Oracles and Demons of Tibet: The Cult and Iconography of the Tibetan Protective Deities

Item Code: IDI128
Author: Rene De Nebesky- Wojkowitz
Publisher: Book Faith India
Language: English
Edition: 1996
ISBN: 9798173030498
Pages: 680 (Black & White Illustrations: 19, Color Illustration: 1, Black & White Figures)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.5 inch X 6.5 inch
Weight 840 gm
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Book Description

The iconography of the deities worshiped by the Tibetans as protectors and guardians of Buddhism belongs to the least known field of Tibetan Studies. The exceedingly numerous class of protective divinities comprises many figures who originally belonged to the pantheon of the old Tibetan Bon faith. A study of the Tibetan protective deities and their cult, apart from giving an insight into a little known aspect of Lamaism, reveals new facts regarding the beliefs of pre-Buddhist Tibet and their relation to the early shamanistic stratum out of which the Bon religion developed. Unfortunately, considerable difficulties obstruct research in this field. The Tibetan books describing the appearance and worship of the divine guardians of Buddhism are rare and their language, because of the use of archaic and obscure expressions not recorded in dictionaries, is often difficult to interpret. The chief obstacle, however, is the secrecy with which Tibetans surround the cult of the protective deities, expecially the ceremonies involving ritual dances, divination, black magic, and weathermaking.

The greater part of the material presented in this first survey of the Tibetan guardian deities and their cult was collected between 1950 and 1953 during my stay in the Indo-Sikkkimese borderland. The base for my work was the town Kalimpong, the terminus of the main caravan road leading from Lhasa to India. Shortly after my arrival in Kalimpong hostilities broke out between Tibet and China. The fourteenth Dalai Lama, together with members of the Tibetan Government, left the capital and took refuge in a monastery in the Chumbi Valley only a few miles from the Tibeto-Sikkimese border. The Dalai Lama remained in Tibetan territory, but several of his relatives and numerous high Government officials with their families as well as several dignitaries of the Yellow Hat Sect came to stay in Kalimpong. Most of them returned to Tibet in late summer of 1951 when the Dalai Lama, after Tibet had been included within the Chinese People's Republic, went back to Lhasa. The close contact which I established during this period with many Tibetan officials and priests me to gather a considerable amount of valuable information on various aspects of Tibetan Buddhism and especially on the subject discussed in this publication.

My Chief informants, however, were three Tibetan Incarnate Lamas who had chosen Kalimpong as their permanent residence and who remained there after most of the other Tibetan dignitaries had gone back to their homeland. Two among them, called Dar mdo rin po che and bKras mthong rin po che, were Incarnate Lamas of the Yellow Hat Sect. Dar mdo rin po or Dar mdo sprul sku, " the Incarnate Lama from Tatsienlu", known by his full name as Thub ldan lhun grub legs bzang, was 34 years old in 1950, the year we met first. He had been born in the Tibeto-Chinese border-town, Tatsienlu (Tb. Dar rtse mdo), the only child of the Tibetan merchant. At the age of seven he was declared by monks of a local lamasery to be the first rebirth of a saintly lama who had lived in their monastery. His parents, however, refused to hand over the child to the lamas and they consented only after receiving a letter sent by order of the Dalai Lama reproaching them for their obstinacy. The sPrul sku was brought to Central Tibet at the age of nine to begin a course of religious studies in the rGya rong College of 'Bras spungs (lho gling) Monastery. In 1947 <>Dar mdo rin po che undertook a pilgrimage to the sacred places of Buddhism in India and Nepal. Two years later he was appointed by stag brag rin po che, the Regent then ruling instead of the still minor Dalai Lama, as Head of the monastery which the Tibetan government had built at Bodhgaya, the place where Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment. Dar mdo rin po che lived in Bodhgaya only during the winter, the season in which Tibetan pilgrims visit India; the rest of the year he spent in Kalimpong. The sPrul sku kindly Placed his comprehensive, valuable library of Tibetan blockprints and manuscripts at my disposal and helped me in the search for texts pertaining to the subjects in which I was expecially interested. I made extracts from many of these books and copied several completely; some of them were presented to me as gifts. The questions which arose through the study of these works were discussed with the sPrul sku in the course of our frequent meetings. In the beginning our conversation was carried on through the medium of Phur lags, a young English-speaking Tibetan. Later, after I had learned some colloquial Tibetan, use of the interpreter's services was made only when difficulties had to be overcome. Dar mdo rin po che's assistance also enabled me to witness a considerable number of Tibetan religious ceremonies.

My studies with bKras mthong rin po che, also an Incarnate Lama of the Yellow Hat Sect, began in 1951 and, though not as intensive as those undertaken with Dar mdo rin po che, rendered many important results. bKras mthong rin po che was a native of the Khams Province (Easter Tibet). At the time of our first meeting he was 26 years old. He had studied for nine years at' Bras spungs Monastery and afterwards for eight years at Bla ma rgyud pa, one of the two chief tantric schools of the Tibetan capital. I am especially indebted to him for information regarding various tantric teachings and the particular religious traditions and practices prevailing in Eastern Tibet.

The third Incarnate Lama who supplied me with information and books was' Chi med rig'dzin of the rNying ma pa Sect. His home monastery bears the name Thub bstan e wam gsang sngags chos' khor rnam rgyal gling. Though a native of Khams, he and spent most of his time in the Central Tibetan gTsang and Dbus Provinces. He proved an excellent informant especially on the religious teachings and rites current among the rNying ma pa Sect and the related schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

The advice of these three learned Incarnate Lamas was asked on all the more important questions of the subject here discussed. However, it proved at times impossible to have the various informants agree to each others definitions. Thus e. g. Dar mdo rin po che and bKras mthong rin po che, although both members of the same sect, very often disagreed in their explanations of the more complicated religious theories or in the translation of obscure passages in Tibetan works.

The final translation of the texts, acquired or copied from the three incarnate Lamas, was carried out with the assistance of Nyi ma, Agent of a former Tibetan Cabinet Minister. Nyi ma had been born in the Chumbi Valley and he was thoroughly familiar with the religious traditions of this and the neighbouring areas in which remnants of the Bon faith have survived. Through his studies with several well-known Tibetan scholars, among them a teacher of the present Dalai Lama, he had acquired an impressive education. Travels outside Tibet had broadened his perspective and he readily answered even those questions concerning Tibetan religious ceremonies and theories, which are usually kept secret. His good knowledge of English, which proved a great help in translating and explaining difficult passages of Tibetan texts, was an expecially fortunate circumstance.

A considerable amount of highly interesting information regarding the selection, life, rites, etc. of oracles consulted by the Tibetan Government was received from Blo bzang phun tshogs, a "Peak Secretary" (rtse drung) of the Dalai Lama's office and son of the former state oracle, rGyal mtshan mthar phyin. Blo bzang phun tshogs also spoke fluent English and occasionally assisted in translating Tibetan texts. General information on Tibetan oracles was received from the oracle priest, Ihag pa don grub, who practised his profession in Kalimpong, Various details on the Kesar Saga and on legends current in the 'Phan Province north of Lhasa were learned from Byams pa gsang bdag, a former court-singer of rva sgreng rin po che, the last but on regent of Tibet.

Most of these informants, in addition to supplying me with the information already specified, taught me colloquial Tibetan, usually in exchange for lessons in English. I am deeply indebted to them and all my other Tibetan friends and acquaintances for the great and untiring help they gave me in collecting and analyzing the material presented in this publication. I would also like to express my cordial thanks to Tshe rten bkra shis, Private Secretary to H. H. The Maharaja of Sikkim and especially to Bkra shis dgra' dul gdan sa pa (Burmiak Kazi) ? who at the time of my visit to Sikkim held among other posts that of a Minister of Religious Affairs ? for the information several ancient books concerning the cult of the mountain-gods of Sikkim.

The study of early Tibetan beliefs was supplemented by research on the original religion of the Lepchas, the mongoloid aboriginal inhabitants of Sikkim, and that of some of the neighbouring populations, especially the Bhutanese, Limbus, tamangs, and Sherpas. This material will be published at a later date. The preliminary studies, which have already appeared, are listed on p. 9 of this book; some further details are given on pp. 36-38 of my 'Report on Ethnographical Research in the Sikkim Himalayas 1950-1953', Wiener Volkerkundliche Mitteilungen, II/1, Vienna 1954.

My work in the Indo-Sikkimese borderland was carried out at a time of considerable political tension caused chiefly by the revolution which broke out in Nepal in 1950, and the occupation of Tibet by Chinese troops. I am deeply grateful to the Government of India for having been allowed to carry out my research for nearly three years in the proximity of the Tibetan border in spite of the sometimes tense situation prevailing in this area and to have been enabled to bring it eventually to a successful conclusion. Valuable help was rendered to me during this period by the late K. Pereira, then Austrian charge d' Affaires in New Delhi, by his successor, K. Enderl, and by W. Weissel, Austrian Honorary Consul in Calcutta, who kindly assisted me in dispatching my collections of Tibetan and Lepcha objects destined for the Museum fur Volkerkunde in Vienna. The funds required for the acquisition of these collections were provided by the Austrian Ministry of Education.

It is also my wish to express gratitude to those scholars under whose guidance I have worked and from whom I received the training required for carrying out ethnographical and linguistic field work: my late teacher, R. Bleichsteiner, to whom I owe my first introduction into the field of Tibetan Studies, and W. Koppers (both of the University of Vienna), C. von Furer-Haimendorf (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London), and R. Firth (London School of Economics). I further express my sincere thanks to J. F. Rock of the Harvard-Yenching Institute, Cambridge, Mass., who made my journey to India possible, and especially to H. R. H. Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark, Member (and later Head) of the 3rd Royal Danish Expedition to Central Asia, with whom I had the pleasure of closely cooperating from June 1951 until my departure for Europe in February 1953, and who helped me in many ways to bring my work to a satisfactory end. My thanks are also due to G. N. Roerich (Kalimpong) for his valuable advice on several points discussed in this book.

After my return to Europe I accepted an invitation received from the Director of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden, Holland, to arrange and analyse the Collection of Tibetan blockprints and manuscripts preserved at this Museum. This work was done from May to December 1953; in 1954 I returned to Leiden for five months more in order to study a comprehensive Collection of Lepcha manuscripts. The analysis of numerous books preserved in these two Collections supplied me with additional valuable material on the subject covered by this publication. I am therefore very grateful to the Board of Curators of the University of Leiden, to G. W. Locher, until 1954 Director of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, and especially to P. H. Pott, former Curator and since 1955 Director of the said Museum for their kind invitation to visit Leiden.

My cordial expressions of thanks are also extended to all those who placed at my disposal Tibetan works in their possession, or who called my attention to material of interest preserved in various Museums: J. Bacot (Paris), R. A. Stein (Paris), H. Siiger (Copenhagen), and R. Haarh (Copenhagen). I also wish to express my gratitude to J. W. de Jong of the Centre of Buddhist Studies, University of Leiden, for kindly checking the spelling of Sanskrit terms occurring in this book, and for supplying me with information on various books not accessible elsewhere, and to R. Kichert (Chicago) for his help in reading the proofs. To Mouton & Co., Publishers, The Hague, and especially to P. de Ridder, I express my thanks for the thorough care which has been taken in bringing out this book.

Back of the book

The author, Rene de Nebeskey-Wojkowitz a scholar and adventurer who studied Tibetan culture, primarily in Sikkim, journeyed to the Himalayan region of Lhasa, when great upheavals were taking place in Tibetan society and culture. This book, a reprint of a long out-of-print study sheds fascinating insights on the occult secrets of Tibetan mysticism. It details the classification, appearance, and attributes of the Tibetan protective deities, their iconography, sacrifices, care monies, oracles, black magic and their cult of weathermaking.


"Many of the guardian-goodesses,
Espectally those of the ma mo type,
Are pictured as ugly women with long
emactated breasts and huge sexual organs,
while only a few are said to have the lovely
appearance of 'a girl who has just passed
her sixteenth year of age."


I The protective Deities. Their classification appearance and attributes 3
The' Jig rten las' das pa'I srung ma
II dPal Idan lha mo 22
III The group of the mGon po 38
IV Vaisravana, Kubera, and Jambhala 68
V gShin rje and related deities 82
VI lCam sring 88
The' Jig rten pa' srung ma
VII Pe har and companions 94
VIII rDo rje shugs ldan 134
IX Tshangs pa 145
X rDo rje legs pa 154
XI The dGe bsnyen Phying dkar ba 160
XII Tsi'u dmar po and the btsan demons 166
XIII The Tshe ring mched Inga and related goddesses 177
XIV Mountain deities 203
XV Local Protective deities 231
XVI The dregs pa 253
XVII The dgra lha 318
XVIII Sacrificial objects and offerings 343
XIX Thread-crosses and thread-cross ceremonies 369
XX Worship of the dharmapalas 298
XXI Tibetan oracles. Their position, attire, feasts, and prophetic trances 409
XXII The state oracle 444
XXIII Methods of divination 455
XXIV Tibetan weathermakers 467
XXV Destructive magic 481
XXVI Protection against evil 503
XXVII Some notes on Tibetan shamanism 538
  Tibetan texts 555
  Tibetan sources 573
  Indexes 605


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