Manchu Buddhism

(— The audience in the picture shows the mixed Chinese-Tibetan Buddhism under the Manchu-emperors in today’s Inner Mongolia and Beijing (Fobidden City): yellow ceremonial coat (Chinese) under yellow monks’ cloak (gelug Tibetan). Another example of this vestimentary practice is shown in a print of 1892. This last mentioned print may not remain very long on the internet. —)

manchu lamas

After the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation made a donation staff of the Royal Ontario Museum and Beijing’s Palace Museum were able to mount an exhibition on the arts and crafts of the period in which the Manchu-dynasty ruled from the Forbidden City in Beijing. The Canadese newspaper Globe and Mail of October 16, 2014 reported on it and cited Ms Kathleen Bartels who announced a new Institute of Asian Art to be added to the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Especially the Netherlands is well aquainted with the earthenware of the Qing (= Manchu) Dynasty during which Emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong ruled between 1662 and 1796 — as the saying in Holland goes, one could fill a canal with all the Chinaware that came to the country. To this day Holland still has a fair amount of Chine de commande and Chine tout court.

As far as Buddhism goes, to understand what was going on in the “lamaïst” temple on the premises of the Forbidden City we have to turn our attention to the 6th and 7th Dalai Lama, to the pictures made during these years, to the lineage of the Shamarpas and to that of the Nyingmapas of Tibet.

The world in which the two mentioned Dalai Lamas lived appear to have been especially politically complex and militarily violent. “Treasures of Life”, see the biography of the 6th Dalai Lama on and that of the 7th (,-Kelzang-Gyatso/TBRC_P179) give us an insight into the lesser known tantric practices of the Gelugpa or yellow hat tradition during these years. This, as the iconography shows that was made in these years was the Buddhist practice of the Forbidden City during the reign of the three mentioned emperors, and during that of their successor Guangxu.

To stress this observation we might look at the kagyu lineage of the Shamarpa which was outlawed in 1792 when Qianlong was emperor. A new Shamarpa only was designated in 1892, the year when W. Woodville Rockhill journeyed to Lhasa. These were the years of Emperor Guangxu (1875–1908), equally a Manchu, equally a Qing emperor, but, unlike his forebears, sidelined by the then Empress dowager who most probably loosened the reins a little bit on the non-Gelug Buddhist schools of Tibet (including todays Bhutan).

The same should probably be said of the Old School, the Nyingma. Paul Kocot Nietupski in his “Labrang Monastery” writes on page 32 how in the 18th century “the Jamyang Zhepas worked to bridge rather than widen the gap between the Gelukpa, Nyingma and other Buddhist and non-Buddhist groups.” Had all been well between the Manchu, the Kagyu and the Nyingmapa on the one hand, and the three main Schools of Buddhism on the other the Jamyang Zhepas would not have engaged in peace negotiations.

To end with the theme ‘Words in picture’, Emperor Qianlong ordered the Tibetan Dragon Sutra to be compiled. It is bound in 108 volumes — 108 being an auspicious number. The Dragon Sutra is now kept in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan and is said to contain all “teachings” and “laws” by Sakyamuni Buddha himself. It is written in Tibetan and Manchu script. As it is kept in a museum there can hardly be anyone today with enough time, opportunity ánd permission to study or copy it. Here the expression “dead words” come to mind.


budh damnay

To cite a Cambodian Government paper: “The second session of the Paris Conference on Cambodia was held from 21 to 23 October 1991. The Agreements on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict were signed at the final meeting, on 23 October. This act marked the beginning of the transitional period in Cambodia, running up to the formation of a new Cambodian Government following free and fair elections.”

The signing on October 23 is called the “Paris Peace Agreement”. By this agreement the UN was mandated to the full temporary power over Cambodia in order to decree a cease-fire, to bring some 370.000 refugees back from Thailand, to disarm the warring parties, and to prepare elections.

Soon after this agreement was signed the venerable monk Samdech Preah Maha Ghosananda (1929 – 2007) led a company of young monks back from the United States to the fatherland. On their journey they sejourned in Wat Umong near Chiang Mai in Thailand where they invited as many foreigners as possible to join the march into Cambodia. During this peaceful march however some warring factions were still at it and fired back and forth. One maechee (5 rules-nun) in the Maha Ghosananda-march was deadly injured. A cremation was hastily arranged for this venerable maechee whose name remains unknown, and whose life no-one knew or knows — which is nothing exceptional in this male chauvinist Southeast asian setting.

The date of October 23, 1991 is annually remembered. Today many Cambodians, or Khmer, seize this opportunity to protest at what they see as a Vietnamese domination over Cambodia. The year 2014 made no exception to the rule. Monks and laity demonstrated in the streets of the capital.
This would not be very remarkable were it not that an older file showing such demonstrations is followed by a video on what is called the “Khmer Prophecy [in] Phnom Tbeng Meanchey”. The town Phnom Tbeng Meanchey is situated in the area of the Angkor-sites.
Here citizens who adopted a fusion of Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism perform a rather new ceremony during which they watch the sunlight at a particular moment of the day in a particular brilliancy. As almost all sources about this event are in Khmer language only, it is merely a translation by Kenneth T. So, published on Khmer Connection, that enlightens us about the background of this peculiar event where, by the way, these citizens adopt a rather muslim and/or Nipponzan Myohoji prayer-gesture: both hands lifted in a prayer offering, or in a benedictions receiving gesture, or something of the sort. (The Nipponzan Myohoji is a Japanese Mahayana Buddhist school that relies solely on the Lotus Sutra.)

What has the below-mentioned text to say about these sunrays? : “Suddenly, there is a divine appearance of a crown, a decorated neck bracelet, a (pair of) golden shoes, and a silk clothing (garment) dropping from the sky accompanied by two angels.

Follows the mention of god Indra (who used to be the companion of god Brahma witnessing Sakyamuni or Gáutama Buddha’s birth). And there is mention of a blue-tusked elephant (blue being the colour of the sky). This appearance of the sun in a diamondlike brilliancy and a raining down of the above-mentioned objects is apparently what this annual gathering is waiting for, though they know full well that, according to the BUDH DAMNAY, they have to wait until the 26th or 27th Century before the crown, the necklace, the shoes and the garment — attributes of a king — actually come down (that is, according to this legend or prophecy).
In the meantime this fusionist Buddhist gathering fashioned a statue that has the characteristics of a traditional Buddha statue, though with eyes wide open. It should be “the reincarnated Holy Baby” according to the text: the world, or at least the Cambodia saving king. The Thai coastal city of Koh Samui has a similar eyes-wide-open Buddha statue — sitting in front of the statue of a meditating monk, eyes-wide-closed. Part 3 will end with the question whether this statue is that of the future Buddha Maitreya or that of a Chakra-vartin (or kalachakra) king-cum-Buddha.

(to be continued)


budh damnay


First of all I cannot share Kenneth T. So’s analysis of the manuscript. In his interpretation he brings in the all too recent history of Cambodia, being the years during which the former king ruled, the Khmer Rouge took power and Vietnam seized the opportunity. But Kenneth deserves a lot of merit for his translation. It absolutely helps us understanding this above-mentioned ceremony by neo-folk-Buddhists, and it helps in rectifying critics’ notions that in the BUDH DAMNAY we have a millenarian prediction along the line of similar predictions belonging to the monotheisms. The linear, respectively the circular view on life and the cosmos, i.e. whether or not the world will finally and forever be destroyed will be dealt with towards the end of this piece.

Kenneth translated the BUDH DAMNAY and published it on Khmer Connection. It may remain some more years on the internet, but for those who take an interest in the fringes of the Buddhist life and teachings it might be sensible to download the text and/or print it.
The text says that it was a certain Brahma Vira who wrote this very post-canonical treatise now called the BUDH DAMNAY. Brahma Vira means “Brahma’s power”; it is worth noting that the Hindu gods Brahma and Indra received the newborn Buddha in their hands and kept him from falling on the earth. As such they are depicted as servants of Buddha, resp. Buddhism, not as mighty independent gods of pre-Buddhist India.
The text “Puddh Tomneay”, here called BUDH DAMNAY (Buddha-Dhamma Tragedy [Khmer: neay = Tragedy, play, drama]), is kept in the Khmer archives in Paris.

The BUDH DAMNAY is a prophesy that shows an amalgamation of concepts gleaned from some three Pali suttas, Teachings belonging to the Small Vehicle. We find traces of the Maháparinibbána sútta [DN16] (the accent aigue over the vowels replaces the flat stroke indicating a long pronouciation), the Cakka-vátti Sutta [DN26], and the Agañña sutta [DN27].
Himalaya-traditions used the Cakka-vátti Sutta as a template for their kalachakra tantra and rituals; both texts show similarities and dissimilarities.

The country Nokor Kok Thlok (indicating finds of gold and natural resources) in the BUDH DAMNAY is Cambodja according to Khmer history. Sources mention that this name was already in use during the era of Fou-Nan, or Nokor Phnom as it was also called. In connection with Founan this Lao Bunlong source speaks of the year 68 AD, being more or less the beginning of Nokor Kok Thlok (Cambodia). Lao Bunlong also speaks of a “brahman” by the name of Kaundinya, which is a Buddhist monks’ name. As the year 68 is mentioned in connection with Kaundinya, one is tempted to say that Buddhism entered what is now called Cambodia around the beginning of the Christian era, although the BUDH DAMNAY reads “when my religion is more than 1000 years old, it will reach a country known by the name of Nokor Kok Thlok“, being approx. the year 500 AD. This is incongruous, and possibly the result of poor historical knowledge on the part of the author or authors of this manuscript.

This author, or these authors, may have produced this text in or shortly after the year 1867. The BUDH DAMNAY speaks of the “white race” and how this “white race” speeds up the downfall of the country. In the year 1867 the French established their Protectorate in Indo-China. An interesting thing is that the BUDH DAMNAY mentions the “emerald Buddha”, a 17th century statuette. The text indicates the place where it was, and still is kept, in the Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot, today the royal palace in Phnom Penh.

The author’s angry “prophecy” is situated in the time when Gáutama, or Gótama, or Sakyamuni Buddha walked the earth, and it predicts as far as into the 26th-27th Century. It is precisely this portion about Cambodia’s future where at the end of a period of warfare and calamities a Cakra-vartin, or in Tibetan-Buddhist parlance a Kalachakra king, a Righteous King, enters the scene: “Preah Bat Harikrakksakvong Angpimpiksasreach” who brings peace and sets everything right again — until his sons spoil the broth once more by engaging in warfare. At this stage of the tragedy the above-mentioned “white race” enters the scene, after “foreigners” (Siamese, Laotians, Birmese, Vietnamese?) already sacked the country. This “white race” hasn’t the sympathy of the author Maha Vira. According to him and/or his co-author or successor they even speed up the course of events that lead to the end of the world as we know it. Although concepts such as kalpa, kappa (Hybr. Sanskrit resp. Pali), or yuga (the classical Sanskrit of Hinduism) do not occur in the BUDH DAMNAY, in this section of the text the Agañña sutta’s description is used as a source and justification for the coming to an end of a “world system”, an era (kappa/kalpa/yuga).

Anyway, somewhere in the 25th-26th Century, when the above-mentioned royal attributes will be raining down on Cambodia the battle against the enemy is won, their bullets (bullets: a sign of modern day writings) change into flowers in honour of the Divine King, and all ’s well with the world — for a while. After which the text goes on to tell about the vices of the next Century and the coming of Preah Areymetrei, Maitreya Buddha.

(to be continued)


budh damnay


Kenneth So was probably right in stating that the BUDH DAMNAY may have had two authors: as far as I’m concerned one jotted his prediction down upto and including the 25th Century, and the other one who added another series of horrible events prior to the coming of Maitreya. Here we might surmise that there were two old monks who cherished no happy expectations for the immediate future but rather set their hopes on the coming of Maitreya.
Whether the above-mentioned “reincarnated Holy Baby” should be interpreted as the kalachakra king, Kalasoka in the text, and also Preah Bat Harikrakksakvong Angpimpiksasreach, the rightful king who brings peace, or the future Maitreya Buddha finally born in human form is totally unclear, and it may well be that the neo-Buddhists who hold this annual event of “Khmer Prophecy [in] Phnom Tbeng Meanchey” have different opinions on the subject.
Kalasoka being the name of the famous Indian emperor-king Asoka before he embraced Buddhism.

To illustrate how the Khmer neo-Buddhist apocalypse is described we might repeat a section of the text that is presented as riddles, but is actually a description of natural events and moral depravation:

“There will be a very noisy thunder coming from the east. The overseer of the country will cross his arms and cry, shrimps lay their eggs on top of mountains, and white crows patiently wait under reeds. Bodhi trees are about to take roots, poisonous cobras make their nests, buffaloes are in hiding so they can hone their horns, and Garudas (Mythological bird) fly and search to destroy their nests. Birds lay eggs in waters, crows carry Phlè Lvear (cherry-like fruit) and scatter them all over the country. At the sight of the fruits people pick them up for savings.” And so on.

“… shrimps lay their eggs on top of mountains”: there will be tsunamis. “…white crows patiently wait under reeds”: crows find no food and age faster than natural. “Bodhi trees are about to take roots”: on account of incessant rains. “… poisonous cobras make their nests”: evil begets evil. “… buffaloes are in hiding so they can hone their horns”: in anticipation of bull-fghts i.e. power struggles. “… and Garudas (Mythological bird) fly and search to destroy their nests”: even mighty birds like garudas lose their wits. “Birds lay eggs in waters”: there’s no more dry land. “… crows carry Phlè Lvear (cherry-like fruit) and scatter them all over the country”: only not very nutritious fruits are abundant. “At the sight of the fruits people pick them up for savings”: that’s all they find in terms of food.

So here we have an apocalyptic view of what might happen at the end of a kalpa (kappa or yuga). When one world-system comes to an end and the new world-system is yet to come nothing is left as it was, and every new phenomenon, if any, is unknown and therefore unloved. Or as another section of the BUDH DAMNAY says: “Female tigers hunt in the cemeteries (find no other food than corpses), hiding and waiting for Buddhism to come back.”

This is the description of the fourth kalpa (classical Hindu Skr. kaliyuga; Chin.: mofa) in which civilisation as we know it is at an end and only the Pratyeka Buddhas, the Silent Buddhas remember the Dharma. At the end of this kalpa or kappa the next Buddha, today known as Maitreya Buddha, will appear in a new world-system which is called the Pure Kalpa that will run its course followed by a second, third and fourth kalpa of ever decreasing civilisation, after which the whole shebang starts anew.

It is at this point that the Buddhist and the monotheist notions of the coming to an end of the world differ. The monotheistic teaching is a linear one, the world system goes from A to Z. At best this linear thinking about development and decline predicts a continuation of life in another, heavenly sphere, outside the universe, or at least in an unearthly abode, whether physical or non-physical.
The Buddhist (and Hindu) notion takes stock of the fact that the universe is a closed vessel into which nothing can be added from the outside, and out of which nothing can escape. Everything is rematerialised ad infinitum, including the mental. There is a circular course of events on all levels of life and life-forms, from the basics of energy to the disappearance-reappearance of the material world and the universe.

It looks as if the Khmer, and particularly the Khmer Krom, use this post-canonical, and to my mind even a-canonical and unhelpful BUDH DAMNAY to reasure themselves that one day in the future their country will be as it was in an idealized past.
Although we glimpse a monk here and there among the participants in the ceremony called the “Khmer Prophecy [in] Phnom Tbeng Meanchey”, the monks sangha as a whole seems to keep aloof as this ceremony and its rationale easily run counter to what mainstream Buddhism is teaching: don’t wait for Maitreya meanwhile doing nothing; rather personally strive for an increase of civilisation in yourself and in society.



An auction house in Zürich, Switzerland had in its 29-30 October 2014 sales a couple of bronze figures of Diipankara or Dipañkara Buddha (emphasis on ..pan..) on offer. One piece was a 17th century statue from Tibet and another dated from the 15th century. Whether this last mentioned statue is of Nepali or Tibetan origin is unknown to me. The 17th century statue is shown here.

dipankara tibet 17de eeuw

Diipankara Buddha is by all Buddhist schools acknowledged as the first of a series of Buddhas of the past. An early list mentions 18 names with Gótama (Gáutama) or Sakyamuni Buddha as the 19th. He is the present Buddha, although no longer alive in the ordinary sense of the word, and he will be succeeded by a Buddha named Maitreya.

Not all Buddhist schools agree on the meaning of the name Diipankara. A source publishing from the Crimea, and speaking from a Tibetan-inspired school of thought has it that the name stands for “Source of Light” — diipa (dipa) meaning light. However, the Classical Sanskrit word dIpana has, amongst others, the meaning of “stimulating”, as in stimulating a fire. Hence the name could also be interpreted as “the one who initiated it all”.

The legend surrounding Diipankara and the future Buddha Sakyamuni is well-known. However, in a translation by the good Samuel Beal, the “Miscellaneous Notices respecting the Birth and History of Buddha”, written by a certain 5th/6th century Djinakûta (or Djñânakûta), a native of Gandhâra in Northern India we read that Diipankara really wasn’t the first Buddha at all, but one in a lineage. He was preceded by a Buddha called Ratnabhava, the Jewel-born. The story is kept in a Chinese translation which Beal rendered into English. As Samuel Beal and his contemporaries made frequent use of the Christian vocabulary to render Buddhist concepts that we don’t find in the Christian lore his translation ought to be revised.

Could we for the moment remain with the legend that says the Diipankara Buddha was the first Buddha — after all, it’s a legend — then we are reminded of the story about a mendicant ascetic (not a Buddhist) who one day heard that Diipankara Buddha would come to town. Wishing to offer him something, but being altogether possessionless the ascetic thereupon decided to wipe the street on which Diipankara would walk with his long dishevelled hair, the “coifure” of ascetics, adopted by some young westerners of all ages. Completely immersed in his task of wiping — head to the ground — he did’n notice that the Buddha stood before him. Diipankara honoured the ascetic with placing his foot on his hair saying that once, after many eons, this ascetic would become Sakyamuni Buddha (called Gáutama in the Small Vehicle).
Musée Guimet in Paris is in the possession of a bas-relief on which this last-mentioned legend is depicted.

The entire legend teaches the (Asian) Buddhist to be patient and to plan into the future, far beyond his or her present life. You cultivate in the present, though not obsessed with this present. And none of your contemporaries will ever be able to perceive your future, except a Buddha, if you’re lucky. So you need faith, and self-esteem, and a number of other good qualities.

There are a few more peculiarities about the Diipankara legend. First of all it is noteworthy that especially the Newar Buddhist tradition of Nepal seems to have a greater regard for Diipankara than for Sakyamuni, although the last-mentioned Buddha was a native of what is now called Nepal.
Rájendralála Mitra, in his “The Sanskrit Buddhist Literature of Nepal” (Calcutta 1882) gives the synopses, and sometimes the entire text, of a number of Avadána, legends, or fairy tales if you like, of the Buddhist life before and into the existence of Sakyamuni Buddha. As a genre the Avadána are comparable to the Játaka, the Birth Stories, 3rd to 12th century tales about Gáutama Buddha’s former lives. Nevertheless the Avadána could be considered a Mahayanistic challenge to the Hinayanistic Játaka. In this Nepali collection of Avadána there is mention of Amitábha Buddha and his Sukhávatii, his Land of Joy. The name of Amitábha is all but absent in Hinayanistic manuscripts. The Avadánas make frequent mention of highly successful cultivators who lead a married life, unthinkable in the tradition to which the Játaka belong, and female cultivators who reach the same goal(s) as their brethren abound in the Avadána, in contrast to the Játaka.

In these Nepali Avadána Diipankara Buddha appears a number of times, and in a number of instances his name is mentioned in relation to a city called Dvípavatí (“island city”, “land of islands?”), a “royal city” extending over “an area of 84 square Yojanas” (1 yojana being 13 km, resp. 8 miles). (Mahávastu-ávadana)

The knowledge of this first Buddha who walked the earth is demonstrated by several finds in South-East Asia. A statue of this Buddha has been discovered at Pong Tuk in Cambodia, north of the archaeological site of Banteay Chhmar. The province of Quang Nam in Vietnam yielded several Diipankara Buddha-statues. Likewise in Bukit Seguntang on the island of Sumatra, today the westernmost section of the city of Palembang. The oldest Diipankara statue in Indonesia  is found on the Sulawesi Island. Eastern Java has more Diipankara Buddha-statues.

There is a description of Diipankara in the Cūlavamsa (Small Chronicle)[1], in this case an abbreviation of the 39th chapter of the Mahāvamsa (Great Chronicle) in which Sri Lanka wishes to remember this first Buddha on earth. Both vamsas speak of a “Diipankara’s City” (Dipankara-nágara-ssa) where the hair relic of the historic Buddha Sakyamuni (Gotama, or Gautama) is kept as it was brought ashore by a novice monk Sīlakāla[2] (dubbed Amba-samanera: the [novice, samanera] mango, after his liking for this fruit). Where the mentioned city used to be situated is today unknown; a hair relic is kept in the Ganga-ramaya in Colombo.

[1] “Cūlavamsa being the more recent part of the Mahāvamsa”, part I, p. 47/8, London, Pali Text Society, 1971/3, tr. W. Geiger.
[2] Sīlakāla returns to the life of a layman (Cūlavamsa, p.52) and marries the daughter of a king named Upa-tissa.



To give an impression of how these Avadána were written and structured we might repeat the Kapisá Avadánam, the Avadána about the monkey (root: kapi, both in Skr. and in Pali. The monkey’s name ought not to be confused with the kingdom named Kapisa that during the 6th century Kushanshas-Hepthalites Empire spanned accross a southern part of Kashmir). Buddha Sakyamuni tells a story:

“Once on a time Tatavísuta was born a monkey, Jñánákara by name. In consequence of his sinful (rather: evil) character the whole forest was beset with darkness at the time of his birth, and famine raged on all sides. Some time after Dípankara’s presence in the forest restored it to light, and there was plenty of everything. Jñánákara, wondering at this sudden change, gave a jackfruit to the worker of the miracle. Dípankara gave him instructions in the philosophy of Buddhism, and promised him transformation into man. He (Jñánákara) learned the character of man from a friend, and, dying, was born a merchant’s son at Kámarthí. (Acoording to another set of Avadána this merchant’s name was Oharmasr, hence someone who traded in food). He (the monkey) was named Dharmasrí. When Dharmasrí was very young, Dípankara, who was passing by asked him to give the applicant anything that he could afford with good will. Dharmasrí gave a handful of dust which was changed into gold. He gave another handful of dust which was changed into dainties for the Sangha (monks’ community). Dípankara granted him a boon, saying, “for this good conduct, you are to become Sarva-nanda, the king of D(v)ípávatí. (Afterwards) Sarvananda always used to please Dípankara with food and raiment.”

“Then the Lord (Sakyamuni)gave the assembled multitude a lecture on morals, diversifying with a description of the Satya Yuga and the duties which appertained to that Yuga.”

As you may have noticed, this Avadána goes into the nature-nurture debate and says that a socialized being, “the character of a man”, is something that has to be learnt.

The Sanskrit, resp. Hindu Yuga is called a “Kalpa” or “Kappa” in Buddhist lore. These kalpas or kappas, eras, are subdived into smaller timespans. Both Hinduïsm and the early and somewhat later Buddhist manuscripts speak of four main kalpas or kappas. To mention them by their Hindu name: Satya Yuga, a era of purity, followed by a Treta Yuga of lesser purity, followed by a Dwapara Yuga, an era that has almost lost it, followed by a Kali Yuga, a period in which even the slightest knowledge of dharma (read civilization and culture) is lost. After this the cycle begins anew. In the Buddhist tradition it is believed that a new Satya Yuga, or satya kalpa (hybr. Skr.), or sacca kappa (Pali), will commence with the advent of a new Buddha.

It is in the southern teaching of the Pali canon that the Arhat, the just-not-yet-buddha is referred to with âtíta kappa: one who has gone beyond time. Hence both the ascetic who would become Sakyamuni Buddha and Diipankara in his pre-Buddha existence were âtíta kappa: time didn’t matter anymore.