Monday, December 26, 2005

Mongolia | Lama Gombo | Kalachakra Tantra

A little while back Lama Gombo called and said he had something he wanted to talk about. When I went to see him at Lamrim Khiid in Ulaan Baatar he presented me with a CD-full of photographs of a Tibetan-language Buddhist scripture that had recently surfaced in Bulgan Aimag.
Lama Gombo
As best I can make out, given the sometimes non-linear mode of Lama Gombo's mind (he is ninety-two years old), prior to 1937 the book had been the Kalachakra Temple, which at that time was located in Zuun Khuree, an appendage, as it were, of Ikh Khüree, which at the time was located in the general area of Sükhebaatar Square in what is now Ulaan Baatar. Around 1937 the Kalachakra Temple was destroyed by the communists, but a monk at the temple rescued the book and gave it to a man in Nailakh, the coal-mining town just east of Ulaan Baatar, for safe keeping. Apparently the man in Nailakh died and the book passed to a relative. In 1998 the relative gave the book to a lama at Gandan Monastery. A lama at Erdene Khamba Monastery in Bulgan Aimag then asked for the book because his monastery did not have a copy. Apparently this was viewed by some parties as a loan, but the first lama at Gandan died, and now the lama at Erdene Khamba says that the book was actually given to him, and by extension to his monastery, and he refused to return it to Gandan. So the physical book remains in Bulgan.
First page of the Condensed Kalachakra Tantra
At any rate, Lama Gombo wanted to know if it was possible to make a facsimile edition of the book from the photos. Given the low resolution and poor quality of the digital photos I had to tell him I did not think this was possible. Still, the book seemed quite interesting. At first Lama Gombo gave the impression that it had been written by the 4th Bogd Gegen, a successor to Zanabazar (see Incarnations of Javzandamba). This proved to be incorrect, however, the book had been commissioned, not written, by the 4th Bogd Gegen. Upon further questioning of Lama Gombo, it then became apparent that the book was actually a copy of the Condensed Kalachakra Tantra, written according to tradition by Manjushri Yashas, one of the Kings of Shambhala.

I sent some pages to translator and Tibetogolist Glenn Mullin, and he also said that it almost certainly a copy of the Condensed Kalachakra Tantra, and added that one of the last pages of the book stated that the print had been created from a critical comparison of the two different Tibetan texts, one published by Sakya Monastery in Tibet and the other presumably a critical edition created by either Desi Sangye Gyatso or else Ngawang Chokden, the Seventh Dalai Lama's Inner Mongolia guru.

Glenn Mullin then sent an email with photos of the relevant pages to Gene Smith at the Rubin Museum of Tibetan Art in New York City. Smith headed the Library of Congress program for publishing Tibetan texts back in the '70s and '80s and is now the Director of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, located at the Rubin Museum in New York. This organization has already scanned several million page of Tibetan texts and makes them available in digital form.

Gene Smith promptly replied to me, saying that he would very much like to see the photos of the book. He already has a scanned version of a Condensed Kalachakra Tantra produced in Beijing during the Yuan Dynasty, probably between 1291 and 1309, as a memorial to Khubilai Khan, Chingis Khan’s grandson, who founded the Yuan Dynasty, and he opined that it would be very interesting to compare the two editions.

The book now in Bulgan contains many illustrations. According to Lama Gombo the illustrations first consisted of black and white line drawings and were later colored in by the 4th Bogd Gegeen himself. If this is true it would certainly add to the bibliographical interest of the book.
Buddha on the first page, alleged colored by the 4th Bogd Gegeen
Kalachakra Diety, allegedly colored by the 4th Bogd Gegeen
It was the Fourth Bogd Gegeen who first introduced the Duinkhor, or Kalachakra Doctrine, into Mongolia in 1801. In 1803 he made a trip to Lhasa and brought back with him a large collection statues and books. According to ethnologist A. M. Pozdneev, “he esteemed as the upmost of his acquisitions a Kanjur written in gold on black parchment . . . in the following year [1805] the Gegen brought to completion some enterprises that were new for Urga and were adopted by him from Tibet . . in 1806 he set up a special datsang for the school of Duinkor [Kalachakra]” and services were performed here in 1807. "In the same year 1807, the Gegen ordered a yum written in gold from Tibet . . . Moreover, being devoted to the task of developing Duinkhor, the Gegen decorated the temple of Dachin-kalbain-Sume, gilding its roof, and in its courtyard he established his personal residence.”

My point here is that the 4th was deeply involved in the Kalachakra and had ample opportunities to get copies of the Condensed Kalachakra Tantra from Tibet with which to make a new edition here in Mongolia. This may be how he acquired the two editions which were mentioned in the publishing information given in the text and noted by Glenn Mullin.

The 4th Bogd's “Dachin-kalbain-Sume” was the Kalachakra Temple in Ikh Khüree where the book was kept before its destruction around 1937. A new version of this temple, the Dechengalpa Datsan, also known as the Kalachakra Temple, was constructed in Gandan in 1992. Kalachakra rituals are now held here on a regular basis. The temple also contains thangkas of the 722 Kalachakra Dieties and the Kingdom of Shambhala.
The Kalachakra Temple (right) at Gandan