Mr. Chen Qingying, former director and researcher of the History Institute of China Tibetology Research Center, Beijing, passed away on April 11, 2022 in Chengdu at the age of 81. He was born in October 1941, in Nanchong City, Sichuan Province. In 1958, he moved to Qinghai with his family. He successively studied in the High School Affiliated with Qinghai Normal University and the Department of Physics of Qinghai Nationalities University, where he earned a BSc. degree. He also started learning Tibetan at the Qinghai University for Nationalities. After graduating in 1964, he worked as a teacher at the Delingha Middle School and Haixi Normal School for Nationalities in Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province.
In October 1978, Mr. Chen Qingying was admitted to the Department of Minorities and Languages of the Central University for Nationalities, Beijing. Majoring in Old Tibetan and studying Tibetan Dunhuang literature, he obtained an MA degree in October 1981. From October 1981 to March 1984, he was engaged as an assistant researcher in Tibetan studies at the Institute of Tibetan Studies, Central University for Nationalities. In March 1984, he was transferred to the Institute of Tibetan Studies, Qinghai Academy of Social Sciences, where he was inter alia responsible for the compilation of a catalogue of Tibetan books of Sku ‘bum Monastery and doing research on its historical relics. In 1986, he served as an associate researcher and deputy director, and in 1987 he was appointed director of the Tibetan Studies Institute of the Qinghai Academy of Social Science.
Mr. Chen Qingying then transferred to the China Tibetology Research Center in August 1993 and served there as the director and researcher of the Institute of History and Religion. From 2000 to 2004, he was the director and researcher of the History Institute and concurrently served as the doctoral tutor of the Central University for Nationalities and the Southwest University for Nationalities. Within the years 1993 and 2004, he was Visiting Professor at the Department of Ethnology, National Chengchi University, Taiwan, from October 1995 to January 1996, and from February to December 1999, he conducted cooperative research at the Harvard-Yenching Institute, Cambridge, MA, as a Visiting Scholar. From February to June 2004, he was a Visiting Professor at the Department of Religious Studies, Foguang College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Taiwan. He retired in 2009.
Mr. Chen Qingying’s scholarship is virtually unrivalled. He has no equal in his numerous translations of Tibetan biographical and historical literature in terms of their accuracy and sheer volume. His fluency in both spoken and written Tibetan and his knowledge of Chinese materials have allowed him to finish extraordinary translations of difficult works such as the Rgya bod yig tshang, many of which still serve as classics for historians of the Yuan period, and the three-volume autobiography of the Fifth Dalai Lama. In addition, he has published more than 100 academic papers. In the course of his academic career, he was the recipient of numerous awards for his academic excellence. Among other publications, one can mention, with Wang Xiangyun, “Tibetology in China: a Survey”, in Images of Tibet in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Monica Esposito (ed.), École française d’Extrême-Orient, 2008, pp. 611-681.
Mr. Chen Qingying devoted his life to the development and progress of Tibetan Studies and made countless outstanding contributions to the field.
His passing is a great loss for those who share his passion for the study of things Tibetan.
Leonard van der Kuijp
Professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies Harvard University
The 20th of September 2021 is a day marked by great sadness for me. It is the day when Nima Dorjee, son of the Ragnubstshang family associated with the Dagyab Magon Monastery in Yemdun, passed away in the United States. Nima Dorjee was born in 1938, even if his passport suggests 1934, and was eighty-three years old at the time of his passing. His family, known as Ragnubstshang or Ragnubs Pontshang, and the Fourth and Fifth Dagyab Khyabgons were born in this family.
I knew Nima Dorjee from early childhood. Even though I do not recall playing with him, I vividly remember visiting his family estate situated within Dagyab principality. The extensive family lived in a four-storied house known as Ragnubs Palace.
At the time, Nima Dorjee’s father, Loden, worked as the Ragnubs secretary and was known as one of the most gifted and capable staff members. As part of the Labrang, the monastic estate, he accompanied me on my trip to Lhasa in 1957. Loden remained for one year, working in the Dagyab Labrang treasurer’s office. In 1954 Nima Dorjee travelled to Lhasa to enrol at Rato Monastery, where he successfully took up a course of study in Buddhist philosophy and logic.
Once he arrived in Indian exile in 1959, he received a scholarship from the Sampurnan Sanskrit University in Varanasi to study Sanskrit and Buddhist philosophy. Upon completing his studies, he became a librarian at the university’s manuscript library. He indeed became an expert in historical disciplines based on his lively interest in different cultures, various fields of knowledge, and his ability to cultivate a broad perspective on the topics he studied.
In 1969, Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, a relative of Nima Dorjee, invited him to come to the United States. Throughout his life there, he worked in different occupations. He particularly enjoyed working at the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art in New York. During his time there as a Tibetan art historian, he co-authored Treasures of Tibetan Art: Collections of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art.
In 1995 he visited Dagyab and founded two schools in Ragnubs Village and in a nearby village. Schools, which then flourished for 20 years.
As the outcome of many years of arduous research, he began to write a history of Dagyab, and it was in this context we renewed our contact. He visited me in Germany, and I also visited him and his wife in New York and Tacoma. With the manuscript now typed up, proofread and copyedited, I am much looking forward to the publication of this significant historical contribution.
The passing away of one of the most significant figures of our generation fills me with a deep sense of grief and the clear awareness that there is no way to exert influence on the nature of impermanence. To his wife, Prof. Elisabeth Benard, I would like to express my most heartfelt condolences, my hope that she may not be overwhelmed by sadness, and my very best wishes for her good health. In concluding, I would also like to use this opportunity also to express my appreciation for her academic contribution.
Apart from memories of scholarly nature, older colleagues will certainly remember the conferences in the old days when one would meet in the evenings in Géza’s hotel room, commonly referred to as “Géza’s Bar,” to end the day over a few drinks that he had brought along from Hungary, continuing scholarly discussion of the day, or in relaxed gossip. Géza was a perfect host, and his hospitality was legendary, both at his home in Budapest or his residence in Delhi from 1994-2000, when he was the director of the Hungarian Cultural Centre. “Now that I am not in contact with research,” he used to say at that time, “I want at least to keep contact with researchers,” and he accommodated many colleagues during their stay in Delhi and made them feel at home. In a way, Géza seemed to be predestined for this position. Ever since his high school days, he had been interested above all by Eastern philosophy and religion, including yoga, as well as in Hungarian culture and literature. Cultural relations between India and Europe, with an emphasis on Hungary, also became one of his main research topics, and he dedicated a number of his publications to this subject.
Géza Bethlenfalvy was born on 10 February 1936 in Huncovce (Hunfalva), Slovakia, in a Hungarian minority family. This village is situated at the feet of the High Tatra mountains, and he had the chance to visit its upland areas in his childhood. After World War II his family relocated to Hungary. They settled in Mosonmagyaróvár, his mother’s hometown, the gateway to the scenic Szigetköz region of the Danube with several river branches and islands. He attended secondary school there, and it was during these years that he received a book on yoga by Selvarajan Yesudian from a fellow townsman. He started to do some practice with a few classmates, something that was frowned upon by local authorities because any sort of religious activities was considered undesirable in the early 1950s.
His attempts to enter university education were blocked for two years by the regime as his father’s family had been landowners before the end of the war. Thanks to auspicious coincidences, however, he was finally admitted to Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), Budapest, in the summer of 1956. Here he had to take Hungarian and Russian as a major, but soon “escaped” (he actually used this expression when talking about those days) to Indology, which had just started as an independent subject led by János Harmatta. He also took courses in Art History and Psychology. He was the only student of Indology at ELTE then, before he was expelled from university, and even imprisoned, in 1957 for his engagement in the Hungarian revolution of 1956 and for participating in the commemoration of this event a year later. His suspension lasted for two years during which he worked in a foreign language bookshop, learned to play the flute and even received training as a goldsmith. Thereafter he was able to return to university and finally graduated in 1963 with degrees in Hungarian linguistics and literature and Indology.
At that time, he became involved with Tibetan Studies: he was approached by Lajos Ligeti, himself a former student of Henri Maspero, Jacques Bacot and Paul Pelliot, and invited to join the freshly formed Research Group of Altaic Studies at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and to learn Tibetan. During the next years he first studied and then also taught Tibetan and developed an interest in Buddhism and also in Buddhist meditation, and developed a scholarly interest in European-Tibetan relations and in Sándor Kőrösi Csoma (Alexander Csoma de Kőrösi). In connection with his research on this pioneer of Tibetan Studies in Europe, the history of Ladakh and Zangskar emerged as one of Géza’s major fields of interest, as well as Tibetan Buddhism in general, with an emphasis on folk religion, the development of Buddhist canonical literature, and questions concerning the tantric tradition.
Géza’s first personal encounter with Asia took place in 1969, when he made a trip to Mongolia, which he later described as a first love. He spent three months in the country, primarily in Ulaanbaatar, as a member of an academic exchange programme, and explored Buddhist scriptures there. The following year he received a six-month grant to travel to India, and used this study tour to visit Delhi, Pune, Calcutta, Darjeeling and Banaras, where he examined documents related to Csoma de Kőrös as well as various Buddhist texts.
From 1974 to 1980 he was appointed Lecturer in Hungarian at Delhi University, and India became his second home. He was good colleagues and friends with Lokesh Chandra, who encouraged him to continue work on the Mongolian Kanjur. His endeavours resulted in his first major monograph, A Catalogue of the Urga Kanjur, which was published in New Delhi in 1980. Two years later he published another catalogue, that of the Urga manuscript of the Them spangs pa Kanjur, compiled from a handwritten list and from Dzaya Paṇḍita’s Thob yig. He was particularly pleased that he was allowed to feast his eyes for a short while on this rarity, which became fully accessible only about a decade ago.
Besides philology, he researched the lives of Amrita Sher-Gil, Elizabeth Brunner, Charles Fabri, Ervin Baktay and, of course, Alexander Csoma de Kőrös, and published a volume titled India in Hungarian Learning and Literature in Delhi in 1980. After his return to Hungary he continued research at the Academy and taught at ELTE University passionately with his unique personality.
He held various leading positions at the Csoma de Kőrös Society, Budapest, first as secretary (1968-1974), then as general secretary (1984-1991, when he was awarded the Csoma de Kőrös Prize), deputy president (1991-1994), and finally (after 2001) as a member of the steering committee. From 1992–1995 he was also deputy president of the Hungarian Society of Religious Studies. From 1994 to 2000 he acted as director of the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre in New Delhi. His office and residence on Janpath became a home away from home and a meeting place for many colleagues and friends. Upon his return to Hungary after six years he rejoined the Academy research group until 2006.
Between 2007 and 2010 he was a guest professor at the University of Vienna, reading topics of Tibetan folk religion, tantrism, the Buddhist canons, the discovery of Tibet, cultural history of Ladakh, etc. The students loved him for his unconventional and easy-going way of teaching. His work was always essentially determined by extensive field research in India, Mongolia, and Tibet; in 2008 he joined the Viennese “Tibetan Manuscripts” project in Ladakh and Zangskar.
In the early 2010s he continued to pursue his various research interests related to India, Ladakh, Tibet and Mongolia, while remaining devoted to classical music, fine art and tea. From around the middle of the decade his health started to decline slowly but steadily. He passed away peacefully at his home, a legendary place for numerous visitors, situated on the slopes of the highest hill of Budapest, on 18 November 2021. Alongside the great amount of valuable help he provided to colleagues, his curiosity, enthusiasm, bohemian character and good spirits were irresistible; one walked away from each conversation not only laden with new information (and anecdotes), but a certain cheerful lightness. The international community of Tibetan Studies will remember him as a brilliant yet modest researcher, a reliable partner in the field, a good colleague to all, and a friend to many. On the day following his passing, one of his former students wrote: “if you knew him, you liked him—no exceptions”.
Publications and Conference Papers – A Brief Selection
Books and articles
“Representation of Buddhist hells in a Tibeto-Mongol illustrated blockprint” (co-author: Alice Sárközi). W. Heissig (ed.), Altaica Collecta, Berichte und Vorträge der XVII. Permanent International Altaistic Conference, 3.-8. Juni 1974, Bonn/Bad Honnef. Wiesbaden 1974. 93–130.
A Painter’s Pilgrimage : Elizabeth Brunner’s Buddhist Paintings from India, Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand. New Delhi 1978.
A Catalogue of the Urga Kanjur. Delhi 1980.
India in Hungarian Learning and Literature. Delhi 1980.
“Bla-ma Bžad-pa and the Rdzong-khul Gompa.” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 34. Budapest 1980, 4-6.
A Hand-list of the Ulan Bator Manuscript of the Kanjur Rgyal-rtse Them-spangs-ma. Budapest 1982.
“The Śatagāthā attributed to Vararuci.” L. Ligeti (ed.), Tibetan and Buddhist Studies Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Alexander Csoma de Kőrös. Budapest 1984. 17-58.
Enchanted by India – Ervin Baktay (1890–1963). Life and Works. New Delhi 1990.
“Frightening and Protective Deities: Sky-, Air-, Earth-, Mountain-, Water-demons, Helpful and Harmful Demons, Spirits, Ghosts, Devils, and Witches in Tibet and Mongolia.” Béla Kelényi (ed.), Demons and Protectors. Budapest 2003, 27–46.
The Mystical India – Through the Art of Two Hungarian Painters. (Exhibition catalogue). Budapest 2007.
India magyarjai – Kőrösi Csoma Sándor. (Documentary video). 2008.
A Tibeto-Mongolian Picture-book of Hell. Budapest 2010.
1992 6th Conference of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (IATS), Fagernes, Norway: “Golden libation (gser-skyems) to the Altai mountains, a Tibetan text from Western Mongolia” [not in the proceedings]
1995 International Symposium on India Studies, Trivandrum, India: “Historical and ideological background of Indian religious syncretism” [no proceedings found]
1996 7th Conference of IATS, Graz, Austria: “Three notices to important Kanjur lineages” [not in the proceedings]
1998 Nemzetközi Orientalista Kongresszus (International Congress of Orientalists), Budapest: “The work of Alexander Csoma de Kőrös in the context of the contemporary historical-political situation in Asia” [no proceedings found]
1998 8th Conference of IATS, Bloomington, USA: “Notes to the Rdzong-khul lineage” [no table of contents available]
1999 Kőrösi Csoma Seminar, New Delhi and Calcutta, India: “Alexander Csoma de Kőrös, a pioneer of Buddhist studies” [no proceedings found]
Lectures: 2001 Ladakh and Alexander Csoma de Kőrös (6 lectures at the Shambala Society, Budapest in November–December 2001)
For his contributions to several documentaries, see:
Gergely Hidas, Péter-Dániel Szántó and Helmut Tauscher
* * *
The following message was recently circulated by Géza Bethlenfalvy’s family
To family and friends, colleagues, students and admirers of Géza Bethlenfalvy
As you may have heard, Geza left us on 18 November 2021. He was at home, with his family beside him. Thank you to everyone who has already, or will be expressing their love and respect for him in kind messages to us!
We know that many friends want to find a way to take leave of him, yet an obstacle is posed not only by the great distances between the countries where we live, but the dreadful surge of the epidemic in Hungary and elsewhere. So we would like to offer a number of ways in which he can be remembered.
Many of us have a memorable story to share about Géza. We have created a page online where anyone can add their story and/or photograph to remember Géza by. You can write on the page by clicking on the + sign you see at the bottom right of the page: https://padlet.com/bfalvy/g9mmlw0zr23a5y4o
Géza’s ashes were laid to rest in the Cemetery of Mosonmagyarovar in a close family circle on 28 December. We are planning an English-speaking Zoom event for 30 January at 6.30 pm Indian time, 2 pm Hungarian time, 1 pm UTC/GMT, where we can gather to retell short reminiscences of Géza. If you would like to join us, please let Balint Bethlenfalvy know (email@example.com).
Various institutions of oriental studies in Hungary plan to hold a memorial event in the Spring, where we might be able to see each other in person. A date will be set as soon as the Covid situation gets a bit better.
Collecting the memories of the pioneers of Tibetan Studies
The IATS is very pleased to inform its members and the public interested in the history of Tibetan Studies, that the “Oral History of Tibetan Studies” has launched its website (https://oralhistory.iats.info), in the context of the 21st anniversary celebration of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies at Oxford. Initiated in 2017 by Anna Sehnalova and Rachael Griffiths, with the help of Daniel Wojahn, the project seeks to build and preserve a collection of interviews with pioneers of Tibetan studies and related disciplines.
we would like to thank all of you who have already submitted a proposal for the upcoming IATS Seminar. We received so many interesting and cutting edge research topics! And since some of you have contacted us in regards to the extension of the submission deadline, we are now officially extending the deadline to the 30th of September. So those of you who were not yet able to submit your topics, please do it so in the near future.
Good luck during the review process and see you soon in Prague!
With great sadness, we share news that our incomparable teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend Hubert Decleer passed away peacefully on Wednesday, August 25. He was at his home with his wife, the poet Nazneen Zafar, in Kathmandu, Nepal, near the Swayambhū Mahācaitya that had been his constant inspiration for nearly five decades. His health declined rapidly following a diagnosis of advanced-stage lung cancer in May, but he remained lucid and in high spirits and over the past weeks he was surrounded by family members and close friends. Through his final hours, he maintained his love of Himalayan scholarship and black coffee, and his deep and quiet commitment to Buddhist practice.
Hubert’s contributions to the study of Tibetan and Himalayan traditions are expansive, covering the religious, literary, and cultural histories of Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and India. For nearly thirty-five years he directed and advised the School for International Training’s program for Tibetan Studies, an undergraduate study-abroad program that has served as a starting point for scholars currently working in fields as diverse as Anthropology, Art History, Education, Conservation, History, Religious Studies, Philosophy, and Public Policy. The countless scholars he inspired are connected by the undercurrent of Hubert’s indelible “light touch” and all the subtle and formative lessons he imparted as a mentor and friend.
Hubert embodied a seemingly inexhaustible curiosity that spanned kaleidoscopic interests ranging from Chinese landscapes to Netherlandish still lifes, medieval Tibetan pilgrimage literature to French cinema, 1940s bebop to classical Hindustani vocal performance. With legendary hospitality, his home, informally dubbed “The Institute,” was an oasis for scholars, former students, artists, and musicians, who came to share a simple dinner of daal bhaat or a coffee on the terrace overlooking Swayambhū. The conversations that took place on that terrace often unearthed a text or image or reference that turned out to be the missing link in the visitor’s current research project. When not discussing scholarship, Hubert inspired his friends to appreciate the intelligence and charm of animals—monkeys and crows especially—or to enjoy the marvels of a blossoming potted plum tree. His attentiveness to the world around him generated intense sensitivity and compassion. He was an accomplished painter and a captivating storyteller, ever ready with accounts of the artists’ scene in Europe or his numerous overland journeys to Asia. The stories from long ago flowed freely and very often revealed some important insight about the present moment, however discrete.
Hubert François Kamiel Decleer was born on August 22, 1940, in Ostend, Belgium. In 1946, he spent three months in Switzerland with a group of sixty children whose parents served in the Résistance. He completed his Latin-Greek Humaniora at the Royal Atheneum in Ostend in 1958, when he was awarded the Jacques Kets National Prize for biology by the Royal Zoo Society of Antwerp. He developed a keen interest in the arts, and during this period he also held his first exhibition of oil paintings and gouaches. In 1959 he finished his B.A. in History and Dutch Literature at the Regent School in Ghent. Between 1960 and 1963 he taught Dutch and History at the Hotel and Technical School in Ostend, punctuated by a period of military service near Köln, Germany in 1961–62. The highlight of his military career was the founding of a musical group (for which he played drums) that entertained officers’ balls with covers of Ray Charles and other hits of the day.
In 1963 Hubert made the first of his many trips to Asia, hitchhiking for thirteen months from Europe to India and through to Ceylon. Returning to Belgium in 1964, he then worked at the artists’ café La Chèvre Folle in Ostend, where he organized fortnightly exhibitions and occasional cultural events. For the following few years he worked fall and winter for a Belgian travel agency in Manchester and Liverpool, England, while spending summers as a tour guide in Italy, Central Europe, and Turkey. In 1967 he began working as a guide, lecturer, and interpreter for Penn Overland Tours, based in Hereford, England. In these roles he accompanied groups of British, American, Australian, and New Zealand tourists on luxury overland trips from London to Bombay, and later London to Calcutta—excursions that took two and a half months to complete. He made twenty-six overland journeys in the course of fourteen years, during which time he also organized and introduced local musical concerts in Turkey, Pakistan, India, and later Nepal. He likewise accompanied two month-long trips through Iran with specialized international groups as well as a number of overland trips through the USSR and Central Europe. In between his travels, Hubert wrote and presented radio scenarios for Belgian Radio and Television (including work on a prize-winning documentary on Nepal) and for the cultural program Woord. The experiences of hospitality and cultural translation that Hubert accumulated on his many journeys supported his work as a teacher and guide; he was always ready with a hint of how one might better navigate the awkward state of being a stranger in a new place.
With the birth of his daughter Cascia in 1972, Hubert’s travels paused for several years as he took a position tutoring at the Royal Atheneum in Ostend. He also worked as an art critic with a coastal weekly and lectured with concert tours of Nepalese classical musicians, cārya dancers, and the musicologist and performer Michel Dumont.
In 1975, during extended layovers between India journeys, Hubert began a two-year period of training in Buddhist Chinese at the University of Louvain with pioneering Indologist and scholar of Buddhist Studies Étienne Lamotte. He recalled being particularly moved by the Buddhist teachings on impermanence he encountered in his initial studies. He also worked as a bronze-caster apprentice and assistant to sculptor—and student of Lamotte—Roland Monteyne. He then resumed his overland journeying full time, leading trips from London to Kathmandu. These included annual three-month layovers in Nepal, where he began studying Tibetan and Sanskrit with local tutors. He was a participant in the first conference of the Seminar of Young Tibetologists held in Zürich in 1977. In 1980 he settled permanently in Kathmandu, where he continued his private studies for seven years. During this period he also taught French at the Alliance Française and briefly served as secretary to the Consul at the French Embassy in Kathmandu.
It was during the mid 1980s that Hubert began teaching American college students as a lecturer and fieldwork consultant for the Nepal Studies program of the School for International Training (then known as the Experiment in International Living) based in Kathmandu. In 1987 he was tasked with organizing SIT’s inaugural Tibetan Studies program, which ran in the fall of that year. Hubert served as the program’s academic director, a position he would hold for more than a decade. Under his direction, the Tibetan Studies program famously became SIT’s most nomadic college semester abroad, regularly traveling through India, Nepal, Bhutan, as well as western, central, and eastern Tibet. It was also during this period that Hubert produced some of his most memorable writings in the form of academic primers, assignments, and examinations. In 1999 Hubert stepped down as academic director to become the program’s senior faculty advisor, a position he held until his death.
Hubert taught and lectured across Europe and the United States in positions that included visiting lecturer at Middlebury College and Numata visiting faculty member at the University of Vienna.
Hubert’s writing covers broad swaths of geographical and historical territory, although he paid particular attention to the Buddhist traditions of Tibet and Nepal. His research focused on the transmission history of the Vajrabhairava tantras, traditional narrative accounts of the Swayambhū Purāṇa, the sacred geography of the Kathmandu Valley (his 2017 lecture on this topic, “Ambrosia for the Ears of Snowlanders,” is recorded here), and the biographies of the eleventh-century Bengali monk Atiśa. His style of presenting lectures was rooted in his work as a musician and lover of music—he prepared meticulously to be sure his talks were rhythmic, precise, and yet had an element of the spontaneous. One of his preferred mediums was the long-form book review, which incorporated new scholarship and original translations with erudite critiques of subjects ranging from Buddhist philosophy to art history and Tibetan music. His final publication, a forthcoming essay on an episode contained in the correspondence of the seventeenth-century Jesuit António de Andrade (translated by Michael Sweet and Leonard Zwilling in 2017), uses close readings of Tibetan historical sources and paintings to complicate and contextualize Andrade’s account of his mission to Tibet. This exemplifies the spirit and method of his review essays, which demonstrate his deep admiration of published scholarship through a meticulous consideration of the work and its sources, often leading to new discoveries.
In addition to Hubert’s published work, some of his most endearing and enduring writing has appeared informally, in the guise of photocopied packets intended for his students. Each new semester of the SIT Tibetan Studies program would traditionally begin with what is technically called “The Academic Director’s Introduction and Welcome Letter.” These documents would be mailed out to students several weeks prior to the program, and for most other programs they were intended to inform incoming participants of the basic travel itinerary, required readings, and how many pairs of socks to pack. The Tibetan Studies welcome letter began as a humble, one-page handwritten note, impeccably penned in Hubert’s unmistakable hand.
Hubert’s welcome letters evolved over the years, and they eventually morphed into collections of three or four original essays covering all manner of subjects related to Tibetan Studies, initial hints at how to approach cultural field studies, new research, and experiential education, as well as anecdotes from the previous semester illustrating major triumphs and minor disasters. The welcome letters became increasingly elaborate and in later years regularly reached fifty pages or more in length. The welcome letter for fall 1991, for example, included chapters titled “Scholarly Fever” and “The Field and the Armchair, and not ‘Stage-Struck’ in either.” By spring 1997, the welcome letter included original pieces of scholarship and translation, with a chapter on “The Case of the Royal Testaments” that presented innovative readings of the Maṇi bka’ ’bum. Only one element was missing from the welcome letter, a lacuna corrected in that same text of spring 1997, as noted by its title: Tibetan Studies Tales: An Academic Directors’ Welcome Letter—With Many Footnotes.
Hubert was adamant that even college students on a study-abroad program could undertake original and creative research, either for assignments in Dharamsala, in Kathmandu or the hilly regions of Nepal, or during independent-study projects themselves, which became the capstone of the semester. Expectations were high, sometimes seemingly impossibly high, but with just the right amount of background information and encouragement, the results were often triumphs.
Hubert regularly spent the months between semesters, or during the summer, producing another kind of SIT literature: the “assignment text.” These nearly always included extensive original translations of Tibetan materials and often extended background essays as well. They would usually end with a series of questions that would serve as the basis for a team research project. For fall 1994 there was “Cultural Neo-Colonialism in the Himalayas: The Politics of Enforced Religious Conversion”; later there was the assignment on the famous translator Rwa Lotsāwa called “The Melodious Drumsound All-Pervading: The Life and Complete Liberation of Majestic Lord Rwa Lotsāwa, the Yogin-Translator of Rwa, Mighty Lord in Magic Intervention.” There were extended translations of traditional pilgrimage guides for the Kathmandu Valley, including texts by the Fourth Khamtrul and the Sixth Zhamar hierarchs, for assignments where teams of students would race around the valley rim looking for an elusive footprint in stone or a guesthouse long in ruins that marked the turnoff of an old pilgrim’s trail. For many students these assignments were the first foray into field work methods, and Hubert’s careful guidance helped them approach collaborations with local experts ethically and with deep respect for diverse forms of knowledge.
One semester there was a project titled “The Mystery of the IV Brother Images, ’Phags pa mched bzhi” focused on the famous set of statues in Tibet and Nepal and based on new Tibetan materials that had only just come to light. Another examined the “The Tibetan World ‘Translated’ in Western Comics.” Finally, there was a classic of the genre that examined the creative nonconformity of the Bhutanese mad yogin Drugpa Kunleg in light of the American iconoclast composer and musician Frank Zappa: “A Dose of Drugpa Kunleg for the post–1984 Era: Prolegomena to a Review Article of the Real Frank Zappa Book.”
Frank Zappa was, indeed, another of Hubert’s inspirations and his aforementioned review included the following passage: “If there’s one thing I do admire in FZ, it is precisely these ‘highest standards’ and utmost professional thoroughness that does not allow for any sloppiness (in the name of artistic freedom or spontaneous freedom)…. At the same time, each concert is really different, [and]…appears as a completely spontaneous event.” Hubert’s life as a scholar, teacher, and mentor was a consummate illustration of this highest ideal.
Hubert is survived by his wife Nazneen Zafar; his daughter Cascia Decleer, son-in-law Diarmuid Conaty, and grandsons Keanu and Kiran Conaty; his sister Annie Decleer and brother-in-law Patrick van Calenbergh; his brother Misjel Decleer and sister-in-law Martine Thomaere; his stepmother Agnès Decleer, and half-brother Luc Decleer.
A traditional cremation ceremony at the Bijeśvarī Vajrayoginī temple near Swayambhū took place on Monday, August 30 at 8:30 AM.
Benjamin Bogin, Andrew Quintman, and Dominique Townsend
Portions of this biographical sketch draw on the introduction to Himalayan Passages: Newar and Tibetan Studies in Honor of Hubert Decleer (Wisdom Publications, 2014)
We are now inviting interested scholars to submit their proposals for the 16th IATS Seminar, which will be held in Prague, Czech Republic, Prague (3–9 July 2022) and hosted by the Faculty of Arts, Charles University and the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences.
The registration program is now open. You can submit a panel proposal or an individual paper. The deadline for submission is September 15, 2021.
The registration is hosted by Conftool and is available in English and Tibetan. To submit a proposal, please:
Please use English or Tibetan to fill out the submission form.
You will receive information about the acceptance of your proposal by January 31, 2022. You will then be asked to complete the final registration of participation and transfer the conference fee payment.
The anticipated registration fee for the Seminar is 5800 CZK (ca. 230 EUR). The registration fee includes lunches throughout the conference. IATS attendees will be responsible for their own transportation, arrangement of accommodation, and accommodation costs, in addition to the registration fee. We will provide a list of available lodging options close to the venue in a separate announcement. The list will also be available on the Prague IATS website.
A small number of fellowships will be available, with preference given to scholars from Tibetan areas and to financially disadvantaged scholars. Sightseeing and further cultural programs will also be available but at additional cost. The cultural offers will be announced later.
The principal venue for the Seminar will be the main building of the Faculty of Arts of Charles University (nám. Jana Palacha 2, Prague 1).
With regard to the current pandemic situation, we are aware that there may be certain difficulties and changes connected to travel and the venue. We will follow the situation and try to maintain an updated list of additional travel requirements on the Prague IATS 2022 website. However, the attendees are responsible to confirm this information with the respective authorities.
Helga Uebach, who is well known in Tibetan Studies for having dedicated most of her academic career to the Wörterbuch der tibetischen Schriftsprache and for her contributions to Old Tibetan studies, passed away on 8 February 2021. The quiet voice of my esteemed colleague and predecessor in the dictionary project fell silent at the age of 80 years.
Helga Uebach was born on 19 July 1940, in Munich, went to school in a place nearby called Attenkirchen and took her final exams of the gymnasium (secondary school) in 1959. One year later, she started studying Indology and Tibetology under Helmut Hoffmann and Mongolian Studies under Herbert Franke who both influenced her scientific career.
As a student of Helmut Hoffmann, Professor for Indology and Iranian Studies at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, she was the first scientific employee who joined the dictionary project already in 1964. Three years before her dissertation she started to work in the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, in the Kommission für zentralasiatische Studien that Hoffmann founded together with Erich Haenisch, Professor of East Asian Culture and Language Studies in 1954. After she retired in 2005 from her full-time profession, she still assisted the dictionary project with specific questions, particularly those related to Old Tibetan.
Having been research assistant in 1963 at the Seminar for Indology and Iranian Studies (now the Institute for Indology and Tibetology), she joined the dictionary project in 1964, when the collection of terms has just begun. At the same time, she worked on her dissertation in Indology, completing it in 1967. The subject was an edition and translation of the Nepālamāhātmya, an appendix of the Skandapurāṇa. This text describes the holy places of the Kathmandu valley, including the associated cults from a Śaivite perspective. The work was published in 1970 in a series of the Philosophical Faculty of Munich University (Das Nepālamāhātmyaṃ des Skandapurāṇaṃ. Legenden um die hinduistischen Heiligtümer Nepāls, München: Fink Verlag, 1970.) In the same year she obtained a full position as research assistant at the Bavarian Academy.
Some years previously, in 1960, with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation Helmut Hoffmann had invited two Tibetan scholars to Munich to join the dictionary project. One of the two was Jampa Losang Panglung, who also studied Tibetology and Indology at the LMU. After completing his Magister degree in 1976, he joined Helga Uebach at the Wörterbuch der tibetischen Schriftsprache, where they both worked until their retirement. The early years of the dictionary project were laborious, and the project was affected by the tremendous changes caused by the arrival of Tibetan exiles in India. Beginning in the 1970s, Tibetans started publishing large quantities of Tibetan texts. In these pre-computer times, Helga Uebach and Jampa L. Panglung spent their time filling card index file-boxes with handwritten notes on Tibetan terms for the dictionary project.
Apart from these lexicographical studies, Helga Uebach worked predominantly on Tibetan cultural history, with a special focus on the 7th to 9th centuries, the period of the early Tibetan kingdom. Her scholarly interests also included the history of Ladakh and document studies. From the early 1980s these interests, that also provided material for the dictionary, led her and her colleague on several field trips to India and Tibet. In those years, Tibetan Studies were at an early stage, and Tibetan publications were still rare. To collect further material for dictionary project, Helga Uebach photographed inscriptions in Ladakh and Tibet, as well as documents held in the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala. However, the increasing volume of Tibetan publications in India that was now possible thanks to technological progress partly overran these efforts to add all this additional material.
One of her major works at this time was a translation of the chronicle by Nelpa Pandita (Helga Uebach: Nel-pa Paṇḍitas Chronik Me-tog phreṅ-ba. Handschrift der Library of Tibetan Works and Archives; tibetischer Text in Faksimile, Transkription und Übersetzung, München: Kommission für Zentralasiatische Studien, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1987 (Studia Tibetica. Quellen und Studien zur tibetischen Lexikographie, 1). She had discovered this historical source, that had long been considered to be lost, in the Library of the Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala while she was photographing all the Tibetan documents in 1982. With this publication, Helga Uebach established the series “Studia Tibetica. Quellen und Studien zur tibetischen Lexikographie” at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Moreover, she translated Rolf A. Stein’s work Tibetan Civilization into German (Die Kultur Tibets, Edition Weber Berlin 1993).
In November 1973, one year before her full employment in the Academy, Helga Uebach and Jampa L. Panglung organised the invitation of the Dalai Lama for his very first visit to Europe. Supported by senator Günter Klinge and Gertraut Klinge, who were both also sponsors of the dictionary project, it was possible to invite the Dalai Lama to Munich, where he met scholars of the Bavarian Academy, politicians as well as Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhists.
Helga Uebach with Jampa Panglung and the Dalai Lama (1973)
Helga Uebach and Herbert Franke, with the Dalai Lama (1973)
Just over ten years later, in the summer of 1985, she and Jampa L. Panglung were co-convenors of the fourth seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies in Schloss Hohenkammer, close to Munich. More than 100 participants from 22 countries took part in this event. The results were published in proceedings: Helga Uebach and Jampa L. Panglung (eds): Tibetan Studies. Proceedings of the 4th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Schloss Hohenkammer‒ Munich 1985, München: Kommission für Zentralasiatische Studien, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1988 (Studia Tibetica. Quellen und Studien zur tibetischen Lexikographie, 2). She was also the Secretary General of the IATS, a position that she retained for the Munich seminar, as well as for the fifth, that was held in Narita in 1989.
By the time Helga Uebach retired in 2005 she has been working on the Wörterbuch der tibetischen Schriftsprache for forty-one years. In the same year, she published the first fascicle of the dictionary. Until her unexpected death on 8 February 2021, she was still an active figure in Tibetan Studies, and continued regularly to publish articles of exemplary scholarship, mainly in the field of Old Tibetan.