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The Pilgrimage of a Tibetan Yogin in Bhutan in the Late Nineteenth Century

Le pèlerinage d’un yogi tibétain au Bhoutan à la fin du xixe siècle
Hanna Havnevik

Résumés

Cet article traite du pèlerinage effectué par le yogi fou Thrulshig Kunsang Thongdrol Dorje (1862-1922) dans la vallée de Bumthang au Bhoutan autour de 1881-1882. La réincarnation précédente du yogi fou était Thrulshig Ngawang Chokyi Lodro (1923-2011). Bien que le « fou » Thrulshig ait été reconnu comme le détenteur du trône d’un monastère près du lac Yamdrok, il a passé la plus grande partie de sa vie errant dans le Tibet central et méridional, seul ou avec ses disciples, dont plusieurs étaient des pratiquantes tantriques. Le récit de pèlerinage de Thrulshig montre la relation étroite entre le sud du Tibet et le Bhoutan central ; l’article traite non seulement des activités religieuses de Thrulshig, mais aussi du patronage qu’il a reçu de la part de la dynastie royale du Bhoutan. À travers les conseils spirituels donnés par Thrulshig aux membres de la famille Wangchuk, nous avons un aperçu sur les luttes de pouvoir politico-religieuses du Bhoutan et sur l’agentivité stratégique d’une femme bhoutanaise influente, Pema Chokyi, la mère de Ugyen Wangchuk, qui devint le premier roi du Bhoutan en 1907. L’article est fondé sur l’histoire de la vie (rnam thar) de Thrulshig, écrite par son disciple Ngawang.

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Texte intégral

  • 1  Huber 1999, p. 33, Kapstein 1998, p. 103.
  • 2  See e.g. Buffetrille 1996, Huber 1999.

1In the Tibetan Buddhist world pilgrimage is a religious activity in which monastic and lay, learned and illiterate, women and men, old and young, participate. In pre-modern Tibet, pilgrims often spent months on foot or on horseback traversing remote areas to reach the sacred Mt. Kailash in the far western part of Tibet, Mt. Tsāri in southeastern Tibet, or the many important temples in and near Lhasa. While these locations were among the most important and belonged to a national network of sacred sites, each region, valley, and village had its own pilgrimage places where the focus of veneration could be a statue, a temple, a mountain, a lake, a cave, a ceremony, or a person. Pilgrimage in Tibet and the Himalayas can be performed at any time, but for certain pilgrimages a particular year in the Tibetan twelve-year cycle is considered especially meritorious : for Mt. Kailash this is the Year of the Horse, for pilgrimage to both Mt. Tsāri and to the Drigung Powa Chenmo (’Bri gung ’pho ba chen mo) it is the Year of the Monkey1. Tibetan pilgrimages are complex and involve conceptions of correspondences between landscape, ritual, the body, and history, and several important works on Tibetan pilgrimage have been published2. Here, the travels of one Tibetan yogin are discussed, giving an example of the ritual, meditative, and economic activities involved in his travel to Bhutan in the late nineteenth century.

2Thrulshig Kunsang Thongdrol Dorje (’Khrul zhig kun bzang mthong grol rdo rje, 1862-1922) was a visionary, healer, reincarnation and the throne-holder of a monastery near Yamdrok Lake (Yar ’brog mTsho). This charismatic religious adept became famous in Tibet later in his religious career as a rediscoverer of treasures (gter ston) and as a crazy yogin (smyon pa). When he was about twenty years old he spent one year in Bumthang (Bum thang) in Bhutan. Thrulshig’s religious activities in Bhutan are important because they describe the religious interchange between southern Tibet and the Bumthang valley during the latter half of the nineteenth century. We learn how a Tibetan yogin was received and achieved fame as a healer and ritual specialist in the valley, about the patronage offered to him from some of the most powerful figures in the modern history of Bhutan, Thrulshig’s emerging career as a rediscoverer of treasures, Bhutanese power struggles and internecine war as seen through the eyes of a Tibetan yogin, and the agency of a powerful Bhutanese woman.

Photo 1. Thrulshig Rinpoche as portrayed in his biography

Photo 1. Thrulshig Rinpoche as portrayed in his biography

Hanna Havnevik (April 2011)

  • 3  Vol. Ka, pp. 7-223 of his nine volumes collected works (bka’ ’bum). A digital copy of Ngawang Tenz (...)

3Ordinary pilgrims and merchants did not, as a rule, leave written documents, and little is therefore known about their activities. A few religious masters, however, wrote travelogues and/or autobiographies and in a number of cases their biographies were composed by their disciples. One such biography is the one written about Thrulshig Rinpoche by his disciple Dzatrul Ngawang Tenzin Norbu (rDza sprul Ngag dbang bstan ’dzin nor bu, 1867-1940), the head of Dza Rongphu Dongak Choling monastery (rDza Rong phu mDo sngags chos gling) at the foot of Mt. Everest. The biography is entitled : Yang gsang bstan pa’i mdzod ’dzin ’khrul zhig gu yangs he ru ka kun bzang mthong grol rdo rje’i rnam par thar pa ngo mtshar dad pa’i shing rta bzhugs so3, and the year Thrulshig spent in Bhutan covers ten pages (pp. 175-185) or five folios (85a-90a) in the biography.

Photo 2. Ngawang Tenzin Norbu, the author of Thrulshig’s biography

Photo 2. Ngawang Tenzin Norbu, the author of Thrulshig’s biography

Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)

Southern Tibet and Bhutan

4Contacts between the border areas of Tibet and Bhutan were frequent up till the 1950s, with a network of trade contacts as well as exchanges between monasteries, and traders, nomads, farmers and pilgrims frequently crossed the border. In a detailed researched article, Françoise Pommaret (2003) has documented some of the intercultural exchanges between Lhodrak (lHo brag) and Bumthang, and particularly the close bonds between Lhalung (lHa lung) monastery, located to the north of Druptsho Pemaling (sGrub mtsho Padma gling), and the Wangchuk (dBang phyug) family of the Bumthang valley.

Thrulshig Rinpoche’s Background

  • 4  There is a recent wall painting and a statue of Thrulshig Namkhai Naljor in Punakha (sPu na kha) D (...)
  • 5  ’Khrul zhig rnam thar, pp. 106, 107. See also the three volume authobiography of Ngawang Tenzin No (...)
  • 6  Ricard 1994, p. 558.

5Thrulshig was the single son of a hidden yogin from Kham (Khams) and his consort, a woman from a well-to-do family in Derge (sDe dge), who ran away as a young girl to Central Tibet in search for a religious teacher. After numerous hardships Thrulshig’s mother joined an elderly yogin as his consort, and her strong wish to become the mother of a son was eventually fulfilled near Mt. Kailash. The elderly yogin-father passed away at Tradum Tse (Pra dum rtse, c. 1867) when the child was only five years old, whereupon the mother and son headed for Central Tibet. They were utterly poor and destitute, but the child comforted his mother by claiming to be the reincarnation of Thrulshig Namkhai Naljor (’Khrul zhig nam mkha’i rnal ’byor)4, a fifteenth century master in the Drukpa Kagyu (’Brug pa bka’ rgyud) tradition, and according to Thrulshig’s biography, a companion of the famous crazy yogin Drukpa Kunleg (’Brug pa Kun legs, 1455-1529). Thrulshig’s previous reincarnation was Chingkar Donyo Dorje (Phying dkar Don yod rdo rje, 18th-19th centuries), a yogin who lived near Dragkar Taso (Brag dkar rta so)5. He was known for his spiritual songs and was both the teacher and the disciple of the famous Shabkar Tshogdrug Rangdrol (Zhabs dkar Tshogs drug rang grol, 1781-1851)6. Thrulshig Kunsang Thongdrol Dorje’s own reincarnation, Kyabje Ngawang Chokyi Lodro (Khyab rje Ngag dbang chos kyi blo gros, b. 1923), who was one of the most important Nyingmapa lamas of our day, passed away in September 2011.

6The young child was determined to find the seat of one of his former reincarnations, and after a long search he had a vision of his monastery Zhadeu (Zhwa de’u) located between the lakes Yamdrok and Pema Yutsho [Padma g.Yu mtsho], south of Nakartse (sNa dkar rtse), and headed towards it. After undergoing various spiritual tests, he convinced the monks at Zhadeu that he was indeed Thrulshig Namkha Neljor’s reembodiment and the true heir to the monastery. The young reincarnation was sent to study at the Drukpa Kagyu Dingpoche (Ding po che) monastery in Dranang (Grwa nang), but when returning to his seat, internal skirmishes and jealousy made Thrulshig and his mother leave to earn their living as mendicant pilgrims.

Activity as Spiritual Healer

  • 7  See Huber 2008, pp. 125-165 (ch. 5).
  • 8  For the Tibetan belief in ‘the walking dead’ or zombie (ro langs), see Wylie 1964, pp. 69-80.

7After roaming the nearby areas, Thrulshig decided to head for Kuśhinagara in India, and he set out with a single monk as attendant. He went by way of Bumthang in Bhutan, believing that Hajo in Assam was the site where the Buddha passed into parinirvāṇa. Toni Huber (2008) states that Tibetans and Bhutanese were actively engaged in creating the “shifting landscape” of the Buddha (2008, p. 17)7 and convincingly argues that the Bhutanese in particular had vested interests in locating Kuśhinagara in northern Assam. Thrulshig was, however, never to reach his destination. Already in the border area between Tibet and Bhutan he was kept busy performing religious rituals and treating sick people. One incident, related in some detail in the biography, documents the extraordinary abilities attributed to the young siddha, based on traditional conceptions of illness and spiritual healing. An insane Bhutanese, tightly wrapped in cotton cloth because he could not control his mind, was brought to the yogin by his relatives. Thrulshig entered deep meditation and blew into the man’s nostrils, whereupon the patient fell unconscious. A local Bhutanese lama performed a number of rituals (gto bcos) to no avail, and the relatives decided the man was dead. While the ‘transference of consciousness [ritual]’ (’pho ba) was being performed, Thrulshig again went into profound meditation, recited the Six Syllables and blessed a drop of water on a spoon, which he put into the man’s mouth. Gradually the madman recovered, whereupon Thrulshig, displaying a fine sense of humour, told the onlookers that his patient had risen from the dead (ro lang)8. The terrified local lamas, their attendants and relatives fled, but when the man started to speak again, they ventured nearer, declaring that the corpse had turned human again. The relatives and the locals took refuge in Thrulshig, sick people approached him for treatment, and word of his skills spread.

Diagnosing the Ailment of the Elder Brother of the First King of Bhutan

  • 9  According to Pommaret 2003, p. 95, Thinley Tobgye became a monk in Lhalung monastery, but was reca (...)

8Reports of Thrushig’s healing abilities soon reached the powerful Wangchuk family in the Bumthang valley, which was Thrulshig’s next destination. He was requested by a woman named Chokyi (Chos skyid) for a divination to diagnose the illness of her son. Apparently the woman was Pema Choki (Padma Chos skyid) and the son Dasho Thinley Tobgye (Drag shod ’Phrin las stobs rgyas, 1851-1883), the elder brother of Ugyen Wangchuk (O rgyan dbang phyug, 1862-1926), who would become Bhutan’s first king in 1907. Pema Chokyi appears to have been the first member of the Wangchuk family to approach the young Tibetan yogin when he arrived in the valley. Through clairvoyance Thrulshig told Chokyi that her son’s wounded hand was not at all due to an evil spirit as assumed, but to the mother’s harsh words which had caused her son, whose nature is described as violent, to cut himself with a knife9. Instead of religious rituals to avert the harm by evil spirits, Thrulshig recommended medical treatment. Self-injury as a method of dealing with emotional pain is evidently not a condition that is unique to young people in modern Western societies.

The Disciple of Peling Sungrul Rinpoche

  • 10  One of three reincarnation lineages of Pema Lingpa. The three are: Peling Sungtrul (Pad gling gsun (...)
  • 11  ’Khrul zhig rnam thar, pp. 176, 203, 204, 210.
  • 12  See Pommaret 2003.
  • 13  Aris 1994, ch. 3.
  • 14  Facing the three-storey Guru Rinpoche statue, on the right side.
  • 15  According to Pommaret, [1990] 2009, p. 239, Dawathang was built in the early 1950s by Dasho Phunts (...)

9One reason why Pema Chokyi approached Thrulshig Rinpoche was no doubt his fame as a healer, but also because he was a direct disciple of Pema Chokyi’s brother, the eighth reincarnation of the speech aspect of Pema Lingpa (Padma gling pa, 1450-1521), Peling Sungtrul Kunsang Dorje Tenpe Nyima (Pad gling gSung sprul Kun bzang rdo rje bstan pa’i nyi ma, 1843- 1891)10, who is mentioned several times in Thrulshig’s biography11. Peling Sungtrul was born in Bumthang. He was a throne-holder of Lhalung monastery in Lhodrak in Tibet, while his seat in Bhutan was Tamzhing (gTam zhing) monastery12. Throughout his life, the eighth Sungtrul Rinpoche maintained strong bonds with his family in Bumthang. He had many Bhutanese disciples and on a number of occasions crossed the border to take part in religious events13. Memory of him is alive today in Bumthang : we found a mural painting of him at Tamzhing monastery, a small statue of him in Kurje (sKu rjes) monastery14, and one in Dawathang (Zla ba thang) temple15, just above the Kurje monastic complex.

Photo 5. Tamzhing monastery in Bumthang

Photo 5. Tamzhing monastery in Bumthang

Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)

Photo 6. Mural of Peling Sungtrul in Tamzhing

Photo 6. Mural of Peling Sungtrul in Tamzhing

Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)

Photo 7. Dawathang temple

Photo 7. Dawathang temple

Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)

Photo 8. Statue of Peling Sungtrul in Dawathang

Photo 8. Statue of Peling Sungtrul in Dawathang

Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)

A Powerful Patron, Power Struggles, Civil War and Female Agency

  • 16  Pema Tenzin was in office as Jakar Ponlob in 1873 and during Thrulshig’s visit to Bumthang around (...)
  • 17  Aris 1994, ch. 3 and Pommaret 1997, pp. 221-222.
  • 18  Pommaret (2003, p. 99) writes that Pema Tenzin died in 1881, while Aris (1994, p. 77) gives 1882 a (...)

10Thrulshig Rinpoche’s successful diagnosis soon reached the ear of Pema Chokyi’s brother, Ponlob Pema Tenzin (dPon slob Padma bstan ’dzin, d. 1881 or 1882), who henceforth became Thrulshig’s patron and disciple. Pema Tenzin, who was the governor (dpon slob) of Jakar Dzong (Bya dkar rdzong) in Bumthang16, aspired to attain the highest office in Bhutan during his day, that of Trongsa Ponlob (Krong gsar dpon slob), as had been promised him. Pema Chokyi’s husband Jigme Namgyal (’Jigs med rnam rgyal) held the position until 1866 (or 1873), when the office was handed over to his brother Dungkar Gyaltsen (Dung dkar rgyal mtshan), with the tacit understanding that it should be given to Pema Tenzin, Jigme Namgyal’s brother-in-law, after three years17. When Dungkar Gyaltsen did not fulfill his promise, war broke out. Thrulshig was in Bumthang at the peak of hostilities, and he performed rituals to avert killings of humans as well as animals. Thrulshig left Bhutan, however, before Pema Tenzin, who eventually became the Ponlop of Trongsa, was assassinated in 1881 or 188218.

Photo 9. Jakar Dzong in Bumthang

Photo 9. Jakar Dzong in Bumthang

Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)

Photo 10. Trongsa Dzong

Photo 10. Trongsa Dzong

Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)

  • 19  See also Aris 1994, p. 56.
  • 20  Uebach 2005.

11After his resignation as Trongsa Ponlob, Jigme Namgyal continued to play a decisive role in Bhutanese politics, a position that was of benefit to his wife Pema Chokyi, whose brothers, Ponlob Pema Tenzin and Peling Sungtrul Rinpoche, were also significant figures on the religio-political scene. Little has been written about the role of Pema Chokyi, but it appears that she was active in the plot to avenge the murder of her brother Pema Tenzin, as well as in manoeuvering her younger son Ugyen Wangchuk into the most powerful position in Bhutan, that of Trongsa Ponlob, and thereafter as the first king of Bhutan in 1907. This gives her a significant role in the political history of Bhutan19, not unlike that of some of the royal ladies of the Tibetan empire20. Ugyen Wangchuk married his maternal uncle Pema Tenzin’s daughter Rinchen, a cross-cousin marriage that further strengthened the family’s political alliances.

12During his stay in Bumthang, the Dzongpon of Jakar and generous patrons invited Thrulshig as their house lama and offered him many services. He continued his activities as a healer and house priest, many disciples took refuge in him, and particularly he was approached by sick people and beggars. Support from one of the most powerful families in Bhutan no doubt increased Thrulshig’s fame in Bumthang.

Guru Rinpoche’s Body Imprint in Kurje — Thrulshig’s Rediscovery ?

  • 21  The text (p. 178) states ‘sandalwood tree’, which is likely to be a denominator for species of tre (...)
  • 22  nyin gcig mnal lam du bud med sngo sangs dar la babs pa rgyan dang ldan pa zhig gis | ’di nas yar (...)

13In Bhutan Thrulshig had numerous visions — some of them connected to major holy places. Of particular interest is Thrulshig’s discovery, or perhaps re-discovery, of a body imprint (sku rjes) of a standing Guru Rinpoche at Kurje monastery, and described in Thrulshig’s biography. The body imprint, said to be in good condition and located under a sandalwood tree (tsandan gyi shing)21, was shown to him in a vision by a ḍākinī. The following day Thrulshig went to the tree, but could not find the treasure. Upon digging in the earth below it, a body imprint of a standing Guru Rinpoche, which had been buried under topsoil, came out clearly22. At the site Thrulshig Rinpoche made a bamboo hut where he meditated.

  • 23  Kurje until recently consisted of three temples. In 2008, sponsored by the Royal Grandmother Ashi (...)
  • 24  Pommaret 2009, p. 238.
  • 25  When the monk caretaker in April 2011 was asked about the body imprint, he could not give any deta (...)

14Kurje is one of the most important sites of pilgrimage in Bhutan, consisting of altogether four temples23. The oldest and westernmost temple of the Kurje complex was built, according to Pommaret, in 1652, when Mingyur Tenpa (Mi ’gyur brtan pa) held the most powerful position in Bhutan, that of Trongsa Ponlob, and before he became the third Desi (sDe srid) of Bhutan24. Obviously the temple, since it carries the name ‘Body Imprint’ (sKu rjes), was made as a sanctuary to house the imprint of Guru Rinpoche’s body. The most sacred chapel in the oldest temple is the lower one, where Guru Rinpoche’s body imprint is found. Inside the temple, on the northern wall, the visitor can see the contours of a cave, but the imprint itself cannot be seen as it is concealed by a standing statue of Guru Rinpoche placed at the entrance of the cave25.

15It remains a puzzle how Thrulshig could have discovered a body imprint of Guru Rinpoche at Kurje, when the oldest temple, named after Guru Rinpoche’s body imprint, was built in 1652. Was the imprint of Guru Rinpoche covered and forgotten, and then rediscovered by the visiting Tibetan yogin in 1881-82 ? Or did Thrulshig find another Guru Rinpoche imprint under the tree ? Or did the yogin find a standing imprint of Guru Rinpoche under another tree ?

Photo 11. Kurje monastery

Photo 11. Kurje monastery

Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)

Photo 12. Thrulshig’s “sandalwood tree” (i.e. cypress)

Photo 12. Thrulshig’s “sandalwood tree” (i.e. cypress)

Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)

16The first hypothesis, that Thrulshig made a re-discovery at Kurje, is likely. The biographer, however, does not write about a rediscovered (yang gter) body imprint ; he writes that Thrulshig discovered a standing sku rjes. Today only one huge and ancient looking tree (actually a cypress) is visible at the complex, located right behind the oldest temple at the forested hillside. This leads us to conclude that we are speaking about the same tree as the one mentioned in the text. In Thrulshig’s biography, however, it appears as if the body imprint was not found inside the temple ; he had to dig below the tree to find the body impression, and he built a bamboo hut there to meditate. Today the temple’s northern wall encloses part of the roots of the tree. Could it be that in 1880 there was an open space between the temple and the tree, and that the back wall of the temple was later extended in order to cover the sacred imprint ?

17It is also possible that Thrulshig found another standing image of Guru Rinpoche under the huge tree at Kurje. The circumambulation path around Kurje passes by the tree, pilgrims place tsa tsa along the path, but by the tree trunk there is no evidence of an image of Guru Rinpoche, and no local knowledge of such an imprint. If Thrulshig discovered another Guru Rinpoche imprint, then this has been covered by soil and is forgotten today.

18One hundred years have elapsed since Thrulshig visited Kurje, those who met him have long since passed away, and no written Bhutanese sources have come to light that mention Thrulshig’s discoveries. Until we know more about what the appearance of the body imprint (whether it is indeed a standing Guru Rinpoche) and what the temple looked like in the 1880s, the question of Thrulshig’s discovery will remain open. If evidence should emerge in support of the possibility that Thrulshig rediscovered the most sacred Guru Rinpoche impression in Bhutan, he would have a significant role as a rediscoverer of treasures in the religious history of the country.

Smiling Statue of Guru Rinpoche

19Another episode, which attests to the significance of the then newly constructed three-storey (ten metre high) Guru Rinpoche in the second oldest temple at Kurje, is told in Thrulshig’s biography. When Thrulshig had ended a sealed meditation on Guru Rinpoche, numerous miracles are reported to have occurred ; rainbows appeared in the sky and flowers fell from above. Thrulshig prepared a vast gaṇacakra feast, whereupon, says the biographer, the statue of Guru Rinpoche smiled broadly — something that could be seen by everyone. Dasho Thinley Tobgye told Thrulshig that the statue of Guru Rinpoche had previously spoken to the caretaker monk — and Thinley Tobgye voiced the opinion that the Guru Rinpoche statue was one that could see, hear, remember and liberate.

  • 26  Pommaret 2003, p. 96, [1990] 2009, p. 238.
  • 27  Pommaret [1990] 2009, p. 238.

20This incident is interesting also because it can help us to determine the dating of the construction of the second temple at Kurje and its main statue. Pommaret writes that the statue was built to protect the country and modeled according to the advice of the Nyingmapa lama, the eight Bakha (rBa kha) Tulku, Khamsum Rigzin Yongdrol (Khams gsum rig ’dzin yongs grol)26 on the instruction of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (’Jam dbyangs mkhyen brtse’i dbang po, 1820-1892). The statue was sponsored by Ugyen Wangchuk when he was still the Trongsa Ponlop, and Pommaret writes that it was built either in 1880 or in 190027. Since Thrulshig made a gaṇacakra offering here, presumably in the summer of 1881 or 1882, the statue and temple must have been built before that time.

A Swastika and Undisclosed Treasure Texts at Ta Rimocen

  • 28  Ta Rimocen is the phonetic rendering given in Pommaret 2003, p. 250, presumably the spelling shoul (...)
  • 29  rje’i mnal lam du | bud med sngo sangs dar la babs pa yid ’ong dang ldan pa zhig gis steng ring mo (...)

21While in Bumthang Thrulshig Rinpoche had, as mentioned above, numerous visions and displayed abilities as a future rediscoverer of treasures. On his way to Ta Rimocen (sTag ri mo can)28, a shining blue woman came to him in a vision pointing to a cliff, smooth as a mirror, on which he would see a clear pattern of a swastika (g.yung drung). Inside the cliff, he would find many volumes of esoteric texts (gter ma)29. When Thrulshig arrived at Ta Rimocen, he saw the swastika half way up the mountain, and was on the verge of discovering a profound treasure, when a chattering woman and an old monk disturbed him so that the vision was blocked. The biographer attributes the failure of the discovery to karmic obstacles. The caretaker monk could point out numerous sacred imprints on the rock face behind Ta Rimocen in 2011, but had not heard of an imprint of a swastika.

Photo 13. Ta Rimocen

Photo 13. Ta Rimocen

Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)

Treasures in Zhabje

  • 30  skabs der gter bdag zhig gi gter rdzas kyi brda ston du ma zhig mchis pa rnams gsang ba’i rnam tha (...)

22Thrulshig’s ability to find imprints made by spiritual beings in the Bhutanese landscape continued. When he arrived at the Zhabje (Zhabs rjes) temple to the north of Bumthang, he pitched his tent and meditated for days and months, during which a treasure owner (gter bdag) indicated many signs of treasure substances. According to the biographer all this is written in Thrulshig’s secret biography, which has not come to light30. During our visit to the privately-owned Zhabje temple in April 2011, its owner guided us to numerous imprints made by ḍākinīs, such as the famous ḍākinī’s footprints, but again there was no memory of the visit by Thrulshig.

Photo 14. ḍākinī’s footprints (zhabs rjes) at Zhabje

Photo 14. ḍākinī’s footprints (zhabs rjes) at Zhabje

Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)

Photo 15. One of many imprints made by ḍākinīs at Zhabje

Photo 15. One of many imprints made by ḍākinīs at Zhabje

Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)

Hot weather, insects and dengue fever ?

  • 31  Pommaret, personal conversation April 2011. Possibly Thrulshig also visited places to the south of (...)

23During his last days in Bumthang, presumably the summer of 1882, Thrulshig was bothered by hot weather and illness. Insects and fleas bit him, and to soothe him, local disciples dipped cotton cloth in water, which they suspended around him, and inside Thrulshig meditated naked. However, the yogin fell severely ill, and the biographer describes the great pain Thrulshig experienced ; he was feeling as if his bones were breaking and his body was turning yellow, red and black. ‘Break-bone fever’ is an alternative name for Dengue fever, and according to Pommaret, mosquitoes may carry the disease in the tropical valleys as far north as Central Bhutan31. The symptoms of Dengue fever correspond surprisingly well with Thrulshig’s ailments. In addition to joint and muscle pains, the fever is characterised by flushed skin and measles-like rash in the febrile phase. The recovery is described as occurring after a few days with a fever of around 40 degrees C. The brain may be affected, causing a reduced level of consciousness or seizures as well as hallucinations. During his illness, Thrulshig is said to have achieved high levels of yogic realisation, whereupon the pains dissolved. In a vision Thrulshig saw that his mother was having troubles in Tibet, and suddenly, to the great surprise of his disciples, he headed back to his seat at Yamdrok Lake.

Conclusion

24Thrulshig’s visit to Bumthang lasted for only a year, probably mid-1881 to mid-1882, but it was an important year in the career of the young yogin, during which he experienced visions, discovered treasures, healed the sick, acquired many disciples and made important contacts with the most powerful family in Bhutan. He combined religious practices from both the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions, which made the Bhutanese relate to him easily as one of their religious masters. The year he stayed in Bhutan was one marked by internal strife, and the Tibetan yogin tried by spiritual means not only to heal and comfort the sick, but also to avert anticipated killings of humans and animals. Those who met the Tibetan yogin are long since dead, and Thrulshig’s activities have not become a part of the religious lore of contemporary Bumthang. Nevertheless Thrulshig’s biography is one written source that documents the strong religious bond between southern Tibet and the Bumthang area of Tibet during the nineteenth century.

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Bibliographie

rDza sprul ngag dbang bstan ’dzin nor bu
(1867-1940) 2004 Yang gsang bstan pa’i mdzod ’dzin ’khrul zhig gu yangs he ru ka kun bzang mthong grol rdo rje’i rnam par thar pa ngo mtshar dad pa’i shing rta bzhugs so. (vol. Ka, pp. 7-223) (Kathmandu, Ngagyur Dongak Choling monastery.

rDza sprul ngag dbang bstan ’dzin nor bu (1867-1940) 2004 Dus mthar chos smras ba’i btsun pa ngag dbang bstan ’dzin nor bu’i rnam thar ’chi med bdud rtsi’i rol mtsho. vol. Kha. (Kathmandu, Ngagyur Dongak Choling monastery).

Aris, M.
1979 Bhutan : The Early History of a Himalayan Kingdom (Warminster, England, Aris and Phillips Ltd).
1994 The Raven Crown : The Origins of Buddhist Monarchy in Bhutan (London, Serindia Publications).

Aziz, B. N.
1978 Tibetan Frontier Families ; Reflections of Three Generations from D’ing-ri (New Delhi, Vikas Publishing House).

Bartholomew, T. T. & Johnston, J. (eds.)
2008 The Dragon’s Gift : The Sacred Arts of Bhutan (Chicago, Serindia).

Buffetrille, K.
1996 Montagnes sacrées, lacs et grottes. Lieux de pélerinage dans le monde tibétain : traditions écrites, réalités vivantes. Doctoral dissertation, Université de Paris X,-Nanterre.

Havnevik, H.
1999 The Life of Jetsun Lochen Rinpoche (1865-1951) as Told in Her Autobiography. Dr. philos. Dissertation. University of Oslo.

Huber, T.
2008 The Holy Land Reborn. Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India (Chicago, University of Chicago Press).

Kapstein, M.
1998 A Pilgrimage of Rebirth Reborn : The 1992 Celebration of the Drigung Powa Chenmo, in M. C. Goldstein and M. T. Kapstein (eds.), Buddhism in Contemporary Tibet : Religious Revival and Cultural Identity (Berkeley, University of California Press), pp. 95-120.

Pommaret, F.
[1990] 2009 Bhutan : Himalayan Mountain Kingdom (Hong Kong, Odyssey Books and Guides).
1997 The Birth of a Nation & The Way to the Throne, in C. Schicklgruber and F. Pommaret (eds.), Bhutan ; Mountain Fortress of the Gods (London, Serindia Publications and Vienna, Museum für Völkerkunde), pp. 209-237.
2003 Historical and Religious Relations between Lhodrak (Southern Tibet) and Bumthang (Bhutan) from the 18th to the Early 20th Century ; Preliminary Data, in A. McKay (ed.), Tibet and her Neighbours : A History (London, Edition Hansjörg Mayer), pp. 91-104.

Ricard, M.
1994 The Life of Shabkar : The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin (New-York, State University of New York Press).

Uebach, H.
2005 Ladies of the Tibetan Empire (Seventh to Ninth Centuries CE), in J. Gyatso and H. Havnevik (eds.), Women in Tibet (London, Hurst & Company and New York, Columbia University Press), pp. 29-49.

Wylie, T. V.
1964 Ro langs : The Tibetan Zombie, History of Religions 4-1, pp. 69-80.

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Notes

1  Huber 1999, p. 33, Kapstein 1998, p. 103.

2  See e.g. Buffetrille 1996, Huber 1999.

3  Vol. Ka, pp. 7-223 of his nine volumes collected works (bka’ ’bum). A digital copy of Ngawang Tenzin Norbu’s collected works was graciously provided to me by the late Gene Smith. Unfortunately the biography is incomplete and ends when Thrulshig is still a young man. In 2011 I had the opportunity to follow Thrulshig’s pilgrimage route in Bumthang in Bhutan, and I thank the Institute of Language and Culture Studies, Royal University of Bhutan, for the invitation to Bhutan.

4  There is a recent wall painting and a statue of Thrulshig Namkhai Naljor in Punakha (sPu na kha) Dzong (in the innermost, last, temple, on the right hand side). A Thrulshig Rinpoche (fig. n° 57) is also included in the Kagyu lineage thangka published by Bartholomew & Johnston (eds.) 2008, pp. 309-311. We also find a poster in several temples in Bhutan portraying the lineage, among them we find [Thrulshig] Namkhai Naljor, see plates 3 & 4. The portrayal on the lineage poster (with a blue hat and a meditation ribbon (sgom thag), corresponds to the painting in Punakha Dzong, while on the Kagyu lineage thangka (in Bartholomew & Johnston, p. 309), Thrulshig is portrayed with a red hat and in ordinary monastic robes.  

5  ’Khrul zhig rnam thar, pp. 106, 107. See also the three volume authobiography of Ngawang Tenzin Norbu, vol. Kha, pp. 396-398.

6  Ricard 1994, p. 558.

7  See Huber 2008, pp. 125-165 (ch. 5).

8  For the Tibetan belief in ‘the walking dead’ or zombie (ro langs), see Wylie 1964, pp. 69-80.

9  According to Pommaret 2003, p. 95, Thinley Tobgye became a monk in Lhalung monastery, but was recalled to Bhutan in 1877. He was installed as the dzongpon of Wangdi Phodrang (dBang ’dus pho brang) and ponlob of Paro, but died prematurely after falling off his horse in 1883 (Pommaret 1997, p. 223). See also Aris 1994, p. 70.

10  One of three reincarnation lineages of Pema Lingpa. The three are: Peling Sungtrul (Pad gling gsung sprul), Bakha Trulku (rBa kha sprul sku), and Peling Thugse (Pad gling thugs sras). The ninth speech-incarnation (1894-1925) was the nephew of Ugyen Wangchuk (Aris 1994, p. 3). Thus two throne-holders of Lhalung belonged to the Wangchuk dynasty of Bhutan, while the tenth Peling Sungtrul (1930-1955) was born at Yamdrok (Pommaret 2003, p. 96). For the close relations between the Wangchuk dynasty and Lhalung monastery, see Pommaret 2003, pp. 93-97.

11  ’Khrul zhig rnam thar, pp. 176, 203, 204, 210.

12  See Pommaret 2003.

13  Aris 1994, ch. 3.

14  Facing the three-storey Guru Rinpoche statue, on the right side.

15  According to Pommaret, [1990] 2009, p. 239, Dawathang was built in the early 1950s by Dasho Phuntshog Wangdu (Drag shod Phun tshog dbang ’dus) for his son.

16  Pema Tenzin was in office as Jakar Ponlob in 1873 and during Thrulshig’s visit to Bumthang around 1880-81. It appears that he was installed as Ponlob of Trongsar a short time before he was assassinated.

17  Aris 1994, ch. 3 and Pommaret 1997, pp. 221-222.

18  Pommaret (2003, p. 99) writes that Pema Tenzin died in 1881, while Aris (1994, p. 77) gives 1882 as his year of death.

19  See also Aris 1994, p. 56.

20  Uebach 2005.

21  The text (p. 178) states ‘sandalwood tree’, which is likely to be a denominator for species of trees not well known to Tibetans.

22  nyin gcig mnal lam du bud med sngo sangs dar la babs pa rgyan dang ldan pa zhig gis | ’di nas yar la phebs dang | tsandan gyi shing drung na o rgyan rin po che’i sku rjes legs pa zhig yod do zhes lung bstan | der sang nyin phebs pa na sku rjes kyi shul tsam yang ma rnyed | thugs dgongs la sa ’di rnams brkos tshe gter dang khyad med shugs byung du thon pa’ang srid dgongs te rim par bsal bas | o rgyan rin po che’i sku rjes bzhengs stabs su yod pa gsal por thon pas kun dad cing mos pa chen po skyes | ’Khrul zhig rnam thar, pp. 178-79.

23  Kurje until recently consisted of three temples. In 2008, sponsored by the Royal Grandmother Ashi Kesang (A zhe sKal bzang), a new Zangdopelri (Zangs mdog dpal ri temple) was inaugurated. This temple is located outside the 108 stupas encircling the three older temples to the east.

24  Pommaret 2009, p. 238.

25  When the monk caretaker in April 2011 was asked about the body imprint, he could not give any details.

26  Pommaret 2003, p. 96, [1990] 2009, p. 238.

27  Pommaret [1990] 2009, p. 238.

28  Ta Rimocen is the phonetic rendering given in Pommaret 2003, p. 250, presumably the spelling should be sTag ris mo can (with tiger’s stripes). In the rnam thar the spelling is sTeng ring mo che (p. 180, line 5) and sTeng ring mo (p. 181, line 4).

29  rje’i mnal lam du | bud med sngo sangs dar la babs pa yid ’ong dang ldan pa zhig gis steng ring mo yin zhes ston par byed | brag ri mtho la me long ltar ’jam pa zhig gi ngos la | g.yung drung gi ri mo bkra lam mer gsal ba | de’i sbug na chos gter gyi glegs bam mang du gzigs (’Khrul zhig rnam thar, pp. 180-181).

30  skabs der gter bdag zhig gi gter rdzas kyi brda ston du ma zhig mchis pa rnams gsang ba’i rnam thar du gsal lo (’Khrul zhig rnam thar, p. 183).

31  Pommaret, personal conversation April 2011. Possibly Thrulshig also visited places to the south of Bumthang, where the chances of being infected with Dengue fever is greater.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Photo 1. Thrulshig Rinpoche as portrayed in his biography
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 100k
Titre Photo 2. Ngawang Tenzin Norbu, the author of Thrulshig’s biography
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 116k
Titre Photos 3 & 4. [Thrulshig] Namkhai Naljor on a lineage poster found in several temples in Bhutan
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 128k
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 108k
Titre Photo 5. Tamzhing monastery in Bumthang
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 120k
Titre Photo 6. Mural of Peling Sungtrul in Tamzhing
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 136k
Titre Photo 7. Dawathang temple
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 96k
Titre Photo 8. Statue of Peling Sungtrul in Dawathang
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 112k
Titre Photo 9. Jakar Dzong in Bumthang
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 68k
Titre Photo 10. Trongsa Dzong
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 116k
Titre Photo 11. Kurje monastery
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 136k
Titre Photo 12. Thrulshig’s “sandalwood tree” (i.e. cypress)
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 132k
Titre Photo 13. Ta Rimocen
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 92k
Titre Photo 14. ḍākinī’s footprints (zhabs rjes) at Zhabje
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 128k
Titre Photo 15. One of many imprints made by ḍākinīs at Zhabje
Crédits Hanna Havnevik (Bhutan, April 2011)
URL http://emscat.revues.org/docannexe/image/2059/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 99k
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Référence électronique

Hanna Havnevik, « The Pilgrimage of a Tibetan Yogin in Bhutan in the Late Nineteenth Century », Études mongoles et sibériennes, centrasiatiques et tibétaines [En ligne], 43-44 | 2013, mis en ligne le 20 septembre 2013, consulté le 24 avril 2017. URL : http://emscat.revues.org/2059 ; DOI : 10.4000/emscat.2059

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Auteur

Hanna Havnevik

Hanna Havnevik is Professor in History of Religion at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo. She has worked extensively on Tibetan nuns and tantric practitioners and completed in 1999 her doctoral dissertation on the autobiography of the famous Tibetan female religious master Jetsun Lochen Rinpoche (1865-1951). In 1989 she published Tibetan Buddhist Nuns ; History, Cultural Norms and Social Reality (Oslo : Norwegian University Press) and co-edited Women in Tibet (London : Hurst & Company, 2005) with Janet Gyatso (Harvard University).

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