Articles by alphabetic order
 Ā Ī Ñ Ś Ū Ö Ō
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

One Hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities: Observations on an Annual Ceremony by the Ngakpas of Rebkong

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

by Georgios T. Halkias

Introduction Professional practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism are commonly divided into the ‘red sangha’ (dge ’dun mar po), celibate monks and nuns dressed in maroon robes, and the ‘white sangha’ (dge ’dun dkar po), male and female lay tantrists or ngakpas and ngakmas (m. sngags pa/f. sngags ma) who wear the white cloth and have uncut clotted hair (gos dkar lcang lo can).57 Arguably, the Rebkong ngakpas in the north-eastern part of the Tibetan Plateau comprise the largest community of lay tantric householders skilled in the use of mantra (Skt. mantrin).58 In this study, I will briefly recapitulate some important features of the Reb kong snangs mang59, a community of predominantly male non-celibate

57 For a detailed discussion of a treatise for the defence of the ngakpa’s dreadlocks as an authentic Buddhist symbol based on iconography, scripture, and reasoning, see Bogin’s (2008) examination of Tendzin Norbu’s Ral pa’i rnam bshad. 58 Bstan ’dzin Norbu explains the distinctive markers of the ngakpas: “these accoutrements–the dread-locks and the white undyed clothes–display a natural and uncontrived state. These are the accoutrements of the ‘accomplished ones’ (grub thob, siddha) and the ‘holders of the mantra[’s power]” (Bogin, 2008, p. 96). 59 For a thorough introduction to the history of this community see Dhondup cited in this work. According to one estimate the Reb kong The Zhitro Festival

tantrists affiliated with the Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, and share some general observations from my participation in the Shitro ceremony that took place from June 21st to the 24th, 2017, at the village of Shakarlung (Zha dkar lung) in the district of Rebkong.60 Background The earliest Tibetan movement of lay tantric practitioners goes back to Padmasambhava, a semi-legendary tantric master from Oḍḍiyāna. It is traditionally assumed that he contributed to the establishment of Tibet’s first Buddhist monastery Samye (Bsam yas), subjugated forces hostile to the propagation of Buddhism, and concealed texts and relics, so-called ‘treasures,’ for later discovery. At the Red Rock Cave at Samye Chimpu he initiated the first order of ngakpas associated with the Dudul Ngakpa Ling (’Dud dul sngags pa gling), a Samye chapel dedicated to tantric divinities (Karmay, 1986, p. 14). His foremost female disciple and consort, the Princess Kharchen, better known as Yeshe Tsogyal (Ye shes mtsho rgyal), is the first Tibetan ngakma said to have attained enlightenment following his teachings. Tales of Padmasambhava’s visits and enlightening activities abound across the culturally Tibetan world, i.e., from Ladakh to Mongolia and from Samye to Eastern Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. It is recounted that he also visited Amdo where he bounded indigenous spirits under oath and

sngags mang comprises anywhere between 4000 members (Stoddard 2013, p. 109) and 2000 (Sihlé, 2013, p. 168). 60 Rebkong is both the capital of Malo prefecture (Rma lho) and the name of Tongren county in Qinghai province. Having been historically an area of contact between different ethnic groups and cultures, Amdo has a long history of racial diversity including Tibetans, Mongols, Monguors, Salar, Han and Hui (Samuel, 2013).

Vajrayāna Conference

108 hid treasures in the area (Dhondup, 2011, p. 5). The transHimalayan popularity of the cult of Padmasambhava suggests that we are dealing with a legendary narrative where history becomes entangled with myth and mythological elements acquire historicity. In the case of Padmasambhava there is no pressing need to try to distinguish between history and myth, not only because we don’t have any historical evidence for his activities dating to this period or across such a vast geographical area, but because what we understand as myth and history often function as a meaningful unity in Tibetan religious sentiments and cultural memory. Another figure cited in connection with the earliest lay tantric movement is the Tibetan Emperor Tri Tsugdetsen

(Khri tsug lde btsan, c. 802-836), better known as Ralpacen. He is remembered as the third ‘Dharma King’ (chos rgyal) of Tibet for sponsoring the construction of Buddhist temples, the translation of Buddhist texts including the compilation of the Mahāvyutpatti (Sanskrit-Tibetan lexicon), and the allocation of seven families to each monk living in religious communities. Early post-imperial sources mention the name Ralpacen, which literally means

‘the one with long clotted hair’ (ral pa can), and report that he invited Buddhist monks to sit on his long matted hair spread out to the floor, a clear indication of his ngakpa leanings (Wangdu & Diemberger, 2000, p. 24). There is one more person associated with the early origins of Rebkong’s lay tantric community and with the turbulent history of the Tibetan empire. By some accounts, the last royal supporter of Buddhism, Ralpacen, met a tragic end at the hands of his brother Langdarma (Glang dar ma, or ’U dum btsan, 838-842) who usurped the imperial throne and supressed Buddhism during his reign. According to traditional Tibetan accounts, in order to protect the Buddhist dharma the hermit-monk Lhalung Pelgyi Dorje

The Zhitro Festival

(Lha lung dpal gyi rdo rje) assassinated the tyrant-emperor Langdarma, or in tantric terms ‘liberated him’ (sgrol ba) from his evil existence.61 Soon after, the assassin escaped to Khams and then Amdo where it said that he became a teacher to some of the eight founding members of the lay tantric community of Rebkong.62 Most important for the preservation of monastic Buddhism is the story of the contribution of three erudite Tibetan monks (mkhas pa mi gsum), Marben Shakya Senge, Yo Gechung, and Tsang Rabsel (Dmar ban shakya seng ge, G.yo dge chung, Gtsang rab gsal) who are credited for preserving the

Eastern Vinaya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Distraught by Langdarma’s actions against the monastic order, they fled Pel Chuwori meditation compound (Dpal chub bo ri sgom grwa) in Central Tibet and went to Ngari loaded with Vinaya and Abhidharma scriptures. Unable to remain in western Tibet, the three monks settled at Sogulung (Sro gu lung) in Amdo where they ordained a young Bönpo man by the name Lachen Gongpa Rabsel (Bla chen dgongs pa rab gsal) with the assistance of two Chinese monks identified as Heshang Kawa and Heshang Genbak (Davidson, 2005, p. 8). Lachen Gongpa took residence in the monastery of Dentik (Dan tig) where in turn he ordained young men from

61 Even though there is sparse evidence to prove or disprove the historicity of this event, some modern scholars have questioned the persecution of Buddhism during the reign of Langdarma and his assassination by a Buddhist monk; Yamaguchi (1996) has been the most vociferous proponent of this view. For a detailed discussion on the origins and development of ritual killing in tantric contexts, see Dalton (2011). 62 For narratives related to the eight Nyingma hermitages (grub thob gnas brgyad) where the adepts (grub bsnyes) said to have practiced, see Stoddard (2013, p. 110-112) and Dhondup (2011, p. 5, n.7).

Vajrayāna Conference

110 Central Tibet before spending the last two decades of his life at Martsang Drak (Plate I), a hermitage cave called after the name of his preceptors. 63 Nowadays, there are several families from Amdo that trace their ancestry to Central Tibet. Some of them claim to have been descendants of soldiers dispatched from U-tsang to fight early wars with China but were never ordered back, the khamalog (bka’ ma log), meaning ‘not to return without orders’

(Shakabpa, 1984, p. 42-43). Notable Masters Among the Rebkong Tantrists Lay Nyingma tantrists are documented in the 14th century in the village of ’Ja’ that lies in the periphery of Rebkong, while the so-called formation of a hundred tantrists from Zho-ong (zho ’ong sngags brgya) goes back to the early 12th century when Rigzin Dorje (Rig ’dzin rdo rje) from Lhasa arrived to the village of Zho-ong and 100 ngakpas became his disciples. Even though these

accounts point to the antiquity of lay tantric formations in the region (Dhondup, 2011, p. 7-9), the Reb kong snangs mang does not appear to have been organized and structured as a community prior to the 17th century. This was largely due to the efforts of Rigzin Palden Tashi (Rig ’dzin dpal ldan bkra shis, 1688-1742) who has instigated communal rules and practices, such as the tenth-day ritual dedicated to Padma sambhava (tshe bcu’i dus mchod), and provided the Rebkong members of the tantric community with a distinct identity.64

63 For a short biography of Lhachen Gongpa Rabsel by Samten Chosphel, see The Treasury of Lives accessed on February 3rd, 2018. 64 A slightly earlier figure is mentioned by the name Adron Khetsun Gyatso (A mgron mkhas btsun rgya mtsho, 1604-1679) who founded one of the very first tantric houses (sngags tshang) in Rebkong known

Plate I. Dmar tsang brag, the hermitage of Bla chen dgongs pa rab gsal. Photo by Georgios T. Halkias. Two studies on the life of Rigzin Palden Tashi have been published in English to date and there is no reason to repeat the information here (Dhondup, 2011; Stoddard, 2013). It suffices to say, that even though Palden Tashi was born into a Nyingma ngakpa family he received monastic ordination from the Gelug School and studied Buddhist philosophy and logic at several Gelugpa institutions including the monastery of Drepung near the city of Lhasa. He upheld non-partisan views (ris med) and embraced Buddhist teachers from the Gelug, Nyingma and Kagyu establishments. This non-sectarian orientation, shared by

as Adron Nangchen. For the lives of notable Rebkong masters, see Nida Chenagtsang (2013) and Research on the Community of Ngakpas [[[Sngags]] mang zhib ’jug, Zi ling: zi ling mi rgis par ’debs bzo grwa, 2002, p. 64-74].

112 many of his tantric followers in Rebkong and surrounding regions, contributed to the “‘universalist,’ ‘impartial,’ ‘nonsectarian’ movement that developed in Khams … in the 19th century” (Stoddard, 2013, p. 109). Another important tantrist that stands out in the history of the Rebkong sngags mang is Chögyal Ngawang Dargye (Chos rgyal ngag dbang dar rgyas, 1736-1807). A Mongolian prince from Sogpo,65 Ngawang Dargye was an accomplished Buddhist master

versed in Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese and Sanskrit languages, but unlike his predecessors who supported the Gelug School, he embraced the Nyingma tradition (Dhondup, 2011, p. 23). He served as the root teacher of many ngakpas, including the celebrated yogi-cumpoet Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol (Zhabs dkar tshogs drug rang grol, 1781-1851) from Zho-ong to whom he imparted the first and foremost spiritual empowerment of the mindtreasure of Kunsang Dechen Gyalpo (Kun bzang bde chen rgyal po). 66 The life of Shabkar has been documented (Ricard, 2001). Along with the first abbot of Rongwo (Rong bo) monastery, Kalden Gyatso (Skal ldan rgya mtsho, 1606

65 Sog po is a Mongolian enclave surrounded by Tibetan communities in present-day Henan Monglian Autonomous County in Qinghai (Diemberger, 2007, p. 110). 66 This is a Dzogchen practice focusing on the deities Hayagrīva and Vajravārahi titled Wish-fulfilling Gem, Hayagriva and Varahi (Rta phag yid bzhin nor bu). On the life of Chögyal Ngawang Dargye, see The Great Perfection Dispelling the Darkness of Ignorance [[[Rdzogs chen]] ma rig mun sel, Pecin: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2002, p. 1-16], Ricard (2001, p. 565-567), and Lce Nag Tshang Hum Chen (2007, p. 239-255). For his instructional manual on the mind-terma (dgongs gter) by Kunzang Dechen Gyalpo, see The Lamp of Wisdom that Dispels the Darkness of Ignorance: A Manual of Instructions of a New Dzogchen Terma [[[Gter]] gsar rdzogs chen gyi khri yig ma rig mun sel ye shes sgron me, Paro: Ngodrup Lama and Sherab Demy, 1979]. The Zhitro Festival

1677), he inspired many generations of Buddhist practitioners with his instructive spiritual songs (mgyur) that are read till this day.67 Changlung Palchen Namkai Jigme (Spyang lung dpal chen nam mkhai’i ’jigs med, 1757-1821) initiated regulations for the performance of religious rituals, but unlike Shabkar and Rigzin Palden Tashi neither did he take vows of celibacy nor did he train in monastic institutions. As far as we know, Namkai Jigme did not author any works but instead meditated in remote caves. It is reported that he had visions of Buddhist deities, performed miracles, and revealed hidden sacred objects (Dhondup, 2013, p. 119). His name is associated with Rebkong’s ‘one thousand-nine-hundred ritual dagger holders’ (phur thogs stong dang dgu brgya), a title

still in use to refer to the ngakpas of Rebkong. The story goes back to 1810, during a series of Vajrayāna empowerments (dbang) and teachings on the rare treasures (gter ma) of Ngadag Nyangral Nyima Ozer (Mnga’ bdag nyang ral nyi ma ’od zer, 1124-1192), the Eight Instructions: The Assembly of Buddhas (Bka’ brgyad bde gshegs ’dus pa). At that time, Namkai Jigme, the head lama of Kyungon (Khyung mgon) monastery who presided over the rituals that lasted for 15 days, distributed 1900 wooden daggers (Skt. kīla; phur ba) to the participants present in the ceremony. Over the centuries several charismatic figures created their own tantric houses (sngags khang) and contributed to the propagation of Nyingma teachings in the area of Rebkong. The following list is indicative but not exhaustive: Magsar Paṇḍita (Mag gsar kun bzang stobs ldan dbang po, 1781-1832), a Vajrakīlaya adept; 68 Dzogchen Longchen

67 For samples of their instructive poetry, see Sujata (2008, p. 549-569). 68 According to Mayer and Cantwell (2010, p. 73) he is noted for taking the Tantra of the Perfections of Enlightened Activity (’Phrin las phun

114 Choying Tobden Dorje (Rdzogs chen klong chen chos dbyings stobs ldan rdo rje, 1785-1848), the founder of the Dzogchen Namgyal Ling tantric house and author of the Treasury of Sūtra and Tantra (Mdo sngags mdzod); the terton (gter ston) Khamla Tragthung Namka Gyatso (Khams bla khrag ’thung nam mkhargya mtsho, 1788-1851), the founder of the monastery of Gonlaka Orgyen Namdroling (Dgon la kha o rgyan rnam grol gling) in 1818 that later became the main center of practice for the ngakpas for the southern region of Rebkong (Dhondup, 2009, p. 24); the terton Jigme Natshog Rangdrol (’Jigs med sna tshogs rang grol, 1796-1874) from Derge, a devotee of Dodrubchen Rinpoche who settled in Sogpo, revealed numerous treasures and introduced a tradition of pilgrimage to the site of Lhamo Ngulkhang Dzong (Lha mo dngul khang rdzong) (Lce Nag tshang Hum Chen, 2007, p. 253); Nyang Nangdze Dorje (Nyang snang mdzad rdo rje, 1798-1874), a collector and propagator of Shabkar’s works, who established a library for ngakpa texts and initiated a drubchen (sgrub chen) ceremony in many villages (Dhondup, 2009, p. 30-36); and last but not least, the contemporary master Nangchang Lama Tharchin (Sngagschang bla ma mthar chin, 19362013), 10th lineage holder of the Rebkong ngakpas and heir of the Dudjom Tersar tradition, who facilitated the spread the Vajrayāna teachings in the United States of America.

sum tshogs pa’ rgyud) system of seven perfections (phun sum tshogs pa bdun) as the basis of organizing his commentary, Oral Instructions of the Laughing Glorious Heruka: A Kīlaya Commentary (Phur pa’i rnam bshad he ru ka dpal bzhad pa’i zhal lung).

Features of the Rebkong Tradition of Ngakpas One can become a ngakpa either through heredity by being born into a household of tantric practitioners (gdung brgyud), or by having faith in the tantric teachings (chos gyi rgyud pa). Most of the ngakpas lead non-celibate lives and are occupied with farming and animal husbandry though they may pursue any kind of profession. Their participation in local rituals, sponsored by individuals or an entire village, could involve weather manipulation, healing, prognostications, exorcisms, and so forth. They also engage in collective ritual practices, like the Tshechu

ritual on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar month, and in supra-local annual ceremonies (chos thog), like the Shitro I attended in June 2017. These are performed at various Nyingma monasteries, the village tantric halls (sngags khang), the ritualist’s home, or at the residence of their sponsor (Dhondup, 2013, p. 125). Members of the sngags mang are roughly affiliated with one of two branches demarcated by the River Dgu. There are three monasteries on the sunny side (nyin gyi dgon pa gsum) of the river which follow Jigme Lingpa’s (1730-1798) Longchen Nyinthig (Klong chen snying thig), and three seats on the shaded side (srib kyi gdan gsum) that uphold the old mantric tradition (sngags rnying) of Mindroling (Smin grol ling) founded in 1676 by Rigdzin Terdag Ling (Rig ’dzin gter bdag gling, 1616-1714).69 The relationship between the two

69 Dhondup (2011b, p. 47-48) lists the following three main monasteries belonging to the sunny side: “Chos dbyings stobs ldan rdo rje’s seat, Ko’u sde dgon rdzogs chen rnam rgyal gling; Khams bla khrag ’thung nam mkhargya mtsho’s seat, Dgon la kha; and Mag gsar kun bzang stob ldan dbang po’s Rig ’dzin pad ma rnam grol ling”. Those on the shaded side are listed: Rig ’dzin dpal ldan bkra shis’s seat, Rig ’dzin rab ’phel gling; Spyang lung dpal chen nam mkha’ ’jigs med’s monastery, Khyung mgon mi ’gyur rdo rje gling; and Zhabs dkar’s monastic seat, G.ya’ ma bkra shis ’khyil.” Vajrayāna Conference

116 sides has not always been harmonious (Dhondup, 2013, p. 123) nor has their relation with other schools of Tibetan Buddhism. According to Sihlé (2013, p. 172), when Nyingma lamas and local chiefs attempted to institute a large-scale Shitro ritual to bring together Nyingma ngakpas from both the sunny and shaded sides in the 1940s, they faced strong opposition from the local Gelug establishment. The Shitro Ceremony, June 21-24, 2017 About one hour drive from the town of Rebkong lies the small rural village of Shakarlung (Zha dkar lung) with around 50 households occupied for the most part with farming and

raising livestock. In late June of 2017 the village was buzzing with activity when approximately 400 adult ngakpas gathered to conduct a public ritual ceremony based on a 14th century revealed treasure, Karma Lingpa’s “100 peaceful and wrathful deities.” Karma Lingpa’s text, the Self Liberating Mind: The Profound Treasure of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities (Zab gter zhi khro dgongs pa rang grol kyi ’don cha),70 or Karling Shitro (Kar ling zhi khro) in short, is a multipart collection of funerary texts grouped together with the Bardo thodrol chenmo (Bar do thos grol chen mo), the socalled Tibetan Book of the Dead. However, a clear distinction between the two should be made since their transmission

70 Karma Lingpa, the eldest son of the Buddhist master and famous tertön Nyida Sangye (Nyi zla sangs rgyas) from the southeastern region of Dakpo (Dwags po), is believed to have been an emanation of the eminent imperial translator Cokro Lui Gyaltsen (Cog ro Klu’i rgyal mtshan), one of the twenty-five disciples of Padmasambhava. Karma Lingpa extracted the inner Tantra, the Profound Treasure of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, from Mount Gampodar (Sgam po gdar gyi ro bo) where it was hidden six centuries earlier by its author Padmasambhava, along with other esoteric texts (Dudjom Jigdrel, 1991, p. 801).

histories are rather unique (Cuevas, 2000, p. 23). Both collections deal with post-mortem practices and visions said to arise at different times during the bardo (bar do), the intermediate state after death.71 According to Cuevas (ibid) the institutionalization of the liturgy of the Karling Shitro was the responsibility of the 4th lineage holder of the Karling transmission, Gyarawa Namkha Choki Gyatso (b. 1430, Rgya ra ba nam mkhachos kyi rgya mtsho), a monk from southeastern Tibet. Main rituals associated with the Karling Shitro involve expiation and confession (bskang shangs), supplications to the lineage teachers (brgyud pa’i gsol ’debs) and the religious protectors (bstan srung), bestowal of initiations (dbang bskur), cake offerings (gtor ’bul), homa rites (sbyin sreg), and generation-phase (bskyed rim) sādhana practices related to the composite maṇḍala of 42 peaceful deities (zhi ba’i lha zhe gnyis) visualized across the body, and 58 wrathful deities (khro bo lha nga brgyad) residing in the head.72 The Shitro ceremony (zhi khro chos thog) was organized by the Tsodu tantric house division (tsho ’du sngags khang sde) that was formerly established by farmers and nomads (rongbrog) from 4 villages.73 It took place at the tantric hall of the

71 For an informative study of the Shitro maṇḍala and its relation to Abhidharmic discourses on the intermediate state (antarābhava), see Blezer (1997).

72 Even though references to the Karling Shitro maṇḍala of deities point to similar arrangements mentioned in the Guhyagarbha Tantra (Rgyud gsang ba’i snying po), and may in fact derive from them, they do not seem to be identical (Blezer, 1997, p. 128-129). 73 Nowadays, the Tsodu tantric house includes more than 150 households and at least 1,200 people with each village featuring each own tantric house, a ban, a sngags and a bon of a particular religious school (chos lugs kyi grub mtha’). Each village takes turn organizing religious ceremonies impartially (mnyam du) and by rotation

118 village. On each day, just before dawn, the hall was occupied mostly by adult ngakpas (Plate II) from different villages and tantric houses (sngags khang). Among them there was a vajra-master (rdo rje slob dpon), a chant-master (dbu mdzad), and few disciplinarians (dge bskos) overseeing the operation of the performance. Next to the hall there was another temple in similar architectural style but without an enclosed courtyard that was used for the preparation of ritual cakes or torma (gtor ma) offered during the ceremony. It would appear that the hall’s inner sanctuary was reserved for the vajra-master and other senior tantrists. The inner courtyard occupied by the ngakpas was adorned with fivecolored Buddhist flags and several thankas depicting common figures from the Buddhist pantheon such as, the Shitro mandala featuring Samantabhadra in sexual union with his consort (yab yum) surrounded by deities, Padmasambhava, Śākyamuni, the four-armed Avalokiteśvara, Amitābha, and Amitāyus, among others. Two banners, one blue and the other red, were suspended between the thankas. Their contents are worth transcribing in full as they reflect the aspiring ethos and views of the tantric community.

according to their religious affiliation; see Nyi zla he ru kah ye shes ’od zer sgrol ma, “Tsho ’du’i sde ba so so’i sngags khang.” In Reb kong sngags mang gi lo rgyus phyogs bsgrigs, Pec in: mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2004, p. 317-321.

Plate II: Zhi khro chos thog, Reb kong sngags mang. Photo by Georgios T. Halkias. The contents of the blue banner attributed to Tromtrul Kelsang Phuntsog (Khrom sprul skal bzang phun tshogs) may read something like this: ༄༅།། Mམ་པ་གNམ་Oན་Pས་དཀར་Rང་<09།། Sས་པ0Tགས་@ས་གནས་འUར་Vངས་བཀང་(ང་།། Eས་བསམ་Wམ་པ0་ཡངས་བ0་ཐ་Z[ན།། -་.་/ག་པ0་བAན་པ་\ས་]ར་^ག། May the faction of the holders of the three vows, with white clothes and clotted hair, this assembly, be thoroughly established in this place, through extensive hearing, reflecting, and meditating, and may the Vajrayāna teachings spread. And the contents of the red banner also attributed to Tromtrul Kelsang Phuntsog made reference to the ‘three uncontrived’ (ma bcos gsum) aspects upheld by the ngakpas.

༄༅།། P་ལ་རལ་བ་མ་བ_ས་`ག་པར་བཞག། 6ས་ལ་Pས་དཀར་མ་བ_ས་`བས་b་གcལ།། bམས་dད་མ་བ_ས་གeག་མ0་རང་ཞལ་བf།། མ་བ_ས་གNམ་Oན་?གས་པ་g་ལ་hར།། Without making up the clotted hair on the head, without affectation letting the white clothes hang on the body, and without artifice beholding the true face of the natural state; in respect to these three uncontrived [aspects], one is called a ngakpa. Meeting the Vajra-master at Shakarlung village In the morning of the last day of the ceremony I had a brief conversation with Tamdrin Gyal (Rta mgrin rgyal), the vajra-master presiding over the ceremony. I was told that there had been similar public gatherings prior to the 1950s but they

were disrupted for a long time only to be resumed after the Cultural Revolution. The first Shitro ceremony took place in 1981 at the village of Chutsa (Chu ca), the birth place of Rigzin Palden Tashi, and was staged again in 2013 in the same village. State restrictions for holding public religious gatherings were lifted thanks to the interventions of the Panchen Lama, Losang Trinley Lundrup Tsokyi Gualtsen (Blo bzang phrin las lhun grub chos kyi rgual mtshan, 19381989). Since 1981, the Karling Shitro has been conducted every year based on a lottery rotation system. The exact dates of this public event are not fixed in advance. They are determined each year so as not to conflict with the harvest season or the collection of the caterpillar-fungus (dbyar rtswa

dgun ’bu) that is an important source of income for the community.74 According to Tamdrin Gyal there was a reduction of ngakpas participating in this year’s ceremony, but he did not elaborate on the reasons. Commenting on the absence of female tantric practitioners (ngakmo), I was told that there are approximately 100 ngakmos residing in the Rebkong area but they don’t usually join public rituals because many of them are illiterate and can’t follow the recitation of ritual texts. Ngakpas affiliated either with the Longchen Nyinthig or the Mindroling lineages are expected to follow three sets of vows

related to the outer (phyi), inner (nang), and secret (gsang) levels of refuge and practice.75 The outer vows of practice concern avoiding the ten non virtuous actions such as, killing, stealing, lying, and so forth. The inner vows correspond to the bodhisattva training in the six perfections (Skt. pāramitā; pha rol tu phyin pa) especially the perfection of wisdom (sher phyin). The secret vows are tantric commitments. They can be summed up in not failing to recognize the buddha-nature in oneself and in all beings. In principle, each ngakpa ought to maintain all three and especially the ‘secret vow’ of abiding at all times in the uncontrived simplicity and expanse of dharmakāya (chos sku), the nature of the awakened mind. With these last words our conversation came to an end and I returned to the tantric hall for the concluding part of the ceremony.

74 For an informative study on the harvesting of yartsa in the QinghaiTibetan plateau, see Sulek (2009). 75 Their vows vary according to the empowerments they have received and commonly entail the ‘fourteen root downfalls’ (rtsa ltung bcu bzhi) and possibly some of the branch vows; for a detailed explanation of tantric vows in general, see Jamgon Kongtrul (1998, p. 215-306).

122 Post-liturgical Activities At the end of the closing prayers, the residents of Shakarlung and devotees from neighboring areas lined up outside the hall in order to participate in a ritual of ‘ceremonial spitting’ (kha phru ’debs pa).76 In the meantime, at the entrance to the tantric hall a few male and female participants intentionally laid horizontally on the ground so that the ngakpas pass over them on their way out of the hall. Presumably, this pious act of humility was done as an expression of devotion and for the purpose of receiving benediction. Navigating their exit from the hall cautiously so as not to step on the lying bodies, each ngakpa blew water on the devotees including young children and infants carried on by their mothers. Some male participants exposed different parts of their upper body to receive the sanctified spit on their skin, while many received it on their bowed heads as a general blessing for driving away evil (Plate II).

76 I wish to thank Dan Martin for providing me with the Tibetan term for this practise. It appears that as early as the second or third centuries BCE, ceremonial spitting was associated with breath magic in Daoist contexts that “concentrated the vapor as it was ejected from the mouth, thus serving as a means to access the spirt world and cure demonic ailments.” This practice is also mentioned in a Buddhist dhāraṇī described in Dunhuang manuscripts (Ng, 2007, p. 94-95). For the antiquity and prevalence of ritual spitting across cultures, see Godbey (1914). For parallels to the kha phru ’debs pa, see Dorje Lingpa’s (Rdo rje gling pa, 1346-1405) revealed treasure, the ‘vajra armour’ (rdo rje’i go khrab), where the officiant sprays water empowered by the mantra to heal illnesses; see the Wholesome Collection of Mantras, the Vajra Armour (Bzlas chog sngags ’bum dkar po rdo rje’i go khrab), Rin chen gter mdzod, vol. 42, text No. 49, ff.1a-3b.

After the conclusion of the spitting ceremony, we all headed towards a nearby hill for the performance of the tshasur (tsha gsur) ritual where ingredients of the three whites (dkar gsum), comprising roasting barley (tsam pa) and other substances, were offered to the pyre (Plate IV). The main purpose of the sur is to provide benefit for the dead, lingering spirits, and local deities, and nourishment for the bardo beings (bar do ba) that feed on the scent of burnt food (Panglung, 1985). The ngakpas formed different groups reciting prayers and pouring alcohol to the ground (chang mchod) for the duration of the ritual. The general mood was one of communal mirth culminating in the lighting of firecrackers and the tossing of paper prayer flags (lung rta) witnessed by a lone drone hovering above.

124 Parting Reflections The annual performance of the Karling Shitro is an important occasion for community building and participation that strengthens the religious and social identity of Tibetan communities in the Rebkong region. The Tibetans who sponsored the ceremony and made cash offerings to the ngakpas attended the ceremonial blessings for the sake of accumulating merit for themselves, their families, and their deceased relatives, and for forging an auspicious connection with the Buddhist teachings (chos ’brel). Without overstating the fact that the ngakpas supplemented their income during the ceremony, there seems to be no compelling reason to elaborate on a tension between the ‘mundane’ and the ‘sacred’ and read it back to the socially complex

and idiosyncratic world of the Rebkong ngakpas. In Vajrayāna Buddhism there is no sharp dichotomy between practical needs and soteriological aspirations for such a distinction is based on a dualistic framework that is counter soteriological, and one that problematizes a large number of popular tantric practices whose aim is to accomplish worldly aims such as, wealth, health, long-life, and so forth. As a participant-observer in the ceremony I found myself pondering to which extent Vajrayāna Buddhism has kept its traditional modalities of delivery and how it may have evolved to accommodate the

unexpected changes in the political and social landscape of the region. But there is another line of inquiry, which to the best of my knowledge remains unexplored. It was brought to my attention by James Mallinson whom I met in Thimphu during this conference. James informed me there are some noticeable parallels between lay tantric groups in Rajasthan, the householder Nāths (as opposed to the ascetic Nāths), and the Rebkong ngakpas, who similarly feature non-celibate householders and celibate ascetics in their respective areas. Although they are geographically apart from each other and The Zhitro Festival

also genealogically distinct, these two communities of tantric householders lay similar claims of past descent from a great yogi and are reputed for their spiritual songs, magical powers, knowledge of tantric yogas (including secret sexual practices), and ability to perform esoteric rituals and mantras in their respective villages for protection, healing, and so forth (Gold, 2002). While these similarities may point to features shared by a number of local shaman healers, the reference to Kabīr’s corps of householder Sants dressed in white and carrying a white banner (an emblem of their non-renunciate status) in contrast to Gorakh’s party of orange clad celibate renunciates carrying an orange banner (Gold, 2002, p. 147), resonates with a colour-based distinction between the white clad ngakpas versus the red clad celibate monastics. Further research on the origins and development of Hindu and Buddhist lay tantric movements may reveal some fruitful areas of comparative study, not least for their ambivalent relation to institutionalized forms of religious orthodoxy and for their role in preserving till this day old esoteric practices.

Plate IV. Gsur mchod. Photo by Georgios T. Halkias. References * Full citations to Tibetan sources mentioned and consulted are listed in the footnotes. Blezer, H. (1997). Kar gliṅ Źi khro: A Tantric Buddhist Concept. Leiden: Research School CNWS. Boggin, B. (2008). The Dreadlocks Treatise: On Tantric Hairstyles in Tibetan Buddhism. History of Religions, 48(2), 85–109. Chenagtsang, N. (2013). L’Art du Bon Karma. Une pratique spirituelle de la Médecine Traditionnelle Tibétaine. Books on Demand. Cuevas, B. J. (2000). The Hidden Treasures of Sgam-po-gdar Mountain: A History of the Zhi-khro Revelations of Karma

gling-pa and the Making of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. PhD Diss. University of Virginia. Dalton, P. J. (2011). The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism. Yale: Yale University Press. Davidson, R. (2005). Tibetan Renaissance: Tantric Buddhism and the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture. Columbia: Columbia University Press. Dhondup, Y. (2013). Rules and Regulations of the Reb Kong Tantric Community. In Y. Dhondup, U. Pagel & G. Samuel (Eds.), Monastic and Lay Traditions in NorthEastern Tibet (pp. 117–140). Leiden: Brill. _______(2011a). Rig ’dzin Dpal ldan bkra shis (1688-1743) and the emergence of a tantric community in Reb kong, A mdo (Qinghai). Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 34(1 & 2), 3–30. _______(2011b). Reb kong: Religion, History and Identity of a Sino-Tibetan borderland town. Revue d’etudes Tibétaines, 20, 33–59. _______(2009). From

Hermit to Saint: The Life of Nyang Snang Mdzad Rdo Rje (1798-1874). In H. Diemberger & K. Phuntso (Eds.), Old Treasures, New Discoveries, PIATS 2006: Tibetan Studies; Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association of Tibetan Studies (pp. 15–41). Halle: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies. Diemberger, H. (2007). Festivals and their Leaders: the Management of Tradition in the Mongolian/Tibetan Borderlands. In U. Bulag & H. Diemberger (Eds.), The Mongolia-Tibet Interface: Opening New Research Terrains in Inner Asia. PIATS 2003: Tibetan Studies, Proceedings of the Tenth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (pp. 109-134). Leiden: Brill. Dudjom Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje. (1991). The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism: its Fundamentals and History. Somerville: Wisdom Publications. Godby, A. H. (1914). Ceremonial Spitting. The Monist, 24(1), 67–91.

128 Gold, D. (2002). Kabīr’s Secrets for Householders: Truths and Rumours among Rajasthani Nāths. In M. Horstmann (Ed.), Images of Kabir (pp. 143-156). Delhi: Manohar. Jamgon Kongtrul. (1998). The Treasury of Knowledge: Buddhist Ethics. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publication. Karmay, S. (1986). Origin and Early Development of the Tibetan Religious Traditions of the Great Perfection (Rdzogs Chen) (PhD Thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London). Lce Nag tshang Hum Chen [Nida Chenagtsang]. (2007). A Brief Introduction to Ngag dbang dar rgyas and the origin of the Rnying ma Order in Henan

County (Sogpo), the Mongolian Region of Amdo. In U. Bulag & H. Diemberger (Eds.), The Mongolia-Tibet Interface: Opening New Research Terrains in Inner Asia. PIATS 2003: Tibetan Studies, Proceedings of the Tenth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (pp. 239–256). Leiden: Brill. Mayer, R & Cantwell, C. (2010). Continuity and Change in Tibetan Mahāyoga Ritual: Some Evidence from the Tabzhag (Thabs zhags) Manuscript and Other Dunhuang Texts. In J. I. Cabezön (Ed.), Tibetan Ritual (pp. 69–88). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Ng, Z. (2007). The Making of a Savior Bodhisattva:

Dizang in Medieval China. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. Panglung, J. L. On the Origins of the Tsha-Gsur Ceremony. In B. N. Aziz & M. Kapstein (Eds.), Soundings of Tibetan Civilization (pp. 268-272). Delhi: Manohar. Wangdu, P. & Diemberger, H. (2000). Dba’ bzhed: The Royal Narrative Concerning the Bringing of the Buddha’s Doctrine to Tibet. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Ricard, M. (2001). The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogi. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. Samuel, G. (2013). Reb Kong in the Multiethnic Context of Amdo: religion, language, ethnicity, and identity. In Y. Dhondup, U. Pagel & G. Samuel (Eds.), Monastic and Lay Traditions in North-Eastern Tibet (pp. 5–22). Leiden: Brill.

Shakabpa, T. (1984). Tibet: A Political History. New York: Potala Publications. Sihlé, N. (2013). Money, Butter and Religion: Remarks on Participation in the Large-scale Colelctive Rituals of the Rep kong Tantrists. In Y. Dhondup, U. Pagel & G. Samuel (Eds.), Monastic and Lay Traditions in North-Eastern Tibet (pp. 165–186). Leiden: Brill. Stoddard, H. (2013). Rig ’dzin dpal ldan bkra shis (1688-1743): The ‘1900 Dagger-wielding, white-robed, long haired

yogins’ (sngag mang phur thog gos dkar lcang lo can stong dang dgu brgya) & the eight places of practice of Reb Kong (Reb kong gi sgrub gnas brgyad). In Y. Dhondup, U. Pagel & G. Samuel (Eds.), Monastic and Lay Traditions in North-Eastern Tibet (pp. 89–116). Leiden: Brill. Sujata, V. (2008). Relationships between Inner Life and Solitary Places: The Mgyur of Two Siddhas in Amdo. In O. Almogi (Ed.), Contributions to Tibetan Buddhist Literature. PIATS 2006: Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (pp. 514–549). Halle: International Institute for

Tibetan and Buddhist Studies. Sulek, E. R. (2009). In the Land of Checkpoints: Yartsa gunbu Business in Golok 2007, a Preliminary Report from the Field. In B. Dotson, K.N. Gurung, G. Halkias & T. Myatt (Eds.), Contemporary Visions in Tibetan Studies (pp. 15–44). Chicago: Serindia. Yamaguchi, Z. (1996). The Fiction of King Darma’s Persecution of Buddhism. In J. Drège (Ed.), Du Dunhuang au Japon: Études chinoises et bouddhiques offertes à Michel Soymié (pp. 231–258). Geneva: Droz.