Tibetan legends tell us that Tibet’s early kings descended to earth via sacred mountains, which became
objects of worship long before Buddhism evolved. “Going around a holy place” (gnas skor) or “meeting
a sanctified site” (gnas mjal), the actual meaning of pilgrimage, has long been and still is an integral part
of Tibetan culture. Pilgrim-age practice and daily worship still punctuate the rhythm of traditional
The study of Tibetan pilgrimage sheds light, directly or indirectly, on many aspects of Tibetan
culture, including social, economic, historical, political, national, psychological, religious, and
The following thesis however, will look at the tradition of Tibetan pilgrimage from only four
angles: previous studies on the subject, the literary genre of historical and religious geography, the
investigation of one specific pilgrimage account, and the life and tradition of the pilgrim who wrote that
Tibetan pilgrimage from the western academic point of view is a comparatively new field that
has gradually developed during just the last forty years. In part I, chapter 1, I give a brief overview on
these previous studies and introduce-in the context of these-the approach taken in the present work.
As the second part of part I (chapter 2 and 3), I look at the literary genre of historical and
religious geography. The corpus of that literature is vast (especially if one includes the dkar chag
genre). Chapter 2 discusses the nature of that Tibetan literary genre, and chapter 3 presents a
bibliography that lists and classifies some 370 guidebooks and pilgrimage accounts.
In part II, we will focus on a single specific pilgrimage account, the dBus gtsang gi gnas
bskor byed tshul rag bsdus tsam zbig brjod pa mi brjed dren pa’I gsal ‘debs gzur gnas mkhas pai’I rna
rgyan (hereafter: dBus gtsang gi gnas bskor), a typical example of the genre which has, however,
been until now neglected by the scholarly world. It is a rare book. To my knowledge no edition,
translation, or other study of the text has yet been published. It is also largely unknown to Tibetans. In
chapter 4, I will therefore introduce that pilgrimage account. Chapters 5 and 6 will present an edition
and annotated English translation of a bit more than one quarter of the Tibetan-language guidebook.
In part III, I would like to examine the point of that guidebook’s pilgrim author. Brag-dgon-pa
Jam-dbyangs-bstan-pa-rgya-mtsho (1868-1941), the author of the dBus gtsang gi gnas bskor, made his
pilgrimage probably in 1916, while visiting central Tibet and meeting the 13th Dalai Lama. In chapter 7,
I will describe my search for this author, about whom very little was formerly known, and give
biographical sketches of Brag-dgon-pa and his previous incarnations. Chapter 8 presents an English
translation of a short biography of ‘Jam-dbyangs-bstan-pa-rgya-mtsho.
Apart from the dBus gtsang gi gnas bskor (chapter 5) and the biographical material (chapter
8), which are reproduced in Tibetan characters, Tibetan words are transliterated using the common
Wylie (1959a) system of Romanization. Syllable foundation letters (ming gzhi) are capitalized in the
first syllable of names (person, place, title, and text). Personal names, titles, and place names are
hyphenated, while titles of works and Tibetan terms are presented in cursive letters. For the bibliography
at the end of the work, I have used English sorting order for both Tibetan and European Language
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the help of those who assisted me during my research.
Thanks are due first of all to David Jackson (Hamburg), who supported and advised me throughout the
investigation phase and during the actual writing of the thesis. Thanks also to Karl-Heinz Everding
(Bonn, Hamburg), who has agreed to act as co-evaluator, for his inspiring seminars in Tibetan historical
and religious geography.
My special thanks are due to Gene Smith (Boston, Massachusetts) and Toni Huber
(Wellington), who made available to me recent publications on ‘Jam-dbyangsbstan-pa-rgya-mtsho,
without which I would not have been able to complete part III. Many thanks also to Tashi Tsering of the
Amnye Machen Institute (who recently visited Belgium), Yonten Gyatso (Paris), and Hortsang Jigme
(McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala) for their valuable information, suggestions, and hints that allowed me to
continue my research. Thanks to A-lags mTsho-kha-ba (bSang-chu-rdzong, Amdo) and one anonymous
correspondent, whose identity still remains unknown, for answering my letters and sending me valuable
information on the Brag-dgon-pa lamas. Thanks also to Jan-Ulrih Sobisch (Hamburg) and Dorje
Wangchuk (Hamburg) for answering simple and difficult questions.
Last, but by no means least, I wish to thank my companion through life, Astrid Grabler, for
her constant support and in particular my twin daughters, Jasmin and Saskia, for pulling me away from
my desk and reminding me of other very important things.
Back of the Book
Account of a Pilgrimage to Central Tibet investigates a rare text, the dbus gtsang gi gnas bskor and its
author ‘Jam-dbyangs-bstan-pa-rgya-mtsho, about whom very little was formerly known. This
Brag-dgon-pa lama made his pilgrimage in 1916, while visiting central Tibet and meeting the 13th Dalai
Besides an edition and annotated translation of part of the guidebook, as well as a translation
of the biographical material about ‘Jam-dbyangs-bstan-pa-rgya-mtsho, this study also provides a
bibliography that lists and classifies some 370 Tibetan-language works belonging to the Tibetan literary
genre of historical and sacred Geography.
Andreas Brunder received his MA in Tibetology from the University of Hamburg. His main
research interests are the tradition of Tibetan pilgrimage, and the history and geography of specific
sacred sites in the Tibetan cultural realm. He currently works as a Head of Mission with Medecins Sans
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