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Jan 03, 2006 02:40 PM
by W.Dallas TenBroeck

1/3/2006 2:35 PM


More on Reincarnation





SO little is known by Europeans of what is going on in Tibet, and even in
the more accessible Bhootan, that an Anglo-Indian paper--one of those which
pretend to know, and certainly discuss every blessed subject, whether they
really know anything of it or not--actually came out with the following bit
of valuable information:

It may not be generally known that the Deb Raja of Bhootan, who died in June
last, but whose decease has been kept dark till the present moment, probably
to prevent disturbances, is our old and successful opponent of 1864-65 . . .

The Bhootan Government consists of a spiritual chief, called the Dhurm Raja,
an incarnation of Buddha (?!!) who never dies--and a civil ruler called the
Deb Raja in whom is supposed to centre all authority.

A more ignorant assertion could hardly have been made. may be argued that
"Christian" writers believe even less in Buddha's reincarnations than the
Buddhists of Ceylon, and, therefore, trouble themselves very little, whether
or not they are accurate in their statements. But, in such a case, why touch
a subject at all? Large sums are annually spent by Governments to secure old
Asiatic manuscripts and learn the truth about old religions and peoples, and
it is not showing respect for either science or truth to mislead people
interested in them by a flippant and contemptuous treatment of facts.

On the authority of direct information received at our Headquarters, we will
try to give a more correct view of the situation than has hitherto been had
from books. Our informants are firstly--some very learned lamas; secondly--a
European gentleman and traveller, who prefers not to give his name; and
thirdly--a highly educated young Chinaman, brought up in America, who has
since preferred to the luxuries of worldly life and the pleasures of Western
civilization, the comparative privations of a religious and contemplative
life in Tibet. Both of the two last-named gentlemen are Fellows of our
Society, and the latter--our "Celestial" Brother--losing, moreover, no
opportunity of corresponding with us. A message from him has been just
received via Darjeeling.

In the present article, it is not much that we will have to say. Beyond
contradicting the queer notion of the Bhootanese Dharma Raja being "an
incarnation of Buddha," we will only point out a few absurdities, in which
some prejudiced writers have indulged.

It certainly was never known--least of all in Tibet--that the spiritual
chief of the Bhootanese was "an incarnation of Buddha, who never dies." The
''Dug-pa1 <> or Red Caps"
belong to the old Nyang-na-pa sect, who resisted the religious reform
introduced by Tsong-kha-pa between the latter part of the fourteenth and the
beginning of the fifteenth centuries. It was only after a lama coming to
them from Tibet in the tenth century had converted them from the old
Buddhist faith so strongly mixed up with the Bhon practices of the
aborigines--into the Shammar sect, that, in opposition to the reformed
"Gyelukpas," the Bhootanese set up a regular system of reincarnations. It is
not Buddha though, or "Sang-gyas"--as he is called by the Tibetans. who
incarnates himself in the Dharma Raja, but quite another personage; one of
whom we will speak about later on.

Now what do the Orientalists know of Tibet, its civil administration, and
especially its religion and its rites? That, which they have learned from
the contradictory, and in every case imperfect statements of a few Roman
Catholic monks, and of two or three daring lay travellers, who, ignorant of
the language, could scarcely be expected to give us even a bird's-eye view
of the country. The missionaries, who introduced themselves in 1719,
stealthily into Lhassa,2 <>
were suffered to remain there but a short time and were finally forcibly
expelled from Tibet. The letters of the Jesuits--Desideri, and Johann
Grueber, and especially that of Fra della Penna, teem with the greatest
absurdities.3 <> Certainly as
superstitious, and apparently far more so than the ignorant Tibetans
themselves, on whom they father every iniquity, one has but to read these
letters to recognize in them that spirit of odium theologicum felt by every
Christian, and especially Catholic missionary for the "heathen" and their
creeds; a spirit which blinds one entirely to the sense of justice. And when
could have been found any better opportunity to ventilate their monkish
ill-humour and vindictiveness than in the matter of Tibet, the very land of
mystery, mysticism and seclusion? Beside these few prejudiced "historians,"
but five more men of Europe ever stepped into Tibet. Of these, three--Bogle,
Hamilton and Turner--penetrated no farther than its borderlands;
Manning--the only European who is known to have set his foot into Lha-ssa4
<> --died without revealing its
secrets, for reasons suspected, though never admitted, by his only surviving
nephew--a clergyman; and Csömo de Korös, who never went beyond Zanskar,and
the lamasery of Phag-dal.5 <> 

The regular system of the Lamaïc incarnations of "Sang-gyas" (or Buddha)
began with Tsong-kha-pa. This reformer is not the incarnation of one of the
five celestial Dhyans, or heavenly Buddhas, as is generally supposed, said
to have been created by Sakya Muni after he had risen to Nirvana, but that
of "Amita," one of the Chinese names for Buddha. The records preserved in
the Gön-pa (lamasery) of "Tda-shi Hlum-po" (spelt by the English Teshu
Lumbo) show that Sang-gyas incarnated himself in Tsongkha-pa in consequence
of the great degradation his doctrines had fallen into. Until then, there
had been no other incarnations than those of the five celestial Buddhas and
of their Boddhisatwas, each of the former having created (read, overshadowed
with his spiritual wisdom) five of the last-named--there were, and now are
in all but thirty incarnations--five Dhyans and twenty-five Boddhisatwas. It
was because, among many other reforms, Tsong- kha-pa forbade necromancy
(which is practiced to this day with the most disgusting rites, by the
Bhöns--the aborigines of Tibet--with whom the Red Caps, or Shammars, had
always fraternized), that the latter resisted his authority. This act was
followed by a split between the two sects. Separating entirely from the
Gyelukpas, the Dugpas (Red Caps)--from the first in a great
minority--settled in various parts of Tibet, chiefly its borderlands, and
principally in Nepaul and Bhootan. But, while they retained a sort of
independence at the monastery of Sakia-Djong, the Tibetan residence of their
spiritual (?) chief Gong-sso Rimbo-chay, the Bhootanese have been from their
beginning the tributaries and vassals of the Dalaï-Lamas. In his letter to
Warren Hastings in 1774, the Tda-shi Lama, who calls the Bhootans "a rude
and ignorant race," whose "Deb Rajah is dependent upon the Dalaï-Lama,"
omits to say that they are also the tributaries of his own State and have
been now for over three centuries and a half. The Tda-shi Lamas were always
more powerful and more highly considered than the Dalaï-Lamas. The latter
are the creation of the Tda-shi Lama, Nabang-Lob-Sang, the sixth incarnation
of Tsong-kha-pa--himself an incarnation of Amitabha, or Buddha. This
hierarchy was regularly installed at Lha-ssa, but it originated only in the
latter half of the seventeenth century.6

In Mr. C. R. Markham's highly interesting work above noticed, the author has
gathered every scrap of information that was ever brought to Europe about
that terra incognita. It contains one passage, which, to our mind, sums up
in a few words the erroneous views taken by the Orientalists of Lamaism in
general, and of its system of perpetual reincarnation especially. "It was,
indeed," it reads, "at about the period of Hiuen-Thsang's journey, that
Buddhism first began to find its way into Tibet, both from the direction of
China and that of India; but it came in a very different form from that in
which it reached Ceylon several centuries earlier. Traditions, metaphysical
speculations, and new dogmas, had overlaid the original Scriptures with an
enormous collection of more recent revelation. Thus Tibet received a vast
body of truth, and could only assimilate a portion for the establishment of
popular belief. Since the original Scriptures had been conveyed into Ceylon
by the son of Asoka, it had been revealed to the devout Buddhists of India
that their Lord had created the five Dhyani or celestial Buddhas, and that
each of these had created five Boddhisatwas, or beings in the course of
attaining Buddha-hood. The Tibetans took firm hold of this phase of the
Buddhistic creed, and their distinctive belief is that the Boddhisatwas
continue to remain in existence for the good of mankind by passing through a
succession of human beings from the cradle to the grave. This characteristic
of their faith was gradually developed, and it was long before it received
its present form;7 <> but the
succession of incarnate Boddhisatwas was the idea towards which the Tibetan
mind tended from the first." At the same time, as Max Müller says: "The most
important element of the Buddhist reform has always been its social and
moral code, not its metaphysical theories. That moral code, taken by itself,
is one of the most perfect which the world has ever known; and it was this
blessing that the introduction of Buddhism brought into Tibet." (p. XIV,

The "blessing" has remained and spread all over the country, there being no
kinder, purer-minded, more simple or sin-fearing nation than the Tibetans,
missionary slanders notwithstanding.8
<> But yet, for all that, the
popular Lamaism, when compared with the real esoteric, or Arahat Buddhism of
Tibet, offers a contrast as great as the snow trodden along a road in the
valley, to the pure and undefiled mass which glitters on the top of a high
mountain peak.9 <> A few of
such mistaken notions about the latter, we will now endeavour to correct as
far as it is compatible to do so.

Before it can be clearly shown how the Bhootanese were forcibly brought into
subjection, and their Dharma Raja made to accept the "incarnations" only
after these had been examined into, and recognized at Lha-ssa, we have to
throw a retrospective glance at the state of the Tibetan religion during the
seven centuries which preceded the reform. As said before, a Lama had come
to Bhootan from Kam--that province which had always been the stronghold and
the hot-bed of the "Shammar" or Bhön rites10
<> --between the ninth and
tenth centuries, and had converted them into what he called Buddhism. But in
those days, the pure religion of Sakya Muni had already commenced
degenerating into that Lamaism, or rather fetichism, against which four
centuries later, Tsong-kha-pa arose with all his might. Though three
centuries had only passed since Tibet had been converted (with the exception
of a handful of Shammars and Bhöns), yet esoteric Buddhism had crept far
earlier into the country. It had begun superseding the ancient popular rites
ever since the time when the Brahmins of India, getting again the upper hand
over Asoka's Buddhism, were silently preparing to oppose it, an opposition
which culminated in their finally and entirely driving the new faith out of
the country. The brotherhood or community of the ascetics known as the
Byangtsiub--the "Accomplished" and the "Perfect"--existed before Buddhism
spread in Tibet, and was known, and so mentioned in the pre-Buddhistic books
of China as the fraternity of the "great teachers of the snowy mountains."

Buddhism was introduced into Bod-yul in the beginning of the seventh century
by a pious Chinese Princess, who had married a Tibetan King,11
<> who was converted by her
from the Bhön religion into Buddhism, and had become since then a pillar of
the faith in Tibet, as Asoka had been nine centuries earlier in India. It
was he who sent his minister--according to European Orientalists: his own
brother, the first Lama in the country--according to Tibetan historical
records--to India. This brother minister returned "with the great body of
truth contained in the Buddhist canonical Scriptures; framed the Tibetan
alphabet from the Devanagri of India, and commenced the translation of the
canon from Sanskrit--which had previously been translated from Pali, the old
language of Magadha--into the language of the country." (See Markham's
Tibet.)12 <>  

Under the old rule and before the reformation, the high Lamas, were often
permitted to marry, so as to incarnate themselves in their own direct
descendants--a custom which Tsong-kha-pa abolished, strictly enjoining
celibacy on the Lamas. The Lama Enlightener of Bhootan had a son whom he had
brought with him. In this son's first male child born after his death the
Lama had promised the people to reincarnate himself. About a year after the
event--so goes the religious legend--the son was blessed by his Bhootanese
wife with triplets, all the three boys! Under this embarrassing
circumstance, which would have floored any other casuists, the Asiatic
metaphysical acuteness was fully exhibited. The spirit of the deceased
Lama--the people were told--incarnated himself in all the three boys. One
had his Om, the other his Han, the third--his Hoong. Or, (Sanskrit):
Buddha--divine mind, Dharma--matter or animal soul, and Sangha--the union of
the former two in our phenomenal world. It is this pure Buddhist tenet which
was degraded by the cunning Bhootanese clergy to serve the better their
ends. Thus their first Lama became a triple incarnation, three Lamas, one of
whom--they say--got his "body," the other, his "heart" and the third, his
"word" or wisdom. 


This hierarchy lasted with power undivided until the fifteenth century, when
a Lama named Duk-pa Shab-tung, who had been defeated by the Gyelukpas of
Gay-don Toob-pa,13 <> invaded
Bhootan at the head of his army of monks. Conquering the whole country, he
proclaimed himself their first Dharma Raja, or Lama Rimbochay--thus starting
a third "Gem" in opposition to the two Gyelukpa "Gems." But this "Gem" never
rose to the eminence of a Majesty, least of all was he ever considered a
"Gem of Learning" or wisdom. He was defeated very soon after his
proclamation by Tibetan soldiers, aided by Chinese troops of the Yellow
Sect, and forced to come to terms. One of the clauses was the permission to
reign spiritually over the Red Caps in Bhootan, provided he consented to
reincarnate himself in Lha-ssa after his death, and make the law hold good
forever. No Dharma Raja since then was ever proclaimed or recognized, unless
he was born either at Lha-ssa or on the Tda-shi Hlum-po territory. 


Another clause was to the effect that the Dharma Rajas should never permit
public exhibitions of their rites of sorcery and necromancy, and the third
that a sum of money should be paid yearly for the maintenance of a lamasery,
with a school attached where the orphans of Red-caps, and the converted
Shammars should be instructed in the "Good Doctrine" of the Gyelukpas. That
the latter must have had some secret power over the Bhootanese, who are
among the most inimical and irreconcilable of their Red-capped enemies, is
proved by the fact that Lama Duk-pa Shab-tung was reborn at Lha-ssa, and
that to this day, the reincarnated Dharma Rajahs are sent and installed at
Bhootan by the Lha-ssa and Tzi-gadze authorities. The latter have no concern
in the administration save their spiritual authority, and leave the temporal
government entirely in the hands of the Deb-Rajah and the four Pën-lobs,
called in Indian official papers Penlows, who in their turn are under the
immediate authority of the Lha-ssa officials.

>From the above it will be easily understood that no "Dharma Raja" was ever
considered as an incarnation of Buddha. The expression that the latter
"never dies" applies but to the two great incarnations of equal rank--the
Dalai and the Tda-shi Lamas. Both are incarnations of Buddha, though the
former is generally designated as that of Avalokiteswara, the highest
celestial Dhyan. For him who understands the puzzling mystery by having
obtained a key to it, the Gordian knot of these successive reincarnations is
easy to untie. He knows that Avalokiteswara and Buddha are one as
Amita-pho14 <> (pronounced
Fo) or Amita-Buddha is identical with the former. What the mystic doctrine
of the initiated "Phag-pa" or "saintly men" (adepts) teaches upon this
subject, is not to be revealed to the world at large. The little that can be
given out will be found in a paper on the "Holy Law" which we hope to
publish in our next.

Theosophist, March, 1882

---------------------------------- FOOTNOTES


1 The term "Dug-pa" in Tibet is deprecatory. They themselves pronounce it
"Dög-pa" from the root to "bind" (religious binders to the old faith): while
the paramount sect--the Gyeluk-pa (yellow caps)--and the people, use the
word in the sense of "Dug-pa" mischief-makers, sorcerers. The Bhootanese are
generally called Dug-pa throughout Tibet and even in some parts of Northern

2 Out of twelve Capuchin friars who, under the leadership of Father della
Penna, established a mission at Lhassa, nine died shortly after, and only
three returned home to tell the tale. (See Tibet, by Mr. Clements R.

3 See Appendix to Narratives of the Mission of George Bogle to Tibet. By
Clements R. Markham, C. B., F. R. S., Trübner & Co., I London.--ED.

4 We speak of the present century. It is very dubious whether the two
missionaries Huc and Gabet ever entered Lha-ssa. The Lamas deny it.--ED.

5 We are well aware that the name is generally written Pugdal, but it is
erroneous to do so. "Pugdal" means nothing, and the Tibetans do not give
meaningless names to their sacred buildings. We do not know how Csömo de
Korös spells it, but, as in the case of Pho-ta-la of Lha-ssa loosely spelt
"Potala"--the lamasery of Phäg-dal derives its name from Phäg-pa
(Phag--eminent in holiness, Buddha-like, spiritual; and pha-man, father) the
title of "Awalokiteswara," the Boddhisatwa who incarnates himself in the
Dalaï Lama of Lha-ssa. The valley of the Ganges where Buddha preached and
lived, is also called "Phäg-yul," the holy, spiritual land; the word phag
coming from the one root--Phä or Phö being the corruption of Fo--(or Buddha)
as the Tibetan alphabet contains no letter F.--ED.

6 Says Mr. Markham in Tibet Ap. XVII Preface): "Gedun-tubpa, another great
reformer, was contemporary with Tsong-kha-pa, having been born in 1339, and
dying in 1474" (having thus lived 135 years). He built the monastery at
Teshu Lumbo (Tda-shi Hlum-po) in 1445, and it was in the person of this
perfect Lama, as he was called, that the system of perpetual incarnation
commenced. He was himself the incarnation of Boddhisatwa Padma Pani and on
his death he relinquished the attainment of Buddhahood that he might be born
again and again for the benefit of mankind. . . . When he died, his
successor was found as an infant by the possession of certain divine marks. 

7 Its "present" is its earliest form, as we will try to show further on. A
correct analysis of any religion viewed but from its popular aspect, becomes
impossible--least of all Lamaism, or esoteric Buddhism as disfigured by the
untutored imaginative fervour of the populace. There is a vaster difference
between the "Lamaism" of the learned classes of the clergy and the ignorant
masses of their parishioners, than there is between the Christianity of a
Bishop Berkeley and that of a modern Irish peasant. Hitherto Orientalists
have made themselves superficially acquainted but with the beliefs and rites
of popular Buddhism in Tibet, chiefly through the distorting glasses of
missionaries which throw out of focus every religion but their own. The same
course has been followed in respect to Sinhalese Buddhism, the missionaries
having, as Col. Olcott observes in the too brief Preface to his Buddhist
Catechism, for many years been taunting the Sinhalese with the "puerility
and absurdity of their religion" when, in point of fact, what they speak of
is not orthodox Buddhism at all. Buddhist folklore and fairy stories are the
accretions of twenty-six centuries.--ED.



Best wishes,





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