered personal choice. Chris Fynn, a western student of Khunu Lama's in later life, recalls asking the then elderly Khunu Lama about which vows he held: "[A]nd he said...he'd never take any, a vow in his life that he couldn't keep, and

In particular, virtually without exception, Tibetan Buddhist ordained monks and nuns are tantric practitioners as well, (see for example the discussions in Dreyfus 2003 and Mills 2003) and as already noted, many classic Tibetan Buddhist sources understand monastic ordination to be the best basis on which to practice tantra. Thus there is no rigid opposition between monk and tantrika, (and indeed, as I mention below, there is an extensive Tibetan literature devoted to demonstrating that the various levels of vows do not conflict, properly understood, although different lineages of Tibetan Buddhist practice understand this in slightly different ways.) However, it is also true that in the Tibetan context, tantric yogic specialists who are explicitly not monks are also found. Many such non-celibate Vajrayana specialists, who also hold vows (not identical with monastic vows) form, like monastics, a visible and specially demarcated subgroup of persons, whose clothing, behavior, ritual activity, and often, community of residence, indicate their distinctiveness from the broader lay community. Curiously, Khunu Lama does not seem to have dressed or behaved exactly like either a monk or like this sort of yogi. Rather, his selfpresentation seems to have been ambiguous, inasmuch as it was free of most indicators of ritual status. In part as a result, it is only with the greatest difficulty that most informants address questions about his ordination. This ambiguity, as I have mentioned, seems to have been intentional, of a piece with his lack of obvious sectarian affiliation, and of a piece with what appears to have been his general disengagement from institutional affiliation of virtually every kind.

128 monks had, you know, 250 vows, and he said, 'Nobody can keep them all.'"209 Manshardt moreover cites a statement by Khunu Rinpoche late in his life to a group of western students in Manali, in which Khunu Rinpoche said that he had never met any individual whom he trusted enough to take ordination from.210 Perhaps most revealing of all, Rakra Rinpoche reports that Khunu Lama said, "I stay an upasaka so I can practice tantra - 1 won't become a monk,"

a remarkable and suggestive statement whose implications we

shall return to. Other close students and acquaintances of his adult years repeat that he did not hold full monk's vows, and agree that the vows he held later in his life were those of a Buddhist layman (Skt. upasaka, Tib. dge bsnyen).212 Manshardt tells us that Khunu Rinpoche received "lay vows" ("Laiengelubde," presumably upasaka vows) from Kachen Sangye Pelzang, in addition to studying the Pramanavartika with him, and this may be the sole ordination that Tenzin Gyaltsen received at Tashilhunpo. This may be the source of the story of a prominent scholar there bestowing vows on him (particularly likely if in fact Sangye Pelzang at any time held the title yongdzin.)

Still, several people said that Tenzin Gyaltsen might have taken the novice monks' ordination at some point early in his life, quite likely at Tashilhunpo, and that one should assume that statements in the rnam thar to that effect are correct.214 According to Khen


Chris Fynn, interview 2006.


Manshardt 2004:24.


Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006.


For instance, Duboom Tulku interview 2005.


Manshardt 2004:21. Unfortunately, the source is not specified.


For instance, Tashi Paljor interview 2004; Ven. Sonam Gyalpo interview 2006.

129 Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tsetan, the current abbot of Tashilhunpo as re-established in India, it would have been routine and in fact expected for a young man arriving at the monastery to be asked if he already had novice vows, and if not, for him to be given them concurrent with his admission to the monastery, so that he could fully participate in the monastery ritual life and curriculum.215 Nevertheless, such novice Tashilhunpo monks would not necessarily continue on from novice vows to full ordination during the early years of their studies at the monastery.

Thus even if the future Khunu Rinpoche did

take novice monk's vows while at Tashilhunpo, it would not have been terribly unusual for him not to proceed to the full ordination, as it seems he in fact did not. In general, of the boys and men who initially take novice ordination in Tibetan monasteries, some will eventually leave the monastery and give back their vows. Moreover, although full monastic ordination has traditionally been emphasized in all Buddhist societies (and in Tibet, within Gelukpa institutions in particular) as forming the most perfect basis for all forms of sutric and tantric practice, there are nevertheless numerous instances of practitioners in Tibet, in particular from the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma traditions, who have intentionally chosen not to take full ordination, sometimes due to their expectation of eventually engaging in activities that would conflict with full ordination.217 This, of

Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tsetan, interview, 2007. See also Dreyfus' discussion of this point, which echoes this idea. (Dreyfus 2003). However, Rakra Rinpoche emphasized that the vows of full ordination would certainly not be a requirement of staying in the monastery (interview 2006). 216

To give one example, in the autobiographies of the Ladakhi Geshe Yeshe Dundrup (Ye shes don grup, 1897-1980, a close contemporary of Khunu Lama, who in fact studied with Khunu Lama at Tashilhunpo), the Geshe states that he did not undertake full dge slong monastic ordination until after completing some twenty years of study at Tashilhunpo, receiving his Kachen degree, and completing a post-degree meditation program. (Shakspo 2005:339.) 217

As may have been the case for Khunu Rinpoche. On this topic see for example Stearns 2001. Such activities might include certain forms of tantric practice as well as having children to

130 course, is precisely what Rakra Rinpoche suggests was the case for Khunu Lama, and if correct, this would add an important dimension to our understanding of many of his choices and activities in later life, such as teaching to women and accepting female students in a way rare for fully ordained monks of his generation, and remaining outside of the structures of institutional monasticism.218

Whichever conclusions we draw from these sometimes-conflicting reports, it is certainly notable that the ambiguity surrounding Khunu Lama's level of ordination offers an interesting parallel to other ambiguities in his self-presentation and identity, in particular

continue the biological line of their families, in particular in situations where a given family lineage holds Buddhist teachings in tandem with the transmission lineage, as for example in the main houses of the Sakya tradition. However, it is important to bear in mind that an entire genre of Tibetan literature from across the different schools and traditions explicitly asserts that the three levels of vows (the pratimoksha or individual liberation vows especially of monks and nuns; bodhisattva; and tantric vows) do not conflict, although different Tibetan authors map out this non-conflict with slightly different emphases. Works on "Three-Vows" (sdompa gsum) literature include Sparham 2005; Rhoton 2002; Sobisch 1997; Gyalpo 1996; Kongtrul 1998. 218

Manshardt suggests that Tenzin Gyaltsen's study of philosophy, epistemology and logic at Tashilhunpo was unusual, in the sense that he was permitted into classes normally reserved for monks. (Manshardt 2004:21, although it is not clear if this is a comment made by sources or his own analysis. Sparham also comments on Tenzin Gyaltsen's studies as unusual, in the sense that he studied literary topics that are not normally a required part of the Gelukpa monastic curriculum. (Sparham 1999: 2.) I discuss the role of literary studies in the Tibetan Buddhist intellectual context and Tenzin Gyaltsen's choice to pursue such study further below. This would imply that Tenzin Gyaltsen himself was not a monk. Manshardt says that an exception was made for Tenzin Gyaltsen because of his role teaching literature at the Panchen Lama's request. (Manshardt 2004:21.) However, this also is a slippery topic. According to the mam thar and to K. Angrup's oral narration of the chronology, Khunu Lama did not begin to work as a teacher at Tashilhunpo and at the Panchen Lama's nearby school for civil servants until some years into his stay in Tibet, after the first of his sojourns in Lhasa, (per Angrup 2005:18-19, Angrup interview 2004) and substantially after he first began his studies at Tashilhunpo. This would leave open the question of how he first gained permission to enter classes reserved for monks if he had not taken some level of monastic ordination himself.

131 to the complex question of his sectarian affiliation that I consider more fully later on. In the matter of his ordination, just as in the areas of study he pursued and other personal and intellectual choices he made, including his dress, Tenzin Gyaltsen seems to have been different from the majority of students entering Tashilhunpo and similar institutions, and to have carved out a highly individual path for himself.

Central Tibet

Khunu Tenzin Gyaltsen, as those who knew him in Central Tibet called him,

seems to

have left Tashilhunpo after a relatively short time,221 although not for long, as his literary

I will consider these questions in more detail later on, but one interesting manifestation of the ambiguity surrounded which vows he held comes through in a consideration of his clothing. Throughout his later life, Khunu Lama generally dressed as a Buddhist layman in a layman's wool chuba (a traditional Tibetan robe), although as shown in photos and according to the descriptions of those who met him, his chuba was generally a red one, echoing the monastic color. His choice of clothing conveys visually both that he is some kind of full-time religious practitioner (the red color), while at the same time not marking him as either a monk or explicitly as a yogi of any particular type. Many people pointed out this style of dress to me and explained it in this way. This liminal dress seems to be an element of Khunu Lama's self-presentation that people remember as noteworthy, and as worth describing. Later on in his life, after his return to India, he is also said to have often worn the yellow robe of an Indian sadhu, another interesting disruption of sartorial expectations that sends particular signals about his identity. I will return to this below. 220

Rakra Rinpoche notes that during his years in Central Tibet, Khunu Lama was not called by the honorific "Rinpoche," since he was not particularly well-known or specially admired. He was simply called, "Khunu Tenzin Gyaltsen," according to the common Tibetan usage in which a person's place of origin becomes an appellation, such as "Amdo Gendun Chophel." According to Rakra Rinpoche, it was only later, in India, that the polite epithet Rinpoche was applied. 221

K. Angrup, interview, September 2004, based on mKhas btsun bzang po's interview notes from Khu nu Rinpoche, says that Khunu Lama stayed at Tashilhunpo for three years. Note that this time frame and some of the following chronology differs from both K. Angrup's earlier Khu

132 skills would soon open a new door for him back in the Tashilhunpo vicinity. First however, he traveled east to Lhasa, the capital city of the Central Tibetan province of U. Lhasa, arguably the most important city in the Tibetan region, was (and is) itself a major pilgrimage site in its own right, in addition to being the seat of the then Ganden Potrang government and the Dalai Lamas. It was a bustling economic center as well. During the early twentieth century it was filled with diverse people from many parts of the Himalayan region, Mongolia and China, as well as with Tibetans from across the Plateau on pilgrimage or trading trips. Lhasa stores offered goods and merchandise from all over the world, and its streets held scholars, politicians, beggars, performers, traders, pilgrims 999

and aristocrats among many other kinds of people.

nu rin po che'i rnam thar thar pa'i them skas zhes bya ba bzhugs so and the interview material provided by gSang sngags bstan 'dzin to Dodin; K. Angrup himself emphasizes that the updated chronology is the correct one. Dodin reports Sangngak Tenzin as saying that Khunu Lama only spent about 8 or 9 months at Tashilhunpo before going to Lhasa, and left immediately after passing a preliminary examination called rgyugs chung. Dodin comments on the apparent oddity of this, since normally this examination is merely a prerequisite for further participation at Tashilunpo. (Dodin 1993:95 n. 11, 12.) It may be that the three years mentioned by K. Angrup represents Khunu Lama's total time in the Tashilhunpo area, including the time he spent subsequently teaching at the Kyi Kyi Na Ga School, and that his activities in Lhasa were sandwiched into that time. In the recorded interview conducted by Lama Kunga with Khunu Lama in the early 1970s, Khunu Lama gives his itinerary in the briefest terms, and says he was in "Bod" (i.e, U and Tsang provinces, as distinct from Kham) for five years. The account in Angrup 2005 does not make clear how long Khunu Lama studied at Tashilhunpo after his first arrival there before travelling to Lhasa. Note also that the time frame "three years" comes up repeatedly throughout Khunu Rinpoche's rnam thar, and though in some cases oral interviews repeat this chronology, it seems also to represent the speaker's estimate or even a kind of chronological trope, three years being a kind of ideal number, neither too long nor too short. Thus "three years" here and elsewhere is often only an approximation. 222

See for instance McKay, Barnett, McGranahan, as well as the reports of British visitors and soldiers such as Waddell; Taklha, Rinchen, and the forthcoming work by Harris.

133 Khunu Rinpoche himself seems to have focused on Lhasa's many attractions for the Buddhist pilgrim and scholar, both looking for teachers and studying there, and, as was already becoming his pattern, finding opportunities to teach himself, on literary topics. The rnam thar says little in detail about this first visit to the city, mentioning only that: "He [Khunu Lama] scrupulously asked questions from learned experts to eliminate his doubts about the innate purity which is difficult to understand,223 and he taught about the cultural sciences. [He] made pilgrimages and religious offerings at the supreme shrines of the two Shakyamuni Jowo statues [i.e., in the Ramoche Temple, and in the Lhasa Jokhang] and at the great palace [the Potala Palace of the Dalai Lama]...."224

Khunu Lama studied and taught literary sciences in Lhasa and at other places in Central 00^

Tibet during this time.

He taught in several capacities, in particular as a tutor to

members of prominent aristocratic houses, such as the Mondrol (sMon sgrol), 226 001

Samdrup potrang, (bSam grub pho brang),


and Tsarong (Tsha rong) families.



Sadly, the rnam thar does not tell us which experts here by name, and the oral sources do not discuss this in detail. 224

Angrup 2005:18.


K. Angrup, Khu nu rinpo che'i rnam thar tharpa'i them skas zhes bya ba bzhugs so. p. 54.


This may refer to the sMon grong ecclesiastical house as suggested by the historian Tashi Tsering Josayma, personal communication, 2004. 227

mKhas btsun bzang po Rinpoche, Khu nu bla ma rin po che'i rnam par thar pa nyid kyi zhal gsungs ma bzhugs so, p. 2a; K. Angrup, interview, September 2004. 228

Sem Trinley Ongmo interview 2004. (Sem Trinley Ongmo is Tsarong's niece.) Khunu Lama would later become a guru to Sem Trinley Ongmo, and to her mother, the Queen Mother of Sikkim, for whom he was a particularly important teacher. It is not completely clear whether this teaching to prominent families occurred during this early residence in Lhasa, when Khunu Lama was quite a young man, or many years later, during his second sojourn there, when he was considerably better known and had himself completed much more additional study in Kham. I

134 interesting among these connections was the latter, Tsarong being among the most powerful and politically connected families in Lhasa. Dasang Damdul Tsarong (Zla bzang Dgra 'dul Tsha rong, d.1959), who became the head of the Tsarong family, was Commander in Chief of Tibet until 1924, and an influential protege of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.229 Khunu Lama taught nyen ngag and sum dag to him, and the connection seems to have been a fruitful one, the beginning of a lifelong acquaintance between Khunu Lama and members of the family.230 Indeed, Khunu Lama continued to have contact with branches of these important families, in particular the Tsarongs, through out his life, and as we shall see, a number of highly placed individuals assisted him in various ways during his travels in Tibet, in particular when he ventured away from Lhasa to Kham.231 Khunu Lama is also recorded as having taught at the Lhasa Mentsikhang (sMan stsis khang), the Tibetan government-run Astronomy and Medical Institute, at this

have understood the sources to indicate that teaching to these families happened beginning from Khunu Lama's early visit. This seems less improbable when one considers that Khunu Lama was, or soon became, well enough known that the Ninth Panchen Lama invited the young man to return to Shigatse to teach at the Panchen Lama's own special civil service school. Nevertheless, as will be seen below, I have placed Khunu Lama's teaching to Ling Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama's Senior Tutor and a very important personage, in the later of Khunu Lama's stays in Lhasa, since the connection between the two men seems far more likely to have occurred at the height of Khunu Lama's Tibetan teaching career, and during the same time when he taught at the Mentsikhang at government request. 229

On the life of Dudul Tsarong see Tsarong 2000 as well as Taklha 2001 and Taring 1986.


Khunu Lama would also renew his acquaintance with Mrs. Namgyal Taklha (the present Dalai Lama's sister-in-law) in India, although in a far more casual way. (Mrs. Namgyal Taklha interview 2004; see also Taklha 2001.) Manshardt 2004:21-22 notes Khunu Rinpoche's relationship to the Tsarong and Mongrol families. 231

In particular, important Tsarong connections continued throughout Khunu Lama's later life in India as noted already. Help from highly placed patrons seems to have been particularly important when Khunu Lama left Central Tibet and traveled to Kham, although there are conflicting accounts of which patrons these were.

135 time,232 but it seems most likely that this teaching in fact occurred somewhat later, when his reputation had further developed. Certainly though, he himself studied in Lhasa with scholars connected to the Mentsikhang, of whom the most famous was, as noted, the great doctor Khyenrap Norbu (mKhyen rab nor bu, 1883-1962), personal physician to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.233

At some point however, the Ninth Panchen Lama Chokyi Nyima (Bio bzang Chos kyi nyi ma dge legs rnam rgyal, 1883-1937) asked Khunu Rinpoche to return to Tashilhunpo, to teach cultural sciences (Tib. rig gnas) in the Panchen Lama's own special school for future civil servants in his administration.234 At this request, (which one imagines was an honor, as well as being the sort of request it was difficult to refuse) Khunu Lama returned to Shigatse, where he taught at this school for several years. "In accordance with the wishes of the All-seeing Ninth Panchen Lama, the great Chokyi Nyima (1883-1937), he [Khunu Lama] instructed nobles belonging to the Tse Gyaltsen Palace [the palace of the

Byams pa Phrin las, Gangs Ijongs gso rigs bstanpa'i nyin byedrim by on gyi rnam thar phyogs bsgrigs, p. 437. Manshardt 2004:21-22 also notes that Khunu Lama taught at the Mentsikhang during this time. 233

K. Angrup, interview, September 2004; Bsod nams dbang grags, unpublished manuscript, p. 3. Byams pa Phrin las, Gangs Ijongs gso rigs bstan pa'i nyin byed rim by on gyi rnam thar phyogs bsgrigs, p. 437. 234

K. Angrup, Khu nu rinpo che'i rnam thar thar pa'i them skas zhes bya ba bzhugs so. p. 54; K. Angrup interview September, 2004. It should be noted that the chronology for this is confusing in some respects: the Ninth Panchen Lama was in China and Inner Mongolia during the years 19231937. Assuming he invited Khunu Lama to the school prior to his departure, and prior to Khunu Rinpoche's departure for Khams, it would have had to be very early in the nineteen-twenties. However, at that time Khunu Lama was quite a young man, and it is surprising to think that he would have received such a prestigious invitation at such a young age. Unfortunately, there is to my knowledge no written history in Tibetan of the Kyi Kyi Na Ga school. (See note below). Trulku Pema Wangyal also mentions Khunu Lama's having been invited to teach by the Ninth Panchen Lama. Trulku Pema Wangyal, interview April 2005.

136 Panchen Lamas] and major and minor government civil servants in poetry, grammar and orthography"235,236.

Although Khunu Rinpoche seems to have generally met with welcome and appreciation in the central Tibetan provinces of U and Tsang - as evidenced by the relationships he formed as teacher and student, and the jobs he was invited to take - he also was interestingly the target of at least one public attack in print. This attack took the form of a long critical statement in a grammatical commentary by a monk-scholar and grammarian from Kalep Monastery in Tsang, Kalep Drungyig Pema Dorje (dKar lebs drung yig Pad ma rDo rje, b.1858).237 In his grammatical treatise, dKar lebs Sum rtags 'Grelpa (Kalep


Angrup 2005:18.


The rnam thar says of this special school that, "Later on, that All-seeing One's [Panchen Lama's] school for the literary arts ["Kun gzigs slob grwa"] relocated to the Kyi Kyi Na Ga park ["Festive Field" park] in the capital [of Tsang, i.e., Shigatse], where it became the site of instruction in matters connected to the literary arts for the noble families who were part of the government of Tsang. During the lifetime of the All-seeing radiant lord, the Tenth Panchen Lama (1936-1989), he [the Tenth Panchen Lama] guided the establishment of a school quite similar to the Kyi Kyi Na Ga Literary Arts School, [situated] to one side of the summer palace of the Dechen Potrang [the administration of the Panchen Lamas]. [This was] a school for instructing well-born youths in service to the government [of the Panchen Lama], known as the central Tse Changsal school [Clear Eye School]. It became famous everywhere." Angrup 2005: 19. As this passage makes clear, the school where Khunu Rinpoche taught is often referred to as the Kyi Kyi Na Ga School, after the park near the Panchen Lama's palace, close to Tashilhunpo, where the school relocated. Manshardt, refering to the school as the "Kun gzigs slob grwa" (literally, the All-Seeing [Panchen Lama]'s School'), states that Khunu Lama contributed to founding it. (Manshardt 2004:21.) Sadly few detailed sources on the school's history now exist. The prominent twentieth century Tibetan scholar Dung dkar Rinpoche for example gives an entry for the Kyi Kyi Na Ga school in his important reference work Tshig mdzod chen mo, but says he has no information about it other than its location. (Dung dkar Rinpoche 2001). 237

This birthdate is given in the Gangs Ijongs lo rgyus thog gi grags can mi sua biographical dictionary, p. 959, published by the Bod Ijongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 1993.

137 Drungyig's Commentary on Tibetan Grammar)™ Kalep Drungyig criticised a number of literary scholars with whose interpretations he disagreed, including Khunu Lama. He asserted that Khunu Lama's views on Tibetan grammar were erroneous. Most revealingly, he suggested that such a person as Khunu Lama, a "rongpa" or "valley person" — i.e., a border person and not a real Tibetan native speaker - could never properly understand or teach Tibetan grammar.239 The word "rongpa'1'' is interesting, since it can represent a kind of ethnic or cultural slur, having a somewhat similar valence to the complex and loaded term "mon pa" which, like rongpa, refers to ethnic groups living on the southern border of Tibet.240 "Rong pa," perhaps unsurprisingly, can also connote a "low" or narrowminded view, as well as an individual from a lower-altitude place.241

A reprint of this work, which includes material written hy Kalep Drunyig between 1915-1932, was published in 1971 by Getse Trulku Kunga Lodoy in New Delhi, under the title dKar-lebs drun-yigpadma-rdo-rje on Tibetan Grammar, and in Lhasa in 1989 by the Bod hongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang under the title dKar lebs sum rtags dka' 'grel (hereafter Dkar lebs drun yig 1989.) In the latter edition, the section on Khunu Lama, entitled "Gtsang Ijongspa rnam kham brag mchog sprul rinpo che'i bka' Ian gandharvha'i gling bu dang lhan cig dbus gtsang khams gsum gyi mkhaspa khunu ba bstan rgyan can gyi rtsodyig las phrospa'i sgrub byedgsalpor stonpa 'jigs medzho 'thung rus pa" runs from pp.95-116. 239

Dkar lebs drun yig 1989:95-116. Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006; Ven. Sonam Gyalpo interview 2006; Gen. Lobsang Jamspal interview 2004, 2005, 2006; Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tsetan interview 2005, 2006. For a discussion of the genre of philosophical polemic in Tibetan, see Lopez 1996 "Polemical Literature (dGag Ian)." Kalep Drungyig's criticism of Khunu Lama is not a classic example of dgag Ian per se, but does posses some of the same characteristics. 240

Mon pa is a somewhat generic term, although it is now used to indicate a particular ethnic group. It can refer to people at the Tibetan border with Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh in present day India, and Nepal, among others, and is sometimes understood to mean jungle-dwellers or what are sometimes called "tribals" in India. For important discussions of this multivalent term see Scheiderman, Turin, Pommaret, etc. In my own personal anecdotal experience, the strong associations of these terms may be diminishing among contemporary younger people. A young female interview subject in Lhasa who self-identified as a Mon pa (though I certainly would have been unable to distinguish her by dialect, dress or other markers) said she knew there were negative stereotypes associated with the term, but that she had rarely experienced negative responses from non-Mow pa Tibetans; she was married to an ethnic Tibetan from Khams (whom she had met on the Internet), spoke Lhasa dialect Tibetan as her mother tongue, and lived,


Sources who are familiar with this episode say that this criticism in fact seems to have done little harm to Khunu Lama's reputation as a teacher and scholar. At least with the perspective of hindsight, these sources add that in fact, Kalep Drungyig was not himself a particularly brilliant scholar, and that he may have been nettled by having some of his errors critiqued by Khunu Lama.242 Khunu Lama was moreover in excellent company as a target for Kalep Drungyig's criticism: among the other scholars whose interpretations Kalep Drungyig criticizes are Urgyen Tenzin, Khunu Lama's own Sikkimese literature teacher, and the great Tibetan polymath and literary theorist Situ Panchen.243 This criticism moreover seems to have been an isolated incident, and not to have characterized the general climate that Khunu Lama encountered in central Tibet. Thus most sources say that one should not understand Khunu Lama's eventual departure from the central Tibetan area as a flight away from this attack.244

apparently harmoniously, with her husband's family. Nevertheless, in the early twentieth century, the word rongpa as applied here to Khunu Lama seems to have carried somewhat more emphatic connotations of difference and disparagement. 241

Tenzin Norbu, oral communication.


Lobsang Jamspal, oral communication; Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Tsetan, oral communication.


On Situ Panchen's life and contributions see Smith 2001; Lungta 13 (Amnye Machen Insitute: 2000), see also papers presented at "Situ Panchen: Creation and Cultural Engagement in 18thcentury Tibet," conference at the Rubin Museum of Art, February 2009. 244

Ven. Sonam Gyalpo interview 2006; Gen. Lobsang Jamspal interview 2004, 2005, 2006 (Gen. Jamspal in fact suggests that Kaleb Trunyig may have waited to publicize his views until after Khunu Lama's departure); Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tsetan interview 2005, 2006. However, Manshardt cites a "jealous atmosphere" in Central Tibet as the reason for Khunu Lama's subsequent departure, and this criticism certainly hints at such an atmosphere. Manshardt 2004:22.

139 Still, it is interesting to see that in at least one episode for which records survive, a critic made use of Khunu Rinpoche's perceived 'non-Tibetan-ness' in an attempt to disparage him. This supports what one would suspect, based on present day evidence: namely, that although the Himalayan region saw a number of traveling scholar-students such as Khunu Lama, regional prejudices did indeed exist. While the Himalayan region in the early century may have seen many more encounters between culturally and linguistically diverse individuals than outsiders have previously understood, these encounters were (perhaps predictably) not without the potential for friction.245

Despite such occasional friction, Khunu Lama apparently continued teaching in the Panchen Lama's Kyi Kyi Na Ga school until 1921 or 1922. At the age of twenty-seven, he began traveling again in earnest.246 While in the central Tibetan area he seems to have visited a number of important sites of meditation and learning in the general vicinity of Lhasa, including a Drukpa centre called 'Khamda,' which may have been a retreat centre

Again, one may think here of the example of the Mongolian students' lawsuit for harassment against their fellow Drepung monks during the time of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, as described in Dorjiev 1991. 246

K. Angrup, interview 2004, states that Khunu Rinpoche left Central Tibet for Khams at age twenty-seven, which if he were born in 1895 would make the year 1922. This also makes sense in light of other events in the chronology. Manshardt gives the date of Khunu Rinpoche's departure for eastern Tibet as 1925, but this seems too late. Specifically, as described in the next section, Khunu Lama met with the famous Dzokchen Khenpo Shenga (mKhan po gZhan dga') in Khams just before the end of the Khenpo's life. Since Khenpo Shenga died in 1927 and Khunu Rinpoche made a number of stops before meeting him, it seems most plausible that Khunu Lama left the Lhasa area at the earlier date. Sparham says that Khunu Lama went to Kham twice, once as a young man, immediately following his time in Lhasa and Shigatse, and a second time in the 1930's. In between these trips, Sparham says Khunu Lama returned to India to study Sanskrit in Varanasi. Other biographers place Khunu Lama in Varanasi after 1937, after the end of his time in Kham. Sparham 1999:2-3. See the chronology in Appendix A.

140 747

located above the Drolma Lhakhang, outside Lhasa.

According to oral accounts given

by Khunu Rinpoche to Trulku Pema Wangyal and others at the end of his life in Bodhgaya, at some point during his time in central Tibet, Khunu Rinpoche also made several important Gelukpa contacts. He apparently studied at the major Gelukpa centers of Drepung, Sera and Ganden during this period.248,249 According to Khenpo Sonam Topgyal, Khunu Rinpoche further asked people in Lhasa for advice about whom best to study the Gelukpa system with. Many advised him that the most well-known Gelukpa scholar was Pabongka Rinpoche, a famously charismatic Gelukpa scholar and religious teacher, one of whose best known teachings, given in 1921, was collected and published as rNam sgrol lag bcangs and translated into English as Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand.250 However, according to Khenpo Sonam, Khunu Lama did not like the idea of studying with Pabongka Rinpoche, and left Lhasa.251


According to gSang sngags bstan 'dzin, as described in Dodin, p. 86. Spelling of Khamda not clear. In general, it is unfortunately difficult to pin down the precise chronology of Khunu Lama's activities in central Tibet, since few complete sources exist for this time period. While one can be fairly confident about where in central Tibet Khunu Lama went and whom he met, since these things are attested by multiple textual and oral sources, it is harder to say exactly when and in what order these meetings and trips occurred. It is possible that some of these visits happened during his time of study in Lhasa before he began teaching at the Kyi Kyi Na school, or during breaks from his teaching there. 248

Trulku Pema Wangyal, interview April 2005. Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok, interview 2005.


Trulku Pema Wangyal recalls Khunu Lama saying that "[at] that time he says he used to [be] really, really disciplined and for months he never, never made fire, he would just have a little tsampa and put a cold water and drink that. He lived for months like this." Trulku Pema Wangyal, interview April 2005. 250 251

Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand, Michael Richards, trans., 1991.

Khenpo Sonam Topgyal Rinpoche interview 2006. One can read between the lines here to infer that - according to this oral account at least - Khunu Lama may have found Pabongka Rinpoche's famously critical attitude toward many ideas that might be termed non-sectarian inhospitable. However, this may be a reading based too strongly on hindsight: the above account may be apocryphal; and in any case, this story is necessarily weighted with the pressure of more


Finally, though, Khunu Rinpoche left central Tibet completely, on a journey that would ultimately bring him to the eastern part of the Tibetan cultural area, to Khams and Amdo, and to some of the most important connections of his time as a student. He would remain in the east, mostly in Khams, for approximately fourteen years.252 During his time in eastern Tibet, Khunu Rinpoche met and studied with many of the most influential lamas of the early twentieth century, entering into lineage relationships that would shape much of the rest of his life. When Khunu Rinpoche began to share his knowledge with Tibetans in India, especially in the years after 1959, it is the rich array of transmissions he received in eastern Tibet that formed the core of his teaching, and that allowed him to be of help in maintaining the continuity of Tibetan Buddhist intellectual life in exile. Some sense of the importance of his Khampa connections to him personally can be seen from the list of "root gurus" Khunu Rinpoche wrote much later in India near the end of his life. In this list, he listed provided the names of his root gurus in each of the four major Tibetan lineages.253 Eighteen of the twenty-two names on that list were individuals he studied with in Khams.

recent events involving some latter-day members of Pabongka Rinpoche's lineage and issues of sectarianism. 252

K. Angrup interview September, 2004, based on interview material from Khunu Lama provided by mKhas btsun bzang po Rinpoche. Note that this differs slightly from the chronology provided by gSang sngags bstan 'dzin to Dodin, as well as from the chronology available to Sparham (Sparham 1999:2). I discuss the chronological issues and the question of exactly where Khunu Lama went further in the following sections. 253

K. Angrup interview September, 2004, based on Khunu Rinpoche's handwritten list.


Chapter Four Travel and study in Eastern Tibet

One would of course like to know more about what in particular inspired Khunu Lama to leave central Tibet, where he appears to have been welcomed at many institutions and households, and where he seems to have formed a number of significant connections. The general consensus of oral sources is that he left for study, drawn by the fame of the teachers in eastern areas. However, one direct inspiration for Khunu Lama's departure from Shigatse for eastern Tibetan regions may have been a meeting with a prominent hierarch and intellectual from Khams, the Third Kathog Situ Rinpoche (Ka: thog Si tu Chos kyi rgya mtsho,1880 -1923/25). Kathog Situ Rinpoche visited Tashilhunpo in the course of the pilgrimage he made to Central Tibet from 1918-1920, which formed the basis for his much-read pilgrimage guide (reissued in paperback in 2001).254 Some sources suggest that Khunu Rinpoche met Kathog Situ in central Tibet during this time, and that their meeting re-ignited Khunu Rinpoche's wish to travel to Khams and study there.255 Other sources say more generally that Khunu Rinpoche wanted to continue his


This famous pilgrimage guide, based on this trip, is the Si tupa Chos kyi rgya mtsho'i Gangs Ijongs dbus gtsang gnas bskor lam yig nor bu zla shel gyi se mo do zhes bya ba bzhugs so. It has been reissued many times, including in a paperback 2001 edition by the Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang. 255

bSod nams dbang grags interview, 2005. Gyumed Khenpo Tuthob agrees, interview 2005. Unfortunately, Kathog Situ's pilgrimage guide does not detail names of people he met at Tashilhunpo.

143 studies, and was drawn to the centers of learning in Khams by their reputation for excellence, especially in the Nyingma tradition, and also in the Sakya and various Kagyu lineages.256 As described earlier, Khunu Lama's Sikkimese teacher Urgyen Tenzin Rinpoche himself went to Khams in pursuit of teachings at an early stage in his career. Urgyen Tenzin's description of his own studies in Khams may have further influenced Khunu Lama's eventual decision to go.

The rnam thar, for its part, endorses the view that it was the intellectual and religious attractions of Khams that drew Khunu Lama, enough to mitigate the considerable challenges of the trip. "Because the lord [Khunu Lama] was not contented merely by the education which he had heard, studied and practiced in the central Tibetan area of U Tsang, for the sake of mastering all the essential points of the complete scriptural system, at the age of 27, as an older Indian student, having taken on his back what was necessary for his livelihood, he traveled the long difficult roads from Central Tibet to the area of Khams, all the while not making any mental comparisons but rather, by the great power of his enthusiasm [traveled to Khams easily] like a swan plunging into a lotus lake."

The road would indeed have been long and difficult at that time, requiring a combination of arduous travel on foot and perhaps with a donkey or mule if one were lucky - certainly

One might certainly think that Khunu Rinpoche would have heard about the immanent visit of such an important lama to Tashilhunpo and would have found some way to meet him. However, not all sources agree: Tethong Rakra Rinpoche (Bkras mthong Rak ra Rin po che) says that Khunu Lama's meeting with Kathog Situ was extremely important for Khunu Lama, but says that it did not occur until Khunu Lama had already traveled to Khams, where he met Kathog Situ at the latter's own monastic seat. (Rak ra bkras mthong interview 2006.) 256

Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche interview 2004, 2005; Sonam Wandak, personal communication; Tulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005. 257

Angrup 2005: 23.

144 an ambitious project for anyone. It is highly suggestive both of Khunu Lama's priorities and of his independence of institutions that he would leave what appear to have been a comfortable range of opportunities in Lhasa and Shigatse in order to make the rigorous journey east to a new place, apparently in order to study. Nevertheless, the hardships of travel may not have been as unrelieved as the rnam thar here suggests. During some parts of his eastern journey, Khunu Lama had the protection of some of the powerful aristocratic and government figures with whom he had formed connections during his time teaching in Lhasa, as well as subsequently enjoying the support of prominent people whom he met within Kham itself.

The rnam thar does not give very detailed descriptions of Khunu Rinpoche's movements and activities once in eastern Tibet, something that may in part reveal how far away geographically, culturally and temporally this period of Khunu Rinpoche's life is from

Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche mentions that Khunu Lama traveled to Kham under the auspices of Kalon (Cabinet Minister) Trimon Norbu Wangyal (bKa' blon Khri smon Nor bu dbang rgyal, 1874-1945?), who in 1922 traveled from Lhasa to Kham to take over the post of Governor of Kham in Chamdo for the Central Tibetan government. (Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche interview 2005. For the life of Khri smon Nor bu dbang rgyal and dates of his travel and governorship in Kham, see Petech 1973:96-97; Shakabpa 1967:239 ff. Tibetan historian W.D. Shakabpa is in fact Khri smon's nephew). Manshardt describes a similar scenario, but says that the person with whom Khunu Lama traveled was a member of the Tsarong family, a possibility that would also make sense. (Manshardt 2004:22.) David Jackson also cites Dezhung Rinpoche as saying that once in Khams, Khunu Lama was able to requisition transport animals due to his official connections. (Jackson 2003:64 and note 235.) As Jackson notes, these would have been connections to the Central Tibetan government and officials, since "In that period, Derge district had come under the control of the Central Tibetan government."(Jackson 2003:597). As detailed below, Khunu Lama became particularly close to the Tentong (bKras mthong) family in Dege and Chamdo, and Tentong Shapey (bKras mthong Zhabs pad), who eventually became the Central Tibetan government's governor-general of Kham (see Goldstein 1989), was extremely helpful to him, providing financial support and travel documents (Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006).

Angrup's own world, and from his personal experience with Khunu Rinpoche. The mam thar says simply and somewhat repetitively, "As for lord Lama Rinpoche [Tenzin Gyaltsen], he hurried off in search of the holy Dharma. Despite the bitter difficulties of progress along the road, he did not think about them at all. He was twenty-seven years old. He traveled from U [Central Tibet] to the Khams area, and then eventually came to Dege. He remained there for several years. While he stayed there, he studied at the lotus feet of various amazing non-sectarian [ris med] lamas. He learned and studied the explanations of sutra and tantra that he had sought for while he lived in the Dharma Realm of Tibet, foremost among them being the Great Books in Thirteen Volumes; tantric initiations and permissions; and the fully embellished direct oral instructions."259

Yet despite its brevity (the section on Khams is by far the least detailed section of the mam thar), here in a nutshell the mam thar summarizes key aspects of Khunu Lama's activities in Khams: He traveled widely in the region, to virtually all the major monasteries, educational centers, and hermitage retreats of famous teachers. He received teachings, initiations and transmissions from individuals from across the spectrum of Tibetan lineages, including from people who were connected in important ways with the ideal of a ris med or non-sectarian approach to Buddhist study and practice. He spent significant amounts of time in the regional center of Dege where he made important connections. And particularly noteworthy among the topics he studied were the commentaries on the gZhung chen bcu gsum or "Thirteen Great Books," by the famed Nyingma scholar, Khenpo Shenga (mKhan po gZhan phan chos kyi snang ba, or mKhan po gZhan dga', 1871-1927), of Dzogchen Monastery. This last is quite important: Khenpo Shenga's commentaries on the "Thirteen Great Books" were profoundly influential for

Angrup 2005:19-20.

subsequent generations of scholars, and may have been significant for Khunu Lama's own approach.

In addition, although the rnam thar does not mention it here, while in

Khams, Khunu Lama would receive multiple transmissions and teachings on the topic of bodhicitta, and on the classic Indian text that discusses it, the Bodhisattvacaryavatara {The Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life), by the eighth century Indian master 961


These teachings would form the heart of what Khunu Lama would himself

then later transmit to the Fourteenth Dalai Lama some forty years later, and represents the core of the teachings and practice for which he is most remembered.

Lastly, and also virtually unmentioned in the mam thar,

is that fact that although

Khunu Lama is most remembered for his exoteric teachings and activities related to bodhicitta, he was in fact also an accomplished tantric practitioner as well. He pursued and received a number of major tantric transmissions in Khams, ranging from the Sakya

See Smith 2001.1 discuss this more fully below. In brief, it is impossible to say for certain on the basis of the sources we currently have to what extent Khenpo Shenga's famously "back to the sources" approach to the "Thirteen Great Books" influenced Khunu Lama's own similar style, and to what extent Khunu Lama was already thinking along these lines when he sought out and studied with the master. Either way, though, there is a significant resonance between their styles, which is revealing in the context of non-sectarian ideas, as well as in terms of the ongoing Tibetan appropriation of Indian tradition. 261

English translations include Batchelor 1979; Wallace and Wallace 1997; Padmakara Translation Group 1997. Smith 2001 argues that the diffusion of the Bodhisattvacaryavatara in eastern Tibet was particularly significant for the philosophical controversies of the nineteenth century and for the emergence of the ideas associated with the label ris med, or non-sectarian.


As I note elsewhere, Angrup's rnam thar would seem to fit squarely within the Tibetan rubric of "outer rnam thar" detailing only the external events of Khunu Lama's life with little if any mention of his personal Buddhist practice, spiritual accomplishments or meditative experiences. Some of this may be due to an intentional choice on Angrup's part, since Angrup himself was in possession of the handwritten list of Khunu Lama's main gurus I have mentioned - indeed, he is the person who shared it with me.

147 Lamdre to the Kalacakra Tantra, all of which he seems to have integrated into the range of systems and ideas he would later teach in India.

Khunu Lama was moreover a

practitioner of the meditational system of Dzogchen,264 and during his time in Khams, he received extensive teachings on Dzogchen and entered into Dzogchen lineages of great importance, lineages that turn out to overlap closely with the lineages associated with non-sectarian ideas at the period in Khams. While the question of why and to what extent this association developed is complicated and in many ways unclear, Khunu Lama's own activities add in a small but welcome way to our understanding of this pattern.

The mam thar describes how Khunu Lama traveled, relatively early on in his journey, to the important riverside town of Dege (sDe dge), which was the capital of the semiautonomous kingdom265 of the same name: "Gradually, he came to Dege. He stayed for


On the Lamdre tradtion (Tib. Lam 'dras), see among others Stearns 2002, 2006; on the Kalacakra Tantra see for example Wallace 2001, 2004; Arnold 2009. 264

Dzogchen is an important esoteric system of Tibetan meditative practice found in particular in the Nyingma and Kagyu schools, as well as in Bonpo contexts (which may or may not be categorized as Buddhist, a large topic we cannot consider here.) The question of in what sense and according to which systems Dzogchen should be considered a form of tantra is beyond the scope of this work. Suffice it to say here that since many Dzogchen materials are esoteric, and since there are Tibetan Buddhist schema that place it at the summit of the 'Vehicles' above and beyond the tantras (for example, Dudjom 1991), I place it on the esoteric side of the equation. Conversely, bodhicitta and practices associated with it are themselves not necessarily exoteric at all - in fact, arguably, bodhicitta in its range of different meanings and levels is among the most profound — and in some aspects secret — threads running through all sutric and tantric practices. Here I divide the outer teachings and practices for which Khunu Lama was best known from tantra merely for purposes of rhetorical convenience. For English language treatments of Dzogchen, its history, associated texts and ritual practices see for instance Dudjom 1991; Germano; Gyatso 1998, Thondup, Nyoshul, Smith 2001. 265

For details of Dege's shifting status and independence during the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see for instance the essays in Epstein 2002; Tashi Tsering 1985; Kolmas 1968; Petech 1972, 1973; Shakabpa 1967; Smith 2001; Gardner 2006. In brief, though technically a Qing protectorate, the rulers of Dege maintained a significant degree of autonomy until the

148 about fourteen years, studying at the feet of various ris med [non-sectarian] scholars and saints, in Dege and its surrounding areas, in monastic seats and mountain hermitages. He spent that same time on the road, [journeying] up and down...[i.e., he traveled around the Khams area.]"

The oral accounts agree, saying that Khunu Lama initially made the

Dege area his base and spent much of his time there.

The city of Dege in this period was a remarkable center of Buddhist culture, and of the intellectual ferment associated with the idea of ris med or non-sectarian approaches to Buddhist learning, as was the surrounding Dege area as a whole. The intellectual climate of the Dege area during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the presence in the vicinity of a number of intensely gifted and charismatic teachers drew students, scholars, meditators and pilgrims to the region. Gardner has drawn attention to the way in which this cultural efflorescence served to enhance both the power of the Dege royal family and the prestige of the region, which during this time, like other localities of the Kham area in general, struggled to define a regional and autonomous "Khampa" identity for itself against both Lhasa and Beijing (the two major powers to its west and east) as well as vis a vis Muslim, Chinese and Tibetan warlords at the region's borders/ 0 ' The members of the royal family of Dege were historically great patrons of religious teachers, scholars, authors and artists from across a range of Tibetan traditions. The royal family

period of the Nyag rong war, which ended in 1864/65, after which Dege came under the control of the Central Tibetan government. 266 267

Angrup 2005:23-24.

Gardner 2006. See also the essays in Epstein 2002 on the complex struggle for an autonomous Khampa identity; Smith 2001.

149 had a long history of sponsoring Buddhist intellectual and artistic projects of great cultural importance to the entire Tibetan region.268 The Dege Parkhang printing house and library (sDe dge Par khang) became one of the most vibrant and significant centers of Buddhist publishing and literary culture in Tibet, housing not only a complete set of printing blocks (and printed volumes) for the Tibetan Buddhist Canon, but for a host of other works as well, on virtually every topic of interest in Tibetan intellectual life, including medicine, astronomy, literature and history. The last king of Dege, Tsewang Dudul (Tshe dbang bdud 'dul, 1915/16 -1942)

who ruled as a young man while Khunu

Lama was in Kham, was no exception to this honorable tradition, and appears to have welcomed Khunu Lama and his learning to the royal household. Thus Khunu Rinpoche quickly found himself in the midst of a stimulating milieu, his Sanskrit and Tibetan literary skills once again opening important doors for him. The king of Dege requested him to teach Sanskrit and rig gnas as a tutor to the children of the royal family. In particular, he apparently became close to one of the king's daughters.270 He also formed a warm and lasting connection with the Tentong (bKras mThong) family, in particular with

For history of the royal family of Dege, see sDe dge rgyal rabs (Kolmas 1968) and Dezhung Rinpoche's additions to the sDe dge rgyal rabs (Kolmas 1988:119 ff.). See also Smith 2001. 269

Date given in Kolmas 1968:17 and Kolmas 1988:142, also cited in Jackson 2001:18 and note 69. Smith 2001:272 mentions that Tsewang Dudul was one of three recognized rebirths of the great scholar 'Jam mgon 'Ju Mi pham rgya mtsho (1846-1912), mentioned earlier. 270

K. Angrup, Khu nu rin po che'i rnam thar thar pa'i them skas zhes bya ba bzhugs so. Trulku Pema Wangyal, interview, April 2005.1 have not been able to definitively identify which princess this was. However, at least one Dege princess of this generation, Tsering Yudron (Tshe ring Gyu sgron) was known as a scholar, although there were two other daughters in the family (as per Lomchen Gyalpo). All three daughters were given in marriage to important nearby families (per the sDe dge chos byung). Yudron was married to the king of Nangchen (Nang chen), Tashi Tsewang Topgye (Bkra shis Tshe dbang Stobs rgyas, 1911-1961), himself a man of broad intellectual interests. (Kasur Sonam Tobgay interview March 2005.) On the history of Nangchen in this period, see also Lamchen Gyalpo Rinpoche 2003. Thanks to Karma Namgyal for his help in clarifying these points.

150 its head, Tentong Shapey Gyurme Gyatso (bKras mThong zhabs pad 'Gyur med rgya mtsho, 1890-1938), a leading government official and general in the Tibetan army, who served the Tibetan government in Kham for some twenty years, and who would become governor-general of Kham in Chamdo in 1932.271 Tentong Shapey reportedly became very fond of Khunu Lama, in part because Khunu Lama revealed the distinguished Kinnauri origins of the Tentong family (who were originally from western Tibet). Tentong acted as Khunu Lama's patron in various ways, giving him official travel letters and financial support, and welcoming him into the Tentong homes in Kham. Khunu Lama taught the Bodhisattvacaryavatra to Tentong Shapey and his wife, as well as literary topics. Khunu Lama made a particular impression on Tentong's son, the then quite young Rakra Rinpoche (who would go on to be a well-known Tibetan historian and author of the definitive Tibetan language biography of Gendun Chophel), as well as on the then young Serkhong Tsenshab Rinpoche, who would become one of the most prominent Gelukpa lamas several decades later, and who later sought out teachings from Khunu Lama in India.272

While he worked as tutor to the royal family, Khunu Lama seems to have benefited from the great intellectual and cultural resources Dege held at that time: Manhardt says for instance that while Khunu Lama lived in Dege, he took advantage of the exceptional

271 272

Goldstein 1989:; Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006.

Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006. A number of sources note Serkhong Tsenshab Rinpoche's connection with Khunu Lama: Dalai Lama interview 2005; Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006; Tenzin Choedak interview 2009, as well as Manshardt n.d.

151 Dege Parkhang library, and began to study and memorize the texts held there.273 During his time in eastern Tibet, Khunu Lama returned to Dege several times, and his reputation apparently continued to grow throughout his years in the area, although oral accounts stress that his disinterested attitude to conventional rewards, even scholarly ones, continued to flourish and led him to express himself bluntly. Trulku Pema Wangyal, for example, recounted, "And, then of course... he became quite famous in Dege... The princess of Dege became his student as well, and they offered him the all the collections of the Kanjur, Tangyur and all this. He said, 'What should I do with them?' And he said, 'With out study, without proper knowledge, they are just dead books.' And he didn't accept them, he donated to other monasteries."274

However, while he seems to have adhered to his lifelong pattern of turning down gifts in Dege, and although he also seems to have refused to remain full time or for very long in the comfortable yet circumscribed role of royal tutor or preceptor to officials, it was perhaps nevertheless as a result of being in such a fertile intellectual environment that during his time in Dege, Khunu Rinpoche composed one of the most well-known of his works, at the request of the king: "While the refuge lord lama Rinpoche [Tenzin Gyaltsen] was staying in the Khams area, in accordance with the command of the King of Dege, he [Khunu Rinpoche] instructed the King's children about the literary arts. Some other faithful people, bright students, requested him to compose a 'word commentary,' in which he would comment, making Z/J

Manshardt 2004:23.


Trulku Pema Wangyal, interview, April 2005.


See TBRC record W27265. Several oral sources agree that the king was the requestor, although the rnam thar here makes that ambiguous.

152 clear the root meaning with a word-by-word emphasis, on the Kheybe Ngagi Dronma [mKhas pa'i Ngag gi sgron ma, The Scholar's Lamp of Language], the treatise in verse which explains Tibetan terminology in detail, written by the translator Pelkhang Ngawang Chokyi Gyaltso by means of the inspiration of Sarasvati. This is reckoned as a treatise that expands what was consistently understood by the great historical sages of the Tibetan Land of Snows, scattering flowers of the mantra of speech."276

This Kheybe Ngagi Dronma, (more commonly called the Dag yig Ngag sgron, or Ngag sgron for short), a lexicographical and orthographical dictionary in verse, was composed in 1538277 by the Tibetan translator and literary scholar Pelkhang Lotsawa (Dpal khang lo tsa' ba Ngag dbang chos kyi rgya mtsho, b. 15/16th century). The root text and Khunu Rinpoche's word-commentary on it remain important for Tibetan literary scholars and translators, and continue to be read and taught today, in Tibet, India and the Himalayan 278


The Dege Parkhang was not the only, or even most influential resource from which Khunu Rinpoche benefited. Perhaps even more importantly, while Khunu Lama lived in the Dege area, he began to visit and study with many of the most well-known and 2/6

Angrup 2005:24.

For this date see the rGyal rabs lo tshigs shes by a mang 'dus mkhas pa'i spyi nor, p. 324, and TBRC database, record W12500. 278

LaMacchia 2001 for instance mentions its use in Kinnaur as a Tibetan-language instructional tool. A paperback edition of the root text with Khunu Lama's commentary was reissued in 1989, by the Tibetan Autonomous Region-based Mi rigs dpe skrun khang. This 1989 edition, which is widely available in Tibet and India, presents the root text, Khunu Lama's commentary, and the commentary of the contemporary scholar Kun bzang rnam rgyal under the title Ngag sgron rtsa 'grel dang de'iyang 'grel. Interestingly, although the rnam thar and other sources state that Dege was the location where Khunu Lama initially composed his commentary, Dodin states that revisions were completed about a decade or more later in Kinnaur, when Khunu Lama had returned there to teach. (Dodin 1993:88, based on interview with Sangnak Tenzin). According to Dodin, "After having received the final touch, the manuscript was sent to Lhasa where it was printed on woodblocks at the Mentsikhang." (Dodin 1993:88.)

153 influential religious scholars and practitioners in the vicinity. According to several sources, his first major Khampa teacher was the aforementioned Kathok Situ Chokyi Gyatso himself, with whom he studied for about three years,

primarily meditation.

Kathok Situ is said to have laughingly bestowed an additional name on Khunu Rinpoche, that of "Gyagar Lama" or "Gya Lama" (rgya gar bla ma) —, i.e., "the Indian Lama." This nickname stuck to Khunu Rinpoche throughout his time in Khams, as noted already - indeed, many there remember him specifically under that name.282 The nickname may reflect the fact that, as we have already discussed, as he traveled farther away from his home in Kinnaur, his specific Khunu identity became less familiar to the people he met, and he became simply "Indian."

After his time with Kathok Situ Rinpoche, Khunu Lama began to travel extensively throughout the region, gathering initiations and transmissions for all schools of Tibetan


mKhas btsun bzang po Rinpoche, Khu nu bla ma rin po che'i rnam par thar pa nyid kyi zhal gsungs ma bzhugs so, p. 2b; K. Angrup, interview September 2004. 280

mKhas btsun bzang po Rinpoche, Khu nu bla ma rin po che'i rnam par thar pa nyid kyi zhal gsungs ma bzhugs so, ibid; K. Angrup, interview September 2004. 281

Khenpo Sonam Topgay interview.


See for instance, Ringu Tulku interview 2005; Khenpo Asod Tenpa interview 2005; Amchi Lodro Phuntsog interview 2005; Kasur Sonam Tobgay interview 2005. Manhardt also notes the receipt of this nickname, though he does not mention Kathok Situ Rinpoche as the source. He also mentions Khunu Rinpoche's other nickname, of Dra Lama (sGra bla ma) or Sanskrit Lama, which he says was used after Khunu Rinpoche composed his commentary to the Ngag sgron. Manshardt 2004:23. 283

See also my discussion of this topic of ethnonyms and regionality in "Central Asian 'Foreigners' in Tibet at the turn of the Twentieth Century." Paper presented at the 35th Annual Mid-Atlantic Region Association for Asian Studies Meeting, Seton Hall University, October, 2006.

154 Buddhism from the great masters of the day.

It was this peripatetic journeying and

collection of transmissions that, even more than his own written compositions, was to make Khunu Lama so very valuable for later twentieth century Tibetan Buddhist intellectual life, in particular after 1959. As one source noted, "he had all kinds of lungs [reading transmissions] and lineages that, you know, nobody else in India had. I mean, people used to come to him to get these, you know."

His Holiness Dalai Lama

commented in a similar vein, "So Khunu Rinpoche's lamas were mostly from Khams... All the teachings I received from him were teachings he learned in Khams, most likely about 40, 50 years before, but he remembered everything so clearly! Incredible!"286 In his recollections of Khunu Lama, the Dalai Lama placed particular emphasis on the extent of the teachings that Khunu Lama was able to transmit from the Khampa period of his study, and specifically on the quality of Khunu Lama's recall. This he attributed to Khunu Lama's content-based approach to studying and memorizing texts, in which his thorough understanding of the meaning increased his ability to recall the texts almost word for word, and to convey them extremely precisely and fluently (or as His Holiness put it, to teach them, "Ratatatat") 287

In the following partial list of teachings received, where not otherwise noted, the sources for all information are mKhas btsun bzang po Rinpoche, Khu nu bla ma rin po che'i rnam par thar pa nyid kyi zhal gsungs ma bzhugs so and my interviews with K. Angrup September 2004 and with Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche 2004, 2005, all based on the same oral interview done with Khunu Rinpoche in the early nineteen seventies by Khetsun Sangpo. 285

Chris Fynn interview 2006. Chris Fynn interestingly hypothesized that Khunu Lama intentionally gathered rare material, saying "I think he sort of, he collected all sorts of rare things like that..."


His Holiness Dalai Lama interview 2005. His Holiness Dalai Lama interview 2005.

155 Interestingly, while K. Angrup only describes locations in Khams in his oral narration and in the mam thar, Rakra Rinpoche states that early on in Khunu Lama's travels in eastern Tibet, he went north to Amdo, the northeastern-most area of the Tibetan cultural region.288 Rakra Rinpoche says that Khunu Lama in fact received a transmission of the Bodhisattvacaryavatara in Amdo, although Rakra Rinpoche was not certain of precisely where or from whom he received it.289 According to Rakra Rinpoche's recollection of events, Khunu Lama went first to Amdo, before coming south to Khams and to the areas around Dege, where he primarily traveled and studied for the next decade and a half.290 According to Manshardt, among other places he visited in Amdo, Khunu Lama made the long trip all the way to Kumbum Monastery, the great seat of Gelukpa learning in northern Amdo, famous as the birthplace of Je Tsongkhapa, the progenitor of the Gelukpa tradition.291

Oral and written sources allow us to say with some confidence that after his studies with Kathok Situ Rinpoche, Khunu Lama went on to the great Nyingma monastery of Dzogchen, a few days journey from both Kathog Monastery and from the town of Dege.292 He returned to Dzogchen Monastery repeatedly during his time in Khams, to

For discussion of Amdo's place within or outside an entity called "Tibet" and various mappings, see Turtle 2006. On Amdo monastic institutions, see Nietupski 1999. 289

Rakra Rinpoche, interview 2006.


Manshardt also says that Khunu Rinpoche went to Amdo during his time in eastern Tibet, but suggests it was later on in during his stay in the east. Manshardt 2004: 23.


Manshardt 2004: 23.


This order of events was given by K. Angrup in our interview, 2004.

156 study, practice meditation in retreat, and occasionally teach literary topics.293 In his studies at Dzogchen, Khunu Rinpoche entered into multiple teacher-student relationships with people connected to an influential and very popular lineage of teachings and teachers. One might call this lineage the "extended family" of the nineteenth century eastern Tibetan Buddhist master, Dza Paltrul Rinpoche. This lineage is particularly significant for the spread of non-sectarian ideas, Dzogchen practices and transmissions, and is also an important lineage of teaching and practice of bodhicitta, among many other topics.

A yogi from the nomad area of Dzachuka who lived a wandering mendicant lifestyle much like the one Khunu Rinpoche himself adopted, Dza Paltrul Orgyen Jigme Chogyi Wangpo (Rdza Dpal sprul O rgyan 'jigs med Chos kyi dbang po, 1808-1887) was one of the two main "heart sons" (Tib. thugs sras) of the Nyingma master and Dzogchen yogi Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu ('Jigs med Rgyal ba'i myu gu, 1765-1843), the other being the famous Jamyang Khentse Wangpo ('Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse'i dbang po, 1820-1892). Indeed, Dza Paltrul and Jamyang Khyentse are viewed as Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu's main spiritual heirs in terms of Dzogchen teachings.294 Dza Paltrul and Jamyang Khentse

The contemporary eastern Tibetan master-scholar Alak Zenkar Rinpoche estimates that Khunu Lama may have spent as much as ten years all together at Dzogchen, over the course of many visits. (Personal communication, 2007). 294

For details on the life of Dza Paltrul Rinpoche, Jigme Gyalwai Nyugu and Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo as well as English language overviews ofKlong chen snying thig lineage history, see Nyoshul Khenpo, 2005; Tulku Thondup, 2002. Also see sNga 'gyur rdogs chen chos 'byung chen mo, of 7th Dzogchen Rinpoche bsTan 'dzin lung rtogs nyi ma, 2004. An eight-volume set of Paltrul Rinpoche's collected works was issued in 2003 by the Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang under the title Dpal sprul O rgyan 'Jigs med Chos kyi Dbangpo'i Gsung 'bum. The classic

157 Wangpo are particularly significant recipients of Jigme Gyalwai Nyuku's transmissions specifically from the point of view of the Longchen Nyingtik {Klong chen snying thig) lineage, a widely-practiced and influential cycle of Dzogchen materials revealed as a treasure by Rigdzin Jigme Lingpa (Rig dzin 'Jigs med gling pa, 1729/30-1798).295 The Longchen Nyingtik cycle of teachings became extremely popular in eastern Tibet and beyond, and indeed remains perhaps the most popular of all Dzogchen teaching cycles into the present day, both among Tibetans and among non-Tibetan converts to Tibetan Buddhism. Moreover, for complex and thus far little-studied reasons, many of the lineage holders and transmitters of the Longchen Nyingtik teachings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century had a major influence on the intellectual developments of the period, influences that continue to be felt, in particular throughout eastern Tibet. The impact of these people and their ideas was not limited to Nyingmapa communities and institutions, but also had an impact in Sakya, Kagyu and even some Geluk circles. Many of the Longchen Nyingtik lineage holders and transmitters were among the most outstanding scholar-practitioners of their era, which must in part account for their influence.

Certainly, Paltrul Rinpoche, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, and their

contemporary and friend, the remarkable scholar and polymath Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro

English translation of his most famous work, Rdzogs pa Chenpo Nying thig gi Sngon gro'i Kun bzangBla ma'i zhal lung {The Words of My Perfect Teacher), is Padmakara 1994. 295

Because of its wide popularity in Tibet, and now among western and Asian Tibetan Buddhist converts, there are now a number of popular and scholarly sources covering many aspects of this meditation system. For useful background on the Klong chen snying thig system and history, see Gyatso, 1998; Goodman 1992; Nyoshul Khenpo, 2005; Tulku Thondup, 2002. Also see sNga 'gyur rdzogs chen chos 'byung chen mo, of 7th Dzogchen Rinpoche bsTan 'dzin lung rtogs nyi ma, 2004.

158 Thaye ('Jam mgon Kong sprul Bio gros mtha' yas 1813-1900),296 may be said to have formed a triumvirate of remarkable meditational and scholarly prowess, and they are often described as being at the heart of the ris med or non-sectarian period in eastern Tibet. Together with the brilliant Nyingma philosopher Ju Mipham ('Ju Mi pham Rnam rgyal Rgya mtsho, 1846-1912) who was their student, they had a lasting effect on the intellectual culture of Tibet in areas ranging from pedagogy to history, and from Buddhist philosophical analysis to ritual and art, mutually teaching and learning from each other, and in turn passing their teachings on to each others' students.

It is nevertheless complicated to tease out the relationship between the spread of the Longchen Nyingtik teachings and various other elements contributing to the cultural and intellectual richness of this period in eastern Tibet, such as incipient Khampa nationalism, responses to the devastating destruction wrought by a series of border wars, and other cultural factors. Certainly, we can say that the Longchen Nyingtik system seems to have spread in tandem with a number of other important ideas and approaches that characterized the intellectual ferment of the time, and that have become associated with ris med ideas, although the causality is not clear in every case. However, one scholar does go as far as to suggest that "this renewed Seminal Heart [snying thig] formed the visionary and intellectual heart" of the "famous 'non partisan' (ris med) movement that

A number of works by and about Jamgon Kongtrul now exist in English, aimed at both scholarly and popular audiences, including Smith 2001; Zangpo 1994, 2001; Barron 2003; Thaye 2003; Gardner 2006; Ringu 2006.

159 spread over eastern Tibet in the nineteenth century."297 (While the question of whether the various non-sectarian approaches practiced by intellectuals of this period should be characterized as constituting a "movement," and moreover, whether such ideas represent a novelty or innovation in Tibetan intellectual culture is impossible to fully explore here, the issues raised in this work may suggest some tools for addressing it.)

In the case of Paltrul Rinpoche, he is particularly well known both for his role in transmitting the Longchen Nyingtik system and Dzokchen teachings in general, and also for emphasizing and popularizing the study of Shantideva's Bodhisattvacaryavatara and its attendant practices for developing bodhicitta, both among monastics and among lay communities of rural pastoralists and farmers in eastern Tibet. (Smith in particular, has seen this latter activity as laying an important ground work for ris med ideas.)


students went on to be influential in the religious and intellectual culture of eastern Tibet and of the Tibetan world more generally. Their presence remains strong into the present day, within geographic Tibet itself and in Tibetan exile and other Himalayan communities. Khunu Lama thus was entering into a significant network of people and connections when he made contact with them in Khams. At the same time, Khunu Lama

Germano 1994:276. See for instance Smith 2001.

160 himself then became an important link in the transmission that made the post-1959 continuity of the lineage possible.299

Khunu Lama in fact established multiple links with Paltrul's lineage "family," receiving transmissions from many of Paltrul Rinpoche's students and "grand-students" (Tib. yang slob) and thus establishing several sets of links to Paltrul's legacy. In terms of content, he received transmissions of important Dzogchen teachings, especially of material connected with the Longchen Nyingtik system, and of the root Bodhisattvacaryavatara text by Shantideva, together with associated meditational practices for cultivating bodhicitta in oneself. These two elements ~ Dzogchen meditation, and a focus on bodhicitta and on Shantideva's root text — became primary to Khunu Lama's own personal spiritual life, inasmuch as that can be known from the sources. Dzogchen and bodhicitta-related practices and texts were also among the main topics Khunu Lama would later teach to others. Numerous interviewees, including perhaps most emphatically the current Dalai Lama, emphasize the centrality of bodhicitta for Khunu Lama, both in terms of what they know about his own meditational practice, and for what they describe as his main characteristics and remembered and memorialized identity in the community.300 Numerous interviewees also emphasis that Khunu Lama was a significant Dzogchen practitioner (and teacher, though in a quite limited and private way).301

As noted already, Khunu Lama provided a major connection between the lineages of Paltrul Rinpoche and the current Fourteenth Dalai Lama, as well as other contemporary Tibetan Buddhist leaders. 300

His Holiness Dalai Lama commented several times on how moving he found Khunu Lama's transmission of his own poems on bodhicitta, and of the Shantideva text, and referred to him as a


One of Paltrul Rinpoche's most important disciples was Orgyen Tenzin Norbu (U rgyan bstan 'dzin nor bu, 1827-1888). Orgyen Tenzin Norbu in turn trained two outstanding scholar-practitioners with whom Khunu Rinpoche would subsequently study: Derge Lama Kunga Palden (19th-20th centuries) and the already mentioned Khenpo Shenga (mKhan po gZhan phan chos kyi snang ba, or mKhan po gZhan dga', 1871-1927).302 This latter individual was a particularly important student in the Paltrul lineage, and an enormously influential figure, both for the development of non-sectarian ideas and for the efflorescence of eastern Tibetan intellectual life at this time generally. Meeting and studying with him at the very end of his life was one of the most significant contacts that Khunu Lama made in his years in Khams. The various tales of how he managed to do so suggest how fortunate (and persistent) Khunu Lama was, and possibly how wellconnected as well. More importantly even than these factors, furthermore, we can see how superb Khunu Lama's sheer timing turned out to have been. Khunu Lama became one of the last students of Khenpo Shenga, and seems to have met the Khenpo rather soon after he came to Khams. (Certainly, given that Khenpo Shenga passed away in 1927, and that Khunu Rinpoche is said to have spent a year and a half with him, they

"bodhisattva." (Dalai Lama interview 2005). For a similarly representative view of the centrality of both Dzogchen and bodhicitta in Khunu Lama's self presentation and perceived identity, see also Sogyal Rinpoche's published recollections. Sogyal Rinpoche 1992:109-110. 301

In particular, Ven. Karma Gelek interview 2005; Trulku Pema Wangyal interview 2004; Khenpo Sonam Topgyal Rinpoche interview 2007. 302

For biographical information on mKhanpo gZhan dga' see Jackson, D. P. 2003, pp. 26-30; Smith 2001; Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche.

162 could not have met much later than 1925.)303 The accounts agree that Khunu Lama had arrived in Khams very close to the end of Khenpo Shenga's life, when the Khenpo was permanently in retreat, and had explicitly stopped taking on students. Indeed, one story has it that initially Khenpo Shenga turned Khunu Lama away, telling him to study with one of his senior students instead.304 Thus Khunu Lama almost missed the opportunity to make this connection; had he arrived much later, it would never have happened.

An interesting question that arises, given that Khunu Lama arrived so near the end of the master's life, is how Khunu Rinpoche, a visitor from the far off Kinnauri borderlands, did finally manage to get accepted as a student by the Khenpo. One story, given in several sources, describes how, having developed great faith in Khenpo Shenga simply from hearing his name, Khunu Rinpoche stubbornly refused to leave the site of the Khenpo's hermitage until the master had taught him.305 "While Zhenga Rinpoche was staying in the Gyawo Uplands, Tendzin Gyaltsen met him and requested teachings. The guru initially replied, 'It has been many years since I gave explanatory teachings. It is time to practice, for death is waiting; there will be no explanation of the Dharma.' Once Tendzin Gyaltsen [sic] had explained his situation in more detail, the guru said, 'You have come from such

According to Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche, following his studies with Kathok Situ, Khunu Lama traveled to where Khenpo Shenga was living, in a high remote hermitage on the mountainside near Dzokchen Monastery. There Khunu Lama studied with Khenpo Shenga for about a year and a half. (Alak Zenkar Rinpoche mentioned that this hermitage was blocked by snow and inaccessible for most of the year, suggesting Khunu Lama must have gone during warmer months). Alak Zenkar Rinpoche, personal communication 2007. 304 305

For instance Nyoshul Khenpo 2005:506.

bSod nams dbang grags, interview, 2005; rGyal dbang chos kyi nyi ma. rDzogs chen dgon gyi lo rgyus. Nyoshul Khenpo 2005:506.

163 a distance; moreover, it would be helpful if you benefited the teachings and beings in the future.' He then conferred on Tendzin Gyaltsen all of the pith instructions in their entirety, emphasizing the thirteen great source texts. He entrusted Tendzin Gyaltsen with the ultimate transmission, even giving him his own copies of these thirteen texts."306

That this story follows a traditional format of student-guru devotion does not necessarily make it untrue. Certainly, one can imagine that the Khenpo might have appreciated the fact that Khunu Lama had travelled a vast distance for the sake of Buddhist learning.307 However, there may have also been other factors. One scholar of this period of Khampa religious history hypothesizes that Kathok Situ Rinpoche may have made the introduction to Khenpo Shenga on Khunu Lama's behalf.308 Khunu Lama's other main biographer, Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche, for his part, has stated that since Khunu Lama was the teacher of several important officials of the Central Tibetan government in Khams, it was these connections that opened doors for him, both with Khenpo Shenga and others. In particular, Khetsun Sangpo suggests that Trimon Norbu Wangyal, Khunu Lama's patron on the road to Kham, helped him with this as well, and Khunu Rinpoche's closeness to the Tentong family, who also had a connection to Khenpo Shenga, could easily have been

Nyoshul Khenpo 2005:506. Note that according to this passage, Khunu Lama received not only Khenpo Shenga's famous commentaries (Tib. mchan grel) on the "thirteen great source texts' (Tib. gzhung chen bcu gsum), the great classics of Indian Buddhism which formed the basis of Khenpo Shenga's teaching program, but also the "pith instructions" (Tib. man ngag) which would normally indicate the direct oral person to person instructions for meditative practice — here, given the context, presumably the instructions associated with the Longchen Nyingtik. 307

bSod nams dbang grags, interview, 2005; Tashi Tsering oral communication.


bSod nams dbang grags, interview 2005.

164 the facilitator as well.309 Either source for the introduction suggests some of the kinds of personal and social connections that could enable someone who was in many ways an outsider to gradually enter into the network of lineage relationships in a new place. Perhaps most important, the fact that Khunu Lama almost arrived too late, so to speak after the revered Khenpo was already retired, and barely before the latter's death, suggests how crucial, and how fragile, is the human bridging of generations that must occur in order for the continuity of lineage transmissions in the Tibetan system to function. Had Khunu Lama arrived just a matter of months later, this connection might not have occurred, and if it had not, Khunu Lama could not have contributed to the maintenance of the lineage in his own later life.

As all the accounts emphasize, during his studies with the Khenpo, Khunu Lama received in particular the transmission of the gzhung chen bcu gsum, the "Thirteen Indian Great Books," with Khenpo Shenga's own commentaries (mchan 'grel), for which Khenpo Shenga was particularly famous.310 Several scholars have noted the significance of these commentaries and the kind of scholarly approach they represented for the development of ris med ideas, and in general for the intellectual productivity of the time.311 In brief, Khenpo Shenga, like some of his contemporaries, became interested in a kind of "return to the sources," specifically the classic texts of the Sanskritic Buddhist tradition. The


mKhas btsun bzang po Rinpoche, interview May 2005; Tethong Rakra Rinpoche interview September 2006.


mKhas btsun bzang po Rinpoche, Khu nu bla ma rin po che'i rnam par thar pa nyid kyi zhal gsungs ma bzhugs so, ibid. 311

For example see Smith 2001, Dreyfus 2003, although see Gardner 2006 for a different view.

165 strategy was apparently to disarm sectarianism by sidestepping the competing textbooks, summaries and interpretations of philosophical positions developed by the individual Tibetan schools, and to replace these with renewed emphasis on study of core texts.312

Khenpo Shenga's project is of interest in the intellectual context of Khunu Rinpoche's life and work because it represents a paradigmatic example of an intellectual strategy being framed as a return to the past, and to the Indian sources in particular, even as something potentially innovative is being proposed. This approach is very similar to the one that Khunu Rinpoche himself tended to use throughout his life, couching his own writing, studies and the development of his distinctive renunciant persona in terms of an embodiment of traditional forms, particularly in terms of embracing and mastering the techniques of a Sanskritic past. Khenpo Shenga's project moreover suggests that study and re-appropriation of the Indian sources seems to have been connected to a kind of intellectual excitement, discovery and creativity (here creativity in the sense of new intellectual strategies, and in some cases, new areas of interest, such as philosophical arguments made in the original sources - the question of creativity-as-radical-innovation is of course less clear). Such intellectual excitement vis a vis the source texts, which also seems to have characterized Khunu Lama's own engagement with Indie materials, is a crucial feature of this eastern Tibetan intellectual milieu. Yet the excitement produced by these creative re-appropriations is a feature that might be missed, if an observer assumed that only the kinds of innovations that break with the past provoke excitement.


See Dreyfus 2003 on this point, as well as Smith 2001. Again, see Gardner 2006 for a somewhat different view.


As it happens, Indie learning in the form of Sanskrit and other literary arts played an additional role in the important connections that Khunu Lama made with members of Paltrul's lineage, and probably helped to open doors for him at Dzogchen and elsewhere. As was often his pattern, while he received teachings and transmissions from lamas at Dzogchen and hermitages nearby, Khunu Rinpoche also taught them Sanskrit and literary arts. At many of the monasteries and hermitages where Khunu Lama received transmissions and instruction across the region, in fact, he was requested to teach rig gnas to groups of the resident monks and lamas.

While in Kham, Khunu Lama formed a number of connections with other people who were also studying at the various centers of Buddhist learning and practice in the area, often with many of the same teachers. Among Khunu Lama's co-students at Dzogchen Monastery was Khenchen Thubten Nyendrak (Mkhan chen Thub bstan snyan grags, b. 20th century), a khenpo of Dzogchen Monastery who had himself been a close student of Khenpo Shenga, and who went on to become one of the main teachers at Dzogchen in the early twentieth century.313 Another fellow student was the then quite young Chatral Rinpoche Sangye Dorje (Bya bral Sangs rgyas rdo rje, b.1913), who would become one of the most famous Dzogchen teachers of the twentieth (and indeed, twenty-first) centuries, and who would practice elements of the wandering, renunciant and hermetic

Alak Zenkar Rinpoche personal communication 2007; Jackson 2003:585 note 108, Trulku Pema Wangyal interview 2004.

167 life-style that Khunu Lama himself embraced.314 Khunu Rinpoche also became friends around this time with the young Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (Dil mgo mkhyen brtse Rab gsal zla ba, 1910-1991), who would go on to be one of the most influential twentieth century teachers of Tibetan Buddhism to both Tibetans and westerners. Dilgo Khyentse and Khunu Lama studied with many of the same masters, and in addition, Khunu Lama taught Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche Sanskrit. Many years later in India, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche would recommend Khunu Lama as a Sanskrit teacher to his own students, such as Trulku Pema Wangyal (whose oral recollections form an important source for this research), to whom Khunu Lama several times taught Dzogchen topics as well.315 During the years 1926-7 and 1929, Khunu Lama taught Sanskrit to the Sakya lama Dezhung Rinpoche (sDe gzhung Rin po che Kun dga' Bstan pa'i Nyi ma, 1906-1987),316 whose western students, such as E. Gene Smith, Cyrus Stearns and David Jackson, have gone on to have a major impact on the development of Tibetan Studies as a field, and on the preservation of Tibetan texts and cultural materials. Dezhung Rinpoche was then a young student, and followed Khunu Lama on some of his travels, for example to Dzogchen and ^17

Kathok monasteries, in order to study with him.

On the life and teachers of Chatral Rinpoche Sangye Dorje, see Chatral Rinpoche 2007; Nyoshul Khenpo 2005; Thondup 2002:296-7, as well as the numerous electronic publications of interviews now available. 315

Trulku Pema Wangyal, interview April, 2005. Alak Zenkar Rinpoche personal communication. 316

D. Jackson, 2003.


D. Jackson, 2003, Ch. 6, Ch. 9.

168 Khunu Lama's Sanskrit teaching did not end with these individuals. Elsewhere, in Chamdo, government officials, perhaps introduced by his old patron Trimon Norbu Wangyal, who remained in Chamdo as governor until 1926,318 requested Khunu Lama to teach both literary arts and topics in medicine and astrology. Once again, Khunu Lama can thus be seen making connections with politically important people, and as at numerous other times in his life, making connections specifically through the apparently unlikely medium of his literary studies.

Yet none of these personal, professional or religious connections resulted in his becoming fixed in one place. Never remaining in any one position or town long, and apparently continuing to reject attempts to keep him in any permanent staff or official position for more than a short time, Khunu Lama seems to have traveled back and forth across the Kham region during these years, moving between Chamdo, the town of Dege, and various parts of the surrounding regions. As he did so, he collected a host of major transmissions, from lamas, meditators and scholars in monasteries and cave hermitages, retreat centers and schools across the area, on topics ranging from lengthy tantric cycles such as the Sakya Lamdre {Lam 'bras, The Path with Result, the main Sakya tantric system) and the Kalachakra Tantra, to astrology, medicine and Dzogchen and Mahamudra meditation. When he finally left Kham, he had accumulated years of teaching, and eighteen major new gurus, as already noted; he had made a host of new connections; and he had become a kind of human repository of Buddhist material,

Petech 1973:96-97; Shakabpa 1967:239.

169 making him an instrumental player in the lineage networks that hold Tibetan Buddhist intellectual life together.

His choices had been somewhat outside of what we might call the 'mainstream' of Tibetan Buddhist expectations for monastic or scholarly careers. Yet these choices involved a continual interaction with, and legibility (for the most part) to people involved in mainstream intellectual and spiritual life (which is not to say that no-one was surprised at or critical of his behavior, but rather that there were models of wandering monks, yogis and similar figures within the tradition, onto whom his activities could be assimilated).319 In going to Kham, and through his travels and cross-sectarian and interdisciplinary teaching and studies there, Khunu Lama made choices that were in multiple ways nontraditional. Yet doing so allowed him to learn the very traditional material that he would so importantly re-appropriate and pass to others.

Thus it was precisely his

unconventional choices that served to enable his role in maintaining lineage continuity

For an interesting example of criticism of his poor dress and wandering lifestyle, see Jackson 2003, who describes how Dezhung Rinpoche's uncle initially did not want Dezhung Rinpoche to study with Khunu Lama, since the latter appeared to be no more than an "Atsara" ("Indian beggar, in Jackson's translation). 320

Interestingly, Khunu Rinpoche does not seem to have been the only scholar from a far-off Himalayan region to be teaching and studying in Khams at this time. Jackson records that while Khunu Lama was in residence at Dzogchen Monastery with Dezhung Rinpoche, teaching him Sanskrit, there were several Bhutanese monks staying there as well, who were also studying Sanskrit with Khunu Lama. (D. Jackson 2003:64.) Clearly, Khunu Rinpoche and his Sikkimese teacher Urgyen Tenzin were not the only ones to travel great distances in pursuit of learning. Khams during that time was apparently home to a number of such visiting scholars. This does much to bolster my contention that such nevertheless unconventional behavior (most people did not travel to such far off areas for study) is something which, while rare, is regularly produced by the Tibetan Buddhist intellectual culture, which provides a delicate balance of censure and hospitality towards such independent and creative choices.

170 across generations and geographic space, the lineage continuity upon which Tibetan Buddhist intellectual culture depends for its existence.

Return to Central Tibet

When he finally left Khams in the mid 1930's Khunu Lama returned to Lhasa and taught in central Tibet for several years.321 "He was received in Lhasa in Central Tibet, and in accordance with the command of the Tibetan government of the Ganden Potrang, he accepted onto his shoulders [with an attitude of] bodhicitta the heavy responsibility they had placed [on him], of being cultural sciences teacher at the Mentsikhang [Lhasa Medical and Astronomical Institute]...He stayed there tranquilly for about three years."


During this time, Khunu Lama continued to have contacts with some of the most important people in the capital, although there is a general consensus among the oral sources that overall, he was not exactly famous.323 (Indeed, several people described him as having been somewhat hidden or "secret" in terms of his scholarly and religious reputation at that time.)324 Nevertheless, Khunu Lama certainly continued to be connected to the aristocratic families to whom he had taught during his earlier years in

Sparham says that Khunu Lama left Kham in the mid-1940s, and then taught in Lhasa for three years before returning to India. Sparham 1999:3. Dodin comments that according to his tabulation of the chronology given by Sangnak Tenzin, six years is the shortest time he estimates Khunu Lama could have spent in Lhasa. (Dodin 1993:96, n. 15) 322

Angrup 2005:24.


For instance, His Holiness Dalai Lama notes that Khunu Lama was not well known by most Tibetans either in Lhasa, or even later in India, because even though he taught to some extremely prominent individuals, he did not ever give large public teachings etc, although His Holiness did comment that the situation was different in the Himalayan region, where Khunu Lama did find considerable fame even among ordinary people (His Hoiness Dalai Lama interview 2005); also Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006; Gyumed Khenpo Tuthob Rinpoche interview 2005. 324

Gyumed Khenpo

172 Lhasa, and in addition, Khunu Lama formed one other relationship of particular note: This relationship, which was to have a great effect on Khunu Lama's later life, was with Ling Rinpoche, the brilliant and influential Senior Tutor to the current Dalai Lama (Yongs 'dzin gLing Rin po che, 1903-1983).325 Khunu Lama taught him various literary topics, and began a relationship that would continue when the two men met again more than two decades later in India.326 Among other material, the Dalai Lama reports that Khunu Lama taught Ling Rinpoche his own commentary on the lexicographical dictionary, the Dayig Ngag Dron.

His Holiness further describes this connection with

Ling Rinpoche as the initial basis for his own relationship with Khunu Lama in India, after the Dalai Lama, Ling Rinpoche and many others had fled into exile in 1959.

Khunu Lama also seems to have made some last trips and pilgrimages during this time, making additional connections with important teachers in several different Buddhist


His Holiness Dalai Lama says of Khunu Lama's acquaintance in Tibet with Ling Rinpoche that Khunu Lama taught him grammatical topics and Sanskrit. Dalai Lama interview 2005. Manshardt notes that Khunu Lama taught Ling Rinpoche Sanskrit in Lhasa before his return to India. Manshardt 2004:25.The sources are not specific about the dates when Khunu Lama met Ling Rinpoche, but both because of the materials Khunu Lama taught to him and also because presumably Khunu Lama would have had to have achieved a certain degree of renown before Ling Rinpoche would have studied with him, I have placed their relationship during this second period of Khunu Lama's activity in Lhasa. 326

Khunu Lama's diary entries from 1959/60 record his exchanges of books with Ling Rinpoche, and suggest their shared interests. (Sparham 1999.)


It is for this reason that I have placed Khunu Lama's teaching relationship with Ling Rinpoche during the years in Lhasa after Khunu Lama's return from Kham, since Khunu Lama apparently did not compose his commentary until his time in Kham (although it is impossible to say when he began work on it). It is also true however that His Holiness could not always be specific about exactly which teachings Ling Rinpoche had received at which meetings with Khunu Lama, and so this commentary could also have been something taught in India. 328

His Holiness Dalai Lama interview 2005.

173 lineages. For instance, according to Drigung sources, he visited Drigung Til, the great mother monastery of the Drigung Kagyu, where he is said by oral sources to have both taught and studied with the great Drigung yogi Drupwang Amgon Rinpoche (Grub dbang A mgon, 19/20th centuries).329 The meeting of the two lamas is recorded in a charming episode in a recent biography of Amgon Rinpoche (in which Amgon Rinpoche delights Khunu Lama with inexhaustible tea and snacks). This vignette, though it tells more about Amgon Rinpoche and his miraculous activities than about Khunu Lama, nevertheless does interestingly give a sense of Khunu Lama's being well known in central Tibet at that time.330

Khunu Lama may also have traveled during this time to Shugsep Nunnery outside of Lhasa, in order to meet and receive teachings from the great female master Shugsep Jetsunma, also known as Ani Lochen (Shug gseb rje btsun Chos dbyings Bzang mo,


Oral communication, 'Bri gung Pa tog 2005. See rGya mtsho, 'Bri gung dKon mchog. 2004 'Bri gung Grub dbang A mGon Rin po che'i rNam thar, pp.57-8. While A mgon Rinpoch'e rnam thar clearly states that they met after Khu nu Rinpoche's return to Central Tibet from Khams, it is also always possible that Khunu Rinpoche went there much earlier, during his first period of residence in central Tibet. It is also possible that Khunu Rinpoche went there more than once. Because Khunu Rinpoche went on to have considerable contacts and relationships with Drikung figures in India, one wonders if there were additional visits. Interview Drikung Bla ma 2006. 330

"As it happened that the famous Kinnauri scholar-adept, the great Tenzin Gyaltsen, when he came to Central Tibet from Khams, went to Drigung for pilgrimage as well for meeting [Amgon] Rinpoche. The door of [Amgon] Rinpoche's place was so tiny that only he himself could fit inside, so [Amgon] Rinpoche widened it, by pushing back the rock. After which, then saying, "Oh, my dear Dharma brother has arrived!" [Amgon Rinpoche], acting delighted, invited [Khunu Rinpoche] inside. Offering tea, from a tiny little teapot, [Amgon Rinpoche] poured tea that never ran out. And [Amgon Rinpoche] gave [Khunu Lama] a lump of molasses sugar, which also was inexhaustible. So by these methods, [Amgon Rinpoche] having totally enraptured his mind, that one from Khunu himself said, "The appearance of a great mahasiddha like this even in this degenerate time is greatly amazing" and praised him again and again." {'Bri gung Grub dbang A mGon Rinpo che'i rNam thar, pp.57-8.)

174 1853-1950/51).331 It would certainly make sense for Khunu Lama to have sought her out; she was a famous meditator and Dzogchen practitioner, among other areas of expertise, with a substantial following in Lhasa, including many women and men from aristocratic families whom Khunu Lama would have also known. The Shugsep Jetsunma was herself a lineage holder of the Longchen Nyingtik Dzogchen cycle, with important connections to many of the same masters as Khunu Lama. Indeed, Khunu Lama's erstwhile classmate in Kham, the Dzogchen yogi Chatral Rinpoche Sangye Dorje (Bya bral Sangs rgyas rdo rje, b.1913) received important transmissions from Shugsep Jetsunma, and lists her as one of his major gurus. It would not be surprising if Khunu Lama, who shared a number of other teachers in common with Chatral Rinpoche, had done likewise.332

Assuming that the name Lochen Gong ma does indeed refer to Ani Lochen, this would represent a specific and documented instance of Khunu Lama having a female religious teacher. This is of particular interest given his own notable teaching to women later in his


The name Lochen Gong ma appears in Khunu Lama's aforementioned handwritten list of root gurus, and appears to be a reference to the remarkable female yogi and religious teacher Shugseb Jetsunma, also commonly known as Ani Lochen; Lochen Gong ma would be a respectful way of referring to her. 332

On the life of Shugsep Jetsunma, see Shug gseb rje btsun sku zhabs kyi rnam thar, published in 1997 by the Lhasa-based Bod sljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang; Gangs Ijongs lo rgyus thog gi grags can mi sna, published in 1993 by Bod Ijongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, p. 949; Havnevik 1999 (the definitive western-language study); Havnevik and Gyatso 2005; Nyoshul Khenpo 2005; Thondup 2002. Note that dates of her life are disputed; Nyoshul Khenpo 2005 and Thondup 2002 give 1865-1953; Thondup 2002:375 n.280 provides a helpful summary of the dating options. On Chatral Rinpoche's connection with Shugseb Jetsunma, see the electronic publications of interviews now available (for instance www.rangjung.com/authors/Chatral_Rinpoche_biography.htm). Hanna Havnevik, the western scholar who has most extensively researched the life of Ani Lochen, says that she is not aware specifically of an Ani Lochen / Khunu Lama connection, but that such a connection would certainly make a great deal of sense. (Havnevik, personal communication.)

175 life, in particular to Kinnauri and other Himalayan nuns, and to the female yogi and religious virtuoso from Drigung who became his close companion and attendant at the end of his life, the Drigung Khandro Sherab Tharchin (also known as Neni Rinpoche, Ne ni Rin po che Shes rab Thar phyin, 1927-1979). While it would be inappropriate to try to interpret Khunu Lama's relationships with women in the light of twenty first century ideas about gender relationships and the role of women, it is certainly true that Khunu Lama taught and encouraged female practitioners in contexts where other male Buddhist teachers in many cases did not do so as extensively. If he himself had as a teacher a prominent female yogi, that would add to our understanding of his willingness to assist women religious practitioners.

176 Chapter Five. The Life Story Part III: Travels and Teaching After 1937

I. India

In 1937, after several years of teaching and traveling in Central Tibet, Khunu Lama resigned his position at the Lhasa Mentsikhang and returned to India.333,334 During this second half of his life, he continued his wandering lifestyle, apparently moving often, sometimes to the frustration of those who sought to employ him or to find him. His new travels represented a profound departure in many senses of the word. Geographically speaking, he went south, down off the Tibetan Plateau, and into India - visiting his own home valley of Kinnaur, and making his way to many far-flung parts of the subcontinent, including Sikkim, Bhutan, Lahaul and other Himalayan border areas, as well as Nepal, and destinations in North, Central and South India. The second half of his life

rNam thar p. 24; K. Angrup interview 2004. 334

The chronology for Khunu Lama's years in India is in many places extremely difficult to establish, even by combining oral and written sources. The 2005 edition of the mam thar is the most comprehensive written source, but it skips over many periods altogether. The oral sources do help to clarify many of Khunu Lama's activities during the latter forty years of his life. Nevertheless, since Khunu Lama lived an extremely peripatetic lifestyle, and since he often seems to have traveled alone in the period before 1970, in many cases the only information available is in the form of his own answers to his students' questions, as they now recall these answers. If no one thought to ask about a given topic during Khunu Lama's lifetime, then little information now exists about it. What follows is the most comprehensive and logical reconstruction I have been able to make from the range of oral and written sources that exist, and from the few concretely datable events that help to anchor this reconstruction. For convenience, I provide a chronological summary in Appendix of the events of Khunu Lama's life, including my reasons for reconstruction where necessary. This chronology differs at certain points from that given in other western-language studies of his life, based in part on new information available to me from interviews.

177 witnessed a separation of another sort as well, for after he left Tibet, the Tibetan region itself experienced rapid and dislocating change, as Tibetan areas increasingly came under the military control of the newly established Communist government of the People's Republic of China. Khunu Rinpoche never returned to Tibet after the end of the 1940s.335 As an Indian national, it would indeed have soon become complicated and potentially dangerous for him to do so.33

Rather, a great movement of people took place in the

opposite direction, as many Tibetans came into exile in India in 1959 and thereafter, including, of course, the Dalai Lama.


While Sparham and Manshardt both state that Khunu Lama went to India twice, visiting to study Sanskrit, returning to Tibet, and then subsequently going back to India for good, they do not describe any trips later than the mid-1940s. As will become clear, based on my own comparison of the sources and datable events, and the various oral accounts, including an interview with Khunu Lama recorded in the early 1970s, I assume there was only one trip from Tibet to India. This is also how the rnam thar describes the chronology, and how Angrup narrated the events to me during our interviews, (although the rnam thar account does depart from chronological order occasionally, making it somewhat confusing to follow. See text and translation in Appendix.) In the recorded interview with Khunu Lama from the early 1970s, he is extremely brief, but states the following: "I stayed in Bod (i.e, central Tibet as distinct from Kham) a few years, about 5. Then I went to Kham, stayed in Kham about 12 years. Then from Kham I went back to Bod. I was in Kham about 12 years, and in Chamdo, 1 year, so 13, right? Then I went back to Bod, stayed about 5 years. Then I came back to Lhasa. Then went a little bit to Phenpo. Then went to India ("Gyagar"). Then stayed in Khunu about 8 years. Then again I went to India." (Khunu Lama interview with Lama Kunga, 1970s). This sounds like he left Tibet proper (lit. Bod) for India only once. However, Manshardt and Sparham may also be drawing on sources I do not have access to. See the chronology in Appendix. 336

For example, Angrup himself, as noted already in note 172, was a student in Tibet at the Panchen Lama's school near Tashilunpo Monastery for three years from 1957-1959, and had to leave when it became dangerous for him as an Indian citizen. Angrup interview 2004, also rnam thar p. 19. Gen Lobsang Jamspal, one of the other students of Khunu Lama interviewed for this project, likewise had to discontinue his studies at Tashilunpo for the same reason, and Ladakhi and Himalayan monks generally were all in this position. (Another student of Khunu Lama, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, for example, mentions how he and other Sherpa monks at monasteries in western Tibet had to leave as the situation destabilized in 1959. (Jamyang Wangmo 2005)

178 At first, Khunu Lama's Indian travels, much like his earlier journeys, tended to center around his own learning. Both the oral and written sources are unanimous about the fact that Khunu Lama was first drawn to India (and ultimately to the city of Varanasi) by his interest in studying Sanskrit grammar according to the Paninian system, something which he had been unable to do in Tibet. The mam ihar offers a rare direct quote from Khunu Lama himself on this topic, in which he says specifically, '"...Among Sanskrit grammar systems, the one called 'Panini' is the best one. In Tibet, there was a decrease in the custom of wide exposition and study of that. Because I had it in mind to study that very thing [Panini], I left the Khams-Amdo region and returned to India, and having done so, spent four or five years focusing on that grammatical treatise.'"337 This India-based Paninian training set Khunu Lama apart from the vast majority of other Tibetan Sanskritists (although Gendun Chophel was an exception, as we shall see), and added to his eventual intellectual reputation among Tibetans as a man of great literary and grammatical knowledge, as well as to his reputation as someone who had an unusually thorough (especially from a Tibetan point of view) knowledge of Indie thoughtsystems.338 Khunu Lama's Paninian studies played a significant role in connecting him to a range of intellectual and social contacts in India. His studies offered an important context for relationships with Indian scholars, and for engagement with Indian ideas and philosophical and religious systems. These dimensions of his interests would continue throughout the remainder of his life, and like his mastery of Sanskrit, would distinguish

337 338

Angrup 2005:20.

This is to say, Khunu Lama's reputation among those Tibetans who had heard of him, as well as among people in the Indian Himalayas, who revere him. Of course, as I have noted already, Khunu Lama for most of his life, and to some extent even in the present day, is not a household name among many Tibetans who are not intellectuals or serious religious practitioners.

179 him from many of the Tibetan Buddhist scholars and practitioners who were his teachers, students and colleagues.339

Khunu Lama himself explained that initially his pursuit of Sanskrit took him to Calcutta, where he studied texts, specifically the Amarakosha, for a brief time with a Pandit Hari, whom Angrup says was "well-known."340 According to Dodin's interview material from Khunu Lama's Kinnauri disciple Sangnak Tenzin, "a rich Khampa family" in Calcutta sponsored Khunu Lama while he studied there.341 Despite this sponsorship, Khunu Lama

Nevertheless, as I describe, Khunu Lama's interest in and high level of engagement with nonBuddhist Indian thought systems should not be misconstrued as some kind of easygoing mutual acceptance. He was in fact frequently very critical of non-Buddhist ideas and practitioners, although he also had many fruitful contacts with non-Buddhists. 340 341

K. Angrup interview 2004.

Dodin 1997: 88. Sadly, the name of that family does not appear in the written sources. It would be interesting to know, since this family may have been connected to one of the Khampa families that later supported Khunu Lama in Kalimpong. Such a connection is quite likely, since the prominent Khampa trading families, such as the Pangdatsang (this transliteration is recommended by Carole McGranahan, oral communication) and the Sadhutsang, who played major roles in the trade route from Lhasa to Calcutta via Sikkim and Kalimpong, all had offices and residences in multiple cities. As I discuss below, oral sources suggest that these very two families, important not only in trans-national trade but also in twentieth century Tibetan politics, were Khunu Lama's patrons many years later in Kalimpong. (Kasur Sonam Topgye, interview 2005, Sem Trinley Ongmo interview 2004; Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006). It is also of interest to know whether Khunu Lama's Calcutta sponsors might have been the same Khampa family who sponsored the talented iconoclast Gendun Chophel in that city; the likelihood that the two men had common Khampa patrons in Calcutta, as they apparently did later in Kalimpong, is a tantalizing potential link in their often parallel biographies. Gendun Choephel, who would become a Sanskrit classmate of Khunu Lama's just a few years later in Varanasi, was himself a close friend and protege of the Pangdatsang family, and in 1945 and 1946 he spent a great deal of time with them in the Kalimpong-Darjeeling area. Oral sources suggest that the Pangdatsang were also sponsors of Khunu Lama, although those sources describe that connection as dating from the 1950s and later. Gendun Chophel, like Khunu Lama, lived on and off for periods in Calcutta. One wonders whether Khunu Lama might have made his acquaintance perhaps even as early as this initial year in Calcutta, before their subsequent documented meeting in Varanasi (in fact, there are a series of points when the two men were travelling in the same parts of India, further highlighting the parallelism between their lives. Regrettably, as of this writing, the exact identity

did not remain in Calcutta, however. He left after one year, apparently unsatisfied with the teaching he received.342 He then continued on to Varanasi, where he studied for the approximately five years he mentions in the quotation above. The mam thar and the recollections of his students suggest that Varanasi itself had been his destination all along after his departure from Tibet.343 (As mentioned in the previous chapter, there is even a slight possibility that during his first trip out of Kinnaur as a youth, he had passed through Varanasi en route to Sikkim, and perhaps formed some intention to return.) Although he would leave the city for nearly a decade in the 1940s to visit Kinnaur, Khunu Lama returned to Varanasi again in the early 1950s, and lived there between his other trips more or less continuously for much of the next fifteen years.344

Varanasi Varanasi, the great riverine center of Hindu religious pilgrimage par excellence, contains a host of diverse scholarly resources and educational institutions amidst its ascetics, its funerals, its pilgrims, and its famously chaotic noise and hubbub.345 In Varanasi, Khunu Lama was able to locate a Sanskrit teacher who was apparently truly excellent. The rnam

of Khunu Lama's Calcutta patrons remains elusive. (On the history of the Pangdatsang family and related topics, see McGranahan 2002, as well as McGranahan, forthcoming.) 342

Dodin 1997:88.


For example, in recounting the story of Khunu Lama's life as Khunu Lama told it to him, Khenpo Sonam Topgyal names Varanasi and its Sanskrit learning centers as Khunu Lama's destination when he left Tibet. Khenpo Sonam Topgyal Rinpoche interview 2006. 344 345

Again, see the Chronology. K. Angrup interview 2004.

As Khunu Rinpoche had contact with some of these institutions and with people associated with them, I discuss this aspect of the Varanasi area more fully below.

thar states: "At that time there was living in Varanasi the great authority who was supreme in the Sanskrit texts, the pandita named Dev Narayan Tripati. From [him], [Khunu Lama] received and studied Paninian Sanskrit [grammar] and its commentary in its complete, expanded, and brief versions extremely well, beginning at the beginning, from the letters of the five sandhi connections. He studied with great effort for a long time."346 One has the sense from this quote, and from the oral sources, that Khunu Lama threw himself into learning Panini, which he had waited so long and come so far to study. His studies with Pandit Dev Narayan Tripathi seem to have helped Khunu Lama refine his mastery of Sanskrit, to the extent that he later received recognition for his skills from institutions like the Varanasi Sanskrit University (not unimpressive for a Tibetaneducated man from a remote Himalayan border region). In addition, Khunu Lama's Varanasi studies with Pandit Tripathi led to several noteworthy interpersonal connections, one of which in particular seems to have greatly contributed to his remaining in the city on a semi-permanent basis.

That Varanasi connection was the friendship he developed with one of his Sanskrit classmates, an Indian scholar-yogi (Angrup calls him a sadhu347) named Swami Gangagiri (or Jobo Gangagiri, as Angrup refers to him). Swami Gangagiri belonged to what Angrup calls the Deshnami Hindu sect, and was the principal of an ashram in Varanasi called Tekra Math, located near Godaliya and Juddha Mandir.348 According to


Angrup 2005: 24-25.


K. Angrup interview 2004.


Dodin gives the name of this center as "Laskmi Kund Tekramat." Dodin 1997:88.

182 one source, Swami Gangagire used to call Khunu Lama "Bhot Baba," ("Tibetan Babd").349 As a result of their friendship, Khunu Rinpoche eventually came to live at Tekra Math for many years. Even though he would continue to travel widely for the rest of his life, one of Khunu Lama's few 'homes,' if one may call it that, was a small room on the top floor of Tekra Math, where he would live for much of each year in Varanasi.350 The mam thar describes the arrangement thus:

"While [Khunu Lama] was staying in the great brilliant city, his presence was located as follows: There was an old, very dignified Hindu math in the Laksa market area [more commonly spelled Lukshwa]. There, the master of the math was Jobo Ganga Giri. He and this lord [Khunu Lama] had been mutually harmonious and close during the earlier period when they had studied Sanskrit together. Because of that, he gave [Khunu] Lama Rinpoche a dwelling place in a makeshift single room built onto the top floor of that above-mentioned math. He gave it to him permanently and [Khunu Lama] stayed there."351

K. Angrup and S. Lall 1987:16. On the Hindi terms Bhot and Bhotia (derived from the Tibetan autonym Bod) and the related Sikkimese ethnic category Bhutia, see for instance the essays in Klieger 2006. See next footnote for the continuing persistence of this epithet for Khunu Lama at Tekra Math. 350

K. Angrup interview 2004; Geshe Yeshe Tapgyes, interview 2004; Rnam thar 2: 36.1 had the opportunity to visit Tekra Math in the spring of 2005. The ashram is still standing in the same place, under the same name, but has recently been completely overhauled and repainted. (Residents of the math stated that it is over three hundred years old.) Few traces of Khunu Lama's residence there remain, since the old buildings have now been redone. Khunu Lama's small dilapidated upstairs room no longer exists. Only one of the oldest of the resident yogis in the math remembered such a person as having lived there, over forty years before. This elderly yogi described Khunu Lama as a "great Bhotia mahatma" [Tibetan great soul] with thick eye-glasses, a beard, wearing red clothes, and so tall that his robes were always too short (something remarked on by many who met him; for instance Sem Tinley Ongmo interview 2004; a number of other sources also comment on the eyeglasses and beard, and these are also visible in photos of the period). The yogi commented that Khunu Lama lived very privately. Local people used to offer namaskar (the honorific gesture) to Khunu Lama out of respect, although they knew little about who he was. (Interview 2005, translated from Hindi into Tibetan by Dr. Jampa Samten of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies) 351

Angrup 2005:36.

183 This room at the math is where many of his students during the latter part of his life met him. It figures, for example, in the vignette with which this essay began. Many of the oral recollections collected for this research describe interactions that took place in this residence. As it happens, one of the main memories shared by a number of people is the great discomfort of the place. So uncomfortable was this room apparently that Khunu Lama's residence there has become a prominent part of recollections of his lifestyle of renunciation.

During the early period of his Sanskrit studies in Varanasi,

Khunu Lama also made the

acquaintance of the famous and often controversial Tibetan polymath Gendun Chophel, whom we encountered in Chapter One. Gendun Choephel too was briefly Khunu Lama's Sanskrit classmate, during the former's own studies in Varanasi. In his biography of Gendun Choephel, Rakra Rinpoche offers the following brief description of their meeting, as Gendun Choephel himself recalled it: "At that time, [in Varanasi, where he had initially gone to study Sanskrit] I met the mahasattva Khunu Lama Rinpoche, a true supreme heir of the Buddhas. Concerning that, at that time, Khunu Lama Rinpoche didn't know Hindi or how to write Devanagiri. He had written the names and addresses of some

As described in previous footnotes and in the Chronology, there were two periods of Khunu Lama's Sanskrit study in Varanasi, before and after his trip home to Kinnaur. He must have met Gendun Chophel during the earlier period. However, the question of exactly when the two men met is problematic. The windows of time in which the two could have met are limited by what we know of Gendun ChoephePs movements, which are somewhat better documented than Khunu Lama's. Gendun Choephel came to India in 1934, and travelled to western Tibet in 1938 with the Indian author, Buddhist convert, activist and scholar Rahul Sankrityayan (who is the author of one of the few existing book length works on the Kinnaur Valley, Sankrityayan Kinnar Desk, as I note elsewhere); shortly after his return to India Gendun Chophel then went to Sri Lanka for eighteen months; and by 1945 he was living in the Kalimpong area, from where he returned to Tibet a year later. I discuss this in full in the Chronology.

184 panditas down in Lentsa script, and asked me to check this, but I did not dare to explain it. [I.e, Gendun Choephel was embarrassed to correct Khunu Lama.353]

Hopkins reports that Khunu Rinpoche said that Gendun Chophel could memorize in one day texts that it took him weeks to memorize, which may or may not suggest some rivalry.354 It is of course tantalizing to speculate about what the two men, in certain ways such parallel independent spirits and yet so different, might have talked about and how they might have influenced each other (or disagreed). As of this writing, concrete details about their connection remain limited, although a few hints do appear.355


Tethong Rakra Rinpoche [Bkras thong Rak ra Rin po che]'s Dge 'dun chos 'phel gyi lo rgyus, LTWA Dharamsala 1980:50. My bracketed interpretation of this slightly colloquial passage was provided by Gen. Lobsang Jamspal, personal communication. Angrup paraphrases this section in the rnam thar as follows: "At about that time, the supreme intellectual Gendun Choephel from Amdo Rebkong Zho Ongchipa had also gone to the Noble Land [India], to Varanasi, for pilgrimage and because he wanted to train his mind in Sanskrit language. Thus, according to a statement of his, 'When I came to Varanasi to study Sanskrit, at that time, Khunu Rinpoche also was there. He did not know any Hindi language or Devanagari script at all. He asked me to help him, the venerable one having written in Lentsa script the names and addresses of several panditas. However, as for clarifying [it], I didn't do it!' (The above statement is recorded in the book composed by the very famous authority His Eminence Tethong Rakra Rinpoche [bKras thong Rak ra Rin po che], 'The History of Gendun Chophel.')" rnam thar 2:20- 21. 354

Hopkins 1992:19, summarizing previous biographies such as Stoddard 1985. Hopkins does not state the source of this quote, and I have been unable to locate it in Stoddard or in Tentong; one would of course like to know if Khunu Lama made any additional comments. 355

1 note these hints and possibilities in context as they appear. In particular, there is a funny and odd moment, described in more detail below, in the recollection of the Ladakhi literary scholar Tashi Rabgyes about his own study with Khunu Lama in 1956. Tashi Rabgyes recalls that Khunu Lama admonished him not to "translate books about sex," which may have been directed at Tashi Rabgyes personally, but also might reflect Khunu Lama's awareness of Gendun Chophel's rather scandalous Tibetan version of the Kama Sutra. This is admittedly a speculation. (Tashi Rabgyes interview 2004.)

185 It is revealing that Gendun Chophel describes Khunu Lama as not knowing Hindi language or Devanagari script. The Kinnaur Valley at the time Khunu Lama grew up there was far less integrated into India proper (at that time under British colonial administration) and lower-altitude Indian societies nearby than it is today.356 While the current younger generation of Kinnauris speak and read Hindi virtually without exception, being educated in it at school as well as absorbing it from Indian TV, music, film and other media, Khunu Lama would not have been likely to have grown up speaking Hindi, except as a second or third language.357 Even today, the oldest generation in Upper Kinnaur in particular includes people who speak virtually no Hindi at all. Khunu Lama's first language would have been the Kinnauri dialect spoken in Surinam Village,358 and his second language seems to have been Tibetan, although as extant tape recordings and the recollections of students all attest, he never lost his characteristic Himalayan accent, which many Tibetan students initially had difficulty understanding.359 Khunu Lama himself seems to have thought of Kinnaur as distinct from India, political realities not withstanding. In one of the few surviving recorded interviews

As noted in the previous section, Kinnaur was a part of the princely state of Bushahr until 1937, but the region seems never to have been very closely controlled, either administratively or culturally, by any outside entity, including much earlier in its history. See Bajpai 1991, LaMacchia 2001, Indian Census 1977. 357

See for instance the brief histories of Kinnaur in Bajpai, LaMaccia, Tiwari, Indian Census 1977, etc.


See earlier notes about the lack of a comprehensive grammar or linguistic analysis of Kinnaur, and the existence of scholarly debate about how to group its dialects or languages. LaMacchia 2001 reports that Sunnam village has its own dialect. 359

Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok interview 2005; Gen. Lobsang Jamspal interview 2006, 2007; my own experience listening to recordings of his voice confirms that his regional accent was quite strong.

186 with him, he says he "went to India (Gyagar). Then stayed in Khunu about 8 years. Then again I went to India," presenting them as separate places.360

Thus the common Tibetan picture of Khunu Lama as a man who moved with comparative ease between Tibet and India should not blind us to the specificity of his regional identity as a Kinnauri. This is worth emphasizing, since Tibetans who knew him seem to have widely perceived Khunu Lama as 'Indian,' both in terms of his accent and mannerisms, his physical appearance (Tibetans point to the fact that he had dark skin, often wore a beard, was quite tall, had non-Tibetan features, and so on), and also because of Tibetan unfamiliarity with regional distinctions within India. For example, as we have already seen, the epithet "Gyagar Lama" (Indian Lama) was the most common description of Khunu Lama in Kham, presumably because people there had never heard of Kinnaur. For Tibetans who arrived in India after 1959, Khunu Lama (who had by then been living in India for some twenty years) also seems to have appeared as an expert in Indian culture.361 A large part of Khunu Lama's limited ability to speak and read Hindi when he met Gendun Choephel probably was a function of his quite recent arrival on the Indian plains at that time. (Indeed, this is one of the factors suggesting approximate dates for their meeting.) Two decades later, in 1960, Khunu Lama's Hindi would be sufficiently improved that he could serve as the Hindi-Tibetan translator for the Dalai Lama, when the Dalai Lama gave a talk to students at Varanasi Sanskrit University, at


Lama Kunga interview with Khunu Lama, early 1970s. Tape generously shared by Gen Lobsang Jamspal. 361

Khenpo Sonam Topgyal interview 2008.

187 which time he apparently managed the task quite successfully.

By the end of his life,

one of his western students would be able to say of him that "he knew Hindi very well."363 Many Tibetans who knew him after 1959 remember him acting as a translator, mention his explanation of unfamiliar customs, or note the social ease of his behavior among Indians.364 For Tibetans specifically, his perceived cultural Indian-ness (and difference from Tibetans) thus forms a key part of his remembered identity. On the other hand, the handful of western students who knew him at the end of his life remember him as what one might call flexibly bi-cultural, visually registering with the students as partly Indian and partly Tibetan, and moving without apparent difficulty between Indian and Tibetan social contexts (contexts that of course were equally alien to the young westerners).365 Yet as the nickname "Bhot Baba" (given by the yogis of Tekra Math) for example suggests, Khunu Lama could in fact register as an outsider, and specifically as a Tibetan or Himalayan person, to the Indians he came in contact with in non-Himalayan regions, (and one might recall again his own statement presenting Kinnaur and India as two separate entities, suggesting that he himself categorized Kinnaur as outside India).

Original program brochure; Gen. Lobsang Jamspal, personal communication. I take up this episode again below. 363

Chris Fynn interview 2006.


For example Sem Trinley Ongmo interview 2004; Khenpo Sonam Topgyal interview 2008;


Chris Fynn interview 2006; Ani Pemo interview 200X; Karma Wangmo interview 2009; Karma Lekshe Tsomo personal communication 2009. Of course, in addition to the fact that the western students, who had all recently arrived in Asia for the first time, may not have perceived subtleties of Khunu Lama's 'insider' versus 'outsider' identity among Tibetans and Indians, the timing of their meetings with him may also explain his apparently effortless cultural hybridity: all the western students interviewed met Khunu Lama within a few years of his death, when he had lived in and travelled all over India for decades, and when he had become a beloved figure among many Tibetan lamas and intellectuals. This may also be the place to note that Khunu Lama chose to pronounce Tibetan orthography in a style associated both with border areas and with the distant past, in which each consonant is pronounced.

188 Gendun Choephel's comment that Khunu Lama did not know Hindi is thus an additional and very vivid reminder that, though this is often not a part of how he is remembered by Tibetans, Khunu Lama was in many ways an outsider in India himself, with linguistic and other obstacles to overcome. Taken together, these recollections suggest something of Khunu Lama's ambiguous cultural location, as a Himalayan person who was not fully an insider in either Tibet or India, despite his profound personal, social, intellectual and religious ties to both.

My use of the English terms "outsider" and "insider" carries an additional (intentional) freight of irony in the context of an anomalously-Tibetan and Buddhist person like Khunu Lama, inasmuch as the word for Buddhist in Tibet is nangpa, which literally means "insider." Khunu Lama qua Buddhist was certainly an "insider" in Tibet; he, like Mongolian, Himalayan, Chinese, Japanese and more recently western practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism was inside what is arguably the most important cultural boundary from the Tibetan point of view. Moreover, like Mongolians and like other Himalayan people, (and unlike Japanese and western converts), Khunu Lama came from a cultural area that has been closely bound up with Tibet for centuries, one from which students often come to Tibet to study, and in which the Tibetan writing system was for a long time the main medium for intellectual life.366 This makes Khunu Lama a rather close relative, if not an immediate family member of the Tibetan cultural household, if one may so gloss nangpa; certainly an insider in some ways. Of course, precisely the point of the


For the insider versus outsider status of Chinese practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism in the twentieth century, see Tuttle 2005.

189 functioning of the transmission lineage and its attendant kinship terms is that once an individual has received the lama's transmission, he or she is not only an insider as a fellow-Buddhist, but is now within the family, the family of the lineage.

At the same time however, one of the dynamics visible via the events of Khunu Lama's life, including during some of his teaching to Tibetans in India described below, is the degree to which being a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism was not in fact enough, in and of itself, to completely place Khunu Lama on the Tibetan 'inside,' culturally speaking. At various moments, attention seems to have been paid specifically to his attributes of cultural difference, whether by Kalep Trunyig in his literary criticism, or in Khams where Khunu Lama was seen (and criticized to Dezhung Rinpoche's guru) as an Indian "atsara," or by Khunu Lama's lama-students in the Mussourie "Lama School" when he taught there in 1965.367

In India, by contrast, when the reverse process was operating and Khunu Lama was seen as an outsider among Indians, one of the things that may have served to mark him as different may have been precisely his Buddhism. Even during the years when he apparently dressed in the clothing of an Indian renunciant (he is described as dressing like a "sadhu " for some periods of time in the 1950s for instance),

367 368

he seems to have

On the criticism expressed to Dezhung Rinpoche's teacher, see Jackson 2003:52 and n.191.

Sem Trinley Ongmo interview 2004; Tashi Paljor interview 2004; Manshardt also mentions this; Jackson unpublished interview material.

190 registered to Indians as an outsider, for example as a "Bhotia." This may well have been due to his identity as a Buddhist, which he displayed via his Varanasi riverside debates with Indian sadhus (in which Khunu Lama is said by the mam thar to have argued for the superiority of Buddhism), as well as to his language skills and other behavior. The outsider valence of being a Himalayan Buddhist in the self-proclaimed Hindu center of Varanasi may have been especially pronounced during the 1940s, 50s and 60s, decades of intensely communalist political activity and violence in India (although it is also possible that being a Buddhist set Khunu Lama helpfully outside of the agonising struggles of the time). Khunu Lama's connection with the orthodoxly Brahmanical Varanasi Sanskrit University raises especially interesting questions related to this topic.

Of course, as will become more apparent as we consider Khunu Lama's return to Kinnaur, for people from the western Himalaya, Khunu Lama is an insider and a family member (sometimes literally a relative, for Kinnauris, or at least someone from the same extended caste/clan group, the Negis); he is beloved precisely as a local person who has become important.


Return to Kinnaur

The Ladakhi scholars Tashi Paljor and Tashi Rabgyes among others emphasized this point in our interviews, as did Angrup. K. Angrup, Tashi Paljor and Tashi Rabgyes, interviews 2004. 370

For treatment of closely related issues of belonging, Buddhism, and the interplay between Tibetan, Indian, Nepali and Himalayan identities, see the articles in Tibetan Borderlands (ed. Klieger 2006) and Territory and Identity in Tibet and the Himalayas (eds. Buffetrille and Diemberger 2002), which speak very much to Khunu Lama's situation.

191 Khunu Lama's home, where he was most likely to be considered as an insider in the most specific and literal sense, was the Kinnaur Valley of his birth. To be sure, there is an attitude, frequently expressed in the rnam thar as we have already seen, that a true Buddhist practitioner should be a renunciant, at home nowhere, (or perhaps one might say, adding a layer of interpretation, such a person should be at home everywhere). This idea, with its accompanying hints that constant travel and a certain kind of pervasive cultural ambiguity or outsider status may be linked to the ideal of the bodhisattva (and specifically to the Tibetan ideal type of the renunciant hermit, the chatralwa), may help us to understand some of the ways that the rnam thar and the oral sources remember Khunu Lama's return to Kinnaur in the mid-1940s, only a handful of years after he began his Sanskrit studies in Varanasi.

Home and family are repeatedly painted in Khunu Lama's rnam thar, and in rnam thar literature quite generally, as traps, distractions, or sources of negativity. During the initial episode of Khunu Lama's home-leaving, Angrup invokes Milarepa, the Kadampas, and the bodhisattva ideal to emphasize the necessity of turning away from home to pursue Buddhist practice. Yet as noted already, the cultural and institutional patterns of Tibetan Buddhist renunciation do not in fact tend toward permanent and total withdrawal from familial ties and relationships (the existence of certain kinds of dramatic rhetoric on this point and the potential for lengthy separations not withstanding). Thus it may not be

surprising to learn that relatively soon after his return to India,

Khunu Lama went to

visit to Kinnaur, the valley he had left so secretly as a young man some forty years before. According to the mam thar, Khunu Lama traveled there in part out of his own wish to see his old home, and in part in response to the urging of relatives. (In his own very brief summary of his movements given some forty years later in the recorded interview with Lama Kunga, Khunu Lama says that he went first from Tibet to India, then went to Kinnaur, and later returned to India, but says nothing about what prompted the trip or what it was like.372)

Oral sources reveal an interesting diversity in their coverage (or lack thereof) of Khunu Lama's activity in Kinnaur, depending on the cultural location of the source. Ethnic Tibetans I have interviewed mention little or nothing about the years in Khunu; many people seem not to know that Khunu Lama made this trip. Yet for western Himalayan oral sources - Kinnauris, of course, as well as Ladakhis, people from Lahaul, Tabo, Spiti and neighboring regions - Khunu Lama's time in Kinnaur is quite important. It forms a significant chapter in his teaching activity, a sort of bookend to his teaching in the western Himalaya at the end of his life. Khunu Lama's Himalayan teaching, perhaps unsurprisingly, represents a central dimension of his legacy for people from the region. (Interestingly, His Holiness Dalai Lama is one of the few Tibetan students of Khunu Lama to mention Khunu Lama's years teaching in Khunu, or to note its importance for


The timing of this trip, like much of Khunu Lama's Indian travels, is hard to establish. See Chronology.


Lama Kunga interview with Khunu Lama early 1970s.

193 Himalayan people. His Holiness specifically commented on this, and attributed Khunu Lama's being well-known and leaving a significant legacy among Himalayan people to the fact that he taught them so extensively, in contrast to his more limited teaching to Tibetans.373)

For his part, Angrup places the Khunu years prominently at the beginning of his "in A

treatment of the return to India in the rnam thar.

This fact, as well as the way that

Angrup frames the episode in the rnam thar vis a vis issues of renunciation and homedeparture, suggest that this episode of returning to Kinnaur is important for the rnam thar's memorialization of Khunu Lama. The episode delineates something about Khunu Lama as an individual teacher and religious figure, and may be intended to provide a template for how the community of disciples and readers remember him. In his description of Khunu Lama's return to his valley, Angrup explicitly takes up again the theme of Khunu Lama's renunciation of his homeland and relatives, and grapples with the potential tension between renunciation and the persistence of family ties, as well as the

His Holiness Dalai Lama interview 2005. 374

In terms of chronology, Khunu Lama's own statement quoted above suggests that he began his Sanskrit studies, then went to Kinnaur, and then returned, presumably to Varanasi, although he does not spell this out. On the other hand, the rnam thar's placement of this episode near the beginning of its treatment of the Indian years suggests that Khunu Lama went to Kinnaur relatively quickly after his departure from Central Tibet, possibly even en route toward a central Indian destination. Dodin also writes that Khunu Lama went to Kinnaur on his way from Tibet to Varanasi, based on Sangak Tenzin's recollections. In this case, it seems to make most sense to follow what Khunu Lama himself states on the tape in the way that he states it, since an initial trip to Varanasi would fit the timing of other events, including the meeting with Gendun Chophel, the best. The multiple trips — to Calcutta and Varanasi, back to Kinnaur, and then back to Varanasi would also perhaps explain why some of Khunu Lama's earlier western-language biographers found suggestions of two trips to India. See Chronology Appendix.

194 tension between Khunu Lama's identity as an elusive, "hidden," wandering hermit, and his identity as a generous and available teacher. While oral sources sometimes comment on these potential tensions as well, it is generally in other contexts (such as Khunu Lama's relationship with individual students, in which he first appears unavailable, and then is dramatically revealed as extremely kind),375 and less explicitly couched in terms of renunciation. The rnam thar text offers a particularly clear example of the potential tensions surrounding renunciation.

Angrup describes a dynamic during Khunu Lama's time Kinnaur in which Khunu Lama wishes to again leave his home valley quite soon after he gets there (presumably for standard Buddhist reasons the text does not bother to describe, but that clearly include the dangers of entanglement with worldly concerns, the wish to practice in secrecy and solitude, and possibly some kind of discomfort with all the attention).376 However, Khunu Lama's wish to leave Kinnaur conflicts with the insistent requests of local people and his own relatives for Buddhist teachings. These are requests that Khunu Lama, as a Buddhist

Descriptions of this pattern in Khunu Lama's interactions with students include Tashi Rabgyes' account of their meeting in 1956 (interview 2004); Karma Lekshe Tsomo's account of her meeting with him in 1975 (personal communication); narratives collected by LaMacchia from Khunu Lama's Kinnauri nun disciples (LaMacchia 2001); and accounts of the interactions between Khunu Lama and his close female companion the Drikung Khandro Sherab Tharchin (see Manshardt unpublished n.d. (a), (b), Jackson forthcoming). Of course, the drama of teacherly rejection followed by subsequent embrace of the student is an extremely common narrative pattern in accounts of Tibetan teachers' activities. It may be most familiar from the stories of Milarepa and Marpa, as well as in the life stories of the earlier Indian figures in Marpa's lineage, such as Naropa and Tilopa. We have seen glimpses of this pattern in Khunu Lama's own encounter with Khenpo Shenga. 376

Khunu Lama also seems to be motivated by the desire to get back to Varanasi, although since, as we will see, there are accounts that state that Varanasi functioned as a place of private retreat for him, this may be a more conventionally "Buddhist" concern that it initially appears.

teacher in the mold of the generous, available bodhisattva ideal, cannot refuse, forcing him to stay in Kinnaur for some time.

In setting up his account of Khunu Lama's return to Kinnaur, and this tension between Khunu Lama's wish to leave and the community's wish for him to stay, Angrup first highlights the poignancy of Khunu Lama's departure, absence, return, and departure again, in a way similar to his presentation of the initial home departure.377 I quote at some length: "As for this Lama Rinpoche [Tenzin Gyaltsen], who practiced exactly like the Kadampa spiritual teachers of the past, he had turned his back on and abandoned his homeland in order to practice the Dharma very purely, because of having felt that, if he had not separated his life from father and mother together with the relations to whom he was close, etc., he would not be able to act properly, in terms of knowing how to discriminate among and avoid worldly bustle and distraction, etc. He thus took up the Dharma as his portion and went to Tibet, first to U Tsang [Central Tibet], and then gradually he set out for the Khams area. During the time that passed - about twenty-three years - in his homeland, both his mother and father who were so very kind, and his uncle Rasvir Das, and likewise his only sister, Dungku [gDung sku] passed away [lit. dissolved into their constituent five elements], and they were no longer there."

Angrup acknowledges Khunu Lama's own feelings of family connection, saying,

The question of to what extent popular narratives of dramatic renunciation intentionally highlight the poignancy of separation is an interesting one for further study; one might think here of the popularity of the Vessantara story throughout Asia (in which the Buddha in a former life "gives away" his wife and children; this has now been made into popular film versions in South East Asia). In particular, one wonders if such accounts are structured differently depending on whether intended for lay versus ordained audiences; there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the "poignancy" of renunciation is associated with lay presentations, whereas monastics talk about the happiness and relief of renunciation. LaMacchia offers an interesting description of Kinnauri jomos' songs detailing the happiness of the nun's life after three years of hardship, versus the hardship of a married woman's life after three years of happiness. (LaMacchia 2001).

196 "Nevertheless, at one time, due to the power of familiarity from the predispositions of many previous lifetimes, he [Khunu Rinpoche] wished to see the house and final resting place of his parents, whose kindness outshone all others. Having as his frame of reference the intention to bring condolences to his kin and relations, he briefly turned his steps toward his homeland of Khunu. He met his relatives and friends, etc. face to face, and because of that, brief happiness and similarly pleasure arose. However, householders who are worldly laymen become obstacles to learning, reflection and meditation; and [thus] he did not repeatedly visit his cherished home. "He developed the aspiration to go quickly to Varanasi, after having traveled through his homeland, but he was surrounded by his siblings who were full of attachment, and his loving close relatives. His kindest relatives and closest friends, etc, lamas and lay people together, with great devotion all begged him to his face over and over again by all means to give an oral teaching that would benefit their minds."

By juxtaposing this acknowledgement of the pleasures of returning home together with a renewed statement of the importance of leaving home and household life behind, Angrup seems here to be emphasizing the particular rhetorical ideal of renunciation he has already introduced in the chapter on the first home-departure. Home-leaving is central to this rhetorical ideal of renunciation (as is Khunu Lama's voluntary poverty, something Angrup emphasizes elsewhere), and both are framed as antidotes to "attachment" (Tib. sredpa) These passages in the mam thar appear in part to serve a didactic function, as well as an inspirational one. Such passages help a naive reader understand why Khunu Lama would leave his home a second time, when everyone wanted him to stay; any reader unfamiliar with the general narrative conventions of renunciation would learn them here (though the intended audience for the mam thar surely is people already familiar with the structure of a Buddhist life story). At one level then, this section like the earlier comments on renunciation, are seemingly intended to instruct and motivate readers to emulate Khunu Lama's idealized example.

197 Arguably, Angrup also emphasizes here the importance of leaving a place of many attachments and worldly entanglements as a way of addressing the potential for contradiction between Khunu Lama's identity as a generous teacher who is responsive to student needs, and his identity as a hidden renunciant meditator who is elusive, unknown, and whose soteriological activities (and thus ultimately, from the point of view of the tradition, whose ability to help those students who need him) depends upon his successful pursuit of suitable conditions for meditation. Perhaps ironically, the subsequent paragraph reveals Khunu Lama as still connected to his Kinnauri siblings and other relatives and neighbors, despite his earlier departure, such that he was not able to extricate himself rapidly from their demands. This next paragraph may dramatize potential conflicts within the ideal of bodhisattva-hood itself (solitary mediation versus availability to sentient beings, say), at least as these might appear to those reading the rnam thar. Or perhaps Angrup is simply revealing, intentionally or not, tensions between the rhetoric of the renunciatory ideal he himself has articulated, and the way the realities of Himalayan Buddhist life actually unfolded in Khunu Lama's case. In any event, the text subsequently does provide a resolution of this potential tension, in the form of Khunu Lama's "kindness" (Tib. bka' driri) in giving the teachings he was asked to give, at the cost of deferring his own plans to return to Varanasi: [Because] this lord [Khunu Lama] was diligent in the hermit-practice of a Bodhisattva child of the Buddhas who is unknown to sentient beings [i.e., the practice of a hidden practitioner], there was no opportunity for attachment and craving as a result of his special [feelings] for his homeland, siblings and relations and so forth. However, for the sake of fulfilling the wishes of disciples in his homeland, both ordained and lay people, male and female...he kindly nurtured them. He gave the complete reading transmission for all the stages of practice for beings of the three capacities to many ordained and lay people...and especially [he taught] about the practice of the Bodhisattvacaryavatara, written by the noble Shantideva.

198 In accordance with the dispositions and inclinations of his disciples, gradually, [his] Dharma-related work spread far and wide. Accordingly, it eventually turned out to be necessary for him to stay for about eight years in Khunu itself, the land of his birth "

Khunu Lama himself is kind (bka' driri), but in a different way from his kind relatives (the same word is used), in that he cares for them as their teacher, in the way they request, but without the attachment that motivates them. Still, the lengthy period of teaching in Kinnaur may suggest that the ties of community and family were very strong indeed - or that Khunu Lama was extremely kind, or both. In light of how long Khunu Lama turns out to have stayed in Kinnaur amidst family and friends, one might read Angrup's initial framing comments on renunciation as the protests of a biographer whose subject is departing from the ideal model. Alternatively, one might recall that Angup himself is a Drukpa Kagyu practitioner in the Lahauli mold, who lives with his extended family in Kulu and Lahaul and maintains close ties with his relatives and community, despite his own commitment to Buddhist activities, residence in a monastery, etc. It is possible that these ties in his own life shape Angrup's use of the rhetoric of renunciation, perhaps causing him to emphasize a renunciation in which one literally leaves home as an ideal at precisely the moments at which Khunu Lama seems to be following a familiar Himalayan pattern of ongoing communal connection instead.

Angrup 2005: 25-32.

199 On the other hand, from the point of view of the Kinnauri disciples, the "kindness" of Khunu Lama in staying so long in Kinnaur has a highly concrete dimension. The oral sources (as well as the mam thar in the passage immediately following those just quoted) convey a sense that Khunu Lama was very motivated to bring Buddhist education to the Himalayan region, and to Kinnaur specifically, in part because of his perception that Buddhist resources there were normally quite limited. Reported comments of Kinnauris at the time and oral accounts in the present day specifically emphasize this dimension to Khunu Lama's kindness - he was not simply kind in response to filial obligation or extensive pestering, but in response to an acutely felt need. The Kinnauri sources also highlight the importance that his time in Kinnaur had for the Buddhist educational and spiritual attainments of people in the valley. In addition to the memories and recollections of students personally affected by Khunu Lama's teaching in Kinnaur, both the mam thar and oral accounts cite the evidence of Khunu Lama's own compositions during his stay in the valley as further exemplifying the nature of his kindness in teaching to the specific needs of the Kinnauri population.379

While in Kinnaur, Khunu Lama wrote a number of brief works in verse that were designed as teaching tools for local Buddhist education (some in a style reminiscent of Paltrul Rinpoche's accessible, pithy compositions directed at the rural communities he in


Khunu Lama also apparently played a role in strengthening Buddhist resources through such symbolically (and practically) significant activities as backing a project to bring a full collection of the portion of the Tibetan canon called the Kanjur (Tib. bka' 'gyur) from Tibet to the village of Ribba in Kinnaur. LaMacchia 2001:130 (in which she presents ay'omos' song describing these events.) As LaMacchia's material reveals, Khunu Lama taught his commentary to the Dayig Ngagdron and on grammatical and orthographical topics as well as on Buddhism in Kinnaur.


turn had come from).380 Of Khunu Lama's Kinnaur-period works, several have been privately published in pamphlet form, in Hindi-Tibetan bilingual editions, by two present-day Kinnauri Buddhist scholars, both on the faculty of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath. These pamphlets remain extant (and in use) today, and offer a glimpse of Khunu Lama's interests while in the region. One of these short works presents the Tibetan syllabary and is designed for teaching reading; another provides instruction in preliminary practices (Tib. sngon 'gro, the initial Buddhist exercises such as multiple repetitions of the refuge formula that in principle must be completed before tantric practice, in this case Mahamudra, can begin); and a third teaches basic Buddhist concepts.381 In order to understand the significance of these versified compositions, it is worth bearing in mind that the Kinnauri language(s) does not have its own writing system. Widespread literacy (in Tibetan scripts, or in Devanagary or Urdu for Indian languages) is a relatively recent introduction. Literacy in Tibetan was historically limited to a small number of Buddhist specialists of various kinds, and literacy in Indie scripts was limited to government officials and other local leaders until relatively recently. Kinnauri oral culture on the other hand is very rich, and there is an extensive musical

My thanks to Gene Smith for emphasizing this point to me. 381

The three pamphlets are: Mthun bshi sin tu mdor bsdus and dbyang can dstodpa don gnis sne ma by Negi Rinpoche Tanzin Gyaltsan (sic, English words are used in the cover pages); Vajrayaniya Adya Sadhana Ka Sanksipta Paricaya: A Brief Introduction to the Preliminary Meditation in the Vajrayana; and Song and Prayer By Negi Rinpoche Tanzin Gyaltsan. The bilingual Tibetan/Hindi editions were translated into Hindi by two Kinnauri scholars, Ramesh Chandra Negi (Mathas) and Gurucharan Singh Negi (Bisht), and published by Ramesh Chandra Negi. Both men are on the faculty of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies and are active in working with the substantial number of young Kinnauri students currently enrolled there.

201 tradition.382 One of Khunu Lama's particular contributions was to compose teachings in verse that could be sung to local melodies; these songs remain in popular circulation today, and are in part responsible for Khunu Lama's ongoing relevance for and reputation among Kinnauris.

Interestingly, one composition of Khunu Lama's that the mam thar

lists among the works of that time, a praise to the Buddha, was also anthologized in a 1991 Drigung Kagyu collection of verse by Kagyu masters, the bKa'brgyud Rinpoche mGur mtsho ye shes byin 'bebs, selected and edited by the current 7th Drigung Chetsang Rinpoche, one of the two heads of the Drigung school. Thus at least one of the compositions from the Kinnauri years has found a wider audience.) Dodin also mentions that the years in Kinnaur were the time when Khunu Lama was able to complete revisions to his commentary on the Dayig Ngag Dron, which he had initially composed in Dege some ten or more years before.384 The time in Kinnaur thus seems to have been a productive one on many fronts.

LaMacchia 2001 provides a major study of Kinnauri song traditions, the only comprehensive study to date of the songs song by Buddhist female practitioners (jomd). Notably, one of the few things Indians from the plains may say of Kinnaur - the stereotype — is that they are famously musical. This has led to speculation that the toponym Kinnaur in some way derives from the name of the mythological kinners, horse-headed beings found in Sanskrit literature who appear as jolly, semi-celestial musicians. See LaMacchia 2001; Tiwari; Indian Census 1971. 383

LaMacchia 2001. Indeed, LaMacchia notes that one song composed by Khunu Rinpoche was at the time of her fieldwork probably the most popular and widely sung song in the region. The rnam thar says on this topic: "[Khunu Lama] composed songs of spiritual realization [mgur ma] and also acrostic poetry. [These were] Dharma songs which had as their basis the viewpoint of the religious tradition [chos lugs] in brief, combining the perfect words which are the means of expression with the deep meaning to be expressed, by way of according with the beneficial qualities of the Khunu area's own music, which has sweet-sounding songs and comes [readily] into the mind, and so forth." (p.28) 384

Dodin, based on Sangngak Tenzin's testimony. Dodin states that the corrected manuscript "was sent to Lhasa where it was printed on woodblocks at the Mentsikhang." Dodin 1993:88.


While in Kinnaur, Khunu Lama seems to have offered an unusual number and range of teachings to female practitioners in the valley, so much so that this fact was commented upon repeatedly, by both men and women.385 LaMacchia quotes one Kinnauri nun as saying that Khunu Lama stated "that women deserve more teachings than men because of the social disadvantages women face,"386 and this was echoed by the present-day Kinnauri Buddhist scholar, Ven. Ramesh Chandra Negi, translator and publisher of the recent editions of Khunu Lama's work just mentioned, and one of a contemporary generation of Kinnauri scholars interested in preserving and disseminating Khunu Lama's work.387 Ven. Ramesh Chandra emphasized that this was based on Khunu Lama's compassion as a Buddhist for "people who faced more difficult rebirths," here drawing on the literal sense of the most common Tibetan word for woman, skyes dman, which literally means "lower rebirth." (Ven. Ramesh Chandra's gloss is worth noting, lest Khunu Lama be too readily assimilated onto the model of twentieth or twenty-first century feminism. I discuss Khunu Lama's relationships with women students as a separate topic below.)

It was thus after eight apparently productive years in Kinnaur that Khunu Lama left his valley again in the mid 1950s, having left a considerable imprint there in terms of


For example, LaMacchia 2001 contains partial autobiographical oral accounts of several of Khunu Lama's female disciples, in which they mention his extensive teaching to women, and his role in their ordination, education and religious lives. 386 387

LaMacchia 2001:68.

Ven. Ramesh Chandra Negi interview 2005. As noted in Chapter Two, the name Negi is the caste group name for all upper-caste, Kinnauris; these particular scholars are not close personal relatives of Khunu Lama.

numbers of disciples, teachings given, and songs and written compositions by and about him that continue to be read and sung. Kinnauri students would travel to seek him out in various locations in India, and as I describe, several women whom he ordained as nuns would be especially persistent, three in particular remaining at his side during the last years of his life. Apparently, however, Khunu Lama never returned to Kinnaur again before his death, although he was repeatedly asked to do so. (During the last year of his life, for instance, he refused an invitation to return and teach in Kinnaur, traveling instead to the nearby Himalayan region of Lahaul, where he died.) One indeed wonders if some of the conflicts between Kinnauris and Lahaulis that later arose over his funeral arrangements may have had anything to do with pent up demand, and with the complex dynamics of separation and connection just described.

Varanasi, Again: Connections, Renunciation, Independence


After leaving Kinnaur, Khunu Lama made his way back to Varanasi around 1952. While he continued to travel in India and the Himalayan region, the mam thar and oral sources confirm that Khunu Lama made the Tekra Math ashram his home between trips to other parts of India during most of the next decade and a half. As mentioned already, this is where many of his students remember meeting him. Varanasi is also where, in the 388

Khunu Lama's Paninian studies were probably complete by the time he returned from Kinnaur, especially if the total of his study with Pandit Tripathi was four or five years, as the quotation provided earlier in the rnam thar states. Khunu Lama made a number of trips in various parts of India as I note, and many of them are essentially undocumented, since he travelled alone or with Indian "sadhus" whose names are unknown.

mid-1950s, Khunu Lama met several creative and influential figures of the period who were interested in Buddhism. These included the Dalit leader, author of the Indian Constitution, and Buddhist convert Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (1891-1956), as well as apparently the English Buddhist convert (and champion of Dr. Ambedkar's conversion movement) Sangharakshita (b. 1925). In addition Khunu Lama encountered a prominent Varanasi Brahmin scholar of and convert to Buddhism, Pandit Jagganath Upadhyaya (1921-1986). This latter individual later became a powerful ally to the Dalai Lama and the nascent Tibetan Government in Exile in the task of keeping Tibetan Buddhist learning alive in India. His path would intersect with Khunu Lama's in productive ways over the next two decades, in particular in the context of two important institutions of higher education and Buddhist studies in the Varanasi area, Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, and the institution now known as the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, located in Sarnath (adjacent to Varanasi).

For someone interested in Sanskrit, Tibetan or Buddhist studies, Varanasi and its environs during the nineteen fifties and sixties was a stimulating place to be. In their individual ways, both India's independence in 1947 and the arrival of a large number of Tibetans in India in 1959 unleashed great energy for Sanskritic and Buddhism-related cultural and educational projects. Pride in India's ancient cultural inheritance and a wish to recover it mixed with the intensity of burgeoning Hindu nationalism to make Sanskrit

study into something of great political as well as intellectual interest.

Indian interest in

Buddhism blossomed in the decades leading up to, and just after, Independence, for reasons that have only recently begun to be explored. A number of prominent Brahmin intellectuals, the aforementioned Pandit Upadhaya among them, were interested in Buddhism during this time, expressing this interest in ways that ranged from scholarship to personal conversion.390 Their Buddhist interests ran the gamut from recovery of India's past to the (re)establishment of Buddhism as a rationalist religion compatible with modern progress. (On the latter end of the spectrum, there were close and obvious ties to what Obeyesekere has called Protestant Buddhism, and what Lopez, Hallisey and more recently McMahan have called "Buddhist Modernism").


In the same period, Dr.

On this fascinating and troubling dynamic see among others Gould 2002; Dalmia and Stietencron; Eck. The foregoing comments are not intended to minimize the importance of Sanskrit for major factions and players within the Indian independence movement, but rather to note that post-Independence developments like the re-constitution of the Sanskrit University in Varanasi in 1958 under then Chief Minister (U.P.) Sampurnanand's leadership represented both a house-clearing of colonial era institutions and associations, and a testament to the ideological and religious role that Sanskrit played for Hindu intellectuals, political leaders, and the general public in the new Indian state. 390

Eleanor Zelliot sheds valuable light on the intellectual and spiritual ferment of this period, when Indians were trying to rapidly shed the legacy of colonialism, and there was a resurgence of interest in Buddhism as a part of India's cultural inheritance. She describes the members of an influential "trio of Brahmin Buddhists" active in the nineteen twenties and thirties, Ven. Anand Kausalyayan, Pandit lagdish Kashyap, and the Buddhist scholar and Marxist activist Rahul Sankrityayan. The latter of course was the friend and mentor of Gendun Chophel, who met Gendun Chophel in Tibet while searching for Tibetan editions of Sanskrit texts, and was responsible for bringing him to Nepal and India. Sankrityayan was also interested in Kinnaur, where he traveled extensively and about which he wrote the travelogue, Kinnardesh. (Sanskrityayan 1956.) See Zelliot, in Surendra Jondhale and lohannes Beltz 2004.) Pandit Upadhyaya can be seen as a closely parallel and indeed linked figure to this trio, both in terms of his status as a Brahmin Buddhist convert, intellectual and educator, and in his personal association with Kashyap, for example. (See Prof. Jagannath Upadhyaya Commemoration Volume, 1986.) According to Zelliot, these Brahmin Buddhists prefigured and in some ways facilitated the Buddhist interest and eventual conversion of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, who himself knew Kausalyayan and Kashyap, and whose activities found an enthusiastic champion in Sankrityayan. (Zelliot: 19-23). 391

Lopez 2006; Obeyesekere 1970; McMahan 2008.

Ambedkar, himself deeply interested in Buddhism, was exploring its compatibility with Marxism and its relevance to the situation of the untouchable/Dalit caste group to which he belonged and with whose emancipation he was concerned. Ambedkar's two-fold personal and public commitment to Buddhism culminated in a massive public conversion ceremony in Nagpur in 1956, the last year of his life, in which he himself and some four hundred thousand Dalit followers formally took Buddhist refuge and lay vows.

Khunu Lama's own views on pressing contemporaneous issues and events, such as Indian independence, Marxism, Hindu nationalism, caste divisions, and communal conflicts, are almost entirely unrecorded by the extant sources, if indeed he ever expressed any such views. (Even reports from students on whether he ever read a newspaper regularly or listened to news programs on the radio are contradictory.)

It is

only possible to catch glimpses of his contacts with these ideas and with the figures associated with them, though the fragments we do have are sometimes suggestive. We know for instance that Gandhi's assassination in 1948 was a great grief to Khunu Lama; One expression of this interest in Buddhism was the expansion of the Sri Lanka-based Maha Bodhi Society to India, where its leadership was perceived by some to be dominated by Brahmins, often Brahmins who viewed Buddhism as a branch of Hinduism rather than a separate entity. See Zelliot 21, where she describes Amdbedkar's hostility to the Society based on this issue. On the history of the Maha Bodhi Society and its central role in so-called Buddhist Modernism, see George Bond, Religious Revival in Sri Lanka: Religious Tradition, Reinterpretation and Response (1992), and The Making of Buddhist Modernism by David McMahan (2008). Khunu Lama and his biographer K. Angrup both had contacts with the Society, which is and was active in Sarnath (as well as in Bodhgaya where Khunu Lama spent considerable time). Angrup received a Maha Bodhi Society scholarship to study Pali in Sarnath in 1956, among other connections, and the Society published a glowing (if curiously transliterated) obituary notice a few months after Khunu Lama passed away in 1977. {The MahaBodhi, July 1977.) 393

Chris Fynn interview; Geshe Yeshe Tabgyes interview 2005. Manshardt states that during these years Khunu Lama did read the newspaper. (Manshardt 2004:26.)

207 Sangngak Tenzin tells us via Dodin that when Khunu Lama received the news of Gandhi's death (in Kinnaur, where he was at that time), he fasted for the whole day in mourning.394 We also know that Khunu Lama met and engaged in a kind of transBuddhist dialogue with Dr. Ambedkar, most likely in the 1950s.395 The oral source that describes their meeting (Geshe Yeshe Tabgyes, a professor at the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, and himself a student of Khunu Lama) says that the two men discussed Buddhism and how to strengthen it. Ambedkar apparently emphasized the need for a kind of Buddhist Bible: "Dr. Ambedkar said, 'We Buddhists have erred. We don't have a single book like the Christians, Muslims, etc., so everyone can understand. We Buddhists have many books.'"396 Khunu Lama's reply to the suggestion of a single Buddhist volume is unknown.

In 1956, the year of Dr. Ambedkar's public conversion to Buddhism, the pioneering English Buddhist Sangharakshita, a friend and strong supporter of Ambedkar and his Dalit Buddhist movement, and founder of the international Buddhist organization called Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, seems to have visited Khunu Lama in his room at


Dodin 1993:88. Manshardt 2004 also notes this.


It is hard to fix a precise date for their interaction, but it is most likely to have been in the early 1950s, before Dr. Ambedkar passed away in 1956, and after Khunu Lama had returned to Varanasi from Kinnaur in approximately 1952. Sarnath, a sleepy town adjacent to Varanasi, is of course an important place of Buddhist pilgrimage, commemorating the site of the Buddha's first "turning of the wheel of Dharma," and Khunu Lama was often there. However, the source was not certain of the location. Geshe Yeshe Tapgyes interview 2005. 396

Geshe Yeshe Tabgyes 2005.


Tekra Math.397 In describing their meeting, Sangharakshita tells a story focusing on Khunu Lama's identity as a renunciant. Complicating matters a little, in his own published account of this, Sangharakshita says that the lama he met was a Gelukpa, and moreover, that he does not remember the name of this person perfectly, though it may have been "Sherab Gyaltsen." Sangharakshita


Manshardt however cites a personal letter from






description of the person he met at this time sounds very much like Khunu Lama as other accounts of the period describe him: Sangharakshita writes that Kazi Sonam Topgay took him to meet a "lama whom he particularly esteemed, both for his learning and his asceticism. We found the lama....occupying a tiny white-washed room, whose sole contents were a mat, two or three Tibetan books, and a small tin suitcase that served him as a desk....All he wanted to do was study he told me, enthusiastically, his eyes shining. It was in order to study that he had come to Benares...On our taking leave of him he looked round the room for something to give me. But there was nothing there. Whereupon he looked inside the tin suitcase, but except for a few dried apricots it was empty. But he was not to be defeated...he broke the string of his rosary and gave me a bead, saying 'Many millions of mantras have been said on this bead. Please accept it with my blessing."398


Sangarakshita:1996:318-319. In the Sign of the Golden Wheel. Windhorse Publications, Glasgow. Sangharakshita 1996:318-319 (cited in Manshardt 2004:26 and note 1). 398

While this story describes Sangharakshita meeting Khunu Lama at Tekra Math in Varanasi, Sangharakshita himself founded a Buddhist organization and monastic center in Kalimpong, where he spent many years. One wonders if the two men had any contact there later on, since Khunu Lama came to Kalimpong several times in the 1960s and 1970s, and knew Sangharakshita's Kalimpong friend Kazi Sonam Topgay.


Of course, neither of these two brief accounts - either of the meeting with Dr. Ambedkar or the visit of Sangharakshita - which have survived in these fragmentary recollections tells us whether Khunu Lama had any interest in socialism, or supported the idea of Dalit conversion to Buddhism, or a removal of caste barriers and untouchability, nor even whether he appreciated or dismissed the notion of a single Buddhist book. At least on the related topic of conversion to Buddhism for westerners, there are a few other clues. In addition to Khunu Lama's apparent friendliness to Sangharakshita, Khunu Lama did teach western Buddhist converts some twenty years later, in 1975 in Nepal. Those teachings were recorded, and in them, Khunu Lama comments several times on the excellence of the western students' choosing Buddhism, because of the great, indeed superior, benefits it offers.399 On the specific topic of caste, however, we know nothing of Khunu Lama's views. Ethnographic accounts of the Kinnaur valley confirm that the majority of Kinnauri Buddhists are from the upper-caste Negi group that Khunu Lama himself came from; moreover, even during the late nineteen nineties, observers recorded that there continued to be no commensality between upper caste Kinnauris and "harijans" (low or untouchable caste people), even on the part of ordained Buddhist monastics.400 Khunu Lama himself is remembered among Tibetans for his (to their eyes, at least) striking lack of social inhibitions with poor Indians, as well as for his general apparent preference for the company of poor and simple people over wealthy sponsors,401 and for


Ribush, Teachings from Tibet, 2005.


LaMacchia 2001. See also Bajpai 1991 and the rnam thar for comments on the Negi group name. 401

For instance, Sem Trinley Ongmo, who mentioned him travelling "in the back of trucks, with the coolies, with his legs folded up like a coolie" (interview 2004); Ngawang Ngargyey interview 2004.

210 his greater relaxation in the former's company.402 Still, it is impossible to guess at how these factors played out in his response to Ambedkar's ideas, or in his response to the powerful ideologies competing within India at the time.

It is similarly necessary to piece together from fragments the details of Khunu Lama's connection with the third notable Buddhist figure of the time whom I mentioned, the Varanasi Brahmin Buddhist scholar Pandit Jagganath Upadhyaya, who would go on to be such an effective ally to the exiled Tibetans a few years later.403,404 Among his many


Of course, a preference for the company of simple people is a classic element of standard rnam thar accounts of lamas, in particular for those who partake in some way of the chatralwa or Milarepa model of hermitic renunciant practice; and a preference for scandalously low-caste or untouchable companions is a classic hallmark of the Indian siddha tradition. (See Davidson 2002.) Coincidentally or not, accounts of Paltrul Rinpoche frequently emphasize this quality in him as well. 403

It is not possible to be sure exactly when Khunu Lama and Pandit Upadhaya met but the most likely scenario is that they met in Varanasi in the 1950s, prior to Sampurnand University's reestablishment in 1958.


On his life and work generally, see Sramana vidyd Studies in Buddhism: Prof. Jagannath Upadhyaya Commemoration Volume, ed. by N.H. Samtani, 1987 (CIHTS). Pandit Upadhyaya became closely involved after 1959 with leading government and intellectual figures in the exile Tibetan community, including the present Dalai Lama, Ven. Samdhong Rinpoche (who became the influential principal of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, and is now the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in Exile), and Kalon Kundeling, who was then the Tibetan cabinet minister in charge of religious affairs. Upadhyaya's wide ranging Himalayan and Tibetan Buddhist interests are witnessed not only by his leadership in establishing a department for Buddhist studies at Sampurnand Sanskrit University, his instrumental role founding CIHTS and parallel Institutes of Higher Tibetan Studies in Himalayan regions, such as the one at Choglamsar, Ladakh (whose director, Tashi Paljor, was a long time student of Khunu Lama and one of the sources for this project). Pandit Upadhyaya moreover directed the Rare Buddhist Texts project at the CIHTS, and was a prominent member of the General Council of Sikkim Research Institute of Tibetology, as the Namgyal Institute was known then. (See funeral announcement, Bulletin of Tibetology, 1986.) He was also a regular conversation partner and friend of the scholar and mystic J. Krishnamurti's (as was Samdhong Rinpoche, the longtime Director of the CIHTS, now Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in Exile). See for example Pupul Jayakar, Krishnamurti, A Biography, New York: Harper & Row, 1986, p. 434, which gives excerpts of conversations between Pandit Upadhyaya and Krishnamurti. An additional transcript of a

211 other achievements, Pandit Upadhyaya played an instrumental role in the founding of the departments of Pali and Theravada Buddhism and Buddhist Philosophy405 at Sampurnanand Sanskrit University in Varanasi, the university itself being established in 1958, in what was very much an expression of politically loaded and complex patterns of government support for Sanskrit culture and learning, such as characterized Varanasi intellectual life in the post-Independence period. This makes Pandit Upadhyaya's achievement in introducing Buddhist studies prominently into the institution particularly noteworthy.406 Pandit Upadhyaya was also involved in creating the "Foreign Students Department" at the University, where Thai, Burmese, Sri Lankan, Himalayan and other so-called international Buddhist students came to study Buddhist materials.407

conversation between all three men (Upadhaya, Krishnamurti and Samdhong Rinpoche) appears in the above noted Commemoration Volume. 405

Studies in Buddhism: Prof. Jagganath Upadhyaya Commemoration Volume p. 17.


Sampurnand Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya was established in 1958 as the Varanasi Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya, effectively incorporating and re-naming an earlier British colonial entity, the Varanasi Government Sanskrit College. For treatments of the history of this fascinating and important institution, focusing in particular on its role in British colonial and Indian praxes of knowledge and contests of authority, see Dalmia 1996, and Dodson 2002. For discussion of the institution's connection to Hindu militancy, see Gould 2002, who analyzes the thought of the prominent Congress Party politician Sampurnanand, after whom the University is now named (who initially caused it to be established in 1958 as the Varanasi Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya while he was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh). The questions of Hindu nationalism, Hindutva, and right wing appropriations of Sanskrit learning clearly lurk in the background of the Sanskrit University's reconstitution in 1958, as Gould helps to contextualize, and this shaped aspects of the school's institutional identity. As N. H. Samtani comments in Studies in Buddhism: Prof. Jagganath Upadhyaya Commemoration Volume, "Sampurnanand Sanskrit University [was the] modern center of orthodox Brahmanical Sanskrit learning." (p. 17), making it all more remarkable that Pandit Upadhyaya was able to insert Buddhist studies so prominently. On the other hand, it was also home to scholars interested in exploring Buddhism through Sanskrit sources and such people found Khunu Lama a person of great interest. The case of Benaras Hindu University, where the aforementioned Pandit Kashyap taught Pali and Buddhism, represents a related case. I am grateful for the help of Dr. Travis Smith of the University of Florida and Gen Lobsang Tengye of Latse Library, New York City, in researching this history. 407

Gen Jamspal interview 2009. It is of course interesting that students from Indian "border areas" such as Ladakh and Sikkim would have been grouped here, together with students from outside the country.

212 (Touchingly, the free residence hostel for international students at the University bears his name today: the Acharya Jagganath Upadhyaya International Students Hostel).

Pandit Upadhyaya and Khunu Lama probably also became acquainted sometime in the early nineteen fifties, after Khunu Lama's return from Kinnaur. Certainly, the two men knew each other by 1960. In that year, Pandit Upadhyaya was the host of the newlyarrived Dalai Lama's visit to Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, having invited His Holiness to address the international Buddhism students. This is the time at which Khunu Lama was invited to translate from Tibetan into Hindi.

More important even than arranging Khunu Lama's participation at that meeting with the Dalai Lama, Pandit Upadhyaya connected Khunu Lama to the University in the official position of professor. In the aftermath of his Paninian studies, Khunu Lama had apparently developed a reputation as a Sanskrit teacher in his own right, in addition to teaching Buddhism. The mam thar notes that Khunu Lama was invited to teach at Sampurnanand University as a result of his scholarly excellence and also as a result of his reputation as a Buddhist teacher, though Angrup does not mention that this invitation was arranged by Pandit Upadhaya.408 "[I]t was suitable for Varanasi Sanskrit University to offer the Protector [Khunu Rinpoche], in accordance with his outstanding accomplishments for the welfare of living

Gen Lobsang Jamspal personal communication.

213 beings and all his good qualities of realization, a high status among the multitude of thinkers praised as top among the best intellectuals: the rank of Professor.409"

However, Khunu Lama's appointment to a position at the University in the new Buddhism department apparently did not alter his lifestyle of renunciation: "However, because he had no interest in the eight [worldly] dharmas, he did not let even the slightest bit of unwholesome flattery occur. As for the monthly salary and additional moneys [paid] according to the rules and regulations of that university, because he was a yogi who abided in the conduct of a simple renunciate, one who has left behind interest in wealth or material affairs, what use is there even to mention it? Because of not having even a little bit of taint of self-grasping, his intention was only for the sake of the teachings and for living beings, so from the point of view of the four ways of attracting limitless students, he matured [them] according to the individual merits of each, and acted only to liberate [beings]; why would he touch extra money for living [expenses]? He did not take it."410

This refusal to accept the salary that came with the position of university professor made an impression on those who knew him at the time. It was mentioned in written statements about his life, and by multiple people I interviewed, all of whom presented it as part of and consistent with Khunu Lama's personal practice of renunciation and his chosen lifestyle of voluntary poverty; informants felt that it was an important indicator of these qualities.411 These same sources likewise described a separate but related episode which they felt similarly revealed Khunu Lama's commitment to renunciation and to Buddhist

K. Angrup and S. Lall say in their English language article that Sanskrit University offered him the position of "Professor Emeritus." K. Angrup and S. Lall 1987: 16. Gen Lobsang Jamspal says that this was an honorary professorship (personal communication). 410 411

Angrup 2005:35-36.

Geshe Yeshe Tabgyes interview 2005; Gen. Lobsang Jamspal interview 2005, 2006. K. Angrup and S. Lall 1987: 16 recount the same episode, and similarly see it as evidence of Khunu Lama's "humility."

214 activities over fame-acquiring ones: Sometime during this period, when his reputation as a Sanskritist and scholar was flourishing, (and when interest in Sanskrit was also flourishing, as we have noted) Khunu Lama was invited to be a Sanskrit-language broadcaster on All India Radio. Khunu Lama turned the invitation down.412 In the words of one source, "he declined the invitation politely because he thought that a Sadhak's whole time should be devoted to the Dharma and not for mundane activities."413 These two episodes, in addition to playing an important part in the central communal narrative of Khunu Lama's renunciation, of course also served to keep him once again at a slight remove from any single institutional home. Not accepting the stipend from the University, for instance, surely was important from the point of view of renunciation, but in addition, it enabled him to maintain his distance from the University.

The overlap between renunciation and independence is visible in other stories people recount about Khunu Lama's residence in Varanasi, and the combination of the two moreover turns to intersect in important ways with Khunu Lama's polymorphous and hybrid identity as a border person. Even his ongoing presence in Varanasi city in the first place, on the face of it a seemingly unlikely location for a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practitioner, is described by several sources as essentially an unusual form of Buddhist meditative retreat, one revealing of Khunu Lama's creative adaptation of a traditional activity, and highlighting his willingness to leave the beaten path as needed. The choice


Geshe Yeshe Tabgyes interview 2005, Gen Lobsang Jamspal interview 2005, 2006. K. Angrup and S. Lall 1987: 16.


K. Angrup and S. Lall 1987: 16, quoting from Roshan Lai Negi, p. 6.

215 of Varanasi for his residence is presented in oral accounts as having a distinct quality of renunciation, offering a valuable withdrawal from distractions, although involving a sacrifice of comfort for the sake of Buddhist practice.414 That is to say, Varanasi, although uncomfortable and unappealing in certain ways, offered unexpected privacy and quiet. Two students from this period of his life relate parallel versions of an anecdote in which Khunu Lama explained his choice to live in Varanasi in precisely these terms. One of the former students, Geshe Yeshe Tabgyes, set up his story by pointing out that Varanasi is a great city, but an extremely chaotic one, with uncomfortably hot weather during much of the year. According to Geshe Tabgyes, someone once asked Khunu Lama why on earth he would choose to live there, amidst the noise and heat. Khunu Lama supposedly replied, "In the past, meditators and yogis would retreat to isolated mountain caves. But nowadays, the mountains are full of backpackers and hikers, and there is no peace and quiet. Whereas no one wants to come to Varanasi, so it's a good place to do retreat."415 Or, in the Dzokchen scholar Trulku Pema Wangyal's telling of the same story, "In the past, people used to go do retreat in the mountain. These days we should not go the mountain, because the mountain is a very touristic place."416 Here again, we see a combination of themes similar to those in the anecdote with which this work began: unlikely forms of ascetic and renunciant practice are coupled together with a high degree of personal independence. The independence is enabled by the renunciant and ascetic lifestyle, and the whole thing is framed with a humorous tone (on the part of the student-

Geshe Yeshe Tabgyes interview 2005 Geshe Yeshe Tabgyes interview 2004. Trulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005.

narrators, and apparently on the part of Khunu Lama) that seems to appreciate upending conventionalities .417

The conditions of near asceticism in which Khunu Lama is remembered as living at Tekra Math, where a number of Khunu Lama's students recall visiting him, form an important part of his communally memorialized persona. Stories of his ascetic existence there support the disciples' interpretation that his residence in Varanasi served as an intentional, quasi yogic exercise, at least in the view of the community that remembers him.418 Angrup, for instance, who studied with Khunu Lama at several points, including at Tekra Math in Varanasi, recalls the room there as unbearably hot for much of the year, and full of mosquitoes, because the windows and door had no glass. The lack of glass also meant that during the rains, water would collect on the floor of the room. The space also lacked basic furnishings, as Sangnak Tenzin (via Dodin) notes in the anecdote with which this essay started. Angrup described how Khunu Lama would have to go downstairs and out to a pump in the street to get water in his cupped hands when he needed a drink. According to Angrup, he asked Khunu Lama why the latter did not get a pitcher and a cup to keep in his room. Angrup says that Khunu Lama replied, "First you get one cup and a pitcher. Then you need another cup in case you have a visitor. Then you need a third cup in case someone else comes. And that's how possessions


If this combination of independence, renunciation / asceticism, humour, and a reversal of conventional expectations reminds some readers of the Indian siddha tradition, that is no coincidence; I discuss the parallels below. See Davidson 2002:293 ff.


K. Angrup interview 2004; Geshe Yeshe Tapgyes, interview 2004; Trulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005; Sem Trinley Ongmo interview 2004. See also Dodin 1997, discussed in the Prologue.

accumulate."41 Dodin records that, "Since he had no sponsors there and very few [sic] money to live on, he used to take only one meal a day."420 (This is reminiscent of Trulku Pema Wangyal's comments about how Khunu Lama lived while studying at the monastic universities near Lhasa many years before.) Such stories of Khunu Lama's disinterest in money or material items are very popular among his surviving students and acquaintances. These students and acquaintances, the core source of communal recollections and memorialization of Khunu Lama, often emphasize that such stories reveal an essential aspect of Khunu Lama's personal qualities. That is, the stories of the disciples (even when retold by others who did not know Khunu Lama) place his practice of renunciation near the center of his identity.

Travels and talks with 'sadhus'

Aspects of Khunu Lama's apparently considerable interaction with Indians and Indie religious traditions during the middle period of his life also hint at the connection in the narratives between his independence and his lifestyle of renunciation. During the 1950s and early 1960s, in addition to meeting Dr. Ambedkar and Pandit Upadhyaya and teaching at the Sanskrit University, Khunu Lama seems to have explored a variety of philosophical systems, yogic disciplines and modes of self-presentation, as well as literally exploring in person many parts of India. While living in Varanasi and while


K. Angrup interview 2004; Angrup spoke in English.


Dodin 1997:88.

218 traveling in India in that period, he is said to have often dressed in the simple yellow clothes of an Indian ascetic religious practitioner, a sadhu, rather than wearing the Tibetan-style red chuba of his later years. This adoption of the outward appearance of an Indian renunciant rather than a Tibetan Buddhist one was apparently such that he appeared, in the words of one source describing him in 1965, as "an Indian yogi who could speak Tibetan."421 It would be reading too much into mere clothing to assume that he was experimenting with acting like a sadhu, precisely. Yet, there is a sense that what we are seeing in this episode is Khunu Lama letting go even of the ordinary physical trappings of the socio-religious culture that had so extensively shaped him, a particular extension of the renunciatory attitude perhaps unique to him. Moreover, it appears from the kinds of stories told of his travels during this time that this relinquishment of the ordinary outward markers of his identity as a Tibet-trained Tibetan Buddhist of Himalayan origin (to be specific) granted him the unusual freedom of near anonymity. Not only was he remarkably independent of institutional structures during this time, and apparently free from visiting tourists, backpackers and other disturbances in Varanasi, he was also free to make his way around India, reportedly in the company ofsadhus, dressed like one of them. Many of his students were especially struck by stories of these travels. In fact, these 'travels with sadhus'have formed part of his unique image among his surviving students as a person who transcended cultural boundaries and was independent of many ordinary social conventions. This extra-conventional, cross-cultural image of him is clearly articulated even among people who had only brief direct contact with him,


Druktrul Rinpoche, recalling a description of Khunu Lama in 1965 given by the Dalai Lama to Chogye Rinpoche, as reported in an interview done by David Jackson in Bodhnath, Nepal, 2006. Kindly provided by David Jackson, personal communication.

perhaps because the image is so well developed in narratives of his life, and specifically perhaps because such activities are so unusual for a Tibetan lama.422

According to the stories told of this time by former students, Khunu Lama traveled to visit pilgrimage sites throughout the sub-continent, as far from Varanasi as South India. Manshardt's sources say he spent a year in Bombay, for example. Unusually for a Tibetan-educated Buddhist lama, these sources say he used that time studying and practicing hatha yoga. Other students from later in Khunu Lama's life mention glimpsing what was apparently his hatha yoga practice, which many found quite astonishing (and which is certainly almost unheard of among Tibetans of his generation and training.) Moreover, and perhaps most remarkable, Manshardt says that in conjunction with the yoga, Khunu Lama in fact studied Jainism, apparently as a complement to the study of yoga.424 While the classic Buddhist literature in Sanskrit and Tibetan abounds with stories of interactions between Buddhists and philosophers of other Indian schools, such


Sem Tinley Ongmo for example noted both his ability to travel in the Indian style and his relationships with sadhus as remarkable to her. Sem Tinley Ongmo, interview 2004. Other students who describe and emphasize Khunu Lama's travels with sadhus are Chris Fynn (interview 2006); Khenpo Sonam Tobgyal (interview 2006); Ani Pemo interview 2007; David Jackson forthcoming. 423

Students who described his doing yoga or assuming unusual yogic-looking physical postures include Sem Tinley Ongmo, interview 2004, Chris Fynn (interview 2006); Khenpo Sonam Tobgyal (interview 2006); Ani Pemo interview 2007; Khen Rinpoche Losang Delek interview 2006; Rakra Rinpoche interview 2006. David Jackson forthcoming. It appears that Khunu Lama here managed to straddle the curious inversion that exists vis a vis yoga in India versus Tibet, where in Tibet physical yogic postures are classified among the most esoteric practices and not taught except secretly to advanced practitioners; while in India by and large, hatha yoga poses form the entry point for students into the yoga system, while other techniques of breathing and meditation are reserved for specially prepared individuals. 424

Manshardt 2004:26.

220 exchanges essentially existed at the level of the purely literary for centuries, as far as Tibetans were concerned, and have remained exceptional even after the 1959 exile brought Tibetans once more into contact with living Indian culture. In Khunu Lama's case, his interest in traditional knowledge systems such as Sanskrit grammar and classical Buddhist and other Indian philosophies seems to have gone hand in hand with a willingness to put that knowledge to potentially unconventional use, or to test that knowledge in unconventional ways.

As the mention of Jainism might suggest, these travels with sadhus are part of a larger communal narrative (consistent across oral and textual accounts of Khunu Lama's life from Tibetans, people from many parts of the Himalaya, and westerners) of Khunu Lama's general interest in and apparent familiarity with Indie religions other than Buddhism. Like stories about his residence in Tekra Math, tales of Khunu Lama's "travels with sadhus " paint a picture of a man who had a visible interest in engaging with Indians and Indian ideas - even as he apparently made emphatic arguments for the superiority of Buddhism.425

Dialogue, and debate, with sadhus figures prominently in the narratives as well as travel. Khunu Lama is repeatedly described in oral and textual presentations as engaging in discussions of philosophical topics with Hindu ascetics and scholars, both in Varanasi,

Gen Jamspal interview 2009; Ribush 2005; Rnam thar; Chris Fynn interview 2006.

221 along the riverside during the time he lived at Tekra Math, and throughout his other travels and times of residence elsewhere in India. The rnam ihar presents Khunu Lama's interactions with sadhus explicitly as debates, in which Khunu Lama emphatically emerged victorious. In the words of the rnam thar, "While he was living in Varanasi, he stayed by the River Ganges, [where] he completely tamed the mental faculties of all those who criticized each [Buddhist] scripture."426 Other oral sources describe these episodes more as ongoing mutually interested conversations, though often conversations in which Khunu Lama shone, as in the following story told by Chris Fynn: "Once I saw...in Manali when he was at the Nyingma monastery in the bazaar there, he was staying there for a few days, and... three sort of Indian Brahmins from Benares or somewhere came to him, and they sort of were discussing things written in Sanskrit for about two and a half days, and he was quoting, he was quoting Hindu scriptures to them, you know, I mean, he was saying, you know, this in this Upanishad, and this is in that Upanishad, you know. And at the end they just put their, they put Rinpoche's feet on their heads."427

The same student reported Khunu Lama offering a brief, revealing summary of his interactions with Indian religious practitioners, saying: "And he said that they [sadhus and practitioners of non-Buddhist Indie religions he met] were always very interested to, you know, explain their, their views to him, and they never used to ask him about what his were, [laughing]. And he said that, you know, most of Hinduism was...sort of extreme wrong view, but he mentioned a few people that he met, that he thought you 426

rnam thar p. 35.


Chris Fynn interview 2006.


know, sort of had real compassion, you know. Which was the main thing."428 This comment, suggesting that Khunu Lama was evaluating and engaging with 'Hindu' ideas according to Buddhist criteria of philosophical view and bodhicitta, gives some sense of Khunu Lama's firm rootedness in his own tradition, even while he was interested in the ideas of others. (As it happens, such rootedness in one's own tradition turns out to be a hallmark of how the ris med or non-sectarian approach to Buddhism itself is explained by many prominent Tibetan scholars, including Khunu Lama himself, as well as the Dalai Lama, Paltrul Rinpoche, and various other authors with whom Khunu Lama had connections.429 It is interesting to see that this attitude also characterizes Khunu Lama's relations with representatives of other traditions entirely.)

Still, what may be most

remarkable is that clearly dissimilar and in some ways disappealing as Khunu Lama reportedly found various 'Hindu' ideas or practices, he is here described as saying that there were nevertheless Hindu practitioners he recognized as having that quality of compassion which he valued most of all.


Chris Fynn interview 2006. Chris Fynn also mentions, fascinatingly, that Khunu Lama said he had met Indian Vajrayana and Dzokchen practitioners in India, and had helped a translate for a group of Indian sadhus in Kham, who were Dzokchen practitioners and had come to Kham for Dzokchen teachings.

For a recent English language treatment of this topic, see Ringu Trulku 2006.

223 Travels and Meetings in 1956

In addition to his travels with sadhus, there were a number of other kinds of documented interruptions to his residence in Varanasi. Khunu Lama's eight-year sojourn in Kinnaur was by no means the last time he accepted a pressing invitation to teach in a different part of the sub-continent. One trip away from Varanasi for which there are detailed eyewitness accounts took place in 1956, and considering it gives a brief glimpse of Khunu Lama in more detail. In that year, Khunu Lama traveled to Srinigar in Kashmir at the invitation of the prominent Ladakhi lama, Bakula Rinpoche, who had become a minister within the new Indian government for the state of Jammu-Kashmir, and who had decided to learn Sanskrit, as well as other Indian languages that he did not know well.430 At that time, the Ladakhi intellectual Tashi Rabgyes, then a young man, was working for Bakula Rinpoche as his personal assistant and translator, since in those years, Bakula Rinpoche did not speak Hindi, Urdu, or English.431 After some time in his new post, Bakula Rinpoche decided to study Hindi, and brought to Srinigar as his Hindi teacher the young K. Angrup, the Lahauli scholar who eventually became Khunu Lama's biographer. This invitation provided Angrup's first opportunity to meet and study with Khunu Lama, although, the sources also state that Angrup was the person who recommended Khunu

Tashi Rabgyas interview 2004; K. Angrup interview 2004. According to Tashi Rabgyes, Bakula Rinpoche began his post as minister in 1953, and he and Tashi Rabgyes moved to Srinigar in that year. See also Manshardt 2004:27, who recounts the same events, and Dodin 1997:88, who also interviewed Tashi Rabgyes. 431

All of which Tashi Rabgyes knows, in addition to Tibetan and Ladakhi. Tashi Rabgyas interview 2004.


Lama to Bakula Rinpoche as an excellent Sanskrit teacher.432 This is explained by yet another demonstration of the degree to which the Buddhist scholars and students of the Himalayan region formed a surprisingly interconnected network, even across a vast geographic area: Angrup knew of Khunu Lama by reputation, because of his own study in Tibet, at the Tenth Panchen Lama's special literary school.

While studying in the

Tashilhunpo vicinity at that school, Angrup became a student of a Tashilhunpo scholar, Kachen Tharchin, who was a friend and admirer of Khunu Lama, and who extolled Khunu Lama's virtues to his student.434 On Angrup's recommendation, Bakula Rinpoche invited Khunu Lama to Srinigar, and hosted him at his official bungalow near the lake.435

Tashi Rabgyes himself had also already heard Khunu Rinpoche's name and good qualities mentioned before ever meeting him, although in his case, a teacher mentioned Khunu Lama to him while he was still only a schoolboy in Ladakh. In another example of the far-flung Himalayan intellectual networks, Tashi Rabgyes' childhood Ladakhi grammar teacher, Gergen Yeshe Dondrup,436 had himself trained at Tashilhunpo

Gen Lobsang Jamspal personal communication 2009; K. Angrup interview 2004. 433

See note 230 in the previous chapter on this topic (also see rnam thar p. 19).


Gen Lobsang Jamspal personal communication; this Kachen Tharchin was a teacher of both Gen Jamspal and Angrup.


Tashi Rabyes recalls this residence as a "beautiful place," although it does not seem to have held Khunu Lama for very long. Tashi Rabgyes interview 2004. 436

Kachen Yeshe Dondrup was "one of the leading teachers of Tibetan Buddhism in his generation", according to the study of his life by Ngawang Tering Shakspo that appears under the title "The Life and Times of Geshe Ye-shes-don-grup," Brill 2005. He was originally from Stok Village in Ladakh, just outside Leh, which has produced a number of Tashilhunpo monks and scholars, including Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tsetan, the current abbot of the Tashilhunpo Monastery in exile, in south India.

225 Monastery in Tibet, where he had achieved the scholarly rank of Kachen, and had studied grammer and poetics with Khunu Rinpoche. He subsequently told the boys who were his students back home in Ladakh about what a great teacher and scholar Khunu Rinpoche was. Thus when Tashi Rabgyes and Angrup found themselves at Bakula Rinpoche's residence in Srinigar with Khunu Lama, both were already eager to meet him.437 Khunu . Rinpoche seems never to have taught Bakula Rinpoche the proposed Sanskrit classes, because of continual postponements due to the pressing demands of Bakula Rinpoche's political duties.

The lucky beneficiaries of this situation were K. Angrup, and Tashi

Rabgyes, who were able to study Sanskrit, grammar and poetics with Khunu Lama, as a result of his unexpected free time.439 Nevertheless, despite the eagerness of his two young

Tashi Rabgyes tells a charming story about his first encounter with Khunu Lama: He had been away from Srinigar on some official business when Khunu Lama first arrived, and so had not met him then. Tashi Rabyes subsequently returned to the Srinigar residence, and thought that he should introduce himself properly to Khunu Lama and pay his respects. However, when he approached the door to Khunu Rinpoche's room in the bungalow, a young monk who was also living there stopped him, saying, "You'd better not go in there, that's Khunu Rinpoche's room, and he gets very angry and annoyed if he is disturbed." Tashi Rabgyes recalls that he argued back and forth with this monk for some time, himself insisting that it was appropriate for him to pay his respects, while the young monk tried to talk him out of approaching Khunu Lama. Finally, Tashi Rabgyes says he got past this gatekeeper. But by then, after so many warnings about Khunu Rinpoche's dislike of visitors, he was quite nervous, and as he put it, "discouraged" about intruding on this irritable sounding lama. Nevertheless, he forced himself to approach the door, although in his words, "There was not much courage, you see, in me to knock very strongly." Khunu Rinpoche heard the tentative tapping, and opened the door, where upon Tashi Rabgyes prostrated to him. Then, in Tashi Rabgyes' own words, Khunu Lama looked at him and said, '"May I know, who are you?" I said, "I am Tashi Rabyes, sir." He said, "You're Tashi Rabgyes!? Oh, welcome, welcome! What's the matter? How things are going?'" (This interview was conducted in English.) Thus according to the story, Khunu Lama was apparently not angry at all, and even seemed to have been expecting Tashi Rabgyes, despite the fact that according to the young monk, he did not usually receive visitors. Tashi Rabgyes interview 2004. 438

K. Angrup interview 2004. Dodin also mentions this (Dodin 1997:88, and note 22, in which Dodin cites his own interview with Tashi Rabgyes.)


K. Angrup interview 2004; Tashi Rabgyes interview 2004.

226 unofficial students, after some months Khunu Rinpoche decided to leave Srinigar and return to Varanasi.440

According to Tashi Rabgyes, Bakula Rinpoche was away from the residence when Khunu Lama announced his intention to go on the following day. It fell to Tashi Rabgyes to try to persuade him to stay. Tashi Rabgyes pleaded with Khunu Lama, telling him how awkward he felt about having to break the news of this sudden departure to Bakula Rinpoche on his own. When Khunu Rinpoche nevertheless insisted on leaving, Tashi Rabgyes confesses that in frustration he finally said, "Sir, if you do like this it will

Tashi Rabyes offered an account of what it was like to work with Khunu Lama. He recalled that he studied poetic theory with Khunu Rinpoche, reading the middle chapter of the Nyenngak Melong (Skt. Kavyadarsha; "The Mirror of Poetics," by Dandin, which forms the basis for poetic theory in Tibet; see van der Kuijp 1996). Tashi Rabgyes was particularly impressed with the way that Khunu Lama would pause in their discussion of the Tibetan root text, (which was translated into Tibetan from the Sanskrit original) to consider translation choices made by long-ago Tibetan translators, without reference to written commentaries on Khunu Lama's part. Occasionally, Khunu Lama would point out that a particular Sanskrit word with multiple meanings could have been translated by a different Tibetan word. In some cases, Khunu Rinpoche would say that the long-ago translators had made a poor choice of words, and would have done better to choose an alternative. Tashi Rabgyes states that he found this astonishing and had never heard anyone say anything like that before. Tashi Rabgyes interview 2004. Tashi Rabgyes was moreover an aspiring Tibetan-language poet, and had at that time just published some of his work in a small volume titled "Songs of Today." (Teng sang gyi glu. I have not been able to find a copy of this publication.) Somehow, Khunu Lama came into possession of this volume and read it. (Tashi Rabgyes describes his initial crushing embarrassment when he realized that the great Khunu Lama had a copy of his own work in his room.) Nevertheless, he remembers Khunu Lama as being supportive when he finally gathered the courage to ask him whether writing poetry was worth pursuing. He humorously recalled that Khunu Rinpoche's advice to him to keep writing and translating was accompanied by the admonishment never to translate "books about sex." (Tashi Rabgyas interview 2004. Tashi Rabyes says that he has no idea why Khunu Lama would give this particular advice. It does raise the provocative question noted already of whether Khunu Lama was aware of Gendun Choephel's Tibetan rendition of the Kama Sutra, and whether he disapproved of it, as I have noted.) 440

Manshardt also mentions that Khunu Lama left because he did not have enough time to pursue his own studies while at Bakula Rinpoche's residence. Manshardt 2004:27.


be...just like escaping, just like running away." To his surprise, Khunu Lama agreed, saying "Yes. Yes, it is like this. I have always been escaping."441 Tashi Rabgyes commented while recounting this story, "Such a great man, who can allow him to go away?... So the next alternative is to run away."442 This comment sums up a common pattern in many of the teaching relationships that marked Khunu Rinpoche's travels.443

This parting was, however, not the end of Tashi Rabgyes' acquaintance with Khunu Lama. Later in 1956, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and the Tenth Panchen Lama visited India. The stated occasion was the celebration of the 2,500th Buddha Jayanti, or anniversary of the Buddha's birth, marked by lavish celebrations encouraged by Prime Minister Nehru among others, as a way of demonstrating the proud history of the newly independent Indian nation.444 Tashi Rabgyes was invited to join the Tibetans' tour as an English translator to the Panchen Lama.


Tashi Rabgyas interview 2004; English phrase used in interview.


Tashi Rabgyas interview, 2004.


In an interesting parallel, in LaMacchia's interview with the Kinnauri nun Bogti (one of the four nuns who were Khunu Rinpoche's close disciples at the end of his life) Bogti describes one of Khunu Lama's sudden departures. LaMacchia renders Bogti's remark in English as "People were saying Negi Rinpoche [another common name for Khunu Lama] had flown away." LaMacchia 2001:378. 444

Shakya 1999:148. Nevertheless, as I discuss below, although the visit's ostensible purpose was religious and cultural, it was in fact also very much a political trip, at a precarious and difficult time for both the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, as Shakya and others have described. See Shakya 1999; Goldstein 1989.

228 The tour traveled to many major Indian pilgrimage and historic sites, and at one point came to Varanasi, where Khunu Lama had returned. While in Varanasi, the visiting Tibetan dignitaries were invited to the palace of a local Maharaja, and a large crowd of people assembled at the palace entrance to see them. Tashi Rabgyes says that as he looked into the crowd, he saw Khunu Lama, unnoticed, standing in the back of a lane against the wall. Recognizing him, Tashi Rabgyes brought him over to be introduced to the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama.445 This may well have been Khunu Rinpoche's first face-to-face meeting with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, (although His Holiness states that the main source of his connection with Khunu Lama was through his Senior Tutor, Ling Rinpoche, who brought him together with Khunu Lama in 1959, soon after the Dalai Lama and his party had arrived in India.)446

The Dalai Lama and Khunu Rinpoche would go on to build a relationship of great importance for both of them. The Dalai Lama recalls Khunu Lama as one of his personal gurus, from whom he received the reading and explanatory transmissions for a number of important texts and materials, most notably texts, practices and interpretations associated


After making the introduction, Tashi Rabgyes says he stepped back, and thus does not know about the substance of their conversation at that time. Tashi Rabgyas interview, 2004. Dodin 1997:89 and Manshardt 2004:27 both also mention of this episode.


Unfortunately, I have not been able to learn any further details about Khunu Lama's connection with the Tenth Panchen Lama (Bio bzang Phrin las Lhun grub Chos kyi Rgyal mtshan, 1938-1989). This encounter in Varanasi in 1956 was their only recorded meeting that I know of. It was apparently a difficult time for the Panchen Lama, as the Lhasa officials tried to minimize his role, and in general seem to have perceived him as both a competitor to the Dalai Lama's authority and as a probable pawn of the Chinese. (See Shakya 1999:148-159 and Goldstein 1989.) Of course, one nevertheless wonders, given Khunu Lama's acquaintance with his predecessor the Ninth Panchen Lama, if the two had any other meetings in India. I discuss Khunu Lama's 1959 and subsequent contacts with the Dalai Lama in more detail in a moment.

229 with bodhicitta and the Bodhisattvacaryavatara of Shantideva. For Khunu Lama, on the other hand, his relationship with His Holiness would draw him suddenly to the attention of the Tibetans who were just arriving in large numbers in India, after 1959, bringing him new students and contacts, and at the same time, pulling him more into the public eye, away from the relative anonymity he seems to have enjoyed before that time.

1959: The Arrival of the Tibetans in India

The just-described 1956 visit by the two Tibetan leaders was more than a pilgrimage. Rather, it came at a critical time in the Tibetan government's relations with the People's Republic of China. Chinese military and political presence and control in Tibet was growing, and the young Dalai Lama's government and advisors were struggling to formulate a strategic response. As Tsering Shakya has discussed in detail, the Dalai Lama's Indian visit was seen by many Tibetans, both emigres and those in Tibet, as well as by many American and Indian government representatives, as an opportunity for him to engage in political discussions unmonitored by the Chinese. In particular, the visit provided a chance for the Dalai Lama to have several private meetings with Prime Minister Nehru, although at that time Nehru urged the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet and

230 work with the Chinese government, saying that these remained the best options for helping Tibet.447

The 1956 visit to India was ultimately disappointing and inconclusive for the Tibetan leadership, who received no firm offers of support from any Indian or other international sources. Notwithstanding this though, it may have served to prepare the ground for the Dalai Lama's subsequent flight into exile in India in 1959, in the face of the failure of the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese occupation in that year.448 Certainly, once the Dalai Lama again reached India in 1959, Nehru did not hesitate to him grant asylum, although he initially resisted the prospect of granting asylum to any forthcoming flood of Tibetan r.



Ultimately, though, some hundred thousand Tibetans fled into exile with the Dalai Lama, and thousands more followed them in the years that came after, to escape the chaos, persecutions and famines that ensued both during the Cultural Revolution and afterwards. Among the Tibetans who fled to India were villagers, farmers and nomads, and monks and nuns, as well as major religious leaders and members of the aristocracy. Included in their numbers were some of the most important Tibetan scholars and Buddhist

Shakya 1999:148-159 treats the visit in some detail, as well as the motivations and tensions underlying the visit and the Dalai Lama's discussions with Nehru, Zhou Enlai and other figures. 448

For the history of the uprising and the Dalai Lama's flight, see Goldstein 1989 and especially Shakya 1999:196-211, which chronicles these events in detail.


Shakya 1999:213ff.

231 intellectual and spiritual figures of the mid-twentieth century, as well as a host of younger students. Some of the most significant contributions of Khunu Rinpoche's later life involve his relationship with these refugees and with the Tibetan community in exile in the years after 1959, in particular his relationship with the Dalai Lama.

The Tibetans who arrived in India were often destitute. They faced the extraordinary challenge of rebuilding the institutions that might sustain their social and religious culture in the Indian exile context. Khunu Lama helped them meet this challenge in a number of ways: as an instructor in literary and Buddhist topics; as a conduit for crucial lineage transmissions he himself had received; and as a translator, colleague and teacher. Somewhat ironically, given his own reclusiveness, many of those he taught in the years after 1959 have now gone on to become extremely influential figures themselves, both within the Tibetan world, and in the spread of Buddhism and Tibetan culture across the globe.450


A partial list of some of Khunu Lama's more well-known students who have gone on to positions of influence both among Tibetan and non-Tibetan communities (including counting many academics among their students), would have to include, in addition to the Dalai Lama: Sogyal Rinpoche (founder of the international Tibetan Buddhist organization Rigpa, with institutions and branches in many European and Asian countries and the US, and the author of the popular book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying); Lama Zopa Rinpoche, co-founder and director of the FPMT (Foundation for the Preservation of Mahayana Tradition), one of the largest of the international Tibetan Buddhist organizations, and the author of numerous books translated into western languages; Khenpo Palden Sherab and his brother, Khenpo Tsewag Dongyal, founders of the international Tibetan Buddhist organization The Padmasambhava Center and authors of several books translated into western languages; Trulku Pema Wangyal, the founder of the Padmakara Translation Group, and numerous others.


The rnam thar tells the story as follows: "At that time, because the Chinese invaded the entire environment and inhabitants of the cool land of Tibet, it was a very critical time of annihilation, robbery and looting. Not only that: a decisive point was reached when even the tradition of the incomparable Shakyamuni Buddha, our teacher, was being broken and destroyed. As a result, the great majority of those involved in Dharma — Tibetan people, both male and female, lay and ordained, who experienced great brutality of torment under the Chinese oppression — also fled for refuge. After this, in the context of this special opportunity to help [the Tibetans] to whom he was grateful, he [Khunu Lama] gave widespread oral teachings on the Bodhisattvacaryavatara. Even His Holiness, the currently living great Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who is now looking after [the Tibetans], [stated] 'I received Dharma teachings from this master [Khunu Lama].' In this way, among the students of the oral teachings of the lord [Khunu] Lama Rinpoche, who acted in reverence for the pure precepts in accordance with the Mahayana scriptures, were people, both men and women, [who came] from as far as the open western regions, all the way to the eastern areas of Khams. Not only that, but also incarnate lamas, the abbots of the great monastic seats, and likewise spiritual teachers, etc. Very many holders of the scriptural tradition [were his students]. It is difficult to fathom the spiritual work of this great being!"451

Indeed, more students, including many Tibetans, some of whom were prominent political figures, Buddhist teachers or scholars in their own right, found their way to Khunu Rinpoche in the aftermath of the 1959 Chinese takeover of Tibet, as both Tibetans and resident foreigners in Tibet fled to India. Oral and textual accounts describe Khunu Lama's gradual metamorphosis, from an obscure grammar teacher (as he was initially pigeon-holed by many Tibetans when they first met him in India) into a teacher of the Dalai Lama and a modestly well-known figure among Tibetan intellectuals and serious Buddhist practitioners.452 The key to his growing prominence was clearly his connection

4M 452

NTH2 pp. 34- 35.

Indeed, this is the context in which many of those interviewed for this project met Khunu Lama. Angrup himself arrived in Varanasi in late 1959 or early 1960, having been forced by the events of 1959 to leave his own studies in Tibet at the Panchen Lama's special school near Tashilhunpo. He found a position teaching Sanskrit in Varanasi, and was also able to study Pali

233 with the Dalai Lama, who in addition to requesting teachings from Khunu Lama himself, soon involved him as a teacher in an important new institution he was engaged in setting up, an institution designed to preserve and continue Tibetan religious culture, learning and intellectul life in the exile situation.

Teaching to the Dalai Lama

As the rnam thar passage cited above emphasizes, for many Tibetan and Himalayan people, Khunu Lama's most important contribution, and the one that made him somewhat well known, were the teachings he gave to the Fourteenth Dalai Lama in India. After their initial introduction by Tashi Rabgyes in 1956, the Dalai Lama returned to Tibet. According to His Holiness, the impetus for their reconnection three years later, when His Holiness arrived in exile in India in 1959, was Khunu Lama's old connection from Lhasa with Ling Rinpoche, to whom he had taught literary topics while both men were living in

through the Mahabodhi Society in Sarnath just outside Varanasi. Many of his recollections about Khunu Lama's daily routine and habits date from this time. (K. Angrup interview 2004.) Likewise, Tulku Pema Wangyal recalls that he first met Khunu Lama in Varanasi, though later began to study with him in a more sustained way in Bodhgaya. (Trulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005.) Trulku Pema Wangyal did not specify the date, but it must have been relatively early on the in 1960s. Other prominent visitors to Khunu Lama's uncomfortable Varanasi residence included the Tibetan lama and scholar Serkhyong Tsenshab Rinpoche, who came frequently even during the hot season in order to receive teachings. Kasur Sonam Topgye interview 2005. Manshardt's unpublished biographical studies of Khunu Lama's female disciple Drikung Khandro Sherab Tharchin also make mention of Serkhyong Tsenshab Rinpoche's visits, noting that Serkhyong Tsenshab's biographers describe that lama's willingness to endure the summer heat of Varanasi for the sake of receiving teachings from Khunu Lama as a mark of his great spiritual devotion. (Manshardt goes on to point out that of course, the Drikung Khandro herself was in that case supremely devoted, since she lived with Khunu Lama in the horrible heat full time.) (Manshardt, Jurgen. n.d. (a), (b), kindly shared by the author.)


Lhasa. Ling Rinpoche's recommendation provided the basis for the Dalai Lama and Khunu Rinpoche's teacher-student relationship. In the course of this connection, which lasted through the 1960s, Khunu Lama gave a range of teachings to His Holiness on important Buddhist philosophical texts and topics.453 Central among these were reading transmissions and explanatory teachings on the Bodhisattvacaryavatara, the classic Mahayana work by the eighth century Indian Buddhist master Shantideva, together with associated meditational practices for generating bodhicitta. Khunu Rinpoche also offered the Dalai Lama the reading transmission for his own composition about bodhicitta, the Jewel Lamp: Verses in Praise of Bodhicitta (Byang chub sems kyi bstod pa rin chen sgron ma), which is his most famous work.45

For Khunu Lama as for most Tibetan Buddhists, the generation of bodhicitta was a lifelong focus of spiritual cultivation. In 1959, he had decided to write one verse on the topic of bodhicitta each day in his diary.455 The resulting three hundred and fifty-six

His Holiness Dalai Lama interview 2005. 454

His Holiness Dalai Lama interview 2005. Because Khunu Rinpoche's practice, study of and writing about bodhicitta are so central to the history of his intellectual and religious contributions, I treat them separately in the Appendix, together with the publication history of the Jewel Lamp: Verses in Praise of Bodhicitta. 455

The question of exactly what prompted this writing-as-cultivation exercise is hard to answer definitively. Sparham cites a passage from the diary itself, from January 1, 1959 which reads: "Kay Jig-gon asked me to do this, I decided to do so, I am now involved in doing it." (Sparham 1999:5). I also heard from Khenpo Sonam Topgyal Rinpoche that Khunu Lama had been given the diary by the Dalai Lama's Junior Tutor Trijang Rinpoche. Khunu Lama had a warm acquaintance both in Tibet and in India with Ling Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama's Senior Tutor, but sources about any relationship with Trijang Rinpoche are more limited. Indeed, the two men might have been presumed to disagree on certain important topics, most notably the question of the relationship between the different traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. However, the scholar Karma Namgyal says that in his understanding, the two did know each other, and has pointed out that given Trijang Rinpoche's own remarkable personal erudition in poetics and literary topics, it

235 verses make up the volume of poems entitled The Jewel Lamp: Verses in Praise of Bodhicitta, the work for which he is best known, which remains in print in Tibetan editions and in English and German translation today.456 In his introduction to his English translation of these verses, Gareth Sparham compares Khunu Lama's diary to that of Samuel Pepys, for its mixture of the "ordinary and the momentous," since in the diary Khunu Lama records details about the books he was reading and his own health, together with news about the fall of Tibet to the Chinese, the escape of His Holiness the Dalai Lama together with some hundred thousand Tibetans, Khunu Lama's own anxiety for the safety of the refugees, and the arrival of the Tibetans in India.457

The diary allows us to see that Khunu Rinpcohe renewed his acquaintance with His Holinesss quite soon after the latter's arrival in India. It records that on August 29, 1959, Khunu Lama received a telegram from the Dalai Lama asking him to visit the in Mussourie, and that nearly six weeks later, when his health permitted, Khunu Lama went to Mussourie to do so, meeting His Holiness on October 4, and remaining in Mussourie until December 6 of that year.458 During that time, Khunu Lama taught and loaned and borrowed books to both His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Ling Rinpoche. The diary notes

would not be surprising that he and Khunu Lama would have had many topics of mutual appreciation and interest. 456

For publication history see rnam thar, Chapter 6.1 discuss this more fully below. The verses have been published in English translation by Gareth Sparham with the Tibetan text under the title Vast as the Heavens Deep as the Sea: Verses in Praise of Bodhicitta (Sparham 1999); and in German translation by Jurgen Manshardt, titled Allen Freund sein: Poesie des Erleuchtungsgeistes (Manshardt 2004). 457

Sparham 1999: 5.


Sparham 1999: 7.

236 that Khunu Lama taught Ling Rinpoche the Sum cu pa Tibetan grammar.459 A little over a month later, on January 21st, 1960, the Dalai Lama accepted the invitation of Pandit Upadhyaya to visit the Varanasi Sanskrit University as mentioned earlier, and gave a talk to the group of international students. Khunu Rinpoche acted as His Holiness's TibetanHindi interpreter there.460

One can only marvel at the fact that so soon after arriving into his Indian exile, after a dramatic escape over the mountains from Tibet, and with the tremendous burdens of work on him to establish the Tibetan community in exile, the Dalai Lama nevertheless almost immediately invited Khunu Rinpoche to come and teach him. Dodin among others describes how early on in his Indian exile, in 1959, His Holiness had explicitly embarked on a project of collecting teachings from various masters.461 This project of collecting teachings, which His Holiness sometimes mentions even today, seems to have been indeed a very specific and conscious response to the circumstances of exile, in which cultural capital - knowledge systems, lineage transmissions, literary and philosophical techniques - all were in danger of being lost. In addition to this work of preservation at the personal level, the Dalai Lama likewise made considerable efforts to establish a Tibetan institution of higher learning in exile that would maintain cultural continuity


Sparham 1999:7.


Original program from the January 21st, 1960 "Visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Varanasi Sanskrit University," shared by Tashi Tsering. Some visit or visits by the Dalai Lama to Khunu Lama's room at Tekra Math, such as the one Dodin describes with which this work began, might well have happened at about this time. 461

Dodin 1997:89.

237 more generally; and here again, at an important early juncture, he brought in Khunu Lama.

Teaching at the Mussourie "Lama's School"

In the face of their exile situation, the Tibetan leadership seems to have decided quite quickly to make education a priority, for the sake of cultural continuity and survival. The Dalai Lama encouraged the setting up of a "curriculum committee" to develop a curriculum that could serve as the basis for a new educational institution.

A curriculum

proposal and planning for the new institution was rapidly developed, and finalized by March 1965. Quite soon after this, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile requested Khunu Lama to teach rig gnas in Mussourie, at the "Lamas' School,"


formally known as the Tsuklha Labtra (Tib. slob ), the program set up by the Tibetan government in exile in Mussourie as a kind of teacher-training course. It was intended to prepare a group of scholars who could then themselves serve as teachers to the Tibetan community, in particular, as founding teachers of the new institution whose creation was being planned - that institution of course being what is now known as the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (CIHTS) in Sarnath, and which remains a major 462

This, and much of the information that follows about the Lama's School was provided through the exceptional generosity of David Jackson, who compiled the material on the basis of interviews carried out in the fall of 2007 in Boudhnath, Nepal, in the course of research for his forthcoming biography of the Sakya lama (and student of Khunu Lama) Chogye Trichen Rinpoche. (Hereafter referred to as Jackson, forthcoming.) 463

Khenchen Palden Sherab, interview 2006; Karma Gelek Yuthok interview 2005; David Jackson personal communication.

238 center of Tibetan higher education today. It is an institution that trains many Indian and Himalayan students, in addition to ethnic Tibetans, as well as a steady stream of visiting foreigners.

The "Lamas' School" was formed in the aftermath of a conference of all the Tibetan Buddhist traditions held in 1959, also in Mussourie.464 The Lamas' School was set up to train scholars from all four main branches of Tibetan Buddhism, Geluk, Sakya, Nyingma and Kagyu.465 The 1959 conference had taken as its focus the question of how to build on the strengths of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in a way that would unite people across sectarian divisions in the face of the emerging threat to their society posed by the exile situation. The conference had not been an unqualified success. Nevertheless, it seems to have been an important first step on the (sometimes bumpy) road toward a strategy of unity and collaborative cultural preservation among Tibetan Buddhist leaders and institutions in exile, and the Lamas' School too was an important subsequent move in that direction. Khunu Rinpoche himself was apparently at the Mussourie conference, although not as an official speaker or plenary participant.466

Participants in the Lamas' School included geshes, khenpos, abbots of monasteries, and other holders of advanced monastic degrees and training. This non-sectarian and high-

sGu ngo rTa ra Rinpoche interview 2004. Ven. Karma Gelek Yutok interivew 2004. Dodin 1997:89.

239 level student body made the school unusual, a special response to the special situation of exile, and the school's curriculum was likewise shaped by a broad-reaching sense of the kinds of intellectual resources that the Tibetan community would need to cultivate and preserve in order not to be unbearably diminished by the refugee experience. In addition to teachings from all four of the major streams of Tibetan Buddhism, literary theory, grammar, poetics and Sanskrit were all taught, and the groundwork was laid for what would become the university curriculum at the Sarnath Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies. Interestingly, one of the strongest advocates for the Central Institute, who would do much to assure its success and eventual emergence as a fully accredited university program and who would go on to have a long and fruitful association with the school and its directors, was none other than the Varanasi Brahmin Buddhist convert and scholar, Pandit Jagganath Upadhyaya. In a nice bit of symmetry, Khunu Lama would help to make the very first teacher training a success, and Pandit Upadhyaya would assist in bringing the university to its full formal recognition by the Indian government.

Khunu Lama's time teaching at the Lamas' School was an important milestone in his visibility among Tibetans in India. The position brought him into contact with a range of Tibetan religious leaders and intellectuals, virtually all of whom would go on to have significant impact on Tibetan Buddhism in the latter half of the twentieth century, and in many cases, on its spread in the west, Japan and elsewhere.467 Before his time at the


Among the participants who attended the school were the Nyingma scholar and Dzogchen master Khenpo Palden Sherab; the Sakya scholars Khenpo Appey, Khenpo Rinchen, Khenpo Khedrup and Khenpo Sangye Tenzin, the Gelugpa scholars Drepung Gomang Khenpo Tenba Tenzin and Sera Je Geshe Urgyen Tsetan and many others.

240 Lamas' School, when the Tibetan refugees first began to arrive in India in 1959, few of them knew who Khunu Rinpoche was. This did not begin to change, and demand for him as a teacher did not grow until the Dalai Lama showed him various signs of public respect, after which, naturally, the floodgates opened.468 Interestingly, those who were there recall that early on in the teaching program at the Lamas' School, there was some resistance to Khunu Lama on the part of some students.469 Those students did not know of Khunu Lama before arriving at the school, and were initially unimpressed by his shabby clothes, the fact that he didn't wear monk's robes but simply a red wool chuba, and by his Kinnauri accent and "Indian" appearance. The punchline of such accounts is that the students were soon awed by his breadth of knowledge, manner of teaching, and by the apparent depth of his understanding.471 The Dalai Lama himself observed the


Many people I interviewed made this point, noting that Khunu Rinpoche had not been famous among Tibetans until the Dalai Lama mentioned him and talked about his great qualities in public. In addition, several people recounted stories of the Dalai Lama being seen to prostrate to Khunu Rinpoche in various places including in the street in Bodhgaya, further enhancing his status as a special and revered figure. For example, Tashi Rabgyes interview 2004; Ngawang Rabgyas interview 2004 (who says that Khunu Lama and His Holiness mutually prostrated to each other). Madame Namgyal Taklha recalls people saying "Oh, His Holiness Dalai Lama had come to see him [in Bodgaya]...Yes, came to see him, and they were saying, 'Oh my goodness,' and they were talking, 'His Holiness Dalai Lama is prostrating to him, so he must be a very special lama.'" Interview 2004. See as well Manshardt 2004:28, who also mentions the prostration episode in the street in Bodhgaya as a turning point. After this famous episode occurred, Tibetans apparently began to visit Khunu Lama in numbers, seeking blessings as well as teaching. 469

In the accounts provided by some participants, these resistant students are often said to have been some of the Gelukpa geshes, though it is hard to know how seriously to take this, since it also fits a longstanding Tibetan narrative stereotype. 470

A chuba is the traditional Tibetan dress, varying in length, style and tailoring and fabrics between men and women, although the same word is used for the clothing for both sexes. 471

For example, Ven. Karma Gelek Yutok; also Khenpo Sonam Topgyal; Khenpo Palden Sherab.

241 students' change of heart with amusement, saying that seeing Khunu Lama among them 479

was like seeing Dromtonpa among the geshes.

Khunu Lama's official task within the school curriculum was to teach literary topics, which he did, but according to accounts of students who attended his classes, within his presentation of grammar and poetics, he managed to incorporate material on every aspect of the Buddhist path. Thus the students who attended his lectures came away impressed not only by his literary knowledge, but also by his capacities as a religious teacher.473 One effect of his teaching at the school was thus that it brought his scholarship and learning to the attention of Tibetan intellectuals and aspiring students in India. The students who were at the Mussourie school in turn told others, and in the years that followed his teaching at the school, a stream of students came to find him in the various places he lived, in particular in Varanasi and Bodhgaya.474

Drontonpa was the main student and heir of Atisha, the great eleventh century Bengali scholar and yogi, who taught in Tibet and is credited with starting the "second diffusion" (spyi ldar?) of Buddhism there. The Kadampa lineage takes Atisha as its starting point, and the Kadapa geshes were famous for their learning and monastic vows. Dromtonpa, however, was a layman, and the geshes were said to have initially been taken aback by his appearance and the fact that he was not a monk, until they perceived his extraordinary personal qualities. 473 474

His Holiness Dalai Lama interview 2005. Ven. Karma Gelek Yutok interview 2004.

Trulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005; Khenpo Palden Sherab interview 2005. An even younger group of Tibetans came in contact with Khunu Lama while he was in Mussourie as well, when Khunu Lama was asked to give teachings to students at a nearby secondary school in Mussourie, which included young monks as well as lay students in its student body. Ven. Karma Gelek Yutok, now an education official within the Dharamsala-based Tibetan government in exile, was one of the young monks attending this school and says that this is where he first met Khunu Lama. He recalls that these teachings made a great impression on the young students (although he also mentions that some students found it difficult to understand Khunu Lama's Kinnauri accent in Tibetan). Ven. Karma Gelek Yutok interview 2004.


Khunu Rinpoche taught at the Mussourie Lamas' School during one academic year. Although he continued to reside for periods in Varanasi during this time, in addition to Varanasi, Khunu Lama also lived extensively in Bodhgaya, spending much of his time there from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s. His residence there was in the Gelukpa monastery near the main stupa, often simply known as the Tibetan Gonpa.475 This monastery had a sort of hostel at its rear, where rooms were available.476 Khunu Lama had a room, (again, famously spartan) in this section, and this, like his room at Tekra Math in Varanasi, provided a semi-permanent base for him during times when he was not traveling. A wide range of people remember meeting him there, some visiting only briefly, and some receiving extensive Buddhist and literary teachings from him. Among those who visited or met him there were Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen, Madame Namgyal Taklha, Sera Je Khen Rinpoche Jampa Tekchog, Tulku Pema Wangyal and Khenpo Palden Sherab, members of the royal family of Sikkim, and the current Dalai Lama. At least one westerner met him in Bodhgaya as well: Sharon Salzberg, now a popular American Buddhist teacher. She describes meeting Khunu Lama under the Bodhi tree as a young woman on her first visit to India, in approximately 1971. She remembers

See Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen interview 2004; Madame Namgyal Taklha interview 2004; Khenpo Sonam Topgyal interview 2006. 476

Tenzin Choedak interview 2009. Mrs. Namgyal Taklha, her husband Lobsang Samden, who is one of the Dalai Lama's brothers and their children also lived here (which is how she came to renew her acquaintance with Khunu Lama). (Mrs. Namgyal Taklha interview 2004)


his encouragement to her to practice bodhicitta as a formative event in her life, which she frequently mentions now when she teaches, and in print.477

Khunu Rinpoche's Travels in the Eastern Himalaya

During the years when he lived in Varanasi at Tekra Math and in Bodhgaya at the Gelukpa monastery, Khunu Lama did not remain in either place constantly, but rather continued his habit of moving around. The mam thar says poetically, "In the summer months, when the hot wind would stir up heat in the [Indian] plains, as a hot-weather break sometimes he would travel up to Kalimpong and sometimes to Darjeeling, and similarly sometimes to Sikkim. In those places also, he was followed by many disciples who had the kind of minds that eagerly strive for the nectar of the holy Dharma like a A no

thirsty person searching for a drink."


At the end of his life, Khunu Lama was also

Sharon Salzberg, personal communication, 2003. Also see Salzberg 1999, where she describes her meeting with Khunu Rinpoche. Salzberg is also one of those who remember Khunu Lama's characteristic schedule at Bodhgaya as including daily visits to the Bodhi Tree to meditate at its foot. Khenpo Sonam Topgyal explains further that Khunu Lama would make daily circuits of the Bodhgaya temples and pilgrimage sites, pausing to recite the mantra of Shakyamuni Buddha ("Om mune mune maha munaye svaha," which he frequently encouraged students and visitors to also recite, one of the several ways in which he encouraged people he met to make Shakyamuni Buddha a central figure in their Buddhist practices.) 478

NTH2 p.36.


repeatedly invited to Bhutan, but did not go;479 one source suggests that he had already traveled there earlier in his life during his summer trips to the Himalayan foothills.480

The students he attracted in these Himalayan regions included aristocrats and royalty, such as the Queen Mother of Sikkim and members of the Sikkimese royal family, as well as ordinary lay people, merchants, monks and religious scholars.481 Khunu Rinpoche made two visits to Sikkim during which he stayed in Takse Palace, the palace of the Chogyal (the king of Sikkim) and his family, for several months.482 The royal family of Sikkim were active patrons of Buddhism and of Buddhist teachers, monasteries and schools. Partly for that reason, Gangtok attracted a number of Tibetan masters in addition to native Sikkimese scholars and practitioners, especially in the late 1950s, when the situation in Tibet began to drive people toward India. Among the remarkable individuals who arrived in Sikkim toward the end of that decade were Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro (b.date-1959), the renowned meditation master and polymath from Khams, who was a key figure in the development of non-sectarian ideas, and his consort, the widely

Per LaMacchia's interview with the Kinnauri nun Bogti, one of Khunu Rinpoche's close nun disciples who traveled with him at the end of his life. Interview recorded in LaMacchia 2001:379380. 480

Chris Fynn interview 2006.1 have not thus far found other records of such visits to Bhutan. However, it is a very easy trip from Gangtok in Sikkim over the border into Bhutan, and given the famous religious devotion of the Queen Mother of Bhutan, it would not be at all surprising for she and her family to have invited Khunu Lama to visit, since he was already staying with their neighbors and cousins in Sikkim. 481

Sem Tinley Ongmo interview 2004; Trulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005; Chris Fynn interview 2006. Rnam thar 2: 36-7. Sem Tinley Ongmo interview 2004.

245 venerated yogini Khandro Tsering Chodron, both of whom knew Khunu Lama.483 Sikkimese Buddhists are largely followers of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, and a number of important Nyingma lamas came often to Sikkim to teach, such as the late Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdral Yeshe Dorje, the head of the Nyingma tradition, (who was the Queen Mother of Sikkim's other main guru, in addition to Khunu Rinpoche).484 The Nyingma yogic master Dodrupchen Rinpoche also came to live in Gangtok after 1959, where he became a guru to the king, and he and his consort also had many contacts with Khunu Lama.485 An important Nyingma shedra is located in Gangtok, and Khunu Lama gave teachings there during his visits to Sikkim.

The Queen Mother of Sikkim became a particularly devoted disciple of Khunu Rinpoche, as did her sister. Her daughter, Sem Trinley Ongmo, became Khunu Rinpoche's student as well, although Sem Trinley Ongmo commented in interviews that she was too young and not sufficiently interested in Buddhism at that time to fully take advantage of the

Khandro Tsering Chodron, still living at the time of my research in 2004-2005, is like Khunu Lama and his female disciple the Drikung Khandro, a reclusive practitioner, who shuns fame, lives very quietly, and discourages visitors from paying her any special respect. She routinely tells visitors not to prostrate to her, but rather to the memorial stupa honoring her spiritual husband, Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, which is located in the room in which she lives in the royal temple in Gangtok. In her eighties as of this writing, she is, despite her reticence, a much respected meditation master and spiritual figure in her own right, in particular among Tibetans over forty, and especially among women. I have been told stories of aristocratic Tibetan women in Bodhgaya twenty years ago prostrating to her in the street, and ripping off their own jewellery to try to press it in to her hands, although she is described as resisting such gifts and displays. She spent considerable time with both Khunu Lama and the Drikung Khandro in Bodhgaya, but was reticent about discussing it during our meeting in 2004. 484

Sem Trinley Ongmo interview 2004.


A valuable essay by Alice Travers describes the life and activities of his consort. Bulletin of Tibetology.


Khenpo Dechen Dorje (retired) interview 2004.

246 opportunity.


The Queen Mother and her sister pressed Khunu Lama to stay in

Sikkim all year round with them, but he refused.489 Since he would not stay, they and the children and other family members traveled south to visit him every year in Bodhgaya, as well as at least once in Varanasi in his tiny bare room at Tekra Math.490 Sem Tinley Ongmo recalls Khunu Lama in those years as reserved and quiet, simply dressed in a plain red wool man's chuba, and reluctant to engage in any form of ostentation. She recalls a number of small ways in which his rigorous simplicity manifested itself, some of which she said were rather funny. For example, she said that she and her mother and other relatives and friends would often hope to receive a specially blessed "protection cord" from Khunu Lama when they visited him for teachings, following the widespread Tibetan practice in which lamas bless cords or threads, generally red or occasionally rainbow colored, which devotees then wear or carry on their person. However, she said that Khunu Rinpoche would never provide actual proper threads, but would rather rip up rough pieces of cloth if people insisted they wanted such items. She recounted a family story about how at one point, her mother the Queen and the female master Khyentse Khandro Tsering Chodron (consort of Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro) were en route to Khunu Lama's residence, and commented to each other about how terrible these makeshift partially-shredded protection 'cords' were. To their discomfort, when they then 47

Sem Tinley Ongmo interview 2004. ,


The Queen Mother and her sister were themselves Tibetan, born in Lhasa, daughters of the powerful Tsarong family. As mentioned in the previous section, Khunu Rinpoche had taught literary topics many years before in Lhasa in the 1920's and late 1930's to their brother-in-law, the family head Dudul Tsarong II, Commander in Chief of the Tibetan army. Dudul Tsarong's relationship provided the connection between Khunu Lama and the Queen Mother and her sister. Sem Tinley Ongmo interview 2004. Also see Taring 1986 ; Taklha 2001; Tsarong 2000. Sem Tinley Ongmo interview 2004. Sem Tinley Ongmo interview 2004.


went in to visit him, he immediately stated, "Some lamas have the money to give out fancy protection cords, but I don't have the resources to do that. So if you want one from me, you have to rip it yourself."491 This story, in addition to showing Khunu Lama having the ability to be clairvoyant, (an attribute that frequently appears as a component of classical mam ihar accounts) also seems to further shore up the shared communal view of him as disinterested in material matters, with a kind of earthy delivery accompanying his ascetic lifestyle. Sem Trinley Ongmo also recalled another somewhat miraculous episode (that she characterized as clairvoyance), in which, during an interview with Khunu Rinpoche, he mentioned her husband but referred to him by someone else's name. Sem Tinley Ongmo said that she had the brief thought, "Oh goodness, Lama Rinpoche is getting a bit senile now" and that instantly Khunu Rinpoche looked at her and said, "Well, if I am getting a bit senile now probably there is nothing to be done," or words to that effect, at which she says she was embarrassed and also slightly frightened.492

In addition to the Sikkimese royal family, Khunu Lama had patrons in Kalimpong. There seem to have been two main families in Kalimpong who were his patrons. One was apparently the Tsokhang family, as recalled both by Mrs. Namgyal Taklha and by Ngawang Rabgyes, who was at that time an attendant to the Sikkimese royal family and who acted as Khunu Rinpoche's driver during Khunu Rinpoche's final travels in Sikkim,


Sem Trinley Ongmo interview 2004.


Sem Trinley Ongmo interview 2004.


Kalimpong and to Nepal at the end of his life.493 The other family of patrons, according to Kasur Sonam Topgye, a prominent retired minister of the Tibetan government in exile, was the important Khampa trading family the Pandatsang (sPom mda' tshang), who also befriended Gendun Choephel.494 If that were in fact the case, it would be a connection of particular interest for several reasons. For one thing, the Pandatsang family was extremely prominent in Lhasa before 1959 in both business and political life, as well as in Kalimpong and in their homeland of Kham, as McGranahan has described. Khunu Lama's relationship with them would thus be an additional example of his remarkable ability to maintain relationships with influential and wealthy people, even as he seems to have continued his own personal lifestyle of simplicity. (Ngawang Rabgye, Khunu Lama's driver, recalls humorously that Khunu Lama complained to him that he did not want to stay in his wealthy Kalimpong patron's home, because it was too fancy, and "he himself was a simple person".)495

A Pandatsang connection would also be interesting because members of the family had been friends and supporters of Gendun Chophel in the late 1940s before his return to Tibet. Rabga Pandatsang (Rab dga' spom mda' tshang) was instrumental in forming the Tibet Improvement Party with which Gendun Chophel was associated. The family's support of Khunu Lama would raise interesting questions about the compatibility of the political views espoused by the Tibet Improvement Party with the traditional practice of


Mrs. Namgyal Taklha interview 2004; Ngawang Rabgyes interview 2004.


Kasur Sonam Topgye interview 2005. Add notes on: Carole McGranahan; Gendun Choephel.


Ngawang Rabgyes interview 2004.


supporting a Buddhist lama (and in particular, a lama whose primary activities were meditating and teaching, rather than performing large ceremonies, divinations or other of the activities of a chaplain to a wealthy house). Moreover, an association between Khunu Lama and the Pandatsang family raises further questions about Khunu Lama's connection with Gendun Chophel, and about Khunu Lama's interest or lack of interest in Gendun Chophel and his friends' views on Tibetan nationalism. The sources available do not permit any answers to these questions here, but the mention of the Pandatsang is a valuable reminder that Khunu Lama was a man of wide and extremely diverse acquaintance, and certainly should not be imagined as in some way cut off from the world.

Students and devotees visited Khunu Lama while he stayed in the Kalimpong area, beginning in the late 1950s, including prominent members of the Tibetan emigre community. Mrs. Namgyal Taklha, for example, the sister-in-law of the current Dalai Lama, who is also a cousin of Sem Tinley Ongmo of Sikkim, remembers going to visit Khunu Lama with her grandmother and great aunt in Kalimpong, between 1958 and

Mrs. Namgyal Taklha interview 2004. Mrs. Taklha is a prominent person in her own right as well as by marriage. She is a cousin of Sem Trinley Ongmo of Sikkim. Mrs. Namgyal's father was General Dadul Tsarong, the Commander in Chief of the Tibetan Army, and her mother was Yangchen Drolkar Ragashar. Both the Tsarong and Ragashar aristocratic houses were extremely prominent, and related by both blood and marriage to the ruling aristocratic and royal families of neighboring Himalayan regions such as Sikkim and Bhutan, as well as, in the case of the Ragashars, to the royal family of Dege. In general, the Himalayan aristocratic families are multiply interrelated. Even after the closing of the Tibetan border with India and Bhutan following the Chinese takeover in 1959, these families have managed to maintain a surprising


Khunu Lama made at least one documented visit to Darjeeling as well, probably between 1969 and 1971. At that time, he was invited to live and teach at the Darjeeling monastery of Kangyur Rinpoche, a famous Tibetan scholar and religious teacher, whose sons, including Trulku Pema Wangyal, are now also prominent teachers in their own right. Trulku Pema Wangyal first met Khunu Lama in Varanasi while they both were living there, through an introduction from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Khunu Lama's old friend and student from Khams. Trulku Pema Wangyal had requested Sanskrit instruction from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, but the latter had refered him to Khunu Lama as the best possible teacher. Trulku Pema Wangyal then went to see Khunu Lama later on in Bodhgaya, together with his friend Khenpo Palden Sherab, who himself knew Khunu Lama because he had studied at the Mussourie school.497 The two of them then later invited Khunu Lama to stay with them in Darjeeling and to give private teachings there.

During his time at Kangyur Rinpoche's monastery in Darjeeling, Khunu Lama taught Dzogchen and literary topics to a small group that included Tulku Pema Wangyal and his brothers, and the brothers Khenpo Palden Sherab and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal.498 All of these individuals have emerged as leading Buddhist teachers, especially of Dzogchen, in western countries. Khunu Rinpoche also met several western Buddhist students while

number of close ties through mutual visiting, educating their children together and other forms of social life. 497

Trulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005.


Trulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005; Khenchen Palden Sherab, interview 2006.

251 staying with Kangyur Rinpoche, including Trulku Pema Wangyal's student Anne Benson and her sister, both of whom briefly acted as his attendants during that time, in part because Khunu Lama was then ill.499 While Khunu Rinpoche was living in Darjeeling, he had a lung problem that may have been TB, and his students from that period remember that his health was quite poor.500

In 1970, Khunu Lama met the woman who would become one of the main disciples of the final period of his life, as well as his attendant and frequent traveling companion. This was the Drigung Khandroma Sherab Tharchin, also known as Neni Rinpoche (Ne ni Rin po che Shes rab Thar phyin, 1927-1979), or as Ani Khandro.501 The Drigung Khandro was born in Tibet, and ordained as a nun. She became a disciple of the previous Drigung Khandro at Terdrom Nunnery near Drigung Til Monastery in Central Tibet.502 The role of Drigung Khandro is not a reincarnation lineage, but rather a position as leader and spiritual guide of the nuns of Terdrom Nunnery appointed or elected by the nuns. Sherab

Anne Benson interview 2004. 500

Trulku Pema Wangyal interview 2005; Anne Benson interview 2004.


While the Drikung Khandro's life unfortunately has not become the subject of a Tibetanlanguage rnam thar thus far, her students and friends have preserved some information about her. Happily, the German scholar Jurgen Manshardt (author of the German translation of Khunu Lama's bodhicitta poems) has assembled information about her life into a German-language biography. The details that follow are taken from interviews I conducted in 2004 with some of her surviving disciples, and from Manshardt's biography, which he very graciously shared with me. (As of this writing, the biography remains unpublished.) 502

The nunnery is at the site of a famous medicinal hot springs, said to have been created by Padmasambhava for the benefit of meditators. The whole area is a major site of pilgrimage connected with Padmasambhava and his Tibetan consort Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal, who is said to have achieved important siddhis in a large cave located very high on the mountainside above the nunnery. The current Drikung Khandro is originally from Khams. After surviving the period of the Cultural Revolution she was able to remain in residence at Terdrom, where she continues to guide the community although in semi-retreat.

252 Tharchin had become Drigung Khandro before 1959, but in that year, due to the danger of arrest by the Chinese forces, she fled with other people from Drigung into exile in India. While still a young woman, one of her lamas told her that her main religious practice should be the cultivation of bodhicitta. As a result, she searched in India for some time for a suitable teacher of bodhicitta, and when she heard about Khunu Lama's expertise in this area, she realized he was the person she should seek out.

She finally located him in Bodhgaya, in 1970. From then on, she remained with him constantly as his attendant, bringing him food and other necessities. According to many reports, he was frequently irritable with her, telling her to go away when she would arrive with food, because he wanted to be left alone,503 but there is no record of her taking offense or being in any way dissuaded from acting as his attendant. Several people commented on the extent of her devotion to him, especially in view of the fact that she herself became quite ill with TB and was frequently very unwell.504 Notwithstanding his complaints, in fact he seems to have placed great trust in her, as evidenced by the fact that only she had the key to his room. Indeed, part of her role was to perform the curious task of locking him into his room, apparently when he was meditating or when he wanted to be undisturbed.505 (A number of people have mentioned Khunu Lama's unusual



Chris Fynn interview 2006. Tika Broche, oral communication 2005. Chris Fynn, for example, who stayed in Tso Pema and Lahaul with the Drikung Khandro and Khunu Rinpoche during approximately 1975-1977, after their return from Nepal, and prior to Khunu Lama's final teaching tour, was responsible for giving the Drikung Khandro the medicine that she required. 505

mentions that the Drikung Khandro was the only person who had keys to Khunu Rinpoche's room in Bodhgaya and that she would lock him in, and unlock the door to allow visitors.

253 practice of being locked into his room. Mrs. Namgyal Taklha, for example, notes that when she and her grandmother visited him in Kalimpong in the late 1950's, they were led to his room by a nun, who unlocked the door from the outside. Unfortunately Mrs. Taklha does not know who the nun was.506 Ani Pemo mentions the same practice during Khunu Lama's 1974-75 trip to Nepal, saying that when she and a few other western Buddhist students arrived to see him, "his door was locked from the outside with a huge padlock."507)

Final Teaching Trips in the Himalayan Region

In the early 1970s, Khunu Lama and the Drigung Khandro traveled to Tso Pema (Rewalsar) in present-day Himachal Pradesh, and took up residence in the caves there, above the town and eponymous lake, where she had been living prior to meeting Khunu Rinpoche. While they lived there, a number of disciples gathered, including a number of young nuns, several from the Manali area, and several from Khunu, Lahaul and other Himalayan regions. In addition, Drigung Ontul Rinpoche, a prominent Drigung Kagyu lama based in India, who was then quite young, was sent by his tutor to live under their care. (Indeed, Tso Pema has remained his home, and is now the site of his monastery.)

Mrs. Namgyal Taklha, interview 2004. 507 508

Ani Thupten Pemo interview 2005.

Drikung Ontul Rinpoche interview 2004. The story of how he was sent to live with Khunu Lama and the Drikung Khandro is a poignant one: after their escape from Tibet over the mountains and into India, Drikung Ontul Rinpoche and his tutor were extremely poor and without


In 1973, Khunu Rinpoche and the Drigung Khandro traveled to Nepal, to the Kathmandu Valley. Just prior to leaving for Nepal, Khunu Rinpoche spent about four months living in Gangtok, in the second of his two long visits to the Takse Palace.509 While he was living there, the Queen Mother assigned one of her own attendants, Ngawang Rabgyes, to be Khunu Rinpoche's driver. Ngawang Rabgyes drove Khunu Lama to Kalimpong to visit his students and patrons there, and then drove him to Kathmandu.510

In Nepal, Khunu Rinpoche and the Drigung Khandro made pilgrimages to important Buddhist sites, such as Lumbini and the major stupas and shrines in Kathmandu. They also visited Pokhara, among other places. In Kathmandu, they stayed for the most part in places near two of the main Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the area — the Bouddhanath and Swayambunath Stupas. The Bouddhanath (Bouddha) stupa is a major pilgrimage site for Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhists, figuring largely as it does in many of the important narratives of the Buddhist Himalayas,511 and a thriving Tibetan community has grown up around it, now even further expanded by the exile community. Khunu Rinpoche

resources. His tutor found work breaking rocks on an Indian road-building crew to support them, but eventually the tutor became so ill with TB that he was unable to continue this back breaking labor. Since he could no longer care for Drikung Ontul Rinpoche himself, he entrusted him to the Drikung Khandro and Khunu Rinpoche, in part because the Drikung Khandro was their countrywoman, being from Drikung. Drikung Ontul Rinpoche interview 2004. 509

Sem Tringley Ongmo interview 2004.


Ngawang Rabgyes interview 2004.


In addition to the story of the stupa's founding, other noteworthy episodes include the events described in the 17th century rnam thar of Padmasambhava's main Tibetan consort and collaborator, Khandro Yeshe Tsogyal, who is said to have traveled to the stupa, and to have acquired her own male consort for tantric practice there through miraculous activity.

255 apparently stayed part of the time in Bouddha near the stupa, in a small guesthouse with a view of the stupa itself, called the Snow Lion.

During 1974 and early 1975, Khunu Lama made pilgrimages around the Kathmandu area, to Lumbini and Kushinagar, sites of Shakyamuni Buddha's birth and death respectively, as well as at the pilgrimage sites in Kathamandu. He was also invited to teach several times, by prominent lamas living in the area. In particular, the Sakya luminary and lineage holder, the late Choge Trichen Rinpoche, and the influential Geluk Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who has now become well-known throughout the west and many parts of Asia as the head of an international Tibetan Buddhist organization called the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, invited Khunu Lama to teach, both privately to them, and to groups of Tibetan monastics.

A number of people who were part of the first generation of western students to explore Tibetan Buddhism and take monastic ordination participated in some of the teachings organized by Lama Zopa in summer and fall of 1974. (Two of Khunu Lama's teachings to Lama Zopa's students having been transcribed at the time, were translated into English, and have recently been published by the FPMT, as part of the volume Teaching from Tibet: Guidance from Great Lamas, in 2005.5U) Khunu Lama and the Drigung


Teaching from Tibet: Guidance from Great Lamas (Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive: Boston,) 2005, ed. Nicholas Ribush. The two Khunu Lama teachings collected in this volume existed as unpublished transcripts, kept by Dr. Ribush for the nearly thirty years since they were given, and

256 Khandro apparently made a strong impression on these western students, as well as on the Tibetan members of the audience. The American Buddhist nun and professor Karma Lekshe Tsomo for example, recalls Khunu Lama urging her and a friend to ""Get a grammar and dictionary and learn Tibetan," which both women then did.513 Khunu Lama also gave teachings privately to Lama Zopa during this time, and Lama Zopa arranged for him to be seen by a western doctor in Kathmandu. In early 1975, Khunu Rinpoche and the Drigung Khandro also traveled to the town of Pokhara, where they stayed until late spring. In May or June of that year, they moved on to Lumbini, where they visited the Sakya lama Chogye Trichen Rinpoche, who had met Khunu Lama several times before. At Chogye Rinpoche's request, Khunu Lama gave several transmissions of important Sakya teachings. (Khunu Lama also made an impression on observers by his habit of meditating in the Buddhist temple and shrines of Lumbini on a daily basis, which during that year's particularly heavy monsoon were often flooded, and frequently filled with snakes driven out of their holes by the water.)514

Late in 1975, Khunu Rinpoche and the Drigung Khandro returned to Tso Pema. Khunu Lama then gave what was for him a rather large Dzogchen teaching at Tso Pema, at the

were published for the first time in this volume. (Ribush 2005:235; Dr. Nicholas Ribush personal communication.) 513 514

Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, email, 2009.

David Jackson, unpublished manuscript detailing interview material collected from Lama Choephel, a Sakya monk student of Chogye Trichen Rinpoche in Lumbini present at the time. From Jackson's forthcoming biography of Chogye Trichen Rinpoche (Jackson, unpublished, kindly shared by the author).

257 invitation of the Nyingma monastery in the Tso Pema village.515 Based on the current sources, this teaching is the only public Dzogchen teaching that Khunu Lama ever gave, and may well have been the largest teaching he gave as well; it is the closest Khunu Lama seems ever to have come to giving any kind of tantric initiation.516 Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok, whose father was then the head of that monastery, was among those who attended. He already knew and admired Khunu Rinpoche from the time some ten years before, when as mentioned above he had attended classes with Khunu Rinpoche as a young student monk in Mussourie, studying near the Lamas' School. Ven. Karma Gelek noted a number of unusual aspects in Khunu Lama's teaching style. In particular, he described Khunu Lama's lack of ritual during the proceedings, even in places where normally rituals are part of the transmissions of those topics and texts.

Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok interview 2004. Khenpo Sonam Topgyal interview 2006; Khenchen Palden Sherab interview 2006. 516

There are three main formal categories of ritualized transmission of material by qualified teachers to students within the Tibetan Buddhist system, the reading transmission {lung), which qualifies recipients to read and study a particular text or to recite a particular mantra, the explanatory transmission (tri, often given in combination with the lung, for obvious reasons), in which the teacher gives a commentarial explanation of the text or practice that the student is being authorized to engage in, and the tantric initiation, {dbang), in which the student is ritually initiated into a particular tantric system of yogic practice, which then empowers the student to perform that practice. (Highly qualified specialists, such as lamas, also receive dbang in order to become authorized to initiate others.) Numerous oral sources confirm that Khunu Lama did not give dbang, or tantric initiations, although he did give reading and explanatory transmissions; for example, His Holiness Dalai Lama interview 2005. Khunu Lama did however give individual transmissions of Dzogchen material, including esoteric material, to a handful of students. One may infer that in certain cases, such as possibly with the Drikung Khandroma, these transmissions may have involved more than the textual or explanatory transmission. Because Khunu Lama seems to have purposefully avoided giving large public dbang, (as for instance per Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok interview 2004), it is interesting that in the case of the Tso Pema Dzogchen teaching, he was persuaded to give a public teaching that involved some amount of ritual, esoteric material, a prominent role for himself, etc., and indeed, according to Ven. Karma Gelek's recollection, Khunu Lama did attempt to minimize all of these elements, as described.

258 This Tso Pema teaching was also apparently the occasion at which Khunu Rinpoche's students requested him to compose a sol tebs, or supplication prayer, for his disciples to recite as part of their devotional practice with regard to him. He did so and the sol tebs was recited for the first time at this teaching, (although apparently he made a number of ironic and somewhat reluctant comments when presenting it.)517 It is indeed a brief and straightforward document, short and easy to remember. Several students who directed my attention to it or gave me copies of it emphasized its brevity, accuracy and lack of exaggeration.518 It is published together with the 2005 mam that edition, and is in circulation among Khunu Rinpoche's students in a one-page undated woodblock print, although most students whom I interviewed have memorized it.

In 1976 Khunu Lama made the last teaching trip of his lifetime, to Garzha, and then to Keylong village, in Lahaul, Himachal Pradesh, a mountainous valley region near Kinnaur. There he visited several monasteries, beginning with Kardang Gonpa. Interestingly, this monastery "was founded by Lama Norbu and Kartang Kunga Rinpoche, who were disciples of Shakyashri."519 There is a kind of cyclical quality to Khunu Lama's activities here, inasmuch as he had come to teach in the year of his death in a place connected to the Shakyashri lineage, into which he had entered so many decades earlier when Sonam Gyaltsen introduced him to the "nature of mind" in a ravine


' Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok interview 2004.


For example, Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok interview 2004; Ani Sonam Chodron interview 2004; Ani Thondru Zangmo interview 2004. 519

Chris Fynn interview 2006.

in Khunu as a young boy. After this, Khunu Lama and his retinue of nuns moved on to Sharshul (sometimes spelled Sharshur) Gonpa, the monastery of his student and biographer K. Angrup, located above Keyling village. Khunu Lama taught for several months here, and passed away in the midst of teaching in February 1977, at the age of eighty-two.

Chapter Six

Renunciation, Death and Other Disruptions

At the beginning of this work, I argued that we must re-theorize modernity so as to displace rupture from the center of our discussion, and thereby make space for forms of creativity, innovation, and intellectual and personal independence that remain deliberately continuous with the past. In the Tibetan context in particular, I have urged that we include in our analysis expressions of creativity that re-appropriate rather than break with the models of tradition, such that innovation occurs in continuity with a lineage. The preceding chapters have presented the life story of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen, with the goal of allowing his activities to demonstrate some of the complex possibilities for creativity and innovation embedded within the Tibetan Buddhist intellectual framework. Deeply invested in intellectual and spiritual projects explicitly related to the continuity of Indie and Tibetan Buddhist lineages and traditional knowledge systems, Khunu Lama was at the same time an unconventional and independent figure. At various stages in his life, he crossed a range of intellectual, sectarian, cultural and social boundaries. Moreover, and just as importantly, he is remembered and memorialized, in both oral and textual sources, specifically for his unusual and sometimes surprising qualities as an innovator or crosser of boundaries, as we have seen, as well as being remembered and memorialized more conventionally, for his roles as a religious teacher who helped to maintain the continuity of Buddhist lineages; as an educator who transmitted a broad array of traditional learning; and for his role as a holy

individual thought to have outstanding personal qualities and yogic powers such as clairvoyance. Thus, judging by the accounts of his life circulating within the communit(ies) that remember him, his interest for disciples and others who remember him seems to lie in the combination of his unconventional or innovative activities and qualities, and at the same time, in his quite traditional forms of virtuousity.

In considering the implications of his life and activities, and of the narrative accounts of that life story for the questions I have raised about innovation, tradition and modernity in the Tibetan Buddhist context, one may ask what cultural as well as personal factors facilitated Khunu Lama's creativity and independence. Addressing this question allows us to begin to respond to the overarching problem posed at the beginning of this project: namely, how Tibetan Buddhist societies can be responsive to or productive of the dynamics of modernity, given the way in which the transmission lineage structure — within which individuals have their formation, and which so conditions religious and intellectual life — emphasizes continuity with the honored past. Khunu Lama's life story suggests that within the structure of the transmission lineage, and within the social context in which it exists, there are processes at work that enable independence and distinctiveness between the generations of Buddhist transmission lineages. (Precisely such independence and distinctiveness as might not be initially suspected, of course, given the centrality of the socio-religious ideal of unity between masters and students — that the minds of master and student should blend "like water into water" — within the tradition's concerns about continuity and authenticity.) In considering what factors enable this independence and distinctiveness between the generations, we may also hope to

262 address the question of how the ideal of unity between successive masters and disciples is reconciled in practice by participants in the tradition with the differentiation that seems to also occur.

Within the events of Khunu Lama's life story, as we have access to it in both textual and oral versions, there are three closely interrelated dynamics that seem to permit or encourage his independence, and the distinctiveness of his behavior, persona, and legacy. These dynamics exist at the social level, as part of the cultural milieu in which Khunu Lama lived and acted. At the same time, these dynamics operate thematically, as rhetorical devices within the narratives through which his life, and the lives of Tibetan Buddhist teachers more generally, are remembered and memorialized.

Significantly, it is not only in Khunu Lama's case that these dynamics operate. Rather, the same, or closely parallel, thematic patterns are widespread within Tibetan Buddhist materials from many different time periods, and these thematic patterns can be seen to permit and sometimes encourage creativity and individual independence in many contexts. This fact raises important questions about the extent to which we can periodize any putative 'modernity,' in particular if by modernity we mean a radical break of some kind with the past, followed by the emergence of novel social forms. That is to say, the kinds of dynamics we see in Khunu Lama's case are not localized within one particular time period in Himalayan history, nor for that matter are they limited to one particular Buddhist lineage or region of Tibet, etc. (The extent to which these dynamics vary by region and period is however an important separate topic much needing investigation.)

Rather, the factors that apparently contribute to creativity in Khunu Lama's case seem to operate at many junctures of Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history. This means that the very notion of a rigid opposition between tradition and modernity must begin to break down in the Himalayan context, since by some measures, what we uncover in the Tibetan Buddhist hagiographical or biographical materials is a veritable tradition-of-innovation, a cultural lineage, broadly speaking, that internally combines continuity with change.

The first among the factors contributing to Khunu Lama's independence are the various facets of what we may call his practice of renunciation, beginning with his initial departure from home as a young man.520 His practice of renunciation here also includes

The semantic field I have in mind for the broad English term "renunciation" (one susceptible of overuse and considerable misunderstanding on the part of scholars of Buddhism, to be sure) includes several terms, beginning with the Tibetan term nges 'byung (Skt. nihsarana), which is the technical Buddhist term most precisely rendered as "renunciation" in English. This is for example the first of the "Three Principles of the Path" (Tib. Lam gtso rnam gsum), a catchphrase which is also the title of a famous brief exposition of the Buddhist path by the 14/15* century luminary Je Tsongkhapa. In that text, and in Stages of the Path (Tib. Lam rim) literature in general, renunciation {nges 'byung) is the first principle. I also have in mind the verb spangs, which also means "to renounce" or "abandon" and which is often used in Buddhist contexts, as well as the related phrase khyim nas khyim medpar phyin pa, ("to go forth from home into homelessness"). This last phrase, like the concept of homelessness in general, is often (but not always) associated with monastic ordination, for which the most common in Tibetan verb is rab tu byung ba (used especially for monastic ordination; the Sanskrit term pravrajya, which is often given as its equivalent, however, is not itself literally a term for monastic ordination, which is a separate step, requiring a specific upasampada). Clarke argues persuasively that the phrase khyim nas khyim med par phyin pa, ("to go forth from home into homelessness"), like the famous Pali formula to which it corresponds, "agarasmd anagariyam pabbajati," is added precisely because the terms pravrajya I rab tu byung ba are vague about the nature of the departure and what precisely is being left behind, in particular to what extent familial ties continue. (Indeed, one might hypothesize that the choice by Tibetan translators of the phrase rab tu byung ba as a translation of pravrajya (to go forth) represents a finessing of the problem of the nature of this departure, in the sense that in the Tibetan phrase, the particle tu can be taken as adverbializing, so that the phrase means "to arise / come forth excellently," or tu can be taken as a kind of locative, making the phrase better translated as "to become excellent" or "to go forth into excellence.") In any case, as I discuss, renunciation, homelessness and monastic ordination should not be conflated, and do not always occur together.

264 his lifestyle of material simplicity and poverty, which is so prominent in students' oral recollections of him and in the rnam thar; his tendency to remain outside institutional structures, partly as a result of his constant travel and his disengagement from material acquisition; and his apparent willingness to disregard certain kinds of conventions, including those concerning aspects of Tibetan Buddhist ritual, practice and social 521


A second dynamic that seems to have facilitated both Khunu Lama's independence and his unconventionality is, paradoxical as it may sound, the way in which he was routinely likened to - and even, in a sense, assimilated onto the model of- great saints of the past,

In addition, as mentioned already, my treatment of renunciation also is particularly concerned with the behavior associated with the figure of the chatralwa (Tib. bya bral bd) hermit- or beggar-yogi, an ideal type of Tibetan Buddhist renunciant to which I turn in a moment. As I describe, Buddhist literature handles the connections between the categories of renunciation, homelessness, and monastic ordination in differing ways depending on the genre, period and cultural context of the literature. On these terms, and the conflations of ordination, homelessness, renunciation, and the severing of family ties, see Clarke 2008, as well as Schopen 1997 (among others), Gyatso 1998, as well as Mills 2000 and 2003. (Mills provocatively argues for an understanding of "yogic renunciation," of which the true practitioners are incarnate lamas, rather than "ordinary" ordained monks. Mills 2003:308). For a rather different presentation, see also Samuel 1993. 521

I am grouping Khunu Lama's willingness to disregard convention here together with other behaviors associated with renunciation, because of my perception that it was fundamentally Khunu Lama's disinvestment in so-called "worldly concerns" that encouraged and enabled him to act unconventionally. Of course, it is also true that unconventional behavior fits into the second theme I discuss here, namely assimilation to unconventional role models of the past or to unconventional ideal types of practitioner. Still, although the existence of these models clearly plays a central role in facilitating unconventional behavior, as I discuss, according to the tradition's own rhetoric, it is in each individual case (including in the case of the particular saints and role models of the past) the individual's profound attitude of renunciation, as well as the closely connected individual insight into the nature of reality, that permits and indeed encourages behavior that violates convention. For instance, Milarepa's scandalizing of his sister, as a result of his nudity and odd appearance, is as a result of his profound renunciation, and there are many other possible examples.

265 or ideal types of Buddhist virtuoso. Discussions of Khunu Lama's renunciation in both oral and textual accounts consistently center on comparisons between his activities, and Buddhist ideal types and great masters. He was particularly associated with Milarepa and the Kadampa lamas, especially with respect to their lifestyles of renunciation, and their extra-conventional behavior. The Buddhist ideal quality and constellation of practices I am here grouping under the rubric of "renunciation," like other kinds of social ideals, is often imagined and communicated in general via a reference to such ideal types and rolemodels of the past. In keeping with that pattern, both oral and textual narratives of Khunu Lama's life effectively convey that he was a certain kind of renunciant by evoking the similarities between him and culture-heroes such as Milarepa, or by labeling him as a particular ideal type of practitioner, most often the ideal type of the "hermit-yogi" or "beggar-yogi" {chatralwa, Tib. bya bral ba). The chatralwa is arguably the paradigmatic type of the renunciant in the Tibetan tradition, and is a figure associated with independence, unconventionality and an extra-institutional location (although other important Buddhist archetypes of unconventionality also play a central role in the Tibetan Buddhist repertoire of virtuoso behavior, and must be understood as conditioning the environment in which Khunu Lama acted, in particular the ideal type of the "crazy lama," (Tib. bla ma smyon pa)).

On the "crazy lama" ideal type see among others Ardussi and Epstein 1978. No Englishlanguage scholarly study of the chatralwa ideal type as a separate subject has been done as of this writing, although a number of works do address aspects of this ideal. Such a study would be an important contribution. Some helpful sources include Dudjom 1991, Ricard 1994 (on the life of Shabkar, another prototypical renunciant, whose activities are said to have much impressed Paltrul Rinpoche, and whose lifestory in a number of ways resonates with the life of Khunu Lama), Gyatso 1998, Thondup 2002, Jackson 2003, Chatral 2007. Notably, in the Tibetan tradition, the ideal type of the renunciant practitioner does not in fact precisely correspond to figure of the fully ordained monk or nun. Not all monks or nuns are chatralwa types (some may

Third, Khunu Lama's independence and autonomy, and subsequently those of his own students, seem to have been enabled in part by the existence of naturally-occurring interruptions to the guru-disciple relationship, these interruptions including geographic separations, and especially the more profound separations occasioned by death. Indeed, Khunu Lama's own idiosyncratic and distinctive qualities and impact on others may in part be seen through the unusual way in which his own death is remembered, in which his students can be seen exercising their own independence vis a vis Khunu Lama, their late guru.

All three of these dynamics share the fact that, in various ways, each represents an avenue through which some form of conceptual or actual social disruption or destabilization may occur, such destabilization turning out to enable individual distinctiveness, and differences between the generations of the lineage. Renunciation, deeply traditional value though it is, nevertheless contains a disruptive or subversive

not be particularly serious practitioners); conversely, not all chatralwa-style practitioners are monks or nuns (some may be yogic practitioners who have not taken full ordination), though there certainly are many individuals who are both. Many lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, in particular the Gelukpa, strongly emphasize that the best possible basis for Buddhist practice is full monastic ordination combined with a genuine attitude of renunciation (nges 'byung) such as the chatralwa embodies, but this ideal is not necessarily realized. Moreover, in any case, my point is that even this ideal involves two distinct components, one attitudinal and one involving formal vows. The question of the relative valence and importance of the two kinds of categories of monastic and chatralwa-style renouncer for earlier periods of Indian Buddhism is currently the subject of much scholarly debate. Clarke offers a valuable discussion of this point in the more general Indian Vinaya context (Clarke 2008). There also now Daniel Boucher's Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahaydna: A Study and Translation of the Rastrapalapariprcchd-sutra; unfortunately, due to the recent publication of this study, I have not been able to incorporate its conclusions here.

267 aspect, a rejection of certain kinds of norms or social patterns, and the promise of a radical freedom for the individual. The great masters of the past and ideal types of Buddhist virtuoso to whom Khunu Lama was compared are often specifically characterized by their scandalous, socially disruptive or unconventionally idiosyncratic behavior. Perhaps most explicitly of all, the death of the guru offers a quintessential moment of potential disruption, a time when there may be a wrenching experience of loss, and a significant potential gap in leadership. Indeed, during the events of the guru's death, the continuity of the lineage itself may become momentarily fragile. These factors of (usually) subtle destabilization act in various ways as a kind of creative friction in Tibetan Buddhist cultural settings, existing in a productive relationship with the strong emphasis on continuity with the past that is also characteristic of these settings.

The access that we have to all these dynamics is via their narration in oral and written form. However, while these three dynamics - renunciation, assimilation to great and potentially unconventional saints of the past or ideal types of unconventional Buddhist virtuoso, and the impact of separation from the guru - are all important narrative themes, the fact that we encounter these elements through their narration is not to say that they are 'only' literary devices. Khunu Lama's real-world choices and self-presentation, in terms of lifestyle, behavior, dress, travel, etc., enabled his independence in specific and pragmatic ways. Yet so too did the ways in which he was perceived by others, such as having his behavior considered in the light of saints and yogins of the past. This last idea is a central one: Khunu Lama's ability to make certain choices, and the specific results

268 that this had for him and for those around him, had a great deal to do with how his options and choices were understood by others - what I have called their "legibility."

I am not simply referring to the fact that someone who wants to know about Khunu Lama's life in the present day must encounter him via stories about him, although that is also an important reality. (And indeed, one would want to be wary about postulating the existence of any unmediated "direct" encounter with the facts of a person's life, some ding-an-sich bearing an authenticity or facticity greater than all narratively mediated realities.) But more fundamentally, even during Khunu Lama's own lifetime, certain ideas about what it is possible for a person to do, presented via stories about earlier masters, arguably shaped many of the things he did. Conversely, people responded to him (hired him, sought him out as a teacher, wrote about him, or didn't) based upon the reports they had heard about him. Thus it is necessary to consider both his actions, and the way they are described in stories.

Tibetan Buddhist societies and individuals benefit in significant ways from the three dynamics described here, because of the creativity, innovation and individual independence that they enable. These dynamics seem to have facilitated the emergence of creative and independent individuals who have made important contributions to Tibetan Buddhist intellectual life, such as Khunu Lama, or Paltrul Rinpoche, or Khenpo Shenga, or for that matter, the present Dalai Lama, who has made a remarkable array of innovative and creative choices. At the same time, inasmuch as each of these dynamics contains elements of subversion, friction, or a departure from social norms and authority,


practices of renunciation, unconventional behavior, and the disruption attending the death of gurus also pose potential problems for the tradition, problems that need to be managed. Arguably, such problems are managed to a significant degree precisely by narratives of Tibetan masters' lives. It is via narration that culturally and religiously valuable meanings are derived from potentially destabilizing activities, and it is through stories that individual episodes of unconventionality are legitimated. In that sense, accounts of past masters' activities, and the existence of ideal types of unconventional Buddhist virtuoso, serve a double function. They both potentially inspire challenging behavior among each new generation, and at the same time, they help to re-integrate disruptive events and people back into the tradition.


Let us turn first to the role played by renunciation - the constellation of elements ranging from home-departure to voluntary poverty just described - in the composite biography of Khunu Lama. As we have already seen, Khunu Lama's renunciation is pivotal to how he is remembered, and it seems to have played a central part in his independence and unconventionality on every level. From the Tibetan Buddhist point of view, renunciation is the starting point of Buddhist practice, the first "principle of the path" (Tib. lam gyi gtso bo), to use the language of the popular and influential Lam Rim (Stages of the Path)

270 genre of Tibetan Buddhist literature. For this reason alone, renunciation might be predicted as a lynchpin of any explicitly Buddhist narrative of a Buddhist life. Renunciation functions in a ritual and practical sense as the foundation for Tibetan Buddhist identity and activity, as witnessed across many genres of Tibetan literature. From a Tibetan Buddhist psychological or meditational point of view, renunciation - the turning of the individual's attention from an investment in samsaric experiences toward the ultimate Buddhist soteriological goal of liberation - is the moment at which all Tibetan Buddhist genres state that true Buddhist practice begins.

The notion of renunciation, and the idealized models offered by the example of individual renunciant practitioners, also speak on several levels to the questions of innovation, individuality, and negotiation with the past that we have considered vis a vis the category of modernity. Renunciation functions in a paradoxical way, both practically and symbolically, within Tibetan Buddhist culture. One the one hand, renunciation constitutes a paradigmatic element of Buddhist tradition, a foundational Buddhist concept and practice (though one of shifting valence). In a host of narrative and sociological ways, renunciation, like other foundational Buddhist categories of thought and activity, clearly involves a profound continuity with the past: renunciation has an ancient pedigree and innumerable exemplars within the tradition, including the most honored ancestors of the lineage. This is certainly the way that Angrup portrays renunciation in the mam thar.

Yet at the same time, renunciation can potentially constitute or enable a profound disruption of norms and accepted categories (of behavior, thought, identity, etc.), in

271 literal, rhetorical and conceptual ways, ways that vary depending on the kind of renunciatory lifestyle that is embraced, monastic or yogic, for example. Practically speaking, Buddhist renunciation can facilitate both innovation and individual independence, by — at least in principle — placing an individual outside various institutional and social controls that might otherwise constrain him or her. Being a renunciant has often explicitly and implicitly served this liberating function, in a practical as well as spiritual sense, for Buddhists from many backgrounds and periods. Buddhist literature, for instance, is filled with accounts of women, lower caste people, and others limited in some way by their social roles, using Buddhist renunciation, with its attendant departure from an old social status and attainment of a new Buddhist identity, as a means to free themselves from burdensome constraints. At a less literal level, moreover, renunciation, not withstanding its importance to and embeddedness within the tradition, may also be symbolically and rhetorically subversive, implying as it does a transcendence or rejection not only of important social categories, but also of philosophical and psychological categories and commitments.

It is true that often in Buddhist societies, the disruptive potential of renunciation is not strongly expressed in a practical or social sense. Indeed, the reverse is often true, since renunciation is, notwithstanding its potential to destabilize, simultaneously a widely valorized and culturally familiar choice. Most Tibetan Buddhist families, in the present day as well as for long periods of Tibetan history, include one and often more members committed to some aspect of the renunciant religious life, and people who ordain as monks or nuns in particular are generally much admired. Moreover, as I note, renouncers

in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition often do not break their family and affective associations, nor do they necessarily remain physically, economically or socially distant from these associations, although sometimes they do. One must be cautious of treatments of Tibetan Buddhist cultures that suggest otherwise. Khunu Lama's own lifestory, as we have seen, includes both patterns: he leaves home for a nearly lifelong separation (a permanent one in the case of his parents, who die while he is away), but nevertheless returns home later in life, stays for eight years due to the entreaties of his relatives and neighbors, is financially supported by family members later in life, writes and teaches specially for his countrymen, and takes on a number of disciples from his home area. Of course, as is true in Khunu Lama's case, there may also conflict and resistance surrounding renunciation. Family members, like Khunu Lama's parents, may try to obstruct a relative's choice of a renunciatory lifestyle. Economic concerns are often a particular issue, as well as inheritance: Tibetan rnam ihar literature contains many instances of parents concerned for the family's economic survival if the only child or the only son leaves home and does not engage in a secular, economically productive 523


But renunciation contains disruptive potential at a rhetorical and symbolic level even in contexts where this culturally familiar choice meets with communal and familial approval and pleasure. Some of the more generalized potential for disruption may be thought of as

Examples from the modern period include the lifestory of Shabkar (Ricard 1997) and the lifestory of the popular contemporary teacher Lama Zopa Rinpoche (Wangmo 2005). See also Childs 2004. See also Paul's approach to the topic of renunciation in the Milarepa story (Paul 1982). See also the related important discussions in Mills 2000, 2003.

273 follows: Renunciation, like the Buddhist notion of sunyata (emptiness, Tib. stongpa snyid) with which it is inextricably related in Tibetan Buddhist understandings, may be thought of as functioning like a kind of solvent, threatening (in principle, if not always in practice) to dissolve a range of categories and bonds.524 Much of the radical potential of renunciation lies here, in renunciation's dimension as the relinquishment not only of household attachments, but also (at a philosophical level) as the relinquishing of other ties, such as to ideological assumptions, to a certain conception of self, etc. Such an ideal of renunciation, even where only an ideal, may serve to potentially disembed individuals from Buddhist groups as well as familial ones, to dissolve Buddhist assumptions as well as non-Buddhist ideologies. Like the Buddhist ideal of emptiness with which it is so closely allied, this aspect of Buddhist life and thought is both foundational and destabilizing. Regardless of how renunciation is practiced in a given historical moment, the destabilizing ability of renunciation to dissolve oppressive bonds and negate the authority of the powerful (inasmuch as the controlled subject becomes radically elusive in an ultimate sense) manifests within a host of widely popular Tibetan Buddhist narratives of spiritual life, such as the Milarepa corpus, or perhaps even more vividly, in the narrative of a popular Tibetan opera in the ache lhamo {a Ice lha mo) genre, Nangsa Obum (sNang sa 'Od 'bum), where the persecuted heroine escapes her evil in-laws to O f

become a heroic Buddhist figure who returns from the dead.

For the revealing metaphor of emptiness as solvent, see Thurman 1984. The mutually implicative and supportive relationship between renunciation and insight into emptiness is discussed at length throughout Tibetan Buddhist literature, for instance in the lam rim genre. 525

On sNang sa 'Od 'bum, see for instance in English, Havnevik and Gyatso 2005. Tibetan editions of the opera and re-tellings of the story for a variety of audiences continue to be reprinted in inexpensive paperback editions in the TAR, and widely performed, due to the great popularity of the story. On Ache Lhamo/Tibetan Opera in general, see the essays collected in The Singing


This potential for disruption is something the Tibetan Buddhist tradition must continually reckon with, even while that same tradition valorizes renouncing as an ideal. Indeed, arguably, the tradition must successfully reckon with the potential for disruption in order to embrace the renunciant ideal so thoroughly. As I describe, one of the main mechanisms through which this is accomplished is in fact via the assimilation of unconventional individual renouncers to the already legitimated examples of saints of the past and idealized role models of Buddhist virtuoso.

Narratives of Khunu Lama's life demonstrate these patterns. The mam thar, in keeping with the style of the rnam thar genre more generally, particularly emphasizes the scenes of Khunu Lama's departure from home, and frames them in the language of a powerful impulse toward renunciation, highlighting the centrality of renunciation for Buddhist life and practice.526 Angrup articulates a very specific vision of renunciation, one that entails a profound separation not only from family, home, and household concerns, but indeed, from ordinary concerns of any kind, even to the point of becoming unconcerned with one's own death. One of the main mechanisms by which Angrup conveys this understanding of renunciation is via his framing of the home-leaving episode around parallels with Milarepa and the Kadampa tradition.

Mask: Echoes of Tibetan Opera (Lungta 15), in particular the introduction by Isabelle HenrionDourcy. 526

This emphasis is a standard feature of the literature of Tibetan religious biography, and of Tibetan Buddhist literature and oral narrative, sermons and instruction more generally. As I have already mentioned, the patterns at work here are by no means confined to the example of Khunu Lama.


Angrup opens his chapter on Khunu Lama's departure from home by quoting Milarepa (Tib. Mi la ras pa, 11th century), perhaps the most well-known and beloved of all Tibet's renunciant yogis, famous for his thorough-going rejection of material possessions, ordinary clothing, adequate food or shelter, as well as his rejection of conventional behavior and relationships. Next, Angrup elaborates briefly in a rather standard sutricstyle Buddhist vein on the theme of renunciation.527 Finally, he sharpens the imagery of renunciation with a key teaching of the Kadampa school (Tib. bKa' gdams pa, the early Tibetan lineage so instrumental in the second diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet, whose proponents were famed for their renunciation). This last reference offers a sort of gloss of the first two paragraphs, in the form of an exhortation to apply these ideas in actual (very rigorous) practice. In a variety of ways, both of the quotations flesh out important aspects of how Khunu Lama is remembered, and how Angrup, among others, intends for him to be understood, in particular as an heir to and modern-day exemplar of the Milarepa and Kadampa traditions:

"In the words of the lord Milarepa: 'One's homeland is a treasure-house of poisons / the cause of creating terrible craving and hatred / If you turned your back on this, it would be good. /1 am a person who wanders in the uninhabited wilderness.' If you stay at home, you are commanded by the king; you have to follow the edicts of the queen. Friends and family discourage one; similarly, explained from the point of view of Dharma, the three poisons of craving, hatred and ignorance are commonplace among countrymen, neighbors, etc. If you destroy the three poisons of craving, hatred, and ignorance, [you destroy] the source of all the 84,000 afflictions, [and] the fundamental

On the point that Sutra literature (as opposed to Vinaya or Abhidarma) is particularly associated with a view of renunciation as involving a profound separation from family and family life, see Clarke 2008.

nature of the manifold faults. Having abandoned one's homeland, the root of craving and hatred, go towards the Dharma. As for doing so, that is the unadulterated practice of the mighty Kadampa lamas, and thus of those who uphold the ancient tradition of the lineage: 'Aim your mind at the Dharma. Aim your Dharma practice at a beggar's life [or, 'simple living']. Aim at simple living for your entire life. Aim your death at solitude. [Or more literally, 'live your beggar's life until death; leave your death to a cave.']"528 They stated it like that, etc. One should strive for authentic Dharma, free from adverse conditions, and one should be focused on all harmonious conditions."

These passages are striking in their directness, in particular the last, which lists the Kadampa gtadpa bzhi, the "Four Aims" or "Four Intentions" of the masters of the Kadampa school. By quoting them for the reader, Angrup frames Khunu Lama's first home-leaving as a literal enactment of the Buddhist call to "go forth from home life."530


1 cannot improve on the translation developed by the Rangjung Yeshe Dictionary committee, which I provide here. 529


Angrup 2005:15-16.

However, as I discuss here, the question of what in fact this "going-forth" entailed, and to what extent the renouncer — both in Indian contexts and elsewhere ~ did or did not leave home and family, is complex and only beginning to be researched. Clarke's study of Vinaya literature reveals that for the authors and redactors of many of the Vinaya collections, it was not routinely assumed that family members were left behind; residence in the natal home was not assumed to cease, and it is not clear that marriages were dissolved. Clarke persuasively argues that the assumption that the Buddhist ideal of renunciation, and its 'true' practice resembled the solitary conduct described in the Rhinoceros Horn Sutra (Pali Khaggavisana-sutta) and similar literature (a view propounded by numerous authors, ranging from Spiro to Olivelle; see discussion in Clarke p.28ff) is a construction of scholars, and by no means widely reflective of Buddhist literature or lived practice. (Clarke 2008, for example his discussion in Chapter One.) See also the related points in Cogan, Schopen 1997, 2004, as well as the valuable related discussion in Mills 2000, 2003. Informed by Clarke's analysis, we may further inquire to what extent Angrup's rhetoric of dramatic home-leaving here may have been influenced by recent intellectual/cultural movements such as Buddhist Modernism (itself shaped by contact both with Protestant missionaries and with early western scholarship on Buddhism, as Lopez 2006 and McMahan 2008 discuss) as well as by the kinds of views on the part of Buddhist scholars that Clarke describes.

In this presentation, renunciation is set up as involving not only a radical going-forth from one's biological home, but from 'home' in a more conceptual sense too - from the individual's secure location in the world of sensory comfort, and ordinary goals and pleasures. Angrup goes on to point out that Tenzin Gyaltsen never saw his parents alive again afterward, a fact that gives this initial "going-forth" episode additional emotional and practical weight.

In his emphasis on voluntary poverty, simplicity, homelessness and renunciation in his portrayal of home-leaving, and in his deployment of Milarepa and the Kadamapa lamas as role models, Angrup here asserts a view of the renunciant saint that has been widespread in Tibetan Buddhist inspirational literature, such as in the Stages of the Path (Lam rim) genre. (And as we see, the theme of renunciation appears hand in hand with the second theme I have mentioned, that of Khunu Lama's assimilation to the model of great saints of the past, and to ideal types of Buddhist practitioners.) Hence on one level, Angrup's is a familiar, one might say 'traditional,' presentation, one that places Khunu Lama squarely in the footsteps of some of the most admired figures of the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon.

It would in fact be valuable to do a broader study of the rhetorics of renunciation in the Tibetan context, and I treat this topic in more detail in a forthcoming study. My presentation here can barely scratch the surface of this vast topic, which crosses many literary and oral genres, and is central to the cultures of the Himalayan region. It is especially interesting to investigate how Indian rhetoric about renunciation, including the (sometimes contrasting) narratives in the Sutra and Vinaya collections, have informed the development of Tibetan and Himalayan ideas about what renunciation should mean, and further, to consider how these ideas interact with the development (or lack thereof) of Buddhist Modernist ideas in Tibet.

278 At the same time, however, the behavior that is being recommended and modeled by Milarepa and the Kadampas, and that will later be attributed to Khunu Lama, in particular the model described in the Kadampa Four Aims, is behavior that incorporates a quite profound rupture with conventional concerns, as I have suggested we should anticipate. One might say that the renunciant paradigm represents a kind of anti-convention, a convention of rejecting conventions. It is this combination - the simultaneous rejection of all ordinary conventions and concerns, and the deeply traditional basis for this rejection that seems to permit and encourage Khunu Lama's own life choices (choices which were not by any means made by the majority of his contemporaries), while also ensuring that his choices could be interpreted as legitimate, and even admirable, by the surrounding community (although that does not mean they always were). Khunu Lama's rnam thar and life narratives in general demonstrate the dynamic way in which renunciation functions both as a primary building block of the Buddhist tradition, and as a potentially destabilizing ingredient of individual independence. At the same time, passages such as the above selection from the rnam thar allow us to see how assimilation of an individual figure to archetypes and role models of the past serves as a crucial mechanism through which this destabilization and individual independence can be managed and re-integrated within the tradition.

In the most pragmatic way, the literally home-leaving aspect of Khunu Lama's renunciation - not only leaving his family, but leaving his natal village, valley, and region - set him free from many kinds of social expectations and constraints. It freed him

279 as a practical matter from familial control, and from the kinds of economic pressures most often found in life within a household,

a freedom seemingly enhanced by his

apparent ability to subsist on very little in a material sense. Like his later continuing mobility and constant travel across the Tibetan Plateau and the Indian subcontinent, Khunu Lama's physical departure and the mental orientation that is understood to have accompanied it demonstrate and facilitate his individual independence.

Voluntary poverty in itself also emerges as closely bound up with Khunu Lama's departure from home as a central aspect of his identity as a renunciant. Angrup cites the Kadampa "Four Aims" exhorting the practitioner to live like a beggar, as we have seen, and throughout the mam thar, he notes Khunu Lama's material disengagement, such as in Khunu Lama's choice to refuse the salary from Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. One may also recall Angrup's elaborate oral recollection of Khunu Lama's uncomfortable room, lack of water, dishes, and similar at Tekra Math, recollections that are frequently echoed by other interviewees. Khunu Lama's students in general seem to enjoy recalling (often in terms of awe) details of his almost ascetic poverty, his peculiar and threadbare clothes, and his repeated refusal of money offerings, salaries and gifts, which they describe him turning down, or giving away to others.532 Examples include the


This freedom from the economic pre-occupations and efforts of household life is of course a classic theme about the benefits of renunciation sounded throughout a wide swath of Tibetan Buddhist literature, and indeed by numerous genres of Buddhist literature more generally. 532

Examples are very numerous. Some noted already are descriptions of the minimalist nature of Khunu Lama's room at Tekra Math by Angrup, Serkhong Tsenshab Rinpoche, and others; descriptions of Khunu Lama's threadbare clothing, etc. by Sem Trinley Ongmo, Chris Fynn, Tashi Paljor; the accounts in the rnam thar and in oral narratives of Khunu Lama's refusal of the salary from the Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, and his refusal of student offerings as


anecdote with which this study began, in which Khunu Lama's lack of chairs and suitable clothing plays an important role. This lifestyle of poverty and simplicity is of course intimately bound up in practical and symbolic ways with Khunu Lama's home-leaving, and with the quality of intentional "homelessness" in a Buddhist sense that Khunu Lama seems to have embraced, although voluntary poverty may also be said to represent a separate element of his renunciant practice. Khunu Lama's quasi-ascetic lifestyle demonstrates an almost exaggerated rejection of the concerns and comforts of household life, much like that of Milarepa.

Interestingly, Angrup, perhaps echoing Khunu Lama himself, seems almost embarrassed by the episode during the young Tenzin Gyaltsen's departure from home, when the latter collects on his brother's loans as a way to finance his trip to Sikkim and Tibet. One might note in a sympathetic vein that the loan-collecting episode does suggest that Khunu Lama had an ability to be quite practical in the service of his Buddhist goals, and recognized the need for money for certain purposes (or perhaps that he was more practical - or anxious as a young man than later on in life). At any rate, the episode does shake up whatever projections a reader may have had about a romantic and blissfully "unattached" seeker venturing off with his or her head in the clouds, so to speak.

On Khunu Lama's refusal of student gifts, we actually have a rare transcription of his own words, from one of the teachings he gave in 1975 at Kopan Monastery in Nepal to a described by for instance Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok, Sem Trinley Ongmo, Chris Fynn, Ani Pemo, Gelek Rinpoche, etc.

281 group of western students, (translated at the time by Lama Zopa Rinpoche). I quote at length here, as it gives some sense of Khunu Lama's self presentation on this topic: "Please, don't offer me anything. I have enough to eat and drink; that's all I need. The reason I have given you this teaching is not to receive something but for you to practice purely. I'm not building monasteries or making offerings to statues and so forth so I have no need for money. I accept offerings only when I lack something. When I have enough, I don't accept offerings, especially not from monks or nuns. My idea of wealth is different. Otherwise, teaching and taking money is a bit like making business. For now, I just want you to practice, but if things get bad and I don't have enough to eat or drink, then maybe I'll accept something."

Discernable in this quote are hints of how Khunu Lama's voluntary poverty informed and interacted with his independence. His forthright statement that he had no need of money, and that when he had enough he didn't accept offerings conveys a tone of one who can choose whether to say yes or no, someone not beholden to potential donors, but rather free to make his own decisions and to have his own "different" idea of what wealth is. At the same time, we see again the rather refreshing realism (perhaps interpretable in Buddhist terms as a lack of pride even in his own renunciation) in the statement that if things get bad and he is going hungry, he may accept something.

Perhaps most interesting here, however, are the comments about what sorts of activities might require the acceptance of donations (such as building statues and monasteries), activities which Khunu Lama says specifically he does not do. These kinds of activities are widely considered extremely meritorious, and often constitute an important part of the

Ribush 2005:40.


legacies of prominent Tibetan Buddhist figures. (As such, these activities are often reported in rnam thar literature among the subject's accomplishments). Yet of course, such building projects inevitably involve the individual in fundraising, and potentially in managing large sums of money and the donors who provide it, overseeing employees or volunteer staff, and other similarly "business-like" activities, which may plunge a wouldbe renunciant into a sea of work, and potentially into problems of various kinds.

Notably, though, Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok, among other interviewees, reports about Khunu Lama not only that he described himself in public forums as someone who chose not to try to manage large projects, but that Khunu Lama also commented that his example should not encourage people to pass judgment on those who did pursue such projects. Ven Karma Gelek Yuthok reports: "Even at the teaching time, he was saying that...I have nobody, I am nobody, I want nothing — you know? So don't compare me with any other lama. Because all of the great lamas they're so... they have so many great qualities at the same time, or the great karma to be able to do many things... So he was saying that he was just one single individual Buddhist practitioner...he was saying that because of his way of doing, nobody should criticize other lamas, because they are able to do much more. Because when you are able to do much more, then for those things you need many more things. You know, you need assistants, you need secretaries, you need, you know, personal assistants, [laughs] and also some money and an office and a living place, and you know?"534

We see here again the tone of realism mingled with the tone of personal humility that is such a hallmark of Tibetan Buddhist autobiographical literature. In this aspect of his voluntary poverty, as well as in his ability to live on very little, we can see a strong

Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok interview 2005; interview conducted in English.


connection between Khunu Lama's practice of renunciation and his independence. By withdrawing from the kinds of activities that might have left him beholden to sponsors or simply very busy, Khunu Lama carved out a quite autonomous space for himself, as well as a large amount of 'free' time in which to pursue his own meditation practice (the cor

prominence of which in his daily activities is attested by numerous interviewees).


these ways, as well as by avoiding the fame that can also accompany major projects, he engineered his own independence and his own ability to make other unconventional choices unconstrained by pressure from interested donors.

In a parallel way, the choices Khunu Lama went on to make throughout his life after leaving home that so characterize him in the narratives about him, such as his disengagement from jobs and positions, his constant mobility and the fact that he never accepted a permanent institutional location, or a full-time, long-term position with a private patron (a common alternative for Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist practitioners not based in a monastic establishment) all served to keep him markedly independent. As we have seen, it is not that the wealthy and powerful did not on occasion court him, for they did. Moreover, Khunu Lama did in fact repeatedly teach prominent individuals and at prominent institutions, as well to obscure and rural people. He does not seem to have had an ideology that urged the rejection of powerful institutions and people per se, any more than the inverse (although we do have a handful of perhaps expectable oral

Sources who reported or commented on the large periods of time each day that Khunu Lama spent in meditation include Sem Tinley Ongmo, Tulku Pema Wangyal, Tenzin Choedak, Chris Fynn, Khenpo Sonam Topgyal, Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Delek, as well as the interviews collected by David Jackson for his forthcoming Chogye Trichen Rinpoche project.

284 recollections of his stated preference for the company of poor or ordinary people over his fancier patrons with their lavish homes.)536 Rather, as described in the previous chapter, Khunu Lama seems to have taught a wide spectrum of social types, and had affiliations with some of the most prominent (and obscure) institutions of his day, ranging from government-sponsored bastions of higher education in Tibet and India, to humble village groups of lay devotees or nuns in Kinnaur, Manali and Lahaul.

Yet, whether the people urging him to stay were his Kinnauri relatives and neighbors, the Queen Mother of Sikkim, Bakula Rinpoche, or the Lhasa Medical and Astronomical Institute, Khunu Lama seems always to have departed from such positions after a certain amount of time, and never to have embraced a single on-going institutional affiliation. Likewise, though he studied at many of the most famous monastic centers on the Tibetan Plateau, he never joined any monastery in a permanent way, nor was he ever, to use the English terminology, a "Drepung man" or a "Tashilhunpo man" or a "Dzokchen man," or the like, either as a matter of teaching or commentarial style, philosophical stance, or personal identity.

In this context, it is worth noting here that renunciation in general, (like the ideal type of the chatralwa already mentioned, to which we turn in a moment) is a separate issue from


As reported for instance by Ngawang Rabgyes interview 2004; Sem Trinley Ongmo interview 2004. These reported comments by Khunu Lama are predictable in that they fit with the rest of the renunciant and chatralwa persona that so defines his remembered identity. In fact, such comments and preferences are an important ingredient of such a persona, and are similar to the comments, preferences and activities described for other well-known chatralwa figures, such as Milarepa, or the more recent Dza Paltrul Rinpoche, Chatral Rinpoche Sangye Dorje, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and many others.

285 monastic ordination, although renunciation has often been confused with monastic ordination by commentators on Buddhism.537 Khunu Lama could have become a monk, and yet have embraced a kind of "career," whether of fame and advancement within the hierarchy of a particular monastery - advancement which could, in the pre-1959 Tibetan context, have brought considerable wealth and power—or within government service, or the household of a powerful family, or as a famous and popular religious teacher (the sort of person who might build statues and found monasteries). All of those options were ones he rejected, although the biographical record suggests they were all available to him. Ironically, although his ordination was not the "full" ordination of the bhiksu (Tib. dge slong), his renunciatory practice is remembered as having been such that even the kinds of careers open to monks did not compel him. This reported disinclination for a monastic career, like the wandering lifestyle that went hand in hand with his extra-institutional location, and which both enabled and was produced by his independence of institutions, is moreover a classic element of the persona of the chatralwa type of renunciant. It is to that persona and ideals closely related to it that we now turn.

"Just Like the Kadampa Masters of Old"

Khunu Lama's assimilation to a number of closely related ideal types of Buddhist virtuoso, and to specific valorized figures from the past who embody these ideals, such as


On this point see especially Clarke 2008; Schopen 1997 (among other works); as well as Gyatso 1998.

286 Milarepa and the Kadampa lamas, is the second important factor that seems to have allowed for, and indeed facilitated, his unconventionality, while allowing this unconventionality to be understood as deeply continuous with the tradition (and ultimately, memorialized as deeply beneficial). In particular, Khunu Lama's association with the ideal of the chatralwa-style renunciant, and beyond that, with the ideal of the bodhisattva which underlies it (and which naturaly shapes all the categories considered here to some extent) both seems to have conditioned many of his choices, and at the same time, to have offered a rubric through which people could respond to those choices as deeply positive.

In general, throughout the life stories by which Tibetan Buddhist figures are memorialized, individual behavior is routinely assimilated to important and culturally resonant role models of the past, as well as to ideal types of the Buddhist virtuoso.


process of assimilation may be accomplished by outright comparisons between a life story's subject and well-known figures from the tradition; by quotations from the sayings

Many life-story genres are widely distributed across Tibetan Buddhist societies - accounts of beloved saints of the past and of more recent individuals are a staple of oral culture throughout the Himalayan region - making these accounts of lives influential for perceptions of the possible scope of individual behavior across lay and ordained, literate and non-literate segments of communities. Nevertheless, there are also a number of life story genres which are or were intended to be for a restricted audience only, generally an audience of a specific teacher's or lineage's disciples. These may include 'secret' or 'inner' rnam thar, in which the accounts of a given teacher's life may differ from the 'outer' rnam thar. This does not alter the basic dimensions of the process of assimilation of unconventional individual behavior to role models of the past that I am describing, although it does strongly suggest that there are different levels of the process for different audiences (perhaps corresponding to longstanding and widespread Buddhist concerns that the behavior of religious specialists not prove confusing or disheartening for lay people).

287 or biographies of others; or by framing a subject's life narratively so that it parallels the life events of a previous saint or conforms to an ideal type. These patterns are all visible in oral and written accounts of Khunu Lama's life, as we have seen. The process of assimilating individual actions to those of role models from the past or to well-known categories of virtuoso serves as an important source of stability and continuity for the tradition, re-integrating otherwise challenging choices. Yet paradoxically, as I have described, even while these narrative conventions within Buddhist life stories make potentially baffling behavior intelligible, the life stories themselves arguably have the capacity to inspire new generations of individual renouncers - people like Khunu Lama into each making his or her own potentially unconventional and independent choices.

Khunu Lama's departure from home, and his subsequent lifestyle of material simplicity and continual travel clearly established him in the views of others as a certain type of renunciant practitioner, one who leaves home to become a wandering contemplative and itinerant teacher. His lack of fixed residence or permanent position in a social or religious institution or hierarchy, and the voluntarily-assumed outsider status that this conferred on him, places Khunu Lama firmly within a long tradition of wandering contemplative home-leavers such as Milarepa and the Kadampa lamas (and indeed, Shakyamuni Buddha himself).539 In particular, Khunu Lama was, as already mentioned, frequently

As I note, the question of what this renunciation looks like and how it has been imagined, in particular in terms of the loaded imagery of the Buddha himself, is a complex one. Like many of these figures (although by no means all) Khunu Lama was not ordained as a monk, although his single-minded focus on the religious life seems to have been so intense that many people I interviewed mistakenly assumed he had been fully ordained.


identified as a chatralwa. Indeed, the specific phrase "he was a real chatralwa" (bya 'bral ba dngos gnas red) often recurs in interviews.540

The influential twentieth century Nyingma master, the late Dudjom Rinpoche, offers a helpful description of the chatralwa ideal type. In language that strongly echoes the tone of the rnam thar passages we have just read, (as well as comments Angrup reports and attributes to Khunu Lama), and that also echoes the Kadampa Four Aims, Dudjom Rinpoche draws together a range of chatralwa themes, here summarizing many elements of the Tibetan Buddhist ideal of renunciation: "It is said 'By abandoning one's Fatherland half of the Dharma is accomplished.' So, leaving your Fatherland behind, wander through unknown countries. Parting from your friends and relatives in a pleasant way, ignore those who try to dissuade you from practicing the Dharma. Giving away your possessions, rely on whatever alms come your way...If- of possessions and so on - you don't know how to be content with just a little, once you've got one you'll want two and it won't be difficult for the deceiving demon of desirable objects to enter your life...Wear worn out clothes. Consider everyone - good, bad or neutral - above yourself. Live frugally and remain steadily in mountain hermitages. Fix your attention on the condition of a beggar..."541


Tulku Pema Wangyal, Madame Taklha, and Tulku Thondup for instance all used the English phrase; Khenpo Sonam Topgyal, Khenpo Palden Sherab, Khenpo Dechen Dorje, and Gyumed Khenpo Tuthpb, among others, used some variation of the Tibetan phrase. 541

Dudjom Rinpoche. 1976. Practice of the Mountain Retreat Expounded Simply and Directly in its Essential Nakedness; cited from Chatral Rinpoche's Compassionate Action, edited and introduced by Zach Larson. Chatral Rinpoche, in explanation of whose own chatralwa lifestyle Larson quotes this passage, was of course a friend and fellow-student of Khunu Lama's during the years in Kham, as already mentioned, which makes this quotation doubly appropriate here. (Chatral Rinpoche's name itself is in fact a nickname, referring to his renunciant yogic lifestyle.)


Khunu Lama is remembered as having acted very much as Dudjom Rinpoche describes, in his initial departure from home, in his voluntary poverty, in his wandering and often solitary lifestyle (though as we have seen, Khunu Lama inventively updated the ideal of the mountain hermitage somewhat, substituting the Hindu ashram of Tekra Math in Varanasi). One important touchstone is his constant mobility. This mobility is a hallmark of his remembered identity, and a central aspect of his independence, his individuality, and his chatralwa style of Buddhist practice.

Via the gloss provided by the oral and written sources, we can understand Khunu Lama's itinerant lifestyle as a major expression of his renunciation, in the context of which it seems to mark a kind of permanent literal and spiritual "homelessness." His mobility and literal and spiritual homelessness meant in practical terms that Khunu Lama was able to leave town at will; spend time with whomever he wished; study the full, often unconventional range of topics that interested him at a given time, from whatever perspective; teach whatever viewpoint seemed suitable for a given audience; accept whatever sorts of students he chose, including women, westerners, lay people or monastics, of any lineage background, etc., and in so doing make a range of unconventional or creative choices. These opportunities defined his practical importance as a teacher and scholar for Tibetan Buddhist intellectual life, especially after 1959. We can even glimpse a hint here that Khunu Lama's "homeless," chatralwa persona, and the personal and intellectual freedom which it seems to have enabled and to which it corresponds, may be significantly associated with his non-sectarian interests and approach. By literally and practically freeing Khunu Lama from institutional as well as


conceptual ties with one single Buddhist tradition or lineage, his "homelessness" and chatralwa lifestyle enhanced his ability to form connections with virtually all of them (and this, interestingly, is how his extra-sectarian location is often remembered).

In the forgoing context, while the term "homelessness," as I tease it out of Khunu Lama's lifestory, appears to resemble the category of psychic homelessness developed by Berger to describe individual responses to modernity, I would argue that they are not necessarily the same, at least to the extent that homelessness for Berger often has negative connotations. Berger's homelessness is an involuntary one, inflicted by the damage modernity does to the coherent and meaningful universe provided by religious tradition. For Berger, while this homelessness is associated with a certain realism, and often with an attractive degree of personal independence, it is nevertheless also closely associated with what other writers have termed "anomie," and what I have here called psychic ,.



By contrast, challenging as Khunu Lama's lifestyle of renunciation may sound (as the rnam thar descriptions of Khunu Lama's home-leaving for example make clear, homelessness did not come without sacrifices on Khunu Lama's part, such as the separation from his parents), Khunu Lama's homelessness nevertheless figures within his biography as a profound indicator of psychic health, specifically as a kind of ethical

The term appears prominently in Berger's early work, for instance Berger: 1973; more recently, Berger has revised his assumption that modern societies will necessarily tend toward secularism, although he still describes modernity as involving psychic changes that people find painful. See for instance Berger 2005, 2008, as well as remarks in The Economist, vol. 385, 2006.

291 health, and not as a species of anomie. Moreover, Khunu Lama's homelessness appears as an indicator of a spiritual, as well as social and intellectual, freedom.

Khunu Lama's homelessness may be mapped onto the Buddhist principle of "nonattachment," (Tib. 'dzin chags med pa or zhen chags spong ba), a central soteriological value within Buddhism, (and an aspect of Khunu Lama's remembered identity that particularly resonates with the ideas of Emmanuel Levinas, for whom a certain kind of anti-egocentric "homelessness" was the ultimate ethical stance for the individual who remained infinitely responsive to the needs of others.)543 Moreover, rather than being a byproduct of a wrenching dislocation from tradition, Khunu Lama's homelessness is deeply and inextricably a part of his "religious," or specifically Buddhist, world-view, and a part of the continuity and embeddedness that he seems to have experienced and perpetuated with Buddhist tradition. In these ways, Khunu Lama's homelessness appears as virtually the opposite, structurally speaking, of many aspects of Berger's theory.

Nevertheless, inasmuch as Berger's understanding of homelessness does involve an expanded potential for individual freedom - implicitly requiring each individual to meet For Levinas, the ethical homelessness of what he labeled the "Hebrew" was best represented by the homelessness of Moses, who hears and responds to God's ethical commands - or the Other's commands - but does not himself arrive at the "home" of the Promised Land. This ethical homelessness of infinite responsiveness to the Other, emptied in a radical way from the grasping at the self, served in Levinas' view as the corrective to the "Greek" of European philosophy, the necessary antidote to the unethical, "totalizing" or potentially devouring stance of the one who violently tries to make others and the world serve as "home." This stance Levinas mapped onto the narrative of Odysseus, the Greek hero who closes the circle of experience, eventually arriving back at the same (ultimately ego-centric) "home" which he left at the beginning; it can of course be read as Levinas' own critique of the dynamics within European philosophy which did not prevent thinkers such as Heidegger from embracing National Socialism. See Pitkin 2001, in which I treat some of these and related issues in more detail.


ethical and other challenges via their own resources, without recourse to the comfort of divine intervention of the Deus ex machina sort, and also revealing individuals as free from the dominant force of organized religion in their social and inner lives - we may find important resonances with the kind of homelessness attributed to Khunu Lama.54 Khunu Lama's homelessness is deeply linked with personal, practical and soteriological independence, even as it remains a thoroughly traditional ideal; Berger's concept is likewise linked to independence, even though it is attended by psychic costs that differ from the kinds of psychic benefits Khunu Lama is understood to have experienced. While Berger's notion in some ways does not fit as comfortably within a context of an ongoing continuity with tradition, it nevertheless may point to qualities of psychic freedom and personal responsibility that have significant resonances with Khunu Lama and with Buddhist ideas more generally.545

For the Tibetan Buddhist communities that remember Khunu Lama, probably the most significant aspect of his practice of what I have been calling homelessness is the way in which his homelessness is widely formulated in the sources in terms of his activity as a bodhisattva. Indeed, the ideal of the bodhisattva must be thought of as the main model or ideal type through which Khunu Lama's activities are framed and understood (an ideal


I thank Robert Thurman for encouraging me to think about this issue. See Thurman's own engagement with these and related ideas in Thurman 1999. 545

For a discussion of the differences and resonances between Berger's ideas and Buddhist dynamics and ideals, see for instance Thurman 1998. An provocative link here might be made to Benavides' discussion of the parallels between Buddhist social forms, such as the rationalization of monastic life and time, and themes important for western modernity; as Benavides notes, there are ways in which Buddhist social developments predate western ones, leading to interesting questions about why the forms of modernity developed in each context are so different. See Benavides 1998.

293 which of course informs the other, more specifically Tibetan, ideal types with which Khunu Lama was also associated). Khunu Lama is repeatedly described within the rnam thar explicitly as a bodhisattva-mahasattva (Tib. byang chub sems pa - sems pa chenpo). Perhaps somewhat more unusually, oral accounts, too, over and over take pains to emphasize that the word byang chub sems pa or bodhisattva "really" applies to Khunu Lama, in the sense that he actually embodied this ideal in real life, rare as this is understood to be.546

In light of his widely memorialized identity as a bodhisattva, homelessness as a dimension of Khunu Lama's renunciation is therefore presented by the oral and written sources as expressing his substitution of care for others in place of care for himself. It is also presented as something foundational to the path that produces Buddhist liberation. Such an identification is made at what Tibetan Buddhists label the "Path" level (Tib. lam) i.e, from the point of view of the individual's progress toward enlightenment, rather than its result. At the ultimate soteriological level of the "Result of the Path" (Tib. 'bras), the freedom both enabled and expressed by Khunu Lama's homelessness is understood as reflecting his ultimate freedom from samsara and its sufferings. This is the case inasmuch as the fully liberated Buddhist practitioner is described as completely free of the conceptual distinction between "home" and "not-home," so to speak, as well as of the preference for one over the other.

Examples are too numerous to cite in full, but particularly emphatic comments to this effect were made by the Dalai Lama, (interview 2005), Tulku Pema Wangyal (interview 2005), Tulku Thondup (interview 2006), Khyongla Rato Rinpoche (interview 2005), and Gyumed Khenpo Tuthob (interview 2005), among many others.


Of course, from the Tibetan Buddhist point of view, the fully liberated, truly "homeless" individual should be, by virtue of this very freedom and homelessness, infinitely available to others, in a perfection of the initial spirit of generosity that is understood to have first informed his or her practice of renunciation. I have suggested that there may at times have been a tension between this latter dimension of Khunu Lama's homelessness and bodhisattva identity (his availability to others) and the demands of his rigorously homeless practice itself, in the sense that he was constantly leaving town, despite the desire of his students for him to remain and be available to them. (A parallel tension, between the (temporary) solitary pursuit of perfection,547 and the infinitely relational expression of that perfection, may perhaps be echoed in the kinds of difficulties that surround the deaths of gurus, whose students of course wish them to remain available indefinitely.)

Interestingly, in terms of communal perception of him, Khunu Lama's style of acting upon his practice of renunciation seems to have been something of a two-edged sword. Although he is now, and became during his lifetime, widely admired for his thoroughgoing renunciation, poverty, and for the independence these facilitated, he was also at points in his life criticized or disregarded because he appeared poor, odd, disreputable or

Solitary in the sense of individual meditation practice, according to the conducive circumstances of an undistracting environment as recommended in the Lam Rim literature for instance. Of course, as commentators on Christianity as well as Buddhism have noted, solitary hermit meditators nevertheless inextricably remain a part of their religious communities, via their embeddedness in theology, ritual, liturgy and other communally derived practices, and via the relationships of discipleship in which they participate.

295 alien, rather than famous, impressive or important. When, for example, the young Dezhung Rinpoche's teacher was discouraged from choosing Khunu Lama as a Sanskrit tutor for his charge, because Khunu Lama was "nothing but an Indian beggar (atsara)"54* or when the abbots, geshes, and other Tibetan Buddhist luminaries assembled in Mussourie in 1965 were put off by Khunu Lama's odd, ragged clothing, and were therefore initially dismissive of him at the "Lama School," one catches a glimpse of the kind of price Khunu Lama may have had to pay for his unconventional and independent renunciatory style.

We can in fact see in the category of atsara in particular a kind of negative twin of the chatralwa figure, the beggar who is a figure of disrepute or of ridicule rather than embodying precious bodhisattvic renunciation and generosity. Atsara is a Tibetan term deriving from the Sanskrit term acarya (teacher); while the Sanskrit is a perfectly respectful and respectable word that is in fact the title of an advanced educational degree, not only in the Brahmanical past but also in the present-day Indian university system, the Tibetan category of atsara is more ambiguous. As noted in the previous chapter, the atsara is a stock figure both in Cham ritual performance, and in the Ache Lhamo Tibetan opera tradition. In these contexts, the atsara figure sometimes represents the Indian translators so instrumental in diffusing Buddhism to Tibet. However, the word atsara can also mean sadhu more generally, without any particularly respectful connotations, and is very often a figure of grotesquerie and mockery, although even when a jester-like figure, it remains one of auspiciousness. In present-day usage, as can be seen in Khunu Lama's

See Jackson 2003.


case, it often has very mixed connotations, often implying that the person in question is just an ordinary wanderer looking for a handout.549

Nevertheless, the kind of disregard that Khunu Lama sometimes experienced, for an unknown and beggar-like master who is later (or by those who really understand) revealed to be a superlative practitioner, is itself a hallmark of stories about the chatralwa ideal of the renunciant yogin. Indeed, even the life story of the Indian master Santideva, whom perhaps we could call Khunu Lama's ultimate bodhisattva role model, fits into this pattern. The categories of chatralwa, of renunciant homeless bodhisattvic wanderer, and related ideals are extremely flexible, and this is what makes them so effective as rhetorical tools for assimilating challenging or unconventional choices and behavior.

In this context, we must consider one additional ideal type of Buddhist virtuoso, one with which Khunu Lama was not often directly associated, but which nevertheless has a powerfully expansive effect on the range of behavioral and interpretive possibilities available the Tibetan Buddhist context, and which demonstrates the enormous potential flexibility of the tradition in incorporating potentially "outsider" figures. Of all the individual honored role models and ideal types found within the Tibetan context,

The Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dictionary, for instance, gives "1) student; 2) mantra yogin; 3) instructor," and "Indian wandering mendicant," but also notes "grotesque monk, jesters of great Indian philosophers, corruption of acharya, species of hobgoblin or specter, clowns in Tibetan religious dance." Matthew Kapstein has hypothesized that the mocking connotations suggest Tibetan anxieties about Indian otherness, and about Indian influence in Tibetan culture. (Kapstein, oral communication.)

297 probably the most inclusive, behavior-wise (and certainly the most fascinating to nonTibetan writers) has been the figure of the "crazy lama" (Tib. bla ma smyonpd) - the extra-conventional tannic yogi who violates established religious and social norms by activities such as having sex (often with inappropriate partners), using intoxicants, wearing strange clothes or wandering naked, and in some contexts behaving, or appearing to behave, violently, or like a person with a mental illness. The general category of such yogis, and specific examples of people who are said to have behaved this way, may paradoxically serve to domesticate particularly unusual or conceptually disruptive behavior on the part of an individual, by offering a category into which his or her activities may be said to fit. This is often accomplished by evoking various figures of this type who have gone before. For the unconventional yogis of the past, whatever their ability to shock while alive, are now firmly incorporated within the tradition.

The Tibetan bla ma smyon pa is a type of siddha, along an inherited, Indie model of virtuoso yogic behavior. While there is not space here to treat the topic of siddha literature in detail, we can note briefly that figures from among the so-called "Eighty Four Mahasiddhas" for instance, such as Naropa or Tilopa, are prominent lineage ancestors for all three of the main "New Translation" (Tib. gSar ma) schools (the Sakya, Kagyu and Geluk), and for meditative practices that are widely disseminated through out the Tibetan Buddhist world. As has been extensively described elsewhere, Naropa and Tilopa, like their fellow mahasiddhas, engage in a wide variety of astonishing, scandalous, or antinomian behavior; they carry renunciation of personal prestige, comfort, and ordinary relationships to remarkable lengths; they transgress major social

298 and institutional boundaries, including Buddhist ones, for example killing animals, violating caste prohibitions and the like; and they employ unusual and radical methods of communicating revelatory Buddhist insight.550 As lineage ancestors, these figures serve to incorporate into the canon (or more literally here, into the lineage tree or "field of assembly," Tib. tshogs zhing) the unconventional styles and associations for which they are










unconventionality, such as the equally rich tradition of antinomian stories of Ch'an/Zen masters, which offer a fruitful area for further study.)

Of course, the Tibetan tradition has mechanisms for cordoning off such unusual behavior from the norms available to most practitioners, so that the example of these lineage ancestors does not itself create disruption by inspiring large numbers of people to abandon their monasteries, eat live frogs, transgress communal sexual mores, widely display their yogic superpowers, and the like. Most salient as a limiting factor for new transgressive behavior is the idea that these earlier masters were expressing their Buddhist insight into the emptiness of phenomena in their behavior, representing a culmination of the bodhisattva ideal. Such insight explains the mahasiddhas' transcendence of ordinary categories of acceptability, and insures, according to the narratives, that their shocking acts were all entirely liberating and liberated, pure expressions of their own freedom skillfully designed to awaken the disciples who saw

On the Eighty Four Mahasiddhas, see among other sources Dowman 1985, Mullin 1996; on the siddha tradition more generally see also Davidson 2002 as well as Davidson 2005; R. Jackson 2004, White 1998, 2003. On artistic and meditative traditions associated with the siddhas, see too Rhie and Thurman 1999, Linrothe 2006.


them.551 As a result, so the argument goes, ordinary people who lack both the insight into emptiness, and the compassionate motivation of these gurus, should not attempt such dangerous behavior themselves, since done wrongly, one will simply damage oneself and others. Monastic renewal movements, the Lam Rim and related genres of literature, and other similar mechanisms all served as attempts to ground and integrate the disruptive potential of the siddha inheritance in Tibet.

Nevertheless, such sobering rhetoric not withstanding, the Tibetan tradition itself also contains a rich variety of homegrown role models who partake in the siddha inheritance, while also demonstrating a particularly Tibetan delight in tweaking powerful people, displaying an earthy humor and sexuality, including teasing monks and nuns, and teaching and responding to people who might otherwise be forgotten or neglected.552 The Tibetan crazy lama tradition is exemplified for instance by the Kagyu master and folk hero Drugpa Kunlek ('Brug pa Kun legs, 1455-1529),553 whose activities sometimes go so far as to approximate those of the ubiquitous Tibetan trickster figure Aku Donba (A khu Don pa). Drukpa Kunlek cheats the rich, helps the poor, seduces (and of course enlightens) virtually every woman he meets, and composes poems and songs expressing his enlightened understanding and/or mocking the powerful, some of which remain well-


Although for less positive perspectives on siddha behavior and motivation, see Davidson 2002 and White 1998. 552

On the bla ma smyonpa ideal, see Ardussi and Epstein 1978; Davidson 2005:30ff; Quintman forthcoming; Mullin 2001; see also Thondup 2002, Gyatso 1998, Smith 2001. 553

On Drukpa Kunlek see for instance Dowman 1982, as well as in Tibetan, Drukpa Kunlek's autobiographical 'Brug pa kun legs kyi rnam thar.


known today. Likewise, Milarepa is also in some instances presented in rnam thar literature and oral tradition as a part of this crazy lama tradition, as is his best-known biographer, Tsangnyon Heruka ("The Blood-drinking madman of Tsang," gTsang sMyon Heruka, 1452-1507), and there are numerous other examples.554

The crazy lama style is closely associated with the chatralwa ideal of renunciation, as the example of Milarepa suggests, although the two are not identical. The chatralwa is not necessarily a flamboyant character, indeed, often quite the reverse, as the chatralwa style is associated with personal simplicity and often with solitude; moreover, the chatralwa is not necessarily a figure who teaches specifically through shocking or scandalous behavior, or by using the humor of practical jokes and satire (although humorous expressions of criticism may be a component of a chatralwa style of self-presentation, as in the case of Paltrul Rinpoche.) Still, as for instance we see in the range of independent and unconventional styles of persona found in the life-narratives of the Longchen Nyingtik lineage holders, there is a considerable resonance and overlap between the two styles, and a number of individuals refer to themselves using both terms.555 The abandonment of attachments that the chatralwa ideal is intended to embody may in some cases find its fullest embodiment and most striking expression in a crazy lama style of behavior. Even the Four Aims of the Kadampas (not ordinarily associated with the antinomian dimensions of the crazy lama ideal at all), inasmuch as they suggest, as part

For a sense of the widespread dissemination of these models, see for instance Kohn 2006, on the life of the Mongolian mystic Danzan Rabjaa. 555

Thondup 1996, Nyoshul 2005, Lung rtogs bsTan pa'i Nyima 2004 all provide examples. Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje (1800-1866) offers a particularly forceful combination of the two styles.

301 of the radical chatralwa lifestyle they recommend, that one "leave one's death to a cave" encourage behavior that can prove deeply scandalizing to bystanders.556

Most relevant for our interests here and for the case of Khunu Lama's life, the existence of the crazy lama ideal and the broader siddha genre of which it is a part expands the possibility of unconventional behavior throughout Tibetan Buddhist culture. The existence of the crazy lama ideal as a Buddhist ideal, like the existence of the chatralwa and other models, provides a rubric for understanding, accepting and assimilating disruptive behavior back into the tradition. An example of this latter process may be found in the case of Gendun Chophel, as it happens, whose extra-monastic sexual activities are often explained by contemporary Tibetan Buddhists, both intellectuals and not, as being a part of his crazy lama-style Buddhist identity, and within that framework, specifically as being a part of his tantric practice.557 As such, Gendun Chophel's transgressive activities do not place him beyond the pale of the tradition, but rather partake in a comprehensible, if still sometimes surprising, aspect of that tradition.

Khunu Lama's own qualities of disregarding convention, his distance from and apparent disinterest in social niceties, such as suitably polite conversation, dress, and certain ritual protocols, such as elaborate offerings and altar arrangements, all are meticulously attested


See Thondup 1996 for a fascinating account of a Longchen Nyingtik lineage holder who attempted to die in this way and was stopped by a colleague, because it was unseemly. 557

For example Tenzin Norbu oral communication; see also Lopez 2006 who discusses relevant issues.


by oral accounts, and clearly form an important part of his remembered identity. His unconventionality is also manifest in such activities as his extensive teaching to women, his relationships with Hindu religious practitioners, and the degree of non-sectarianism in his approach to Buddhism and explanations of texts. Yet these unconventional choices are not recalled as reasons to doubt his status as a bodhisattva or valued teacher, but rather serve as an affirmation of it, despite they ways in which his actions departed from many accepted norms.

We may note however, in this context, that the rnam thar notes or alludes to a number of these unconventional activities, but often without emphasizing their shock value or unconventionality in the same way that the oral accounts do. One may indeed say provisionally that the rnam thar is very interested in highlighting Khunu Lama's 'specialness' — his exceptionally good qualities in particular — but holds back from making him appear shocking, peculiar, scandalous, or unusual to a degree that might provoke such epithets. The oral recollections of those who knew him, on the other hand, are less restrained, and though these oral accounts share a strong interest in communicating Khunu Lama's special qualities and exceptional goodness, these special qualities seem to include more unconventional behavior, with the attendant surprise and amusement that stories about this behavior evoke, in the oral renditions than the written rnam thar seems able to support.

Speaking generally, we can summarize and say that the process of associating individuals with valorized role models and established categories of virtuoso behavior is a central

element of Tibetan Buddhist negotiation with, and re-appropriation of, innovative, independent, or transgressive behavior and identities. This process is also an important dimension of Tibetan re-appropriation of the past, as well. The example of the past is continually refreshed in the present through the association of lineage ancestors with new generations of life story subjects, the example of the past often being linked to what might otherwise be thought of as novelty or innovation. This process of comparison or assimilation to role models of the past helps to explain the perceived contradiction between the creativity found within the Tibetan tradition, and the tradition's own avowed interest in continuity. The pattern described here also illuminates the apparently paradoxical fact that certain qualities we associate with modernity, such as individual independence or innovation, seem to have existed at many periods in the Tibetan world, while so-called 'traditional' ideas, and the continuity of tradition, have conversely remained important values even in the twenty-first century.

The Death of the Guru

The third factor that can create opportunities for creativity or independence is the occurrence of separations between students and teachers, something present in virtually every teacher-student pairing. Such separations may include episodes of teacher-student conflict and misunderstanding, as well as other kinds of breaks between gurus and disciples, including physical separation (which both the traditionally far-flung nature of Tibetan travel for religious education, and the new circumstances of exile can produce). Most radical of all, of course, is the separation imposed by death. These often-painful

304 episodes of separation may cause significant problems for individuals, needless to say, and indeed, the distress of such disruptions is often a notable element of Tibetan auto/biographies, where early experiences of separation or conflict vis a vis an important guru often are recalled in excruciating detail.558 Such episodes of separation may also be seen to create more general problems for the narration of lineage relationships and histories by the communit(ies) that memorialize them, inasmuch as episodes of separation or disharmony to some extent can trouble the ideal of a perfectly continuous mind-tomind transmission between teacher and student. Yet at the same time, these disruptions also potentially create space in which individual independence, autonomy and change can occur.

While instances of conflict between the guru and the student, moments where the student fails the guru in some way or believes that they have done so, and geographic separation of student and guru all can be very painful, the most distressing disruption of all is certainly the guru's death. Indeed, this last situation is in many ways the paradigmatic one, the separation that symbolizes Separation, and that forces the Tibetan Buddhist narrative tradition to work out strategies for managing its implications. Death of a teacher may often be a particularly sad form of loss and separation (although in the context of this tradition, not necessarily). Moreover, the death of the teacher, as we shall see, can


Among the many examples, one may include the autobiography of Geshe Rabten, who was sent away by his teacher to study elsewhere, much to his own distress (and who unsuccessfully ran away to return to his teacher); episodes in the life story of Dezhung Rinpoche (Jackson 2003); a number of episodes in Thondup 2002; the narrative of the Buddha Shakyamuni's relationship with his cousin and attendant Ananda, which is marked in several ways by misunderstanding and error on Ananda's part, and ultimately by the separation imposed by the Buddha's Parinirvana, which Ananda notably fails to delay, and there are many more instances.

305 introduce a period of instability and uncertainty into the community of disciples, in which the continuity of the lineage may appear in doubt, and in which there may be conflicts and competition over the guru's material and spiritual legacy. Yet the guru's death is an experience with which students quite frequently have to contend, since in the most common course of events, teachers tend to be older than their students, meaning that there is often a generational element built into the relationship559 (as indeed the religiouskinship terms of "father-lama" and "heart-son" would suggest).560 As a result, students may commonly expect to outlive their teachers. Thus, built in to the temporal sequence of the lineage from teacher to student is likely to be a profound experience of loss on the part of the student, a "gap," where a moment of separation necessarily occurs. Narratives of the deaths of teachers address this often deeply painful experience and its effects in a variety of ways. I argue that these narrative strategies themselves serve to acknowledge the challenge that the guru's death potentially poses for the tradition and for the student, as well as potentially (although not always) functioning to offset this challenge, or to limit its disruptive effects.


Of course this is not always the case, as the examples of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgon Kongtrul's relationship of mutual teacher/discipleship and similar cases demonstrate. 560

The Tibetan language, like many languages, contains many standard usages of kinship terms for non-related people to express degrees of status, seniority and connection. In particular one may note the widespread pattern for referring to respected, non-related people the same age or older than oneself by the most chronologically suitable kinship term. For example, a person may call respected older men "father," and respected older women "mother." These dynamics of seniority, respect and relatedness are emphasized in the context of relationships with religious figures.

The narrative challenge of these disruptions m the memoriahzation of teacher-student transmission relationships appears in some of the earliest Buddhist stories about teachers and students, beginning of course with the paradigmatic accounts of the death and Parinirvana of the Buddha Shakyamuni. In that sense, these instances of separation are not a new phenomenon, and are not the direct result of any specific pressures from social change, technological innovation or other elements of modernization during any one historical period, or in any unique cultural location. Seen from this perspective, these narrative and structural challenges are not a modern phenomenon; furthermore, they are not themselves either uniquely indicative of, or productive of, modernity.

Nevertheless, these in-built disruptions to the smooth continuity and intimacy of the chain of transmission lineage relationships, by creating gaps between teacher and student, appear to facilitate a space for individual differentiation, creativity and change. In this way, such moments seem to reinforce the aspects of Buddhist transmission lineages most potentially hospitable to innovation, and in fact, to a number of the dynamics of modernity. In the course of developing a more nuanced understanding of the interplay between modern and traditional in the Tibetan Buddhist context, this potential openness to modernity that stems from the guru's death and other disruptions forms a crucial dimension that has not been attended to. The effects of such disruptions are visible at a number of important points in the life story of Khunu Lama, particularly in the constellation of narratives surrounding his death.

307 The disruptions at issue, and the potentially modern dynamics they can foster, operate at two levels, both of which are relevant here. On one level, within the lived experience of particular disciples and their gurus, instances of separation from the guru, and above all the guru's death, serve to enable processes of individuation on the part of the disciples, in the most basic sense often forcing the disciple to define an identity separate from that of the guru. At the secondary level, the memorialization of the guru's life, death and activities - that is to say, the narratives and communal memories of the guru's identity, as well as his or her place in the lineage, and legacy, influence and related associations — also are affected by the potential disruption produced by the rupture of the guru's death. This second level at which disruption and separation affect the lineage may be even more thorough-going than the first, to the extent that in addition to the direct disciples of the guru, this second-order disruption affects the communal memory and thus self-identity of the lineage community as a whole.

In the Tibetan Buddhist context, the death of the guru is generally a time of deep personal loss and sadness for the disciples, as attested in literary sources and oral accounts, despite the existence of Buddhist rhetoric exhorting other responses to death, such as equanimity. Narratives of the deaths of spiritual teachers usually work- we might say, are supposed to work — to assuage the sadness of disciples by reconfirming their guru's spiritual attainments or by making the guru more widely known. Such narratives often implicitly or explicitly offer the promise of future connection with the guru, either encouraging devotion to the guru as a realized being who can respond to the needs of devotees, and/or


by affirming disciples' own spiritual practice based on the guru's teachings. The latter in particular promises that disciples can actualize the guru's realization for themselves, and in this ultimate sense remain un-separated from the guru. Both kinds of promises of future connection derive their main force from a communal image or memory of the guru as an enlightened being. That is to say, narratives of the guru's death are supposed to reconfirm disciple's faith in their guru by demonstrating the level of the guru's spiritual realization. Through such demonstrations, disciples are assured both that their teacher was truly a Buddha (and therefore one with whom connection is always possible), and also that the Buddhist practice the guru pursued really worked, which in turn supports the disciples' confidence in performing those practices themselves (and their confidence that through these practices they will come to experience the guru's enlightenment in their own right).

As this forgoing would suggest, miraculous demonstrations of spiritual accomplishment - of extraordinary events surrounding a teacher's death and funeral, and the consequent inspiration of disciples — turn out to be central parts of virtually every narrative of a teacher's death that I have been able to locate. I suggest that miraculous events are important for disciples and for the larger community because such events may be understood to reveal both the ongoing presence of some aspect of the teacher in the world, and the extent of his or her realization. Thus if the death of a guru is a moment of disruption for the tradition, accounts of miraculous events surrounding the death and funeral can function to offset that disruption.

The death sequences and post-death events in the biographies of such well-known Tibetan Buddhist figures as Milarepa may be taken as archetypical. Such extraordinary events surrounding a teacher's death most commonly include accounts of lengthy postdeath thukdam {thugs dam) meditation by the guru, with the corpse remaining in meditation posture for many days without decay; and displays of accomplishment at the end of the thukdam period, such as diminution of the size and weight of the corpse; and of course, the famous dissolution of the corpse into a rainbow body. Remarkable weather can also be a feature, and so can the production of relics during cremation, or the failure of certain body parts to burn.561 Khunu Lama himself is interestingly credited as the source of a relatively recent account of the rainbow body being accomplished by a westerner, as per the recollection of Wangdor Rinpoche and the late Bokar Rinpoche.562 Naturally, the story of the Buddha Shak-yamum's parinirvana, as it appears in various forms in surra and other literature, is some ways the paradigm for all such narratives, as it is also the paradigm for the crisis caused by the guru's death itself, although there are a number of what appear to be Tibetan variations.563 Such miraculous narratives of the guru's death generally seem to function not only to inspire the disciples, but also to reassure disciples and the broader community of the strength and continuity of the lineage, at a time of vulnerability and disruption.

Some accessible examples include Willis 1995, Thondup 1996, bsTan 'dzin lung rtogs bstan pa'i nyi ma, 2004, Nyoshul Khenpo 2005. For a general treatment of the important theme of relics, see Germano and Trainor 2004. 562 563

Wangdor Rinpoche personal communication; Bokar Rinpoche 1999.

See for example, LaMacchia 2005, as well as Collins 1998.1 will mention LaMacchia's important 2005 paper again below, as it treats the same events I discuss here, but drawing on different oral sources and addressing somewhat different issues from a different perspective.

The time of the guru's death is a time of vulnerability for both the reincarnation and transmission lineages. At the level of reincarnation lineages, for any sequence ofsprul sku, a vulnerability exists inasmuch as each time the guru departs, the disciples must wait for him or her to return, and then locate the rebirth. The many heartfelt prayers and supplications for the quick return of gurus in precisely this situation testify to the concern this provokes. Even after a reincarnation is identified, the community must wait for the new incarnation to be trained and to reach maturity before the new individual can truly begin to take over the previous teacher's activities. (An important subset of this problem arises in the case of major figures who have traditionally played powerful political and social roles in the Tibetan world, such as the Dalai and Panchen Lamas, and the Karmapas. In these cases, the issue of transition to their reincarnations has in the present day taken on enormous political weight, as for example the PRC government has disputed the candidate chosen as Eleventh Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama.) However, perhaps even more important for the issues I am considering here is the nature of the problem posed by the guru's death for the transmission lineage. For the transmission lineage, at stake when the guru dies is the continuity of the "authentic" transmission of the lama's teachings, following the paradigm of the problem posed by the Buddha's parinirvana. At this level, the question is whether the lineage of teachings held by the lama who has died has been successfully passed along to the disciples who remain, since they will themselves become (or at least some of them will become) the lineage holders and transmitters in their turn (an additional factor that emphasizes the need to demonstrate the efficacy of the guru's teaching). In relatively rare (and from the tradition's point of view, tragic) cases, it is possible for the last holder of a given

transmission lineage to die without having passed the lineage on, and in that case, it is extremely difficult (and by some interpretations, impossible) to revive the transmission.

One can see these concerns partly as being about rights and title to the guru's legacy, to whatever charisma or cachet of spiritual attainment had been associated with the guru. One can also understand these concerns as being about the future of the community of disciples, in particular the continuity of this community through time, this in particular hearkening back to the primal problem of the death of Shakyamuni Buddha. Other important issues bearing on community continuance for both transmission and incarnation lineages include the question of succession and the inheritance of property and status belonging to the guru.

But it is the ultimate soteriological level with which the tradition itself claims to be most concerned. At this level, what concerns disciples is not only whether the lineage will continue in its outward forms. Rather, as I have already intimated, disciples are urgently interested in the degree of the guru's own realization, the communication of that realization to others (i.e. the disciples), and the ability of others to successfully realize that enlightenment for themselves. Indications of the guru's attainment at death can be a clear proof to disciples that what they have already received in transmission from their teacher is the real thing, so to speak. Narratives of a teacher's death therefore can offer reassurance, and assuage grief, dependant in large measure upon the affirmation they

312 offer that the guru is an authentically realized guru, that the lineage is a valid lineage, and that the students may be able to attain what their teacher attained.564

With all of this in mind, let us turn now to the narrative of the death of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen and consider some odd aspects of the story as it appears in the main rnam thar presentation. Curiously, Khunu Lama's rnam thar in several important ways appears to depart from the pattern outlined here.565 The narrative of his death that is presented in the rnam thar is not entirely reassuring, and in fact records a rather distressing and unfortunate series of events, although these are partially made up for by some of the other things that happen. I suggest that this unusual narrative presentation in fact itself both represents an instance of innovation, perhaps even a modern development, made possible by the guru's death (in this case, the death of Khunu Lama), and yet at the

The crucial role of an unbroken transmission lineage in establishing the authenticity of texts and practices claimed as Buddhadharma is worth remembering here as well, since it helps explain some of the urgency around these issues of continuous and authentic transmission. 565

In the following discussion, I consider solely the rnam thar account. This is in part because of the importance of the rnam thar for the memorialization of Khunu Lama, and in part because of the necessarily limited scope of the present work. There are in fact a number of other extremely important sources for the events of Khunu Lamas death, and sevearl of them give a somewhat different sense of what happened, and what it meant. I treat these differences in detail in a forthcoming essay. In particular, the perspectives of His Holiness Dalai Lama, and of the Kinnauri nuns who were present, as recorded in interviews by me and by Linda LaMacchia, present a range of different understandings of how the conflict that occurred over Khunu Lama's remains and funeral did or did not affect the soteriological dimension of his passing away. In a related vein, Linda LaMacchia has generously shared with me a pamphlet describing relics formed from the cremation of Khunu Lama's remains. These relics further nuance our sense of how the community remembers Khunu Lama's death, — i.e., he was the kind of realized being who produces relics ~ and the relics' description in the pamphlet differs from the way the overall tenor of events are presented in the rnam thar. Because of the richness and complexity of the various ways the funeral events are presented, and the differing ways in which their meanings are understood, I have chosen here to consider a single strand of narrative from among the multiple voices, saving consideration of the full material for elsewhere.

same time, this odd story is in many ways a continuation of the unusual and independent choices made by Khunu Lama during his lifetime.

As discussed in Chapter One, the main written source for Khunu Lama's lifestory is the prose mam thar written by K. Angrup (in particular the updated second edition). Yet as I have described, this account has complex textual aspirations, toward both history, in the western biographical tradition, and toward inspiration, in the Tibetan rnam thar style. These complex and dual aspirations are perhaps nowhere more evident than in the chapters surrounding Khunu Lama's death. This duality of aspiration may be in part a result of the fact that Angrup, the author, was himself a longtime literature student of Khunu Lama, and is moreover himself a Buddhist lama from the Himalayan region (specifically a Drukpa Kagyu from the region of Lahaul), as well as having been a college professor in Shimla for twenty six years. Moreover, Angrup was himself present when Khunu Lama died, and in fact, Khunu Lama's death occurred in Angrup's home village of Keylong, at the monastery where Angrup now lives (at the time of this writing) in retirement.

We can glimpse some of Angrup's historical aspirations for his text in the existence of multiple versions of the text itself: the reason there are two editions is that Angrup revised a number of chronological points and added new information in his second version, on the basis of a brief biographical essay by the Nyingma scholar Khetsun Sangpo Rinpoche. Angrup was concerned, as he expressed to me during interviews in

314 2004, to present the best and most accurate historical and biographical information he could, and so when a new source became available to him, he revised.

I have chosen to use the rnam thar edition version of Khunu Lama's life and death here as my focus partly because it remains the definitive written Tibetan presentation of his life. As such, it functions as a uniquely authoritative source for the communal memory of Khunu Lama, notwithstanding the fact that oral accounts of the events differ in places from the rnam thar's presentation. In part because of its perceived authority, the rnam thar offers the opportunity to see in detail, via the narrative choices made in the text, moments at which the story of a lama's death poses potential challenges for the tradition that memorializes him or her, and to see a twentieth century author's response to those challenges.

The rnam thar initially portrays Khunu Lama's death in the midst of a teaching session at a monastery above the village of Keylang in the Himalayan valley of Garzha in Lahaul in a fairly conventional style. It emphasizes Khunu Lama's good qualities, in particular his compassion, and suggests an intentional quality to his passing, as would be suitable and expected for a great Buddhist figure: "On the twentieth day of the second western month, just as usual during the session after noon, he [Khunu Lama] was giving an excellent teaching in a very joyful manner, on Chapter 17, the Perfection of Wisdom Chapter of the Jewel Ornament, the heart essence of Dakpo Lhaje [Gampopa]. He had reached the age of 83 years old.. .The overflow of his great deeds like a summer lake was at that time brought to a halt; very suddenly his body took on slight signs of illness, in a flash. He vomited a little bit of blood. Immediately afterwards, he displayed the dissolution of his mind into the sphere of ultimate reality."


The notion of intentionality at the moment of death is a crucial one within the context of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. A great practitioner should have transcended birth and death. Thus a part of the reassurance that death narratives ordinarily offer disciples about the realization of their guru involves presenting the death in the language of intentionality, so that the death itself can be seen as a part of the compassionately motivated inspirational and pedagogic display put on by the guru (Skt. upaya; Tib. thabs).566

To that end, and still quite conventionally, the rnam thar continues: "As for that, it says in the Gyu Lama [rGyud bla ma]: 'The Noble one completely gives up the suffering of sickness, old age and death.' Just as the quotation says, great holy beings who are holders of the teachings achieve independent control over birth and death. They act only for the benefit of those who are to be taught; their intention is nothing other than that, of this there is no doubt. Having remained in one life for a long time, they transform themselves for the benefit of others. From the blessings of their physical body it is possible for them to remain for many hundreds of years. Nevertheless, they intend that lesser beings who are bound by the tight chains of believing in permanence should arouse the mental state of really wanting to be liberated from cyclic existence..." and thus, we are to understand Khunu Lama's death likewise.

This language of display and intentionality around death is a longstanding Buddhist rhetorical trope, one that serves to reconcile the deaths of teachers with the tradition's understanding of realized individuals as transcending birth and death. It also serves to make clear, more specifically, that the particular teacher being discussed was a remarkable individual, an accomplished practitioner who had achieved control over the

This rhetorical move seems to be associated with Mahayana materials in particular. The Parinirvana of the Buddha Shakyamuni is also presented as a display, a form of upaya, perhaps most famously in the Lotus Sutra, where this is explained and the attendant questions addressed in considerable detail.

circumstances of death not normally available. We can this see that so far, some of the anticipated narrative work of gurus' death stories is already being done here.

Nevertheless, despite this rhetorically traditional beginning, a quite unusual note of disruption then creeps into the story, immediately after Khunu Lama has died:

"To all the disciples from that lifetime that Lama Rinpoche — a real incarnate bodhisattva in person, who was also an heir of the Buddhas — spent in this region; to monasteries of the upper, lower and central regions of the country in general, and to religious benefactors, especially Kinnauri officials in Shimla, the capital of Himachal state, and to family members of Khunu Lama, the message — which was like thorns in their ears — [giving] the wretched news that, the merit of his disciples and patrons being used up, [Khunu Lama] had passed away for the benefit of others, was sent as a wireless radio transmission from the post office in Keylang. [Keylang is the administrative seat of the Lahaul area, as well as being the place where Khunu Lama died.] Subsequently, [we, the people in Keylang] received a clear answer concerning what the Kinnauri officials who were living there [i.e., in Shimla and Kinnaur], together with the close relatives of Lama Rinpoche planned to do: 'We are definitely coming tomorrow with a helicopter [to take] the precious remains. Therefore, until then, do not cremate the body, etc., or do any harm to it whatsoever — this is vitally important,' they wrote. Since the great Protector (Khunu Lama) himself was a Khunu person, and since Khunu was his birthplace, they had arrogated both the religious and political authority to themselves. So the Garzha people had no power to make a reply [regarding] the casket of the honored remains and the daily utensils and implements that remained - [or even about] his life force which [practiced] the yoga of abiding in the conduct of unelaborated renunciation. The very next day, led by incense-bearers, etc., together with all the honors, we had to carry [him] in stages from the monastery of Tashi Shukling down to a middle point where an aircraft could land [i.e., at a lower place on the mountain]. Unmoved, the holy Lord Lama remained in the natural state of deep samadhi, yet immediately [as soon as he was moved] his thugs dam [post-death meditation] was destroyed. Because of this, this plan [to move him to the helicopter] was no good, yet there was no way out of it, so what was the use?"

But the story does not end here. The text continues:

317 "In order to prevent the transport of the precious body to Khunu on the helicopter, it would require rain clouds [to appear] in the expanse of the sky .... But how could this difficult thing happen thus in accordance with the wishes and hopes of the people of Garzha? However, while powerless, we could make the most powerful prayers, and did so Some faithful disciples who were enthusiastic-minded were [praying to] the Three Jewels from the very beginning, needless to say. The properly ranked gods and nagas received worship offerings of incense smoke and libations. Likewise, finally we entrusted our hopes to the yidam deities and powerful oath-bound Dharma protectors. All of a sudden, from the surface of the sky in the western direction, an assembled rosary of young rain clouds gathered, new, like petals of white wool. Having expanded in parallel twos and threes like woolen rope, banks of clouds piled up darkness throughout the entire realm of the sky. Because of this happening thus, perfectly just so, the people exhaled tears involuntarily, from joy, sadness and faith. In that situation, since [they] had no good alternative to going into that agitated net [of bad weather], terrifying to the mind, we therefore quickly got the message from Shimla, the state capital, saying "The aircraft can't come because of the extremely bad weather conditions." We brought the honored remains once again back to the monastery."

Let us consider this dramatic narrative. Perhaps surprisingly, I suggest that the main points of interest here are not the technologically modern components of the wireless radio, post office and helicopter, superficially striking though those are. Nor do I want to emphasize the miraculous dimension of the storm. Rather, what I find striking here is the degree to which expectable miraculous developments are absent.

Certainly, the story of the helicopter being turned back by the prayed-for storm is remarkable, and it is also a consistent feature of the oral narratives, suggesting that it is important to the community of disciples. It is also very much in keeping with the tradition of miraculous events accompanying the death of a guru who is understood by the community as highly realized. And as such, it serves some of the functions I have listed above, of assuaging disciples' grief, reassuring them of the guru's power, and

318 demonstrating, as here via the emphasis on the role of prayer, the possibility of continued connection to the guru. Indeed, according to LaMacchia's reading of the nuns' oral narratives that she has collected, this storm episode is very precious to Khunu Lama's nun disciples in particular, on multiple levels. LaMacchia interprets their accounts of the storm as being ultimately empowering of the nuns, in their self-identity as close disciples of a powerful master despite their ordinarily lower status as women, and such an interpretation seems immanently correct.567

Nevertheless, these dimensions do not, it seems to me, exhaust the interpretive potential of the story, in particular the version of the story that we have in the rnam thar. There are, for one thing, a number of unresolved issues. The main problem is that since the storm happens somewhat after the fact, as it were, it does not prevent the interruption of Khunu Lama's thukdam. As a result, what is ultimately most striking in the account presented here is the degree to which it does not fit the narrative pattern for the deaths of gurus. In the narrative we have in the rnam thar, the central event is in fact one of failure - the interruption of Khunu Lama's thukdam.

To my eyes, the rnam thar story therefore reads as a tragic one, in which crucial events in the post-death process were not allowed to occur (and indeed, in the oral interviews I have done, I received the impression that some of the still-living participants remain seriously distressed, and/or defensive about this). What is absent from this particular


As noted earlier in the section describing sources for this research, LaMacchia's study of the songs of Kinnauri nuns included work with several former disciples of Khunu Lama, making her work, in particular her transcriptions of interviews, a valuable resource for this project.

319 story of Khunu Lama's death (although not from all sources) are any accounts of significant changes in the body, or anything else that would indicate the success of the thukdam meditation itself. The interruption of the post-death meditation, though partially offset by the story of the prayed for storm turning back the helicopter, arguably disrupts the full force of the community's ability to witness, memorialize and be themselves encouraged by clear signs of their teacher's meditative accomplishment. And in fact, many of the accounts, both oral and written, note this sad fact, with varying degrees of dismay.568

We might also say that the miraculous elements that are present in the helicopter episode are displaced from their normal position in the narrative: Instead of finding miraculous displays explicitly associated with the lama's post-death meditation, and presented as clear demonstrations of meditative accomplishment, we instead find the miracle of the storm occurring essentially to ameliorate the effects of a problematic plan to interrupt the mediation and move the body - a plan that the mam thar author himself tells us was "no good." Thus what is so striking about the story as it is written in the mam thar is that aside from the turning back of the helicopter, the miraculous potential of the guru's death is largely not realized. Additionally striking is the fact that the narrative of Khunu Lama's death specifically records this lack. This record of what is on some level a narrative of failure is to my knowledge virtually the only instance of its kind.

For reasons of length, it is impossible to treat the large number of narratives concerning Khunu Lama's death here. This rich topic, even more complex then I am able to describe here, forms the subject of a separate forthcoming essay.

Now of course, narratives of other masters' deaths certainly describe conflicts, even unseemly conflicts, between disciples over relics and succession. Here in particular, narratives of Milarepa's death spring to mind, an especially apt comparison since Khunu Lama was understood, in the mam thar text we have here, and in general by disciples as attested in interviews, as living and acting very much on the model of Milarepa on many levels, as we have seen. Yet while there are accounts of the conflict over Milarepa's relics, that conflict is described as dramatically resolved by Milarepa himself through miraculous means, means that seem intended to inspire, increase faith, and further demonstrate Milarepa's great accomplishment. It is not clear that the same can be said here, since although a remarkable and longed for event (the turning back of the helicopter) occurs, it occurs too late to prevent the interruption of Khunu Lama's thukdam - and that interruption in turn presumably may provide the reason for the absence of other kinds of miracles.

How should we understand this, and how understand the record of it in the rnam thar! There are several ways to interpret the narrative of these events, and to understand the fact of their narration in this way. First, Angrup's text seems to me to occupy, as I have said, an intermediate space, drawing on elements of both western biography and Tibetan styles of writing lifestories. The description of Khunu Lama's death seems to me to be a dramatic instance of that intermediacy, and one that perhaps moves Angrup's account into the terrain of the modern. Let me be clear - 1 do not broach the word modern here because of the appearance of modern technology in the story. Technological modernity

does not necessarily require or imply other aspects of modernity. Rather, I raise the question for subtler stylistic reasons.

On the one hand, Angrup attempts in this text both to present Khunu Lama in terms that are meaningful within the hagiographic strand of the mam thar tradition. At the same time, he allows what are arguably modern narrative elements — of failure, lack, and unresolved painful emotion — to emerge in his account, and to remain in part unresolved. While Angrup's subsequent detailed account of the perfectly executed, ritually correct funeral seems in part intended to heal the disappointment of the death / thukdam section, it does not remove the reader's memory of that disappointment, and so a certain element of lack in the narrative remains.

One might go even further here and speculate additionally that it is no accident that Angrup departs from the narrative conventions of the mam thar in the section on his guru's death, but not at other points in the narrative. For although I am arguing that this text occupies an intermediate space between western style biography and traditional mam thar throughout, earlier instances of this are in general a matter of methodology (the revisions, the attribution of source data, etc.) and not of style or content. There were a number of other aspects of Khunu Lama's life and work that were distinctive and unusual, and this could have been noted in the mam thar, or could have leant themselves to innovative stylistic moves. These elements are the ones that in fact encourage evaluation of Khunu Lama himself as a modern figure, as earlier chapters have


considered. But even where Angrup touches on these elements, he does not present them in a way that flags their novelty.

For example, Khunu Lama's frequent and well-informed interactions with Hindu scholars and sadhus, and his extensive teaching of female disciples, especially nuns, are both novel for a Tibetan religious figure of his educational background and generation. Nevertheless, although Angrup informs the reader about these facts, he does not do so in a way that highlights their novelty or departs from the overall rather traditional prose style of the mam thar. In the case of the sadhus, Angrup mentions that Khunu Lama won all his debates with them (perhaps a rather traditional "Buddhist triumphalist" reading of events), saying "While he was living in Varanasi, he stayed by the River Ganges, [where] he completely tamed the mental faculties of all those who criticized each [Buddhist] scripture." As for Khunu Lama's extensive teaching of the nuns, it is not mentioned as a separate, noteworthy fact at all, although individual nun disciples and instances of teachings to women are included in the account.

This lack of special emphasis may of course reflect that fact the concerns of, for example, researchers writing in the United States at the present time, may not be the same as Angrup's concerns, and criteria of interest-value may differ widely (and presumably do). But I suspect that the difference between the rnam thar's presentation of Khunu Lama's death, and the rest of its style, may also reflect something about the death of gurus more generally. For at the same moment in which they have the experience of being left alone, orphaned after the guru's death, the disciples simultaneously find themselves in the


position of being the new keepers of the tradition, of the lineage, with the combination of responsibility and power that this confers. Perhaps it is possible to say that Angrup is able to memorialize not only some aspects of his revered teacher's greatness in the mam thar, but is also able to record his and his fellow-disciples' own frustration and disappointment at the way their teacher's death unfolded, despite how unconventional and unsettling this is, precisely because he is now alone, independent of the teacher (although not of his relationship and legacy). Angrup can - indeed must - now take on himself the responsibility for presenting this in his book in a novel way. After the guru dies, disciples arguably must do things for themselves, and one might say that the narrative of the rnam thar paradoxically confirms this in the way the death is described. It seems to me, then, that the deaths of gurus represent not only difficult, even potentially dangerous, challenges for the lineage and community, but also, oddly enough, a moment of opportunity, of a certain freedom to innovate and to assume control on the part of the disciples. In Khunu Lama's own life, the role of separation is largely played (as far as the sources reveal) by geographic distance, rather than by the death of his teachers. His constant wandering, and his mobility between regions of the Plateau and sub-continent, worked to insure that he was often physically very far away from his own gurus. Although we do not have direct comments on this point from Khunu Lama himself in the record, we may hypothesize that his chatralwa lifestyle and extra-institutional location served to give him a certain potential independence vis a vis his own gurus, even if that was not a stated or even conscious goal. For Angrup, on the other hand, in his dual role of disciple and biographer, it is the events of his guru's death that seem to unlock his stylistic and narrative independence.


In summary, we can say in broad terms that one of the remarkable features of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is its striking flexibility and resilience, something quite at odds from the stereotypes and projections about Tibetan Buddhist culture with which this work began. Mechanisms internal to the Tibetan Buddhist cultural context seem able to produce, but also to manage and contain, forms of creativity, innovation, and individual independence that resonate deeply with the patterns of modernity. At the same time, because these mechanisms are internal to the tradition itself, rather than resulting in a comparatively sudden way from the intrusion of novel technological or similar developments, the Tibetan Buddhist materials, and Khunu Lama's life story more specifically, offers a forceful argument against any theory of modernity that assumes that a rupture with the past must hold the central place.

And yet. And yet, an irony lurks in this analysis, that must be acknowledged before we close. This chapter began by re-visiting my initial exhortation to set aside theories of modernity that prioritize rupture with the past. Yet in fact, all three dynamics I have described here as productive or enabling of creativity may themselves be thought of as instances or processes of disruption. Practices of renunciation, assimilation to great role models of the past or to unconventional Buddhist ideal types, and moments of separation from the guru all turn out to involve disruptions of various kinds — of social norms, of relationships, of conventional expectations, even, in some cases, disruptions internal to the teacher-student relationship. These instances or processes of disruption seem to carve out from within the intimacy of the teacher-student lineage sequence spaces or apertures

325 in which innovation and differentiation can occur. By doing so, these dynamics of disruption serve a valuable social and intellectual function, one ultimately crucial for the adaptability and thus continuity of the tradition over time.

Yet a question we must consider is whether in fact therefore moments of rupture do figure in important ways in our account of Himalayan creativity and modernity too, albeit perhaps ruptures of a quite different kind than those from the "naive past" that are more commonly emphasized in progressivist theories of modernity.569 Perhaps the best way to understand this final paradox is by remembering that it is these potentially disruptive narrative patterns that at the same time also turn out to offer individuals within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition crucial conceptual tools for managing ruptures associated with unusual behavior, and moments of differentiation and change. It is arguably in large measure through familiar narratives of disruptive behavior - the convention in which saints transgress because they transcend convention - that Tibetan Buddhist societies reintegrate unconventional people, activities, and innovations back into the continuity that is so central to communal identity. By doing so, these patterns, and the transgressive yet valorized figures who embody them, renew the integrity, coherence and continuity of the tradition in each generation.

If we turn briefly to the events of the twentieth century, we can see also that to the extent that Tibetan Buddhists identify a moment of rupture in their own intellectual and social history, they overwhelmingly point to the encounter with Chinese Communism. The year 569

1 would like to thank Gil Anidjar for encouraging me to think about this dimension.


1959, in which the Dalai Lama went into exile in India, has taken on the status of a watershed moment, the pre- and post- marker around which all periodization of Tibetan culture must turn. This is the case for obvious reasons, although it tends to obscure the quite lengthy experiences of conflict and dislocation Tibetan communities experienced beginning in the 1940s. A full treatment of the issues surrounding the conceptual emergence in Tibetan (and scholarly) discourses of 1959 as the transformative moment in Tibetan encounters with modernity lies outside the scope of the present work. In the briefest terms, though, we can note that the life story of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen offers valuable tools for thinking about the effects of 1959. His lifestory both suggests some of the ways in which Tibetan Buddhist intellectual culture maintained its continuity in the face of extraordinary events, and at the same time, helps to remind us that the complex processes of continuity, innovation and change have never been absent from the intellectual and religious life of the Himalayan and Tibetan worlds.

The Events of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen's Life

1895 Birth in Sunnam Village, Kinnaur. 1914 Departure fom Kinnaur 1917 Travel to Tibet / Tashilhunpo 1922 Leaves central Tibet for Kham K. Angrup states that Khunu Rinpoche left Central Tibet for Khams at age twenty-seven, which if he were born in 1895 would make the year 1922. This also makes sense in light of other events in the chronology. Manshardt gives the date of Khunu Rinpoche's departure for eastern Tibet as 1925, but this seems too late. Khunu Lama met with the famous Dzokchen Khenpo Shenga in Khams just before the end of the Khenpo's life. Since Khenpo Shenga died in 1927 and Khunu Rinpoche made a number of stops before meeting him, it seems most plausible that Khunu Lama left the Lhasa area at the earlier date. Sparham says that Khunu Lama went to Kham twice, once as a young man, immediately following his time in Lhasa and Shigatse, and a second time in the 1930's. In between these trips, Sparham says Khunu Lama returned to India to study Sanskrit in Varanasi. My own analysis suggests there was only one trip from Tibet to India, after Khunu Lama had returned from Kham to central Tibet, although Khunu Lama's time in India was broken up by an 8 year stay in Kinnaur. I place Khunu Lama in Varanasi after 1937. 1933/4 Return to Lhasa. 1934 is given in the rnam thar. Khunu Lama himself calculates in the recorded interview with Lama Kunga that he spent 12 years in Kham and one year in Chamdo, for a total of 13 years away from Lhasa. The rnam thar says 14. Since the Tibetan New Year falls irregularly in the middle of the western calendar, it is possible that this has produced confusion here about the western year. 1934-1937 Khunu Lama spends 3 years in Lhasa, per the rnam thar. However, Khunu Lama himself states in recorded interview with Lama Kunga that he spent about 5 years there. This would make the ending date 1939 if the return date is correct. 1937 (1939?) Khunu Lama leaves Lhasa and central Tibet, and goes to India. 1937-38 (1939-40?) Khunu Lama spends one year in Calcutta studying Sanskrit with Pandit Hari. 1938 (1939) - c.1943 Khunu Lama spends five years studying Paninian Sanskrit grammar in Varanasi with Pandit Dev Narayan Tripathi. During this time, he meets Gendun Chophel, also there studying Sanskrit. Khunu Lama's overlap with Gendun Chophel in Varanasi forces us to place him there before 1945, since by 1945 Gendun Chophel was living in the Kalimpong-Darjeeling

349 area, from whence he returned to Tibet in 1946. Other sources suggest a shorter stay in Varanasi.579 Manshardt says that Khunu Lama left Tibet in 1942, but concurs with the mam thar that Kinnaur was his first stop back in India; Dodin also suggests that Khunu Lama left Tibet and returned to India in the"first half of the 1940's," based in part on the brief funeral notice in the Maha Bodhi society journal.580 Both Manshardt and Dodin place Khunu Lama in Kinnaur in 1948, at which time they say he received the terrible news of Gandhi's assassination.581 Sparham, as mentioned already, says that Khunu Lama actually made two trips back to India. He says that Khunu Lama first left Kham after five years to go to Varanasi for five years of Sanskrit study, and that this was the time when he met Gendun Chophel. According to Sparham, it was after this, then, probably in the mid-1950s, that Khunu Lama returned to Kham and remained there until the mid-1940s, after which he spent three years teaching in Lhasa. After this, he returned to India for good, and probably traveled to Kinnaur "sometime shortly after India's independence in 1947."582 This general sequence fits the events of Khunu Lama's life quite well. However, Gendun Chophel did not come to India for the first time until 1934; and he left for Sri Lanka in 1938, returning again to India some eighteen months later around 1940. Soon after his return, Gendun Choephel went to Kulu (near Khunu Lama's home valley of Kinnaur) working for several years with George Roerich on the translation of the massive Tibetan history, The Blue Annals. Thus, the two men could only overlapped in Varanasi between 1934-1938, or again in about 1940/41, since by 1945, as noted, Gendun Choephel was in Kalimpong. One way to make sense out of these conflicting dates, (in particular taking into consideration the two externally datable episodes of Khunu Lama's meeting with Gendun Chophel and his learning of Gandhi's death), is that, consistent with his well-documented pattern in other periods of his life, Khunu Lama may have traveled back and forth between several of the places where he is said to have stayed during these years, as Sparham's version in part suggests. Indeed, K. Angrup himself presented a slightly different and more elaborate sequence of events in an earlier publication: In 1987, before publishing the complete mam thar of Khunu Lama's life, K, Angrup wrote a brief summary of Khunu Lama's lifestory together with the scholar S. Lall, which appeared in the Tibetan Review, an English-language publication published in India. In their article, the authors rely heavily on a Hindi-language paper presented by the Kinnauri scholar Roshan Lai Negi (the son of Dodin's informant, Khunu Lama's Kinnauri disciple Sangnak


Lopez 2006:39. Stoddard 1985:343.


Khenpo Sonam Topgyal interview 2006. Of course, Khunu Rinpoche may have spent four years studying in Varanasi, and then begun to teach and travel periodically; this would be fully consistent with the rnam thar's chronology. 580

Dodin 1997:87, and p. 97, note 20. Dodin's source is the brief obituary notice published in The Mahabodhi of June-July 1977, p. 230 (Dodin gives the page number 371). 581

Manshardt 2004:25-26; Dodin 1997:88.


Sparham 1999:3.

350 Tenzin) at a Buddhist conference in Lahaul on the subject of Khunu Lama's life. According to Angrup and Lall's essay, "From Lhasa, he [Khunu Rinpoche] made back direct [sic] to Varanasi where he lived for six years. Here he plunged himself in the study of Panini's grammar from pandit Dev Narain Tripathi who was a renowned teacher of Sanskrit grammar.... After a six-year stint at Varanasi, the lama returned to Kinnaur among his native people... From here once again he came back to Varanasi and lived there for 15-16 years."584 This order of events makes considerable sense. If Khunu Lama did in fact leave Tibet in 1937, and if he spent about a year in Calcutta, then this chronology would place Khunu Rinpoche in Varanasi from 1938 to 1944, which would certainly be a period during which he could plausibly have met Gendun Choephel, probably in about 1940. Then his eight-year stay in Kinnaur would have occurred from 1944-1952, and thus Khunu Lama could indeed have heard about Gandhi's assassination while in Kinnaur in 1948. This would mean that Khunu Lama resumed living in Varanasi (at least on and off between other trips) from 1952 onward. In the absence of other details information, this appears to be the most internally consistent mapping of the events. 1948 Gandhi is assassinated. Khunu Lama receives the terrible news in Kinnaur. 1952 Khunu Lama returns to Varanasi, and resumes residence in Tekra Math. 1956 Khunu Lama travels to Srinigar, Kashmir, at the invitation of Bakula Rinpoche, where he meets K. Angrup, his future biographer. Late 1956 Khunu Lama leaves Srinigar. Later on the same year, Khunu Lama briefly meets the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and the Tenth Panchen Lama, during their visit to India. 1959-1960 Khunu Lama keeps a diary, recording the events of the Chinese takeover of Tibet, the Dalai Lama's flight to India and other events, and writing a daily verse on the topic of bodhicitta. These verses are collected in the Byang chub sems kyi bstodpa rin chen sgron ma, Khunu Lama's most well-known work. Khunu Rinpoche travels to Mussourie to meet the Dalai Lama and Ling Rinpoche, who have recently arrived in India. 1960 Khunu Lama translates from Tibetan to Hindi for the Dalai Lama's lecture to a group of international students at Varanasi Sanskrit University. 1965 Khunu Lama teaches literary topics at the Mussourie "Lama's School" teacher training program.

Roshan Lai Negi, Bodhisattva Shasandhar Dhvaja Ji ka Sankshipt Parichaya. Paper presented at the All India Seminar, Buddhist Philosophical and Social School, Keylong, Lahaul. See note 1, K. Angrup and S. Lall 1987:16. In the 1989 edition of his rnam thar, Angrup cites Roshan Lai's paper as Byang chub sems dpa' bstan 'dzin rgyal mtshan lags kyi ngo sprod 'duspa. (Also cited Sparham 1999:14 n.l.) 584

K. Angrup and S. Lall 1987:15-16.

351 1966 The first published edition of the Byang chub sems kyi bstodpa rin chen sgron ma appears, with an introduction by the Dalai Lama. 1970 The Drigung Khandroma Sherab Tharchin succeeds in locating and meeting with Khunu Lama, and remains with him for the last seven years of his life. 1973 Khunu Lama travels alone to Sikkim, and stays for several months in Gangtok teaching the Queen Mother of Sikkim and her family. 1974 Khunu Lama is driven from Gangtok to Nepal, via Kalimpong, by Ngawang Rabgyes. The Drigung Khandro meets him and they travel in Nepal, visiting Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Lumbini. Early 1975 Khunu Lama meets, teaches Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Boudhnath, Nepal. Feb 2 1975 Khunu Lama gives teaching on Atisha's A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment to the monks and nuns of the International Mahayana Institute in Boudhnath. Feb 14 1975 Khunu Lama teaches on The Foundation of All Good Qualities to the same group of western monks and nuns. 1975 spring Khunu Lama and Drigung Khandro travel to Lumbini, to visit Chogye Trichen Rinpoche, head of the Tsarpa Sakya lineage. Khunu Lama gives teachings. Late 1975 Khunu Lama and the Drigung Khandro return to Tso Pema in India. At the invitation of the Tso Pema Nyingma Monastery, Khunu Lama gives Dzogchen teaching. 1976 Khunu Lama and the Drigung Khandro, together with four Kinnauri nuns, travel to Manali. Khunu Lama teaches at the Gangpang Ritro retreat hermitage above Manali. Khunu Lama refuses a request to teach in Bhutan. 1976 Khunu Lama, the Drigung Khandro, the Kinnauri nun disciples, and the western Buddhist Chris Fynn travel to Lahaul, where Khunu Lama gives teachings. 1977 Khunu Lama teaches the Jewel Ornament of Gampopa at Shashur Gonpa. February 20, 1977 Khunu Lama passes away at Shashur Gonpa. 1977 Khunu Lama is cremated and his funeral is held at Shashur Gonpa January 13 1979 A baby boy is born to Pia Rasmusson, a Danish Buddhist, and Lama Topgyal Rinpoche, a Nyingma yogi from Kham, in Germany. 1983 The child is identified by Dungsay Thinley Norbu Rinpoche as the new incarnation (Tib. yang srid) of Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen. Khunu Lama Changchub Gyaltsen is currently completing his education at Mindroling Monastery in Dehradun, India.

352 Appendix C Bodhisattvacaryavatara Transmissions Received By Khunu Rinpoche in Eastern Tibet Out of all the many lineage relationships Khunu Rinpoche formed in Kham, one question of particular interest is the identity of the main person or people from whom Khunu Lama received the Bodhisattvacaryavatara transmission that would become such a focus of his own religious life, teaching and writing and that he would pass on to the current Dalai Lama. Several sources, including the current Kham-based Dzogchen Rinpoche, suggest that the main source for the transmission was the Twentieth Khenpo of Dzogchen Monastery, Khenchen Lhagyal, affectionately known as Abu Lhagong (Lha rgyal pad ma theg mchog bio Idan, 1879-1955.)585 Abu Lhagong was a student of both Khenpo Shenga and Ju Mipham, the scholar mentioned above, and received the Bodhisattvacaryavatara transmission from Paltrul's student Orgyen Tenzin Norbu.586

However, the Dalai Lama traces the lineage for the Bodhisattvacaryavatara he received CQ-7

from Khunu Lama to Khenpo Shenga, and before him back to Paltrul Rinpoche.


makes sense that Khunu Lama received transmission of the Bodhisattvacaryavatara from Khenpo Shenga, at the same time as the Thirteen Great Books (of which the Bodhisattvacaryavatara is one). As we have seen, according to Rakra Rinpoche, Khunu

Dzogchen Rinpoche interview, August 2005. Also see his snga 'gyur rdzogs chen chos 'byung chen mo, p. 451 ff. 586 Nyoshul 2005; Thondup 2002; Jackson 2003:585 note 108. 587

Dalai Lama interview 2005; Dalai Lama 1994:127 n.7.

353 Lama had also already received a transmission of the Bodhisattvacaryavatara from someone in Amdo, during his trip there. Indeed, as noted earlier, according to a source connected with Tashilhunpo, Khunu Lama received a transmission of the text years before, during his early studies at Tashilhunpo, from Kachen Sangye Pelzang.588 Khunu Lama probably received several transmissions of material connected to the Shantideva text from multiple people, following a common Tibetan pattern for important texts and teaching transmissions, in which one might receive multiple transmissions of important material from different individuals.

The transmission Khunu Lama received from Abu

Lhagong seems to have been especially significant, however, and may have included the transmission of meditative practices for generating bodhicitta, as well as particular ways of interpreting the text.

One other likely and noteworthy transmission of the Bodhisattvacaryavatara is from another great disciple of Paltrul Rinpoche's, Khenpo Kunpal, (mKhan po Kun bzang dpal ldan,1872-1943).590 Khenpo Kunpal, who came from Dzachuka just as Paltrul did and was also an important holder of the Longchen Nyingtik lineage, himself received the Bodhisattvacaryavatara transmission from Paltrul, and wrote a famous commentary on the text that incorporated Paltrul's own teaching.591 Khunu Rinpoche studied with

Ven. Sonam Gyalpo interview 2006. 589

Ven. Sonam Gyalpo for instance says that he thinks Khunu Lama must have received transmissions of the Bodhisattvacaryavatara some twenty or thirty times. (Interview 2006.) 590

On Khenpo Kunpal's life, see Thondup 2002:258-9; Nyoshul 2005; Snga 'gyur rdzogs chen chos 'byung chen mo. 591

Trulku Pema Wangyal, interview April 2005.


Khenpo Kunpal, in particular receiving Dzogchen teachings from him,592 and lists the Khenpo in his handwritten list of root gurus. Moreover, Khunu Rinpoche's own presentation of bodhicitta was strongly influenced by Khenpo Kunpal's commentary. (This is also to re-emphasize that Khunu Lama's presentation stemmed directly from the tradition of Paltrul.)593 Indeed, at the end of his life, when he was in his turn transmitting these lineages to Tibetan lamas in India, Khunu Rinpoche especially emphasized Khenpo Kunpal's commentary. In particular he stressed its importance to his main student, the Dalai Lama.594 As a result, these commentaries are the ones on which His Holiness the Dalai Lama continues to relies primarily as well.595 Given all of this, it seems reasonable to conclude that Khunu Rinpoche received the Bodhisattvacaryavatara transmission from Khenpo Kunpal also.596


Khenpo Palden Sherab received Dzogchen teachings from Khunu Lama which Khunu Lama had received from Khenpo Kunpal. Sherab 1998:17,23. 593

Trulku Pema Wangyal, interview April 2005.


Trulku Pema Wangyal, interview April 2005.


Trulku Pema Wangyal recounts this point humorously, saying: "So this - if you read this Jun Juk [spyod 'jug, the Tibetan abbreviation for the Bodhisattvacaryavatara] commentary of Kunsang Palden, you will know exactly what Khunu Rinpoche used to practice. Because he recommended His Holiness Dalai Lama also to study Kunsang Palden's commentary and also Kunsang Sonam's [Minyag Khenpo Kunsang Sonam], but those days these texts were not accessible. HHDL quoted one time when he was teaching in France on the Jun Juk, he mentioned, that time we had just got the copies of the two commentaries, and he mentioned, this is the text that Khunu Rinpoche recommended him to read...He was very kind of excited, because he heard a lot about it from Khunu Rinpoche." Interview, April 2005. See also Dalai Lama 1994:127 n.8, which mentions the commentary of Minyag Khenpo Kunsang Sonam. 596

Dzogchen Rinpoche interview, August 2005. Also see his snga 'gyur rdzogs chen chos 'byung chen mo.

355 Appendix D

Partial Reception History of the rnam thar and of Khunu Lama's Published Work

Khunu Lama's printed prose rnam thar was published twice, once in 1989, no location given, and the second time in 2005 by the CIHTS publishing department. The print run of the first edition was 1000;597 the print run of the second edition was five hundred copies. This suggests a small readership, although the limited resources of the CIHTS publishing department may also be a significant factor. The small print run of at least the second edition also suggests the fact that neither Khunu Lama or his biographer K. Angrup is extremely famous, as well as possibly reflecting changes in staff at the CIHTS publishing department between the printings of the two editions. (However, not many copies of the first edition appear to be in circulation at this time.)

This limited circulation for Khunu Lama's rnam thar stands in contrast to the comparatively wide circulation and multiple editions of the two best-known texts he authored, the Bodhicitta verses and the Ngag dron. The verses are in print as of this writing, in Tibetan and Indian editions, both in block print and book form, (as well as in facing translation-editions into English and German). The Ngag dron was reissued in a


356 Tibetan paperback edition published in Sichuan as recently as 1993. Both texts remain in current use.

The Ngag Dron is primarily a reference for scholars that is also sometimes taught to higher level literature students in Tibet and India. The Bodhicitta Verses are in even wider circulation, being available in an extremely cheap block print edition in Lhasa, for instance, as well as being widely taught by the current Dalai Lama both to Tibetan and non-Tibetan audiences. This itself is a quite remarkable example of a contemporary work being treated as a valuable basis for public Buddhist teaching, as Sparham 1999 points out. To my knowledge, the Bodhicitta verses have, however, only been the subject of one published Tibetan commentarial work, the 2003 Byang chub sems kyi bstodpa rin chen sgron ma zhes bya ba 'I thog ma 'I 'bru grel rgyal sras lam bzang mtshon pa 'I dmigs bu 'am zhi bde nor bu 'I gling du bgrodpa 'I lam yig ces bya ba, by a young scholar from Amdo Tenzin Jamyang (A tshogs bstan 'dzin 'jam dbyangs, b. 1972).

This commentary, published in India by the Academy of Tibetan Culture at the Norbulinka Institute in a paperback edition, is worth pointing out, not only because it is the only extended and published commentary I have been able to locate, but also because the person who wrote it is such an extremely young scholar. His youth did give rise to at least one provocative comment by a senior Tibetan scholar to the effect that the topic of bodhicitta is very profound, and Khunu Lama's verses are a particularly rich and nuanced expression of that topic, and as a result, a published commentary by such a young and

357 comparatively inexperienced (both intellectually and spiritually) person is both a bit hubristic, and perhaps should be read with a grain of salt. While I cannot comment on that view, it is certainly notable that no more-senior figures have attempted the project of commenting on the verses (though that could also reflect other factors, like their recent composition, or their non-controversial nature, or the fact that Khunu Lama is not terribly well known.)

It is also noteworthy that the man who did attempt the commentary is originally from Amdo. Amdo is a region of eastern Tibet well known for its intellectual richness in past historical periods, and a part of geographic Tibet that currently has experienced a considerable efflorescence of Tibetan literary and religious culture since the 1980s, producing important religious teachers, poets, novelists, literary and religious journals and books and in general a comparatively vibrant publishing industry. Thus the familiarity of Tenzin Jamyang with the verses, and his readiness to write about them may also reflect a particularly Amdowan literary self-confidence.598

The verses are also in print in paperback editions in both English and German translation. Interestingly, while the foreign-language editions include brief biographical introductions to Khunu Lama's life, some of the Tibetan-language editions do not. In particular, the block print edition available in the Lhasa Barkhor contains no biographical information at

Lauran Hartley 2008, Francoise Robin 2008.

358 all. In fact, during a bookshop visit in 2005, neither the people selling it nor browsers in the shop knew Khunu Lama by name, although they did know the verses. This situation probably reflects several factors, including the state of intellectual culture in Central Tibet where both literary and religious topics are concerned (a state of culture far more truncated and limited in many ways than in eastern areas such as Amdo, or than in Tibetan areas of India and the Himalaya), as well as the fact that during the time Khunu Lama spent in Central Tibet, he was not well-known.

This stands in some contrast to the time Khunu Lama spent in eastern Tibet in Khams, where he did become relatively prominent among religious and scholarly people. It may also reflect the fact that Khunu Lama was and remains in many ways a foreigner in Tibet, and certainly is less well remembered there than in India, where he played a much higher profile role for Tibetans as a teacher and as a bridge to Indian culture and forms of learning, and in the Indian Himalaya, where he is proudly embraced as a native son.


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