Dialogue October-December, 2012, Volume 14 No. 2
1.The Tibetan State and Buddhist Culture
Tibet, the land of purity, simplicity, open skies, stony wastes, and lofty peaks echoes the memories of monasteries sparkling in the sun. It is a soil honeycombed with esoteric revelations, where one sees things from within. It is a continuum of space-silence, the blue silence of the icy peaks, the ochre silence of the rocks, the illusory silence of the temporal world : all now lost in the savage, barbarous and satanic alteration of aggression. Tibet awaits a world sui generis, the presence of compassion, sublime centuries her own, her "divine territory... a land that is a mine of wisdom" as says an inscription, and
And here among these stones
The culmination of a dream.
Formation of the Tibetan state : Tibet emerges in history in the annals of the Han dynasty which mention Tibetan tribes as Ch'iang and Ti/Tik who lived west of Ch'ang-an as early as 1500 B.C. There tribes were spread along the eastern borderlands of the Tibetan plateau. Hereafter we find Little Kingdoms of tribes ruled by chiefs who held power in their restricted regions. In 247 BC the first Tibetan king G±nah.khri.btsanpo arrived in the Yarlung valley. He founded the new dynasty and built the Yum.bu.bla.sga<n castle near the banks of the Yarlung river. It is known as the ‘Unification of the Twelve Kingdoms. King Gnah. khri is the first effective ruler of the country. He put Tibet on par with the surrounding world of India and China. In 322 BC Emperor Candragupta founded the Maurya dynasty. By 257 BC, Emperor A«soka consolidated the Mauryan empire and gained international renown. He received ambassadors from Ptolemy Philadelphos (Turam"ayo in RE XIII) of Egypt (285-247 BC), from Antiochos II Theos of Syria, Antigonos Gonatas of Macedonia and Magas of Cyrene. While India was becoming a powerful state, Tibet was also coming up as a sizeable Himalayan power : from a tribal order it had become a state. Quarter of a century later China was United by the Ch'in dynasty in 221-206 BC to be followed by the glorious Han dynasty which crystallised the Chinese people in an unprecedented unity during 202 BC - 220 AD that has survived to the present and the ethnic Chinese have been and are known as the Han people. Thus a centralised Tibetan state was formed earlier than that of China. Tibet must have had commercial, political and cultural relations with distant states in the third century BC, as can be deduced from the Bonpo map of the world. It indicates in unmistakable terms the close relations of Tibet with the Iranian world. Ancient geographic and religious knowledge stemmed from Iran, whence it reached Zhan. zhun in the northwest of Tibet. The centre of the map is occupied by Bar. po.so.brgyad : Parsogard (Gk. Pasargadae) which was the capital of the first two Persian emperors Cyrus the Great and Cambyses in 550 BC (L.N. Gumilev and B.I. Kuznetsov, Two traditions of ancient Tibetan cartography.)
Continual evolution of the Tibetan state : From around 250 to 100 BC Tibet was ruled by the seven Heavenly Thrones (Khri). A critical point in Tibetan civilisation is the era of the Two Ste<n Kings. They mark the beginning of royal burial practices, technological advances, accompanied by social and religious changes. Lively multinational exchanges were a crucial part of the political orders of these centuries. We find that Kani_ska II assumed four imperial titles : Indian, Iranian, Chinese and Roman in the Ara Inscription:
Maharajasa rajatirajasa (for shahanushahi) devaputrasa kaisarasa. Indian, Iranian, Chinese, Roman. Likewise, the new developments in Tibet outlined above indicate a fresh impetus to inter-state relations. The birth of Lha. tho. tho. ri, the last of the Five Btsan Kings, in AD 374 marks an important step in the future evolution of Tibet and its consolidation through culture, literature and dharma. In 433 he received Buddhist texts, sacred object and mantras which transformed him with new energy and he lived long.
Consolidation of the State : This process found its culmination in the reign of Sron.btsan.sgam.po (ruled 618-641) under whom the Tibetan script was created and it is being used to our day. The Ch'iang tribes were using an Indic script, which seems to have been standardised with necessary changes. It gave an alphabetic infrastructure for running the administration, and communications with distant parts of the empire made for effective control. The writing of grammar gave rise to a koine from scattered dialects. The new literary language provided a uniform yardstick and was instrumental in consolidating the Tibetan people in a linguistic unity, which was further fortified by the translation of Sutras from Sanskrit into Tibetan. A wider vision and a unity of great causes was the vivile conscience of Tibetan ambitions. Emperor Sron.btsan.sgam.po invited artists and builders from Khotan, Nepal and China. His nine-storeyed palace was built on the Khotanese pattern, according to the chronicle Mkhas.pa]hi.dga]h.ston. He took legal systems from Khotan and from the Turks. He promulgated the six Codices of the Constitution : the first Constitution of Tibet. He systematised the administration by fixing the ranks of officials and their powers. He adopted the Central Asian Iranian court attire with silken headdress and curved slippers none of which were used in India or China. He invited a Byzantine physician to be the Imperial Doctor. In the formation of the Tibetan State, he adopted a multilateral approach, akin to the present day policies of non-alignment. This ensured the independent sovereignty of the Tibetan state as well as her status as an equal to the mighty states of the time. In 649, he congratulated the Chinese Emperor T'ai-tsung on his successful campaign in Korea. He was an ardent Buddhist and encouraged the Khotanese kings to support Buddhist monks and monasteries. His reign marks the beginning of a struggle for dominance of the Silk Route kingdoms by the four powers : Tibetan, Chinese, Turkic and Arab. He entered into matrimonial alliances with Nepal and China to strengthen his position. In 624, he sent Minister Mgar to King Amsuvarman of Nepal. Ten years later, in 634, he sent Mgar to China for the hand of a daughter of the second T'ang emperor T'ai-tsung (r. 627-649). T'ang Annals record that this was the first ambassador from Tibet. A Chinese ambassador returned with Minister Mgar. Princess Kongjo arrived in Tibet in 641. The might of Tibet came to the fore once again in 638 when the Chinese Emperor sent a mission to the Indian Emperor Harsa under the leadership of Wang Hsuan-ts'e. The kingdom of Harsa had been usurped by Arjuna, under whose orders the Chinese mission was slaughtered. Wang escaped to Nepal, and appealed for help to Sron.btsan.sgampo. He received 12,000 mounted troops from Tibet, captured King Arjuna and returned with him to China. In 649 Sron.btsan.sgam.po sent precious objects to the funeral of the Emperor T'ai-tsung, and also extended support to the new emperor Kao-tsung (ruled 649-683). A fragment from Tun-huang praises Emperor Sron.btsan.sgam.po and other Dharma Kings :
They possessed the bodies of men.
but their ways were those of the gods.
Among other men, in other kingdoms,
this has not happened before,
and is not likely to happen again.
Such a thing, even among the gods, is rare indeed.
The next half-a-century was a continuation of his wise policies wherein : "On the outside the kingdom reached the four horizons, on the inside the royal government held firm. All the subjects were equals, both great and small" (Tun-huang chronicles). His successors kept up the military power of Tibet. In 654 a conference of the Tibetan Emperor, ministers and governors decided to meet once an year for future military preparations. It was a gathering storm on the Chinese frontiers, to preempt which the Chinese translation of a collection of dh"ara]nđ-mantras was completed by Atikuta on 6 may 654. The translation of Buddhist sutras into Chinese was a port of the defence policies of the state. I have dealt with this aspect of the sutras in the 21st chapter of the second volume of Cultural Horizons of India entitled ‘Tantras and the defence of T ‘ang China’. With Tibetan military power in the ascendant, the atmosphere at the Chinese court was surcharged with defence psychology. This can be gleaned from the request of pilgrim Hsiian-tsang in the late autumn of 657 when he "asked if he might retire to and end his days at the small Monastery, which lay quite close to his birth-place, in the hills to the east of Lo-yang. He had already, he said, translated over six hundred scrolls, and so made some return for the favours of successive Emperors; for the books he had translated were all regarded in their land of origin as contributing to ‘national defence’. It is true that some srciptures, particularly those of the Transcendental wisdom and magic schools, contain spells supposed to protect monarchs and their kinghdoms" (Waley 1952 : 121). Man-sron made an alliance with the western Turks, whose homeland lay around Issyk kul Lake in Kyrghyz Republic. They were adversaries of the Chinese. Tibetan and Turkish forces raided T’ang protectorates. Tibetans attacked Kashgar in 633, and Khotan in 665. By 667, Wakhan in modern Afghanistan was in the hands of Tibetans. Drang nach Westen, push to the west. was a major military strategy of the Tibetans. We find a tantra translated from the Bru.sha language in the section of ancient tantras (rnin rgyud) in the Kanjur (Derge edition no. 829). Bru-sha is the Burushaski language spoken by the Burusho in the high valleys of the Karakoram range. Unprecedented victories in distant lands kept the ‘tribal’ groups of Tibet united in the imperial period and enhanced the capacities of the sacral kingship. It led to religious cohesion, political unification and the emergence of a strong Tibetan identity. Tibetan dominion over Central Asia brought Persian and Sogdian physicians who introduced a Greek component in Tibetan medicine.
The year 670 was marked by the great military victories for the Tibetans. They marched in to the Tarim basin and captured the four garrisons of Anashi (Central Asia), through which the Chinese controlled that region,. The Chinese Emperor appointed Hsueh Jen-kuei as commander-in-chief of any army of 100,000 men to recapture the four garrisons in Turkestan. The army was defeated at Ta-fei-ch’ua and General Hsueh was degraded for failure. In 671 another Chinese army was orderd against the Tibetans, with Chiang K’o as commander-in-chief but he died en route. In 672 an Imperial edict ordered the carving of a 85 feet high stone statue of Rocana in the Lung-men hills of Loyang. When military might was rendered ineffective, the Chinese sought success, ascendancy and triumph in the colossus of Rocana, the main Buddha of the Avatamsaka sutras and a symbol of the power of the state (see my paper ‘Colossi of the avatamsaka Sutras as palladia of Buddhist states’). By capturing the four T’ang garrisons at Kucha, Khotan, Karashahr and Kashgar, Tibet took over control of the Silk Route which was the supply line of ‘divine horses’ for the Chinese army. The nomenclature Silk Route is misleading and historically incorrect, for the Chinese never wanted to commercialise silk but keep it as a diplomatic weapon for imperial presents to barbarian states. This route was primarily for Ferghana horses, then for other imperial luxury, and for Buddhist sutras conducive to national defence. In fact, it was most of all the ‘Sutra Route’. It remained active as long as Buddhism flourished, and died out as monks were slain and monasteries destroyed by Islamic onslaughts. The controal of the sutra route by the Tibetans was a major setback for Chinese power due to the stoppage of military supplies from Central Asia. The Tibetans had access to the gold, felt and perfumes of Kucha, to the jade and carpets of Khotan, and above all to the horses and armour of Kashgar and the entire Ferghana region. The Chinese did not rest but made sustained efforts to gain control of the four garrisons. They waged battle in 676 against the Tibetan-Turkish alliance to get them back. In October 678, Li Ching-hsuan’s army fought a great battle across the Koko Nor with a Tibetan army under the command of Mgar Khri.hbrin.btsan.brod. The Chinese suffered a major defeat. A young Chinese student from the Imperial Academy remarked at the end of a long analysis of the situation which he delivered at court : "I am afraid that the pacification of Tibet in not something that you can expect to accomplish between dawn and dusk." (Ssu-ma kuang, Tzu chih t’ung chien 202. 6387-88)
In 689, the T’ang attempted an invasion of Tibet but failed. The Chinese commander was demoted. The Tun-huang chronicles record a lively exchange between the Tibetan General Mgar Khri.hbrin and the T’ang Commander. The Tibetan General said that the emperor of Tibet is like the Sun and the Emperor of China is like the moon. Although both are great. their brilliance in the sky is differrent. The T’ang armies regained control over the four Garrisons in 692/3, but the Tibetans reconquerd them a century later. By 694 Tibetan troops went far west in to Turkish territory beyond the four Garrisons. The chief of the western Turkish tribes visited the Tibetan court. In 695/6, Tibetans defeated the T’ang troops so badly that the battlefield became known as the Tiger Pass Chinese Graveyard. The T’ang commander was stripped of his rank. The Tu-lu tribes established a firm alliance with Tibet, and the Tun-huang annals note that the Khagan personally led the Tibetan troops near his Turkish domains in 699. The T’ang annals record for 700 that Tibetan troops under the West Turkish prince were in Ferghana 500 miles NW of Khotan.
Mes.ag.tshoms (704-755), alias Khri.lde.gtsug.brstan, had a glorious reign, when Tibetan dominions were consolidated far and wide, new kingdoms conquered, and a Chinese envoy paid obeisance at the Tibetan Court. Tabari reports that in 704 Tibetan troops were in Tukharistan. The year saw Tibetan and Western Turkic cooperation in Tirmidh, a strategic city of Tukharistan on the Oxus River which controlled the routes south to Balkh and north to the Iron Gate, the mountain pass to Sogdiana. Many principalities captured by the Arabs in their early conquests in Tukharisthan and Trans-Oxiana had by now regained their independence.
The most significant indication that a new era was at hand was the Chinese decision in the summer of 707 to conclude a new marriage peace with Tibet. In 710 the Chinese Emperor accompanied the Princess of Chin-ch’eng as far as Shih-p’ing hsien. She was escorted to Tibet by General Yang Chu. The Emperor had given the princess in marriage with the express hope that it would ease the tensions with Tibet and bring about an abatement of the border warfare; but his hope was not realised.
Mes.ag.tshoms sent ambassadors to Hsuan-tsung in 714 to renew the alliance. But Hsuan-tsung was not interested in peace. The T’ang annals explain that the Tibetan diplomatic dispatches were proudly worded and that their envoys insisted on the rites and ceremonies of an equal state. Advisers to Hsuan-tsung recommended making a treaty, for the T’ang troops were wearing themselves out. In 715 Tibet concluded an alliance with the Arabs. The T’ang faced a triple alliance engineered by Tibet with the Turks and Arabs. Tibetan troops harassed T’ang garrisons at Kashgar. They put a prince of their choice on the throne of Ferghana. The Tibetans were so closely involved in Transoxiana that the Arabs included them in this region when the Caliph Umar sent a declaration to the kings of Transoxiana in 717 asking them to embrace Islam, A Tibetan delegation called on the Arab governor of Khurasan, and asked him to send someone to explain Islam. A person was sent and that was the end.
As national Security had been imperilled over successive reigns, day by day, it was becoming imperative to translate high-potency Tantra Emperor Hsuan-tsung (ruled 712-756) invited the Indian master Subhakarasimha who arrived at Ch’ang-an in 716. He was honoured with the title of ‘National Teacher.’ On the Tibetan front, Hsuan-tsung’s government began a major diplomatic offensive. On 10 July 717, the king of Balur was awarded the title "King of Balur". This indicated formal T’ang acceptance of Balur as a state within the Chinese sphere, and thus deserving of protection. Technically not yet a part of the T’ang empire, it was a clear message to Tibet : the Chinese intended to supplant them as the dominant power in the region of the Karakorum, Pamir, and Hindu Kush ranges. In 719, Emperor Hsuan-tsung increased military operations to check the advances of the Tibetans and the Arabs.
The perennial debate over Tibet again surfaced at the T’ang court in 721 in response to Hsuan-tsung’s complaint that the Tibetans used "enemy-country protocol". Chang Yueh, the president of the Board of War declared : "The Tibetans are discourteous; we really ought to punish the aliens. But our troops have been deployed for over ten years, and the mobilized border prefectures of Kan, Liang, Ho, and Shan cannot bear their distress. Although the army sometimes wins victories, what is gained does not make up for what is lost". In 722, Tibet attacked the Gilgit region (Bru-sha). The Korean pilgrim Hyecho, returning from India in 727, States that the region was countrolled by Tibet. Ladakh and Balti must have submitted to Tibet, for the road to Gilgit lay through them. The Chinese Annals record a tibetan victory over the T’ang in 729. Many Chinese were killed. It was a great victory, for immediately afterward a T’ang envoy did obeisance at the Imperial Court at Brag.mar in Central Tibet. The same year, the Tibetan army was in western Turkistan, at the request of the inhabitants. At that time, the oppressive policies of the Umayyad governor, Asrasal-Sulami, had provoked open rebellion in Transoxiana among Sogdians and Arabs alike. When the situation became serious, the Khurasanians called in their theoretical overlords of the past, the Western Turks, who now composed the Turgis confederation under Sulu. With the aid of their Tibetan allies, the Khurasanians and the Turgis drove the Arab forces almost entirely out of Sogdiana.
At least seven embassies were sent to china between the request of Princess Chin-ch’eng to renew the treaty and Hsuan-tsung’s eventual grudging acceptance of the Tibetan peace proposal of 730. The long letter from mes.ag.tshoms to Hsuan-tsung points out that the Sino-Tibetan border conflicts were due to incursions by China, not by Tibet. The peace treaty was finally signed between Tibet and China in 730. The same year, the Tibetan Emperor requested for various classics and histories from the Chinese Emperor. A Minister protested that the books requested contained valuable information on military tactics, defence plans, and deceitful strategems and that it would not be in the best interest of the empire to send the books to the Tibetans, but the Emperor disregarded his protest. In 733 Mes.ag.tshoms wrote to Hsuan-tsung that T’ang and Tibet were equally great kingdoms, and he hoped peace would endure.
In 737, the Tibetan army entered Little Balur and captured its Pro-T’ang king. The campaign was clearly undertaken in order to sucure Tibetan routes through the Pamirs to the west, and may have been a preliminary step to the Arab expedition. Due to this success, the entire Pamir region northwest of Little Balur fell in to Tibetan hands : over twenty neighbouring states submitted to Tibet. Tribute ceased to arrive in China.
In 741, a Tibetan mission was sent to the Chinese Court to carry the news of the death of the imperial princess, Chin-Ch’eng. At the same time, the mission asked for peace negotiations, but Emperor Hsuan-tsung refused. He was so hostile that he even delayed the official court mourning period for his relative the princess for several months, until the spring of 741. It was perhaps due to this rebuff that the Tibetans returned to the fray with new vigour. In the summer of 741 soon after, a Tibetan army of 400,000 men advanced in to China and attacked the town of Ch’eng-feng and continued on. They were stopped at the Ch’ ang-ning bridge by General Sheng Hsi-yeh. The Tibetans later seized the town of Shih-p’u, which they held untill 748. As a consequence, Amoghavajra was instructed in 741 to go to India and Srilanka to collect Tantric texts for national defence. He ruturned to China in 746 and became one of the "four greatest translators of Buddhist texts in China".
Troubles burst forth in Central Asia at the end of the reign of Hsuan-tsung. The incident is reported in details in the Ritual of Vaisravana by Amoghavajra. In 742, the Five Kingdoms of Tibet, Arabs, Sogdians, and others besieged the city of Anshi. A report was presented to the Emperor demanding relief troops. The Emperor said to master I-hsing : ‘Master, the city of Ansi is besieged by Arabs and others and it requirs troops. But as it is situated at a distance of 12,000 leagues, it will take eight months for my troops to arrive there, and I do not know what to do’. I-hsing replied : ‘Why does Your Majesty not invoke to your aid the Devar"aja of the north Vai«srava]na, with his celestial troops’. ‘How can I invoke him’? ‘By the intervention of the Serindian monk Amoghavajra.’ The ritual succeded, the invading troops receded, and Anshi was safe.
The Chinese began to be suspicious. In 744, Mukt"apđda, the king of Kashmir, dispatched an envoy to China to claim that he and the king of Central Hindustan had defeated the Tibetans and had blocked the "five great Tibetan roads." He offered to provide the necessary supplies for any T’ang army that might come to Balur. Mukt"apđda’s offer reflected the growing concern among the Chinese-oriented principalities in the Pamir over the revived Tibetan activity there. Just how justified their unease was became clear in the following year when Tibetans over whelmed Balur. Growing Chinese suspicion of the Tibetan-Turgis alliance was intimated in several undated inperial rescripts of the mid-730s. Chinese suspicions were finally confirmed when they captured a Turgis mission which was crossing the Pamirs with gifts and letters for Emperor Mes.ag.tshoms.
In the autumn of 745, Huang-fu Wei-ming attacked Shih-pao. The Tibetan defense was successful. The T’ang army was severely beaten, and Huang-fu’s assistant general was killed in battle. In the following spring, Huang-fu was stripped of his positions. In 747, T’ang strategists turned their attention to the other Tibetan flank, the Pamir-Karakorum region. After the Tibetan conuquest of Little Balur, the Chinese made three attempts to seize the country from Tibet. They were defeated in all, and the shadowy campaigns are barely mentioned in the Chinese histories.
A Tibetan gain in 751 was the voluntary submission to Tibet of Nan-chao, a powerful kingdom in Yunnan. For Nan-chao, this was a matter of self-preservation in the face of massive Chinese attacks. This development was to prove of great inportance to Tibet in the prolonged struggle with T’ang China. The same year, the Tibetan Emperor received the ruler of Nan-chao. In 754 and 756 the Tibetan Emperor dispatched Tibetan troops to aid Nan-chao against T’ang armies. Emperor Mes.ag. tshoms sent armies north of the Jaxartes river. That helped the Arabs and the Qarluq Turks defeat the T’ang army at the battle of Talas in 751. This ended T’ang influence in the west. The Tibetan Emperor built seven monasteries for monks arriving from Ferghana, Tukharia, Bukhara, Kashgar, Kashmir and Samarkand as Muslim Arabs moved in to these areas. In his rule of 51 years, he expanded the influence of Tibet in to Central Asia and Yunnan and made Tibet one of the great powers in Asia. A song in the Tun-huang Chronicles runs :
Among all the kingdoms of men
Never has there been one like ours.
There were also major internal problems in Tibet, and in 755 they came to the attention of the Chinese. At the very beginning of the year. Stag.sgra, a "prince of the Sumpa", abandoned Tibet and surrendered to the T’ang. More seriously, the Emperor Mes.ag. tshoms was murdered during a revolt led by prominent ministers. Sron.lde.brtsan, the crown prince, was sore, and could not be enthroned. This rebellion had serious implications for the next two decades of internal political developments in Tibet. Meanwhile, China seemed nearly invincible. The T’ang crown prince unsurped the throne. On hearing the news a month later, Hsuan-tsung surrendered the imperial regalia, which he had held for almost forty-five years, to the new emperor Su-tsung. He had rejuvenated the T’ang dynasty, but he had also brought it to the brink of destruction. He had pressed the Tibetans most mercilessly, and in doing so he had created an enmity that would result in nearly a century of Tibetan aggrandizement at China’s expense.
Under the Tibetan Emperor Khri.sron,lde.brtsan, by the middle of 763, Tibet had captured the eastern part of Lung-yu. Later in the year, the Tibetans took Ch’ang-an itself, and, in subsequent years, made further conquests in to the ethnically Chinese territories immediately to the north and northwest of the T’ang capital. After the Tibetans had punished the Chinesse in 763 by capturing Ch’ang-an, which the new emperor Tai-tsung had abandoned just in time, they enthroned a new Chinese emperor, a brother of Princess Chin-ch’eng, and turned their attention to the northwest. By 780, Hami was taken by Tibet. Interestingly, Khri.sron.lde.btsan, who badly defeated the T’ang armies many times, is not named, even though a peace treaty was concluded during his reign in 783. T’ang officials immediately began to discuss the danger of a new Tibetan invasion, a possibility made more menacing by the proximity of Ch’ang-an to territories just to the west that remained under Tibetan control. Led by Zan Rgyal.btsan, the Tibetans began to raid soon enough, and threatened the capital in 786. After a setback, they took a new track. On 10 December 786, they occupied Yen chou, in southern ordos just north of the Great wall. The Tibetans permitted the local prefect and his troops to leave the city peacefully. In the last days of December, they also raided and occupied Hsia chou, Lin chou, and Yin chou, all located further east along the Great Wall. The Tibetan occupation of the ordos was potentially disastrous for the T’ang. It meant that China was now in real danger of beaing surrounded on land by the Tibelans. This Tibetan campaign was so successful that the T’ang were willing to discuss peace.
Tibet took Tun-huang in 787, and Tibetan artists working there have left their impress. Tibetan forces were successful in the north. By 790 they regained the Silk Route. Their alliance with Qarluq, Sha-t’o and White Turks defeated the T’ang troops and their Uighur allies. The Uigur attempt to regain the garrisons ended in failure. These battles in 790-91 are mentioned in the Orkhon inscription. In 790 the Tibetans recaptured the four Chinese garrisons of Anhsi, whence they had been forced to withdraw in 692 during the reign of Empress Wu. The Tibetan forces reached as far as River Oxus. A lake to the north of the Oxus was named Al-Tubbat ‘The Tibetan Lake’ by the Arabs. The Caliph Harun al-Rashid allied himself to the Chinese to check the Tibetan advance. The allied Arab and Chinese forces held back the Tibetans, though they could not inflict appreciable territorial losses. It became clear that new sutras were needed to dynamise and strengthen the defences. In 795 the Chinese Emperor received from a King in South India a copy of theGandavyuha. It was translated in to Chinese by Prajna and offered to the Emperor on 16 March 798. It was fuller than the translation of Siks"ananda, and hence more efficacious. This preemptive endeavour bore fruit. In the years 785 to 805 the Tibetans became busy in attaching lands to their west, and consequenly their military attention was diverted from China.
Probably in 791 the Tibetans finally took Khotan. Thus began the long period of Tibetan rule over Khotan and the neighouring regions of the southern route through eastern Central Asia, from 790 to 850.
During the reign of Empror Sad.na.legs, the Tibetans controlled the Silk Route and ruled over Khotan. Expansion of the Tibetan empire in to Central Asia is prophecied in texts on Khotan. The pillar Inscription inHphyons.rgyas notes that the borders of Khri.sron extended from the Ta.zig in the west to the Long-shan passes in the east. Tun-huang annals also make a note of it. A Tibetan fort has been excavated near Lop Nor at Miran. Arab and Sogdian troops under a Tibetan commander were forced to Surrender by the Chinesse in 801.
The reign of Emperor Ral.pa.can (ruled 814-836) in marked by a Sino-Tbetan treaty with the T’ang Emperor Mu-tsung (ruled 820-824). Buddhists in Tibet and China sought mediation, and hostilities ended with this landmark treaty of 821, which is inscribed on a pillar set up at the main gate of Jo.khan. Its west face with the text of the treaty explains how the great king of Tibet, the divine manifestation and the great king of China, as son-in-law and father-in-law, made an alliance. Texts of prayers in the Dge.ba-g.yu.tshal monastery mention that treaties were concluded not only with China, but also with Nan-chao `Hjan and the Uighurs (Drug), both one time allies of the T’ang. Sa.skya historians note that a treaty with the Uighurs was made in 822, T’ang annals likewise mention this treaty and add that a marriage alliance was arranged as well. It was distinguished from its predecessors by the careful treatment of the two countries as equals. Both sides observed its stipulations to the letter and peace on the borders was ensured for over twenty years. The Chinese remark on the evil habits of various foreign peoples, but such remarks are almost never made about the Tibetans, who were acknowledged to be China’s most powerful rival and were usually at war with the T’ang. The products of Tibet—especially marvellous things, often mechanical, made of metal (most memorably, of solid gold)—were considered so wondrous as to deserve public display in the imperial palace. The Arabs also had a high opinion of Tibetan crafts, sometime extolling the same things as the Chinese.
With the death or assasination of Ral.pa.can in 836/8 the empire of the Dharma kings came to an end. His brother Glan.dar.ma was put on the throne by the Bonpos and rebellious ministers. He began the persecution of Buddhim. He was shot by a mad yogin, Dpal.gyi.rdo.rje. Thereafter the state was fractured in to small principalities, of ‘local hegemoniies.’ The political void resulted in the retreat of Tibetans from their erstwhile empire. Tun-huang remained under Tibetan control until 842. Hence its monasteries and monks were spared the persecution which began in China in that year. Tun-huang revolted against Tibetan rule between 848 and 861. The western end of the Sutra Route passed in to the hands of the Qarluq Turks. The tenth century Persian geography, Hudud al-Alam, indicates that Tibetan camps and forts nemained as far west as Khotan until about 950, and Tibet still controlled the roads from Kashgar to Khotan. Historical notices on Khotan in Chinese sources mention a Chinese mission to Khotan in 938 that found Tibetan camps all along the southern branch of the Sutra Route up to Khotan, where Tibetan and Khotanese soldiers were still struggling. Without the support of Tibetan military power, Khotan succumbed to the Turkish rulers of Kashgar between 1010 and 1032. The Gesar epic has a poignant lament by the Queen Mother of Khotan.
While Central Tibet was ruled by`Hod.sruns (843-905) and by his successor Dpal.hkhor.btsan (906-924), an exodus of prominent noble clans took place after the persecution of Buddhism. When Rab.gsal of Tsang and others came to know of the persecutions, they set off on a dangerous pilgrimage. Having miraculoulsy escaped the Qarluq, they eventually reached East Tibet. Among those who sought to resurrect the fourtunes of Buddhism elsewhere was the grandson of Glan.dar.ma, Skyid.lde Ni.ma.mgon. He founded the new dynasty of Nari, which inlcuded Guge, Purang and Ladakh. It is also known as the Dynasty of Guge. The most distinguished king of this dynasty was Ye.ses.hod who transferred duties of gevernance to his younger brother, but remained head of the state and also of the sangha (lha bla.ma, lha=deva ‘king’ or state). He chose 21 talented youths and sent them to Kashmir. Only two survived. Of them Rinchenbzanpo studied under 75 Indian teachers, and became the moving spirit of the Tibetan Renaissance. King Ye.ses.hod himself undertook a journey to India for inviting in person celebrated Indian teachers. But he came into conflict with Qarluq (Gar.log) Turks, took command of the army, but was defeated and taken prisoner. During imprisonmetn, grandson Byan.chub.hod came to the enemy camp to free him with a ransom of gold. The king advised him to use all this wealth to invite Indian "acaryas. A sanctum was the security of the state, flamonium and regnum were one, brahma ca ksatram ca. From Dharma arose national identity, thence the state derived its values and strength, governance was assured and confident and provided an equitable administration leading to the happiness of the people. The 108 sanctums planned by Rin.chen.bzan.po were the sanctification of the spaces and frontiers of the state. Thinly populated, with minimum communication, and the Qarluq Turks knocking at the gates and prowling everywhere, the108 religious centres provided constant vigil through the travels of pilgrims and caravan merchants by their festivals and fairs. The four major chos.skor were Tholing, Tsaparang, Tabo and Nyarma (later replaced by Alchi) with their outstanding murals, rich libraries and as centres of phenomenal academic achievements. Both bhakti and shakti, they have been the defence of the Himalayas from the tenth century up to date, having been strongholds of Buddhist thought and culture, art and literature, besides being trading entrepots and upholding martial arts like archery. Even today venerable kushak Bakula is a distinguished master of archery. Weapons were slored in the monasteries for emergencies, and foodgrains for famine. We have a parallel in the establishment of provincial temples (kokubunji) by Emperor Shomu of Japan in 743 to inspire national unity.
The mgo.khan or antechamber of Tabo depicts chieftains of tribes wearing non-Tibetan dresses and non-Buddhist deities. Tucci speaks of Dardic elements in the toponyms of Ladakh. The Mirkula temple in Himachal Pradesh reminds of Mihirakula and indicates the presence of Hunnic tribes. The people of Kinnaur are nor Tibetan ethnically. The kings of Guge consolidated all the disparate ethnic elements under the banner of Tibetan Buddhism. The tribes of Central Asian affiliations, Dards and other autochthonous elements were integrated and the Islamic thrust was preempted. King Ye.ses.hod sent his sons to Spu and Dkor to spread Buddhism in the Kinnaur district where temples were founded at Spu of Ron.chun and Ka-nam of Mnah.ri. The title Lha bla.ma of Ye.ses.hod has been translated as royal priest, monk-king, priest-king and the like. Lha is Sanskrit deva in the meaning of ‘king’ and bla.ma is guru. It means that Ye.ses.hod was king and had also assumed ecclesiastical powers to supervise the spread of Buddhism among the various tribes residing in his heterogenous kingdom. By the spread of Buddhism, he introduced a unifying force at deeper levels, gave a common language Tibegan for communication as well as academic excellence, and consummated a cultural indentity. This was highlighted by the construction of 108 places of faith, by the translation of new Buddhist texts by out-standing young minds of the kingdom working in collaboration with scholars specially invited from India. The superb mural paintings and statues at Tholing, Tsaparang, Tabo and other monasteries by leading artists from Guge and Kashmir became a sensation among the people and bound them to the great king, in resonance of a new vision of spirituality, learning, prosperity, unity, and affiliation. A new synthesis transcending tribal identities brought into being a state that warded off the threats of the Islamised Qarluq Turks and their allies. Stabilisation of the Guge Kingdom ensured the defence integrity of India : kept away the Turks and preempted the Islamisation of people in the tribal areas whose chiefs are represented in the entrance room of Tabo. The festival of Guge Shah held at Subathu in Himachal Pradesh is a reminder of the glory of the Guge kings who sustained Dharma and brought plenty by creating a network of pilgrim routes which were at the same time tradeways, by keeping at bay all foreign aggression and thus maintaining peace for seven centuries. The Guge kingdom was founded in the tenth century and was a major Himalayan power till its defeat by Sen.ge.rnam.rgyal, the king of Ladakh in 1630.
While the foundations of the state of Guge were being laid, Buddhism was faced with the dilemma of its existence in Central Asia. The onslaught of Islam from the eight century onwards gave rise to the deification of the inscrutable processes of Time as the cycle (cakra) of eternal time (kala). The effacing flux of time became the eternity of Hope. The Kalacakra is the myth of Eternal Return that directs thoughts to an inspiring future from the terror of history. The Kalacakra was composed near the Sita (Tarim) Rivdr and it was translated into Tibetan by Gyijo in 1026. The kingdom of Guge was alive to the Islamic thrust, more so because of the cruel death of King Ye.ses.hod in a Muslim prison. It ensured the dissemination and continuance of Buddhism in the areas it governed. The kings were clear that monastic centres were the grass-roots of identity. When the monastery of Nyarma founded by Rin.chen.bzan.po was in ruins, the king and Queen themselves came and wished that Skal.ldan.ses.rab build a monastery in the Alchi valley. He expended great wealth for its construction. This occasion is celebrated by a mural of the royal banquet at Alchi, and an inscription that gives details. The three-tiered Sumtsek temple at Alchi represents Indra’s Sudarsans palace. It has three colossal statues of Maitreya. flanked by manjusrđ and Avalokitesvara. Maitreya represents the State. The representations on the dhoti of Avalokitesvara are places of worship where royal visitors and monks are venerating icons, as well as palace buildings where royal couples are receiving visitors. They are a territorial statement. The murals were painted in Kashmiri style in Sumtsek immediately following the year 1200 (Roger Goepper). Deities wearing Kashmir crowns, dresses and boots can be seen in Sumtsek.
So long as Guge was strong and Kashmir was Hindu, Ladakh was safe. The widow of the ruler Rinchen, Kotarani came to the throne of Kashmir. Her minister Shah Mir revolted and she had to surrender. He ascended the throne as Sultan Shahabuddin in 1339. He started his great program of conquests and Baltistan sent an embassy to plead for sparing them. King Sikandar (1394-1416) defeated Baltistan, and true to his title of butshikan ‘iconoclast’ he converted the Baltis by brutal means. King Zain-ul-Abidin (1420-1470) personally marched against Ladakh, sacked its capital Shey, compelled the king to join him in an expedition against Guge, took a rich booty from Guge, as well as a brother of the Guge king as a hostage to Kashmir and converted him to Islam under the name Ali. The eldest son of Zain-ul-Abidin Adam Khan raided Ladakh in 1451. Ladakh was raided again around 1480 by two generals of King Hasan Khan of Kashmir (1472-1489), one of whom captured the capital as the other suffered heavy reverses. Sultan Said Khan, King of Kashgar, set out for a holy war against the infidels of Ladakh in 1532. His ablest commander Mirza Haidar drowned local resistance in blood. He enterd Guge without meeting any opposition, but the insurmountable difficulties of both climate and terrain stood against the invaders, Mirza Haidar had to beat a disastrous retreat, when he was only eight days’ march to Lhasa. The consequences of Mirza Haidar’s occupation were retrieved by king Tshe.dban.rnam.rgyal, one of the greatest of Ladakhi kings. He had to sustain the repeated attacks of Mirza Haidar which ceased only on the death of this stubborn fanatic waging a war against Buddhist infidels. King Ghazi Shah of Kashmir marched against Ladakh in 1562. His son was killed and to avenge this defeat king Ghazi camped near the border but leprosy deprived him of action. Moreover, rugged ground was always the most effective resistance against the fanatic invaders. Baltistan, which was islamised at the beginning of the 15th century, became the irreconcilable enemy of Buddhist Ladakh. One of their most fanatic and energetic ruler, Ali Mir fought Ladakh against its suzerainty over Purig. The Ladakhi king, resourceless in enemy territory, was compelled to surrender with his army. The Baltis gratified their religious fanaticism by invading Ladakh, and quenching their thirst for vengeance. Peace was made and Hjam-dbyans.rnam.rgyal, the king of Ladakh, had to marry Ali Mir’s daughter. A Balti Resident at the Ladakhi Court kept watch. One of the peace terms was that the Balti bride would be the first queen and her sons qould inherit the kingdom. Their son Sen.ge.rnam.rgyal (1590-1642) is the greatest of the kings of Ladakh. He was Balti on his mother’s side and had cordial relations with his Skardo kin. He married a Balti princess, the famous Queen Skal.bzan whose name appears on all inscriptions jointly with him, and who was held to be an incarnation of Goddess Tara. King Sen.ge.rnam.rgyal had two great loves : War and Dharma. He did his utmost for Buddhism, Lamas and lamaseries, He founded Hemis, where his second son Indrabhoti.rnam.rgyal was a monk. He defeated Guge in 1630 and appointed Indrabhoti as Viceroy of Guge. Indrabhoti suppressed the Christian community at Tsaparang, and the Christian mission was closed in 1635.
Ladakh’s traditiional foe, the Muslim state of Skardo, was substituted by the Moghul empire, who became her neighbours. Ladakh did not accept the suzerainty of the Moghuls. It promised tribute to the Moghuls after the battle of Kharbu, but never paid it. Emperor Aurangzeb could not tolerate this, and took steps to enforce his suzerainty over Ladakh. The governor of Kashmir sent ambassador Muhammad Shafi with an imperial firman demanding acceptance of Moghul suzerainty and and of Islam. The king of Ladakh met the envoy, accepted the imperial document, agreed to begin the construction of a mos que, and undertook to spread Islam. The following year (1665) Aurangzeb went to Kashmir in person. A Ladakhi embassy waited on him pledged tribute, again promised that a mosque shall be built, the Khutba recited and coins struck in the name of the Emperor. The Ladakhi king Bde. Idan.rnam.rgyal had yielded only after a threat of invasion. The Balti chiefs were the loyal subjects of the Emperor and kept watch for him over the non-believers of Ladakh. Promises were made but never maintained by Ladakh. After the peace of 1683, the king of Ladakh Bde.legs.rnam.rgyal had to pay tribute to the governor of Kashmir every third year. and he had to accept the Muslim name of Aqabar Mahmud Khan. This name was borne by the subsequent kings of Ladakh. During the war of 1834 the Dogras knew king Tshe.dpal.rnam.rgyal by this name of title. After 1842 Ladakh became a part of the territories of Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh held against the heavy odds of scarcity of population and a meagre economic base, but did not succumb to Islam. The Balti Muslim queen of Sen.ge.rnam rgyal was declared an incarnation of Tara and given a Buddhist identity. Monasteries and monks, rituals and royal. rites, the unfaltering determination of the kings to retain their Buddhist identity, their diplomacy of silence under overwhelming pressures, treaties signed under duress of superior numbers but observed in non-compliance, all kept Ladakh alive as the bastion of Dharma. The Buddhist empire of Tibet, followed by the kingdom of Guge, later on the kingdom of Ladakh, the inhospitable clime and land have sustained the Hindu-Buddhist personality of the Himalayas, and the triumph of Dharma over adverse forces.
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