Helga Uebach (1940-2021)

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 Nepālamāhātmya des Skandapurāṇa. 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.

Petra Maurer

Josef Kolmaš (1933-2021)

Josef Kolmaš, who was one amongst the rather small group of founders of modern Tibetan Studies, passed away on February 9th, 2021, at the age of 87 years. He is known by the international academic public for the work he published in English, which focuses on historiographical topics and China-Tibet relations. But this is only a part of his legacy. Among the Czech public he is better known as a prolific translator of numerous books concerning Tibet, China and India from various languages: Tibetan, Chinese, Latin, Russian, English and German.

I remember Josef Kolmaš as a very supportive mentor. Meticulous and strict, but also a kind man endowed with a very distinctive sense of humour. The circumstances of his life were indeed fascinating, and rich in unusual paradoxes.

Josef Kolmaš with his teacher Narkyid Ngawang Thondup and Hugh E. Richardson at the first IATS seminar in Oxford, 1979 (source: Kolmaš, Josef, Tibet: dějiny a duchovní kultura. Praha: Argo, 2004).

He was born in south Moravia (the southeastern part of the Czech Republic), which is known as an island of Catholic faith in the sea of otherwise lukewarm religious sentiments of Czech society. Born in Těmice as the eldest of five children in the family of a bricklayer in 1933, he enrolled at the Jesuit church gymnasium (secondary school) in Velehrad just at the end of the Second World War in 1945. Following the communist coup d’état in 1948 the persecution of the church and its institutions was in the air.

The communist regime targeted the Velehrad church gymnasium and seminary in the spring of 1950 as part of the so-called Action K.  Seventeen-year-old Kolmaš was interned with other students of the gymnasium and novices of the seminary in Bohosudov, North Bohemia, for almost six months.

‘Teachers and the young novices were taken away. Teachers were imprisoned, but the Communist Party and the government did not know how to deal with the novices. Eventually, the novices were kept interned until September,’ he recalled as he recounted his time in the so-called ‘centralised monastery,’ which was effectively a camp guarded by the communist police. Every day he had to line up in the yard as a prisoner, and to listen to the propaganda reading of the political commissioner. He and others were forced to liquidate the local library by throwing volumes out of the windows. The communist regime did not allow anyone to visit him, and he was allowed to go outside only accompanied by guards. He was not even allowed to inform his parents that he was alive until three months later.

Later, he was forced to work on the construction of the Klíčava dam near Kladno, where he levelled the slopes and built roads around the reservoir. ‘They brought some female members of the Communist Youth union who were eager to socialise and dance with us. They were apparently attempting to re-educate us,’ he recollected in the interview for the Memory of Nations project. He eventually ended up in the abolished Franciscan monastery in Hájek near Prague, and only then was he released.

He then continued his studies at the gymnasium in Kyjov. His teacher Ladislav Dlouhy supported his interest in Oriental languages. He showed Kolmaš New Orient (Nový Orient), a journal in which a manual of Chinese was being published in instalments. 

Josef Kolmaš with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, 1978 (photo: Doboom Tulku, source: Kolmaš, Josef, Tibet: dějiny a duchovní kultura. Praha: Argo, 2004).

Following his graduation in 1952 he was accepted for studies of Czech and Russian languages at the University of Olomouc. In the environment of the planned economy of the communist regime a formal authorisation was required for studies. The number of the students in each subject at the universities was planned and strictly prescribed. The authorisations were then distributed to the classes of graduates from the secondary schools. The gymnasium of Kyjov received just two authorisations for the graduates, one of them for the study of Czech and Russian languages at the University of Olomouc. 

But Josef Kolmaš was determined to study the Chinese language, which at that time was taught only at Charles University, in Prague. Following his graduation, he decided to visit the Minister of Education in person and to persuade him to provide him with official permission. The minister of Education at that time was Eduard Štoll, a representative of the Stalinist wing of the Communist Party. Amazingly, the minister agreed to meet the young graduate. During their discussion he phoned Jaroslav Průšek, an influential Czech sinologist and lecturer in Chinese at the University. And following Kolmaš’s visit to Průšek, his way to the study of Chinese was opened.    

Kolmaš studied Chinese in the years 1952-1957. There were ten students of Chinese in the class, which was quite a large number at that time. Since 1949 the People’s Republic of China had been a partner of the communist regime. Josef Kolmaš recollected the words of the minister of information Václav Kopecký after his visit of China at that time: ‘Thanks to the victory of communism in China the Earth’s axis has tilted in the direction of progress.’ Kolmaš was taught Tibetan as a second language by Pavel Poucha, a specialist in Mongolian Studies and the Tocharian language. What the study of Tibetan was like at that time was described to me some years ago by Kolmaš: “Poucha taught me the Tibetan letters and explained the way they work during the first class. For the next class he brought a Tibetan translation of the New Testament. He gave it to me saying: ‘You have the Czech version of it, so you can make the effort yourself!’”

Josef Kolmaš with the Dalai Lama and Czech indologist Dušan Zbavitel. Prague, 1990 (photo: J. Ptáček, source: Tändzin Gjamccho, Svoboda v Exilu: autobiografie 14. Dalajlamy. Praha: Práh, 1992).

Following his graduation, Kolmaš was offered a postgraduate stipend at the Central Institute for Nationalities in Beijing in 1957. He spent two years there between 1957 and 1959. His stay there proved to be crucial for his future research within the field of Tibetan Studies. He was the first foreign student to study there. At the same time, this was also Kolmaš’s first trip abroad. It was the time of the Great Leap Forward campaign (1958–1960) and also the start of the Great Chinese Famine (1958–1962) that left a toll of 35–45 million deaths. Kolmaš recollected some scenes that illustrated the situation in China at that time. He remembered the head of the Institute catching flies and collecting them in a small paper bag in the toilet as part of the Four Pests Campaign aimed at eliminating rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows. Kolmaš also recollected his enormous shame when the head of the Institute asked him for a piece of sugar for his children, who had never seen it. Kolmaš was given provisions at the Soviet Embassy, which significantly alleviated the concerns of his daily life in Beijing.

He spent some time with another foreign Tibetologist at the Central Institute for Nationalities: Yuri Parfionovich (1921–1990), who was a member of the Moscow Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences. Parfionovich had fought as a soldier in the Red Army before his studies, had taken part in the Soviet-Finnish War, and was a member of an espionage group. As a soldier he had participated in the capture of Berlin, and had celebrated the end of the Second World War in Prague. Kolmaš remembered him as a good companion who was nevertheless a heavy drinker. He was haunted by nightmares from his soldier’s past, especially the moments when he was forced to shoot his own close friends dead.              

Kolmaš always remembered his own teachers in Beijing with a feeling of gratitude. One of them was Narkyid Ngawang Thondup (1931­–2017). Kolmaš recollected that he had no information about him after leaving Beijing. But later in 1969, during an audience with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, in India, he mentioned his name in the conversation. The Dalai Lama gestured to his secretary and after a while Narkyid Ngawang Thondup appeared in front of a greatly surprised – and moved – Kolmaš.

But his principal teacher of Tibetan was the Chinese scholar Yu Daoquan (1901-1999), who also had studied in Paris from 1934 and had taught at SOAS, in London, from 1938. He is known as a founding figure of Tibetan Studies in China and the compiler of the Chinese-Tibetan Dictionary of Colloquial Lhasa Tibetan (Bod rgya shan sbyar gyi lha sa’i kha skad tshig mdzod, 1983). Kolmaš frequently spoke about his unselfishness and recalled him as a ‘real bodhisattva.’ Yu Daoquan had good contacts with Tibetans in Derge. Thanks to this connection Kolmaš has been able to order a full Derge print of the Kanjur to be sent to the Prague Oriental Institute. Also, Kolmaš’s later works on Derge Prints and the Genealogy of the Kings of Derge were made possible through his teacher Yu Daoquan.

During his studies in Beijing, Kolmaš also made a hand-written copy of the 14th century Tibetan chronicle The Mirror Illuminating the Royal Genealogies (Rgyal rabs gsal ba’i me long). Translating it into Czech and publishing it under the title Zrcadlo králů (Mirror of Kings) much later in 1998 was the fulfilment of one of the dreams he had conceived during his studies in Beijing.

Josef Kolmaš at his home in 2014 (photo: Andrea Jelínková, source: Memory of Nations).

A few years ago I met with András Róna-Tas, the Hungarian linguist and the first president of IATS, in Szeged. He recollected that in those days he had been working on the Monguor language. Knowing that Kolmaš was in Beijing at the Central Institute for Nationalities, he kept writing letters addressed to Kolmaš, asking him to transcribe the real pronunciation of various Monguor words. He had never had a chance to listen to the Monguor language he was researching at that time, and it was only through Kolmaš that he could learn the actual pronunciation of it. 

While staying in Beijing, Josef Kolmaš conceived a plan to visit Derge. He was able to set off there only in 1959. On arriving in Lanzhou he could see streams of railway trucks with tanks and cannons heading for Tibet. The uprising in Lhasa has started following the escape of the Dalai Lama to India. While in Lanzhou, he received an urgent telegram ordering him to return to Beijing immediately.

After his return from Beijing in 1959 he worked at the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. It was a period of hard work transforming the initial inputs from his stay in China into the results that would be recognized within the international community of Tibetologists. The regime in Czechoslovakia relaxed in the 1960s, and he was able to work as a visiting lecturer at the Australian National University in Canberra in 1966. Following the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the political situation was again the determining factor in academic research. Despite that and the fact that during that period of time, until the Velvet Revolution in 1989, he was obliged to translate political documents from Chinese, he also managed to continue his academic work. In 1969 and 1978 he visited India, where he worked with Lokesh Chandra. In 1979, in Oxford, he was among the founding members of the International Association for Tibetan Studies.  

Following the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the Oriental Institute underwent changes. He served as a director between the years 1994­–2002, and retired in 2003.

He was married to Marie, with whom they had a son, Vladimír, and a daughter, Ivana. Sadly, in 2006 his wife Marie passed away, and he himself spent the last five years of his life in a nursing home following a serious illness.

In his English-language works he took advantage of his knowledge of both Tibetan and Chinese. His most valuable publications include works on China-Tibet relations. These include Tibet and Imperial China (Canberra 1967), The Ambans and Assistant Ambans of TibetA Chronological Study (Prague 1994), Four Letters of Po Chü-i to the Tibetan Authorities (808-810 A. D.) (ArOr 34, 1966), and Ch’ing shih kao on Modern History of Tibet (1903-1912) (ArOr 32, 1964). These contained new information and pioneered the use of Chinese sources for Tibetan historiography. Another focus of his research was Derge and the printing house there. Among the publications dedicated to this topic are A Genealogy of the Kings of Derge (Prague 1968), the Prague Collection of Tibetan Prints from Derge I-II (Wiesbaden – Prague, 1971), and The Iconography of the Derge Kanjur and Tanjur (New Delhi 1978).

The numerous books he translated into Czech from various languages are not known to the international public. Among others, he translated the well-known story of Nangsa Öbum (Nang sa ’od ’bum gyi rnam thar) from Tibetan, the Mirror of the Genealogy of Kings (Rgyal rabs gsal ba’i me long, mentioned above) and Songs of Milarepa (Mi la ras pa’i mgur ’bum). From Chinese he translated the travelogues of the Chinese monks Xuanzang and Faxian, describing their journey to India; his translations from Latin include letters written from China by 18th-century Czech missionary Karel Slavíček, while from Russian he translated the travelogue to Lhasa by Gombojab Tsybikov. Through such translations of essential texts, he is well-known to the Czech public interested in Asia.

There used to be a saying ascribed to St. Benedict on the door of Kolmaš’s office: Serva ordinem et ordo servabit te, ‘Preserve order and order will preserve you.’ His personal passage through the turbulent times of history, and the legacy of his work, are a reflection of the seriousness with which he applied this advice in his personal life.   

 

Daniel Berounský

Prague, 25 February 2021

 

 

David Seyfort Ruegg (1931-2021)

David Seyfort Ruegg was born in 1931 and passed away 2 February 2021. After an initial training at SOAS and the University of Zürich (1948-1950), his university education was primarily in Paris, where he studied Indology under Jean Filliozat and Louis Renou and Tibetology under Marcelle Lalou and Rolf Stein. David Seyfort Ruegg’s work has ranged over most aspects of Indian and Tibetan Studies. However, two interests come back repeatedly: the philosophy of the buddha-nature (tathāgatagarbha) and the philosophy of the middle way (madhyamaka). David Seyfort Ruegg has held professorial positions in several major universities – Leiden, Seattle, Hamburg. He also was a visiting professor and lecturer at the University of Toronto (1972), State University of New York (1974), the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London (1987), as well as an invited professor at Collège de France, in Paris (1992), at the University of Vienna (1994), Kyōto University (1995), SOAS (1998) and Harvard University (2002). He was a Sanskritist and a Tibetologist and at one time or another has held chairs in Indian Philosophy, Buddhist Studies, and Tibetan.

Professor Dhogon Sangda Dorje དགེ་རྒན་ཆེན་མོ་རྡོ་དགོན་གསང་བདག་རྡོ་རྗེ་ལགས། (1945-2020)

Translated & updated from the French ‘In Memoriam’, offered by the French Association for Tibetan Studies (SFEMT) in Paris (http://www.sfemt.fr/in-memoriam-gegen-chenmo-dogon-sangda-dorje-1945-2020/, published on 07/10/20) and authored by Sangda Dorje-la’s former students and colleagues: Rachel Guidoni, Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy, Françoise Robin, Heather Stoddard, Nicolas Tournadre, and Alice Travers.

Dhogon Sangda Dorje was Professor of Classical Literature at the University of Tibet from 1985 until his retirement in 2009. His Manual of Poetry. A Feast for the Eyes and Mind, published in 1992, became the principal handbook in the universities where Tibetan is taught in the PRC.

He passed away at home in Lhasa, on 21st September 2020 at 11.20pm (Lhasa time), after a long illness. The departure of this eminent figure of classical Tibetan culture is a great loss for Tibetan studies. His erudition in poetry and poetics, literary composition, music, dance and calligraphy and history, and his generous kindly way of imparting theoretical aspects of these fields of traditional Tibetan culture will be remembered by his numerous students, including those who had the opportunity of attending his lectures on classical poetry at INALCO, Paris, during the two years he spent there (1992-1994). Furthermore, his immense erudition was not confined to the theoretical aspects taught at the university. He was well known for his own living performances of music, dance and song, especially the Lhasa Nangma tradition. Furthermore, his generosity in supporting research students is legendary, including several French Tibetologists, starting with his two years of teaching poetry at INALCO, Paris, invited by Prof. Heather Stoddard, director of Tibet Studies at the time. Together with his wife, Thubten Lhamo, he always gave a warm welcome to his former students when they came to visit him in Lhasa.

Gen Sangda Dorje, his wife Thubten Lhamo and their daughter, at home in Lhasa
(photo Françoise Robin, 2008)

LIFE

Gen (Professor) Sangda Dorje as he is widely known, was born in 1945, the son of Dhogon Wangdu Sonam & Shokhang Tsering Drolkar. He spent his childhood in Lhasa. Before the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama, his father’s ancestors, the noble family Dhogon, were powerful local chiefs (sde-pa), with land in the district of Nyemo and a history going back to the 9th century CE. Following their integration into government service under the Ganden Podrang of the Dalai Lamas, the Dhogon familly became Gerpa (sger-pa), that is landed nobility who in the early 20th century CE still owned seven fiefs of different sizes, of which the largest was in Nyemo.

From ten years of age, Gen Sangda-la attended the well-known private school at Nyarongshar in Lhasa, and between the age of eleven and fourteen he studied grammar with Lama Thupten Yarpel, his private tutor, who was an ecclesiastical government official at the Tse Lobtra, a passage indispensable for any future lay or ecclesiastical government servant. Sangda-la took other lessons with private tutors in diverse subjects.

At fourteen years of age he entered government service precociously yet briefly as a lay official (drung-khor), but in the wake of the popular uprising in Lhasa in March 1959, and the end of the Ganden Podrang government, he went to live on the family estate in Nyemo, where he worked as a teacher in the local primary school. The palace, or rather fortress, where his family had lived since the end of the Tibetan military empire of Pugyal, during the reign of Darma U’idumten (Lang Darma), mid-9th century CE, was a grand building of several storeys high, with a huge library where traces of the swords of the Dzungar Mongols who invaded Central Tibet in the early 18th century CE, could still be seen on the heavy wooden door. The building directly overlooked a deep ravine, and Sangda-la remembered how its foundations were fully anchored into the rock using ingenious anti-seismic architectural technology that had allowed for its survival into the mid-20th century CE. Years after its destruction – along with countless other historic religious and vernacular buildings – Gen Sangda-la still marvelled at the prowess and sophistication of traditional Tibetan architects.

In 1969, he married Langtong (Glang mthong) Thubten Lhamo (1945-2019), with whom he had three children. They stayed for seventeen years in Nyemo before returning to Lhasa.

From 1980 onwards, Gen Sangda-la was employed as Professor of Tibetan at the Teachers’ Training College of the Tibet Autonomous Region, before being appointed professor of Tibetan Literature in the Department of Literature and Culture of the Tibet University in 1985, the year of the university’s foundation in Lhasa. 

In 1993, Tibetan studies in France had the honour of creating close links with Gen Sangda-la, thanks to the retirement of Dakpo Rinpoche from his post at INALCO. Seizing the opportunity of Sangda-la’s presence in France, Heather Stoddard, then director of Tibetan Studies, invited him to teach his main subject, Tibetan poetry and poetics at INALCO.

When he arrived in Paris, his celebrated Snyan ngag slob deb. Mig yid dga’ ston, (Manuel of Poetics. A Feast for the Eyes and the Mind), had recently been published, so we – students and teachers – had the privilege of receiving detailed fascinating analyses of the great 1,300 year-old tradition of poetic writing in Tibet. The manual became the main reference for universities teaching Tibetan poetics in the PRC. Notably, he gave us delightful examples of different structures ranging from poems with one single syllable per line, up to thirty syllables per line. An astonishing feat. 

His patient resourceful attempts at communicating the rich and complex subject of Tibetan classical poetry to a mostly French class of students with little more than two years of study of the difficult Tibetan language, created warm memories for all those who attended. During his sojourn in Paris, he organised several evening sessions devoted to Tibetan classical poetry, and at the same time he entertained his colleagues and students with music. After he returned to Lhasa, in 1994, several of us would go to visit him and his family and benefit from his skilful guidance. Indeed one excellent result of his stay in Paris, was the final redaction, with the renowned linguist, Prof. Nicolas Tournadre, of the Manuel du tibétain standard, translated into English as The Manuel of Standard Tibetan, Language & Civilisation, Snow Lion Publications, 2003. The English version of this manual has become the principal study tool for learning spoken Tibetan worldwide.

Gen Sangda Dorje, his wife, Thubten Lhamo & Nicolas Tournadre (photo Nicolas Tournadre)

As a born teacher deeply concerned with the transmission of knowledge to the next generation, during his whole career and on top of his teaching duties, he tutored numerous research students who were welcome in his home even after his retirement in 2009. In 2006, he was awarded the highest academic distinction in the PRC for his professional career, as an Outstanding State Professor by the Ministry of Education in Beijing.

Several photos of Gen Sangda-la at the blackboard published on internet bear witness to his teaching activities:

(source)
(source)

During his retirement, Gen Sangda-la continued to give conferences on Tibetan poetry as well as philology, some examples of which can be found online. He was also appointed member of the committee of experts for the creation of Tibetan neologisms and standardised terms.  

(source)

With Tshultrim Lodroe, as members of the Committee for the Creation of Neologisms and the Standardisation of Tibetan Language (source)

He was also often invited to cultural TV programs in Tibet to discuss Tibetan language and culture. Here is Gen Sangda-la on Khampa TV, in the educational program ‘Chad ‘khrid sgron me (The lamp of teaching)

(source)

GEN SANGDA-LA: CLASSICIST & ARTIST

In his youth he studied music with several different masters including a Muslim musician known as Drokhang (Gro-khang) Pola. Sangda-la’s maternal uncle was Shokhang Sonam Dargye, a great specialist of the history of Tibetan arts and music, expert in the Nangma tradition of song and music originating in Western Tibet (Nang-ma stod-gzhas), popular during parties and picnics in Central Tibet in the 19th & 20th centuries CE. Gen-la was very attached to this music and he would often play the Tibetan luth (sgra-snyan) and the two string Tibetan piwang (or spike fiddle) in concert with other Nangma musicians. He liked to play in what he considered to be the most authentic contemporary Lhasa style. 

A recording by Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy in 1997, of the Nangma (Snang-ma Lha-yags zhol-pa) in which Sangda-la is playing the luth.

He also enjoyed performing traditional dances, notably one from Kham in Eastern Tibet, known as ‘the peacock drinks water’ that he executed with certain grace.

Poetry and calligraphy were integral elements of his life. He loved to compose poem games known as kunkhor (kun-’khor) or Magic Patterns, that can be read in all directions. A circular kunkhor in Sangda Dorje’s own calligraphy, entitled “Supreme” (mchog), combining his calligraphy and one of his poetic games.

(source)

“The world” (’Jig-rten), a poem of his composition and in his calligraphy, on traditional paper.

(source)

Sangda Dorje’s calligraphy: “Tashi Delek” (Congratulations!)

(source)

MAIN PUBLICATIONS

Gen Sangda-la published numerous research articles in Tibetan literary and academic journals, and wrote many remarkable poems. His wide knowledge and integrity were admired by all as can be seen from the many tributes published in Tibetan media online. As an outstanding intellectual, he was a member of various institutes and federations. For example he was member of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Federation of Writers; researcher for the Federation of Arts and Culture of the TAR; member of the Academic Committee of the TAR; director of the group responsible at state level, for teaching Tibetan language and literature in Institutes of Higher Studies (including universities) in the PRC.

Many of his books were frequently re-published in new editions: 

Snyan ngag slob deb, mig yid dga’ ston (Manual of Tibetan Poetics. A Feast for the Eyes and Mind). Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1992, 3rd edition 2006.

Nicolas Tournadre & Sangda Dorje

Manual of Standard Tibetan (English translation by Charles Ramble, foreword by Matthew Kapstein). Boulder: Shambhala, 2003.

Manuel de tibétain standard : langue et civilisation. Introduction au tibétain standard (parlé et écrit). Paris : L’Asiathèque, 1998, 2nd edition 2010.

In collaboration with Gawa Pasang (dGa’ ba pa sangs):
Bod kyi yul srol rnam bshad (On Tibetan Customs). Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 2004, 3rd edition 2018.

Snyan-ngag legs-bshad gter ‘bum (A Clear Exposition of the Art of Poetry. One Hundred Thousand Treasures). Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2010, 2nd edition.

Tibetan Honorific Speeches. Zhe-sa’i lag-deb blo-gsar dga’-ston. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 2002, 5th edition 2015.

Rdo-dgon gsang-bdag rdo-rje’i dpyad- rtsom phyogs-bsgrigs (Collected Essays by Dhogon Sangda Dorje). Beijing: Mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2012. In 6 parts: Composition in verse; magic poetic games; prose; short stories; popular literature.

Most recently he wrote a novel entitled Mdza’- gcugs kyi mi-tshe (A Life of Compatible Love). Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, 2020.

Alexander Macdonald, 1923–2018 [ENG]

Alexander Macdonald was born in Scotland. In 1940, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the Royal Scots Regiment and left for Asia via Madagascar. After landing in India, he went on to take part in the Battle of Burma, and in operations in Sumatra, Java and Thailand. He transferred from the Tenth Gurkha Rifles to Force ‘V’, then to Special Operations Executive (Force 136), and later to the Allied Land Forces Paramilitary Operations. Here he met Nepalese Gurkhas, as well as Kachin, Chin, Naga and Burmese. Sometimes, but only rarely, he would talk about his experiences. “When you live in the jungle, you have to learn how to take off your boots and walk barefoot. At first it’s hard to get into the jungle. But with time, it’s even harder to leave it.” At that time, he thought about becoming a tea planter in Assam. He visited Ladakh and many other places. In 1946, at the age of 23, he left the army laden with military honors and the rank of major, something that French officers who had resettled in Cambodia found hard to believe. But, in the end, rather than Gurkhas’ bravery, it was the civility and gentleness of the Buddhist highlanders’ lives that brought him back to Asia.

Post-war London was worn out, and Macdonald’s return to Great Britain a sad occasion. From 1946 to 1949 he began his studies at Saint John’s College in Oxford. In 1949, he moved to France with no regrets for the mists of Scotland: he arrived with two friends in an old car, captivated by the scenery. But if he decided to settle in France, it was because of the work of the Orientalists. From 1949 to 1952 he studied sociology, ethnology, history of religions and Sanskrit. In 1951, he joined the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). He worked with Louis Dumont, and followed Rolf Stein’s seminars on China, as well as on the Epic of Gesar and Tibetan literature.

In the 1950s, he acquired an erudition that extended over a broad span of time and space: India, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, China and Tibet. But learning would never be an end in itself for him: it was interesting only insofar as it gave a meaning to people’s lives, and made it possible to understand the dynamics of civilizations over long periods. His first works, written in the 1950s, dealt with the fundamental institutions of Asia, such ritual hunts, megaliths, village cloistering and symbolic dismemberment.

“However, do not take a library for the equivalent of a country.” That is why, in the late fifties, Macdonald returned to Asia after twelve years of absence to make his first extended period of field research (1958-1960).

He settled in Kalimpong, which for Westerners was still – though not for much longer – one of the gateways to Tibet and Central Asia. At the beginning of his stay, Kalimpong was still the end-point of the great caravans that came down from Tibet. The market here was famous, and Macdonald liked to spend time there. But in 1959, Kalimpong was also a scene of misfortune. After the Lhasa Uprising, the town saw an influx of Tibetan refugees from Kham, Amdo and Central Tibet, fleeing from the Chinese occupation. Some had lost everything, while others still held on to their weapons.

In Kalimpong, Macdonald devoted a part of his research to collecting Tibetan folktales. This work resulted in the publication, in 1967 and 1970, of two volumes of Materials for the Study of Tibetan Popular Literature: both relate to the “Tales of the Corpse”, originally from India but also written directly in Tibetan. In addition, he worked on an oral version sung by a bard from Kham. There were long recording sessions, followed by the transcription of the text and then the translation, which required a great deal of patience and presented many difficulties. Macdonald switched from Southeast Asia, his original domain of interest, to the Himalayas and Inner Asia.

He wrote an erudite introduction to “Tales of the Corpse”, and accompanied it with abundant footnotes, giving his readers a substantial critical apparatus. But beyond this introduction, he remained out of sight behind his “sources”. These tales from India also testify to the spread of Buddhist ideas in Tibet. And later, in his “Cinderella” (1980), he would show with force how, at different periods, this diffusion was conscious, organised, decided in high places, and directly related to the political centralisation of Tibet.

Another part of his fieldwork in Kalimpong opened a new field of research that had never previously been studied: that of Nepalese healers (jhānkri) who had settled in Bengal. This time, the fieldwork was different, because, as he said, healers are defined above all by an oral tradition: how should one go about collecting a tradition that leaves no traces? “Rather than providing a theoretical model, I prefer to provide the full-length account that a healer gave me of his own initiation”. Here we find, right from the outset, the same importance that he had accorded, in the “Tales of the Corpse”, to “representations of the other”, free of all influence of Western thought.

At this time he also collected the stories of the healers themselves about their own experiences that they would relate each other. These “materials”, collected in two articles (1962, 1966) are among the finest examples of the literature on the subject, and not only in the domain of the Himalaya. We enter a different world: the story of Nursing, pushed into the fire by the spirits and saved in extremis by a healer; the same Nursing who healed the daughter of his master in Calcutta; Bal Bahadur Tamang, carried away at night into the forest by the spirits; Gobind Prasad, whose corpse is found in a tree.

Through these stories, Macdonald revealed fundamental themes in the eyes of the healers themselves: uncontrolled trance; disappearing into the forest; the necessity of having two teachers, one in this world and one in the other; the progressive control of the trance, and so forth.

At that time, everything that was not Buddhist was “Bon”. Were the Nepalese healers Bon-po? No, said Macdonald. We find in them the influence of shamanism; traces of local and ancestral cults, as well as Tibetan, Lamaist and Bon-po elements; the influence of Hinduism, and especially of Shivaism; perhaps some distant Taoist influences, not to mention the healer himself who may have grafted his personal interpretation onto pre-existing beliefs. Thus the long history of the influences that the Nepalese healer embodies is very different from that of the Tibetan storyteller. With the healers, “We are in a border region,” says Macdonald. In Kalimpong, Nepalese healers and Tibetan storytellers rub shoulders, but they belong to different worlds.

Later, when Macdonald was asked what he thought was important about the healers, he answered in a single sentence: “Through their séances, they make the gods visible”. They transmit a tradition through a performance.

On his return from Kalimpong in 1960, Macdonald’s influence was immediate and lasting, and it remains present in the directions taken by research in the Himalayan Domain.
In 1953, Nepal was opened to foreign researchers, and scholars came from Germany, the United States, France, Great Britain and Japan. In France, Macdonald joined the research group set up at the initiative of Corneille Jest, who has just returned from a lengthy period of fieldwork in Dolpo, in Nepal.

In the course of his fieldwork in Nepal in the 1960s Macdonald turned to new areas of research. These included Indo-Nepalese low-caste singers, in collaboration with Mireille Helffer; the Tharu of lowland Nepal, and later the Tamangs and Sherpas in the highlands, and the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley. His influence took the form or short introductory articles on themes that were taken up by young researchers of all nationalities. His articles on the hierarchy of lower castes and on witchcraft in the Nepali Legal code inspired Andras Höfer and his important study on the 1854 National Code, the Muluki Ain, of Jang Bahadur Rana. Likewise, his interest in the ethno-history of the Sherpa clans came to be shared by Michael Oppitz. He also led Kham Bahadur Bista to produce a pioneering work on the clan divinities of the Indo-Nepalese people of the Kathmandu Valley. His ideas on representations would be developed by Nicolas Allen, who extended his investigations in a Rai community to Tibetan-Burman speakers in general. And later, in 1976, when Hitchcock and Jones’ edited volume Spirit Possession appeared, it was clear that Macdonald was at the forefront of research on the subject, and that many scholars had been influenced by his work.

Until then, it had been philologists who had dominated research in Asia. By contrast, it was anthropologists who were particularly influential in Nepal. And whereas in 1961 Macdonald had been critical of scholars who limited civilisation to stone monuments and written sources, he now turned his fire on those who were incapable of carrying out comparative research. He praised Louis Dumont’s dual training in India, and also the merits of his “Bible”, Le Népal, in three volumes, published in 1906 by the Orientalist Sylvain Lévi.
In 1969, besides initiating the teaching of Nepali at the National School of Oriental Languages (Inalco), in Paris, Macdonald joined the Laboratory of Ethnology and Comparative Sociology at the University of Paris X (Nanterre), which Eric de Dampierre had founded. From 1970 to 1986 he held a weekly seminar there.

In these weekly seminars he demonstrated a masterly grasp of the facts, both historical and comparative, and as a philologist and anthropologist. We see an example of this in his outline of the series “Introduction to the Himalayan Domain”:

Is there a Himalayan civilization? First, we will place the Himalayas in its geographic, ethnic and cultural context between India and China. We will focus on the substrate, the indigenous culture on which India and China “worked”, via Tibet. We will review the literature on quadripartite organization on which, according to some theories, the Indian caste system was based. Starting from the examination of the productive base – simple agriculture and slash-and-burn cultivation, hunting, raising of yaks and buffaloes, development of rice fields, various barter systems, etc., centralization operated by the chiefdoms, fiefdoms and petty kingdoms. … The process of centralisation first took place in India and Tibet before appearing on the southern slopes of the Himalayas. There are two systems of centralisation: the Sino-Tibetan and the Indian. Historically, these two systems achieved their distinctive forms in situ before encountering each other in the Himalaya via the trade routes. Comparisons will also be drawn with the encounter between India and China in Southeast Asia….

Macdonald had gone to the Sherpas with the idea, perhaps inspired by Gene Smith, to “catalyse a situation where the Sherpas themselves would be interested in what ethnologists do at home.” Those years were a very special period in his work. His original idea had been to co-author, with the Sherpa monk Sangye Tenzin, a story of Buddhism in the Sherpa country. In time, however, following the Tibetan tradition, he encouraged Sangye Tenzin to write his own autobiography. For a long time, Sangye Tenzin declined: he had achieved too little in his life, he said. Macdonald managed to convince him, however, and while Sangye Tenzin began to work, he himself scoured the Sherpa country in search of pilgrimage guides, family genealogies, descriptions of “hidden lands,” biographies of lamas, texts on local geography related to land, irrigation, grazing rights, clan legends, and suchlike. Some of the documents he reported were unknown to Sangye Tenzin himself.
What the resulting book shows (together with the subsequent articles, this time in English), in the years 1979-1981, was how the Sherpas had remained on the margins of the expansion of Hinduism, which had recently entered their territory, and even, to a degree, of Buddhism from the north. Above all, the texts highlighted the importance of the oral tradition. They showed how, in ritual, the past is present among the Sherpa, in their perception of the landscape; and above all, that “if a book survives in the Tibetan cultural context, it is because it is in direct relation with the oral tradition inherited from the past”.

A final word about Sangye Tenzin: he was not the only person with whom Macdonald worked during his successive field-trips. There had been bsTan-‘dzin phrin-las, the Khampa storyteller; Bal Bahadur Tamang, the Nepalese healer, and others besides. How was it that Macdonald’s informants were so talented?

In addition to his desire to present “materials”, Macdonald published texts or short articles of twenty or so pages, always on the subject of different populations. At first glance, the themes he dealt with seem to be unrelated. What is the relationship between Nepalese healers, the theory of the mandala, Newar art, the history of Sherpa clans and Tibetan pilgrimage? In fact, his work has a unity at a deeper level. Admittedly, it does deal with very different subjects, populations and historical periods, but the centre of gravity was the same in all cases, and we shall return to this matter presently.

Every five or ten years, Macdonald would take stock of the state of the art in a given field: the evolution of South-East Asian Studies (1961); the development of Himalayan Studies (1974); manipulation of power (1987), and so forth. Here again, these are short articles, but full of substance and providing a critical assessment of a field of knowledge. He asked questions that would pave the way for new avenues of enquiry.

However, between the volumes of “materials”, the short articles on very specific subjects or more wide-ranging themes, editions of collected works (to which we shall return below), we should not forget the dozens and dozens of book reviews that he published in the trade journals. He could be highly critical, but polemic was not an end in itself for him. If the reviews were sometimes excoriating, it is because of the high standards he wished to maintain for the disciplines in which he worked, and out of respect for the intellectual inheritance of past generations.

He would often enter into personal contact with the authors of the works he reviewed. He would sometimes make the first approach. He published the work of young researchers in the Haute-Asie collection he founded at the University of Paris X, and translated and published works that seemed important to him.

He joined the editorial boards of scholarly journals both in France and abroad. In Nepal, he was a founder-member of Kailash: A Journal of Himalayan Studies, and established links with researchers from five continents.

Macdonald took advantage of the opportunities offered by the changes taking place in Asia. In 1973-1975, he moved to Nepal, having been invited to set up the Department of Sociology at the Institute (later Centre) for Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS) of Tribhuvan University in Kirtipur. In 1979-1980, he was in Hong Kong and took part in setting up the Department of Ethnology of the Chinese University in Shatin. That year, he visited Communist China and reported on the state of ethnological research on his return to Paris. In 1984, he was Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He was frequently in London. In 1986, he conducted a field survey of the Naxi of China’s Yunnan. In 1988, he did the same in Chengdu in Sichuan. In 1991, he was elected Secretary General of the International Association of Buddhist Studies for a period of four years. After contributing to the updating of the Constitution of the Association, and organising two international conferences, one in Paris (UNESCO) in 1991, the other in Mexico City in 1994, he passed on the presidency to his German colleague from Freiburg, Oskar von Hinüber.

With Newar Art (1979), written in collaboration with Anne Vergati, Macdonald moved away from small communities perched on high mountains to tackle the cities of the Kathmandu Valley. Now he was no longer dealing with stories of migration, trances or folktales, the special closed arenas where the interaction of millennial influences is briefly revealed, but the splendour of Newar art; now it was no longer the bards, the lamas or the healers who transmit the tradition or effect changes, but the stone carvers, the bronze founders and temple builders.

It was Gustave Le Bon who, in the great square of the city of Patan, confronted with the spectacle of palaces, statues and sanctuaries, evoked the dreams of an opium smoker. For the first time, Macdonald was tackling the legacy of over two thousand years of history. Is it not said that the Buddha himself had visited the valley? That it was the Emperor Ashoka who built the stupas of the city of Patan? And, for the first time, it was not the philologist who guaranteed the quality of the work of the ethnologist, but the opposite: Macdonald refused to accept the separation of art, society and religion.

Once again, however, as with storytelling, trance or singing, it was a question of avoiding the superimposition of a Western vision, and of trying to understand how the Newars themselves perceive their works of art. The idea of “materials” is again present here, though in a more diffuse way. Like the healer who manifests the gods through his trance, the stonemason or the bronze founder is not merely the craftsman that the Westerner sees: the artist’s work ends only after the ritual in which, for the first time, he brings down the god into the stone image he has made. Newar art is the support in which the gods are incarnated. Like the healer in a trance, the stonemason and the bronze founder are also performers: the gods assume the faces that the craftsman has given them. Macdonald opposed the idea of a syncretism of Buddhism and Hinduism “rooted in animist beliefs” among the Newars. The Newars’ way of envisaging their pantheon is not that of a Westerner: it is a function of caste, lineage, family and profession. At the end of the day, religious choice remains a personal choice that takes place within a tradition.

The Newar city is the work of craftsmen. It was they who were the agents of “a way of creating order, of giving shape to the world, that is, to the local landscape”. They were sculptors and urban planners, and also creators of the cosmos, because Newar art pervades everything: the individual, the city and the universe.

Outside the city, in the “wild world” beyond the ramparts, the gods are incarnated in a rough stone or in a piece of shapeless wood. Inside, they assume the faces of the gods of Hinduism, or masters of Buddhism. Thus, if we accept that integration into the community is done through the stages of the life cycle where the gods are present, then it is the artisans who were the founders of Newar society. If one accepts that art was used by the Newar kings to “assert their power and establish their state”, then it is the artisans who legitimised royal power. And if we accept that it is art that has given shape to the gods, then it is the artisans who were the missionaries of the great religions from India. “The Hinduization of Nepal was not achieved by books. It was accomplished through works of art.”

Macdonald’s teaching at the University of Paris X directly resulted in two volumes of essays. The first was Les royaumes de l’Himalaya (Kingdoms of the Himalaya). Published in 1982, it consists of five monographs: on Ladakh, Bhutan, Sikkim and Nepal. Macdonald himself dealt with Ladakh, leaving the other sections to his collaborators. The wide-ranging historical introduction he provided gave the work its unity.

His 1987 article “The manipulation of power …”, marked a return to the Himalayan kingdoms. The article and his introduction to the book complement each other and provided readers with a broad overview.

In both works, Macdonald again raised the question of a comparative approach to the Himalayan domain and its unity. Certainly, he insisted on the need to combine the study of texts with fieldwork – philology and ethnology in partnership.
The other edited volume, closely related to his seminars at the University of Paris X and his influence outside France, was devoted to Himalayan rituals (Rituels himalayens, 1987), and brought together a dozen contributions.

In his introduction, Macdonald emphasised the change that this volume represented in the study of ritual. Until then, he observed, authors had confined themselves to highlighting the respective stratified and juxtaposed components of “animism, Hinduism and Buddhism”: this approach was sterile, and he had always been critical of it. On the contrary, it was necessary to analyze the reciprocal interaction of these various components; to approach the ritual from the perspective of its effects on society. What had to be understood was the purpose of the rite and the issues involved – very often, the acquisition of a power. In fact, the change that Macdonald noted in the study of Himalayan rituals was largely the result of his own influence.

In due course, one of Macdonald’s main interests began to take shape. It manifested in a series of articles that brought together the themes of pilgrimage, the maṇḍala and the perception of local landscape.

For the first time, in 1971, Macdonald conceived an interest in pilgrimage: specifically, that of Gosainkund, in Nepal, which takes place during the full moon of the Nepalese month of Saun, when the faithful come to perform their devotions to the local manifestation of Shiva. On that day, Newar Buddhists also come up from the lower part of the valley. Tibetans are also present, as are Tamangs, accompanied by their own intercessors. Thus, there are places and dates that are exceptional: for a brief period there is a powerful profusion of rituals, different traditions and multiple beliefs.

Later, in 1975, he published a translation of “A little read guide of the Holy Places of Nepal”, the Tibetan manuscript of which dates from the eighteenth century. The Buddhist author describes the high places of the Kathmandu valley, as well as others, close to the Tibetan border. He insists that in certain special locations men and gods are bound by the common traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. The work offers a lucid account of the process whereby Nepal became Buddhist.

1979 saw the publication of another work on pilgrimage, this time in a pivotal region of Nepal, the Muktinath valley of Mustang District, where Brahmanism from the south meets Buddhism from the North. In the small Bon-po monastery of Thini, near Jomsom, Macdonald discovered and copied another Buddhist pilgrimage guide. The article emphasised the point that there is no relationship between the view of the landscape and a guide’s description of it. What the author of the guide is doing is the stereotypical projection of a mystical vision of the landscape. It shows the transformation of the local mountain, the spirits of the earth and the waters, as guardians of the Buddhist faith.

In his 1983 article “Religion in Tibet at the time of Srong-btsan sgam-po”, Macdonald investigated the belief of modern Tibetans that their seventh-century king built twelve Buddhist shrines to “pin the body of the demoness to the ground”. This belief, he pointed out, is based on an after-the-fact reconstruction by late Tibetan authors. The theme of “dismembering” the demoness, the traditional model of power in the Himalayas, was deliberately manipulated by the elite to make the king a Buddhist. The goal was to help build Tibetan national unity, and also to link Tibet with India. The process is reminiscent of the 84,000 Ashoka stūpas. From now on, the study of pilgrimages and that of the mandala would be in direct relation to what Macdonald called “Operation Buddhism”.
In 1985 he published the study of another pilgrimage, that of Halase, in eastern Nepal. This is the place where Padmasambhava, while en route to Samye, subjected the local demoness who left traces of her flesh and blood at the site. It also bears the footprint of Padmasambhava. Formerly, the submission of the demon has allowed humans to settle in this country. Even today, pilgrims flock every year to benefit from the power that manifests itself in these places. It is a ancient drama that legitimises and justifies contemporary activity.

Finally, with an article devoted to the pilgrimage of La-phyi (1990), Macdonald returned to the nature of a cosmic drama whose traces are recorded in the landscape. This drama is that of the opening of the doors of the site by accomplished Buddhist masters: the gods of Buddhism had to be victorious so that humans could settle in these places. What happened in La-phyi, once again, raises the question of “the Buddhist incorporation of Hindu and animist spirits”. And this general scenario of converting Tibet to Buddhism is a ubiquitous theme that features in every local landscape.
Macdonald had settled in France mainly because of the Orientalist school, which comes through so clearly in his writings. He made an effort to make the works of Pelliot, Granet and Przyluski better known, and published the English translation of Paul Mus’s masterly “foreword” to his Barabudur, to which he also wrote a preface.

He had constant recourse to Paul Mus’s ideas about a “Religion of Monsoonal Asia”, and many of Mus’s words could be applied to his own work: what the immense geographical areas of Asia have in common is “an indigenous substratum” … “an ancient local foundation” … “caught in the pincers of the combined influence of India and China”. And in this conceptual framework, like Paul Mus, he showed from his earliest writings that “the ancient local foundation … that was already complex … has not only survived the organization of India, … but even conditioned it.” He also doubted “the passive nature of indigenous India”. Moreover, he did not accept the idea that India can be reduced to a Sanskritic formulation of its civilisation. He had first applied these ideas about India to Southeast Asia. He continually adapted them to the Himalayan Domain and to Tibet, fields that he had made his own since the time when A. Spanien-Macdonald was preparing her work on Tibetan royalty.

In the spirit of R.A. Stein, this impulse to compare explains the diversity and number of the populations that he studied. It is in response to the questions he raised that he would alight on the peaks or on the valley floors, or investigate the influence of Buddhism or that of Hinduism, or whether he would work among the Indo-Nepalese, the Newars or the Tibetans.

In fact, this historical unity of the Himalayan Domain that he constantly asserted, that of the interaction of the Asian base “caught in the pincers formed by China and India”, became a methodological tool. He had of course shown, among other things, that Chinese thought seems to be rather distant in the Himalayas; it is India, in all its forms, that is especially present, and its echoes are heard in Tibet. Certainly, in this interaction, the archaic institutions that organised the old societies had been supplanted by the major religions with a new meaning.

But beyond this aspect of unity of the Himalayan Domain, what the work of Macdonald emphasises, on the contrary, is the extreme diversity of the paths and the influence of Indian thought on the substratum, its successes, its accelerations, its delays, its absences and its shortcomings. He highlighted the multiplicity of “closed fields” in which the interaction of India and the Himalayan “base” takes place: tales, laws, rituals, works of art, landscape, city plans, healind, architecture, pilgrimages, and so on.

The interaction of the “Asian base” with Indian and Chinese thought ought to have demonstrated the historical unity of the Himalayan domain. But in fact, it shows its extreme diversity. Like all pioneering works, Macdonald’s oeuvre is paradoxical, and it is for this reason that it continues to exert its influence.

Nevertheless, beyond his works, which have left their mark on the current direction of Western research in Asia, it seems that Macdonald’s real originality is to be sought elsewhere. During the Second World War, he, the West, fought side by side with Asians. The essence of this experience, he would later say, was doing things together. Once peace  had returned, his experience of the war remained present. It is surely in this sense that we should interpret the work done side by side, and in Tibetan, by Sangye Tenzin and Macdonald on the Sherpas of Nepal. Alexander Macdonald gave an unprecedented orientation to anthropology. He, the Western scholar, contributed to the Sherpas’ exemplary awareness of their own identity.

CR

 

 

 

Alexander Macdonald, 1923–2018 [FRE]

Alexander W. Macdonald

8 October 1923 – 4 February 2018

Macdo photo001The following brief biography of Alexander “Sandy” Macdonald is a reproduction of the introduction to his Festschrift, Les habitants du toit du monde : hommage à Alexander W. Macdonald, eds Samten Karmay and Philippe Sagant. Nanterre: Société d’ethnologie, 1997, pp. 9–25. We would like to thank Samten Karmay for permitting us to reproduce it here.

For an abridged English version click here.

* * *

A.W. Macdonald est né en Écosse. Il avait 17 ans en 1940 et il a connu le Londres qui résistait sous les bombes de la Bataille d’Angleterre. Engagé au Royal Scots, it embarque pour l’Asie, via Madagasar. Il atteint l’Inde. Il participe à la Bataille de Birmanie, aux opérations à Sumatra, à Java, en Thaïlande. Il passe du 10th Gurkha Rifles à la Force ‘V’, puis à Special Operations Executive (Force 136) et, plus tard, aux Allied Land Forces Paramilitary Operations. Il se trouve au contact des Gurkha népalais, mais aussi des Katchin, des Chin, des Naga, des Birmans. Parfois, il raconte, mais c’est rare. Il dit : « Quand on vit dans la jungle, il faut apprendre à retirer ses bottes et à marcher nu-pieds. Au début c’est difficile d’entrer dans la jungle. Mais avec le temps, c’est encore plus difficile d’en sortir:  on n’en a plus envie ». A cette époque, il a pensé devenir planteur de thé en Assam. Il a visité le Ladakh et maints autres endroits. In 1946, à 23 ans, il quitte l’armée chargé de distinctions militaires avec le grade de major, ce que ne veulent croire les officiers français qui se réinstallent au Cambodge. Mais, au bout du compte, plutôt que la vaillance Gurkha, c’est déjà la civilité et la douceur de vivre des montagnards bouddhistes qui l’attirent et le feront revenir en Asie.

Le Londres d’après la guèrre est épuisé, et triste le retour en Grande Bretagne. De 1946 à 1949 Macdonald entreprend des études à Saint John’s College à Oxford. En 1949, il s’installe en France sans nostalgie pour les brumes d’Écosse : il est arrivé avec deux amis dans une vieille voiture, séduit par le décor. Mais s’il se fixe en France, c’est à cause des travaus des orientalistes. De 1949 à 1952, il fait des études: la sociologie, l’ethnologie, l’histoire des religions, le sanscrit. En 1951, il entre au Centre national de la recherche scientifique. Il a travaillé avec Louis Dumont. Il suit les séminaires de R.A. Stein sur la Chine ainsi que sur le barde et la littérature au Tibet.

Est-ce d’avoir d’abord foulé longtemps le sol d’Asie qui lui rend si facile le passage de la jungle vers le monde clos des livres, les longs séjours en biblioghèques? Dans les années cinquante, il acquiert une érudition qui brasse large dans l’espace et le temps: l’Inde, l’Asie Centrale, l’Asie du Sud-Est, la Chine, le Tibet. Pour lui, toutefois, la seule érudition ne sera jamais une fin en soi : elle n’acquiert d’intérêt qu’à la condition de donner du sens à la vie des gens, de permettre de comprendre le dynamisme des civilisations sur de longues durées. Et ses premiers travaux des annés cinquante vont droit aux institutions fondamentales de l’Asie : les chasses rituelles, les mégalithes, la claustrations villageoises, le démembrement, etc.

“Il ne faut pas, toutefois, prendre une bibliothèque pour l’équivalent d’un pays”. C’est pourquoi, à la fin des années cinquante, Macdonald va retrouver l’Asie après douze ans d’absence pour effectuer son premier long terrain (1958-1960).

Il s’établit à Kalimpong, au Bengale Oriental qui demeure encore pour les Occidentaux, mais plus pour très longtemps, l’une des portes du Tibet et de l’Asie Centrale. Au début de son séjour, Kalimpong est encore le “terminus des grandes caravanes” descendues du Tibet. Le marché est célèbre, et Macdonald aime à le fréquenter. Mais Kalimpong, en 1959, c’est aussi le malheur est l’effervescence. Après le “soulèvement de Lhasa”, c’est l’afflux des réfugiés tibétains qui fuient face à la’occupation de l’Armée Rouge chinoise, ceux qui ont tout perdu, et ceux qui conservent les armes, venus du Khams, de l’Amdo, et du Tibet Central.

À Kalimpong, Macdonald consacre une part de ses recherches à la collecte de contes tibétains. Plus tard, en 1967 et 1970, ce travai se concrétisa par la publication des deux volumes de Matériaux pour l’Étude de la Littérature Populaire Tibétaine : tous les deux concernent les « Contes du Cadavre » venus de l’Inde mais aussi écrits directement en tibétain. En outre, il travaille sur une version orale que chante un barde originaire du Khams. Il y a les longues séances d’enregistrement ; l’établissement du texte et la traduction qui nécessitent tant de patience, tant de difficultés à surmonter. Ce passage par la langue tibétaine était un passage obligé : de l’Asie du Sud-Est qui était son domaine, Macdonald bascule vers l’Himalaya et la Haute-Asie qu’il fait siens.

Pour présenter les « Contes du Cadavre », Macdonald rédige une introduction érudite, et, comme toujours, d’abondantes notes de bas de page, donnant à son lecteur un important appareil critique. Mais au-delà de cette introduction, il s’efface derrière les « matériaux ». Car ces contes venus de l’Inde témoignent aussi de la diffusion des idées bouddhistes au Tibet. Et plus tard, dans Cendrillon (1980), Macdonald montrera avec force comment cette diffusion, à certaines époques, fut consciente, organisée, décidée en hauts lieux, et directement liée à la centralisation politique du Tibet.

Avec un autre volet de ses travaux de terrain à Kalimpong, Macdonald ouvre un nouveau champ de recherche, jamais étudié avant lui : celui des guérisseurs (jhānkri) népalais installés au Bengale. Cette fois, le terrain se présente de façon différente, car, il le dit, le guérisseurs se définissent avant tout par la tradition orale : comment s’y prendre, alors, pour recueillir une tradition qui ne laisse aucune trace ? Sur place, il crée sa méthode, il l’expliquera par un exemple : « plutôt que de fournir un modèle théorique, je préfère donner in-extenso le récit qu’un guérisseur m’a fait de sa propre initiation ». On retrouve bien ici, d’emblée, la même importance accordée dans les contes aux « représentations de l’autre », vierges de toute saisie par la pensée occidentale.

Aussi, collecte-t-il en langue népali cette fois, les récits des guérisseurs eux-mêmes sur les divers aspects de leurs propres expériences dans lesquelles ils se racontent. Ces « matériaux » ramassés dans deux articles (1962, 1966) nous semblent compter parmi les plus beaux de la littérature sur le sujet et, cela, bien au-delà du seul Domaine Himalayen. On entre dans un monde qui est autre : c’est l’histoire de Nursing, poussé dans le feu par les esprits et sauvé in-extremis par un guérisseur ; c’est celle du même Nursing qui guérit la fille de son contremaître à Calcutta ; c’est Bal Bahadur Tamang, emporté la nuit, par les esprits, dans la forêt ; c’est Gobind Prasad dont on retrouve le cadavre dans un arbre.

Grâce à ces récits, A.W. Macdonald met en évidence des thèmes fondamentaux aux yeux des guérisseurs eux-mêmes : la « transe incontrôlée ; la « fuite en forêt ; la double nécessité d’avoir un maître dans l’autre-monde, et un maître dans ce monde-ci ; la maîtrise progressive de la transe qui n’a pas fini de livrer ses secrets, etc.

À l’époque, tout ce qui n’était pas bouddhiste était « bon ». Bon-po les guérisseurs népalais ? Macdonald s’insurge : on trouve chez eux, dit-il, des influences chamanistes ; la trace de cultes locaux et de cultes aux ancêtres ; des influences tibétaines, lamaïstes et bon-po ; l’apport de l’hindouisme, et surtout du Shivaïsme qui y est capital ; peut-être de lointaines influences taoïstes, sans compter le guérisseur lui-même gui greffe son interprétation personnelle sur des croyances pré-existantes.

Ainsi l’histoire des influences millénaires que porte en lui le guérisseur népalais est bien différente de celle du conteur tibétain. Avec les guérisseurs, « on se trouve, dit Macdonald, dans une région frontalière ». Et pourtant, à Kalimpong, guérisseurs népalais et conteurs tibétains se côtoient. Mais ils appartiennent à des mondes différents.

Plus tard, quand on demande à A.W. Macdonald ce qu’il retient des guérisseurs, ce qui chez eux lui paraît important, il répond d’unce seule traite : « la mise en scène des séances, ils donnent les dieux à voir ». Ils transmettent une tradition par un spectacle. Dans ce domaine, certains sont grands. Et meilleure est la mise en scène des cures, plus elles en disent sur la tradition.

Dès son retour de Kalimpong, en 1960, l’influence de Macdonald est immédiate et elle ne cessera de s’exercer. Elle pèsera de façon continue sur les orientations de la recherche dans le Domaine Himalayen. Dès cette époque, il possède dans sa saisie comme dans ses vues une avance qui dure encore aujourd’hui.

En 1953, le Népal s’est ouvert aux investigations des chercheurs étrangers : venus d’Allemagne, des États-Unis, de France, de Grande-Bretagne, du Japon etc., c’est l’afflux. En France, Macdonald participe au groupe de recherche mis en place à l’initiative de Corneille Jest qui vient de rentrer d’un long terrain népalais, près de la frontière tibétaine, dans le massif du Dolpo.

Au Népal, dans les années soixante, sur le terrain, Macdonald aborde des sujets neufs. Il ouvre de nouveaux champs de recherche, sur les chanteurs de basse-caste indo-népalais en collaboration avec Mireille Helffer ; sur les Tharu de la plaine du Teraï et plus tard sur les Tamang et les Sherpa des montagnes, les Newar de la vallée de Katmandou. Son influence s’exerce par de courts articles précurseurs dont les thèmes sont repris par de jeunes chercheurs de toutes les nationalités. Et sans doute ses articles sur la hiérarchie des basses castes et la sorcellerie dans le code neepalais ont-ils influencé Andras Höfer et sa grande étude sur le code de Jang Bahadur Rana et la société népalaise. De même, son intérêt pour l’ethno-histoire des clans Sherpa, est-il partagé par Michèl Oppitz. Aussurément, il mène Kham Bahadur Bista à un travail pionnier sur les divintés lignagères des Indo-Népalais de la valée de Katmandou. Ses idées sur les représentations seront développées par Nicolas Allen qui passera avec le temps du cadre d’une communauté Rai à l’ensemble des Tibéto-Birmans. Et plus tard, en 1976, quand paraîtra l’ouvrage collectif sur la possession, édité par Hitchcock et Jones, on voit bien qu’il domine la recherche sur le sujet et que son influence s’exerce sur des chercheurs très différents.

À cette époque, avec l’ouverture du Népal, un fait nouveau est apparu dans les sciences humaines. Jusqu’alors, en Asie, c’étaient plutôt les philologues qui dominaient la recherche. Mais, curieusement, ce furent surtout les ethnologues qui investirent les terrains népalais. Aussi, alors qu’en 1961, il venait de s’en prendre aux premiers qui limitaient la civilisation aux monuments de pierres et aux seules sources écrites, il change son fusil d’épaule et tire à vue sur les seconds qui demeurent incapables d’études comparatives. Et à chacun de ceux qu’il rencontre il vante la double formation de Louis Dumont en Inde de même qu’il présent la « Bible » : Le Népal, en trois volumes paru en 1906 de l’orientaliste Sylvain Lévi.

En 1969, outre la création de l’enseignement du Népali à l’École Nationale des Langues Orientales, A.W. Macdonald participe à celle du Laboratoire d’Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative à l’Université de Paris X (Nanterre) dont Éric de Dampierre prend la tête. Et de 1970 à 1986, il y tiendra un séminaire hebdomadaire.

Chaque semaine, c’est dans le cadre de ce séminaire que s’expriment au mieux ses idées sur l’Asie : sa saisie des faits est large, à la fois historique et comparatiste, à la fois de philologue et d’ethnologue. Voici, à titre d’exemple, le texte de présentation du séminaire pour une année, celle de 1979-1980, sous le titre « Introduction au Domaine Himalayen » : « On poursuivra, indique l’annonce, la délimitation du champ culturel en vue de répondre à la question : y a-t-il une civilisation de l’Himalaya ? D’abord, on mettra l’Himalaya en situation, géographiquement, ethniquement, culturellement, entre l’Inde et la Chine. On s’attachera ensuite au substrat, au fond autochtone sur lequel l’Inde et la Chine, par l’intermédiaire du Tibet, ont « travaillé ». On passera en revue la documentation relative à une organisation quadripartite sur laquelle, selon certaines thèses, le système indien des castes serait venu se greffer. En partant de l’examen de la base productive – agriculture élémentaire et sur brûlis, chasse, élevage de yaks et de buffles, mise en valeur des rizières, divers systèmes de troc, etc. – on cherchera à cerner l’ajustement villageois à la centralisation opérée par les chefferies, des féodalités, des roitlets. On verra que la constitution de royaumes est fonction d’une centralisation villageoise puis urbaine, d’une différenciation entre villages et villes, de certaines formes, de l’utilisaton de l’écriture, de l’art et de la religion à des fins politiques. D’ailleurs, le processus de centralisation s’est accompli d’abord en Inde et au Tibet avant de se faire sur les pentes méridionales de l’Himalaya. On distinguera donc deux systèmes de centralisation, l’un d’inspiration sino-tibétaine, l’autre d’inspiration indienne. Historiquement ces deux systèmes se sont différenciés d’abord sur place, avant de se recontrer et de se heurter dans l’Himalaya, sur les voies commerçantes. Quelques comparaisons avec la rencontre de l’Inde et de la Chine dans l’Asie du Sud-Est s’imposeront ».

Était-ce en 1971, au retour d’un terrain chez les Sherpa (1969-1971) ? Dans la vague du mouvement étudiant de mai 1968, Macdonald participe à un colloque d’ethnologues qui s’appelait peut-être « les États Généraux de la Profession ». Une longue table était dressée sur une haute estrade. Les représentants marquants de la discipline venaient y présenter leurs travaux : ils étaient, en général, violemment pris à parti, les hiérarchies étaient malmenées, les traditons bousculées. C’était l’époque où l’ethnologie se voulait militante, engagé. Comment se rendre utile à la population chez laquelle chacun travaillait ? Après un âpre débat sur l’ethno-psychanalyse, c’était, cahin-caha, l’orientation qu’avait prise la congrès.

À son tour, Macdonald prit place à la grande table. Il exposa ses recherches entreprises chez les Sherpa, en collaboration avec Sangye Tenzin, un moine rnying-ma-pa. Il parla longtemps, dans une langue savante, des diverses écoles bouddhistes, des légendes d’origine des clans, de la construction des monastères. Dans la salle, on comprenait mal où il voulait en venir. Et lorsqu’il déclara que son ouvrage sur les Sherpa avait été édité a Népal et, de surcroît, en tibétain, lui aussi fut pris à parti : qu’il contribue au débat ! Qu’il réponde à la question ! En quoi son travail était-il utile à la population qu’il étudiait ? Ce fut d’un ton modeste qu’il répondit : une école accueillant les enfants au monastère de leur village. Et son livre, écrit en commun avec le lama, y servait de manuel pour apprendre aux petits Sherpa l’histoire de leur communauté. Oui, sans doute, demeurait-il un érudit, mais il s’était rendu utile !

Certes, lors de ce colloque, A.W. Macdonald marquait-il sa distance à l’égard des débats. Mais il n’en demeure pas moins que son intervention était étroitement liée à l’histoire de sa mission chez les Sherpa. Après l’élan des ethnologues qu’avait suscité l’ouverture du Népal, Macdonald était déçu par les travaux qui en avaient résulté. Peut-être avait-il le souvenir de la Seconde Guerre mondiale où l’Orient et l’Occident avaient réalisé des choses ensembles ? Rien de tel dans l’oeuvre des ethnologues, constatait-il, non sans regrets. Dans les missions qui se succédaient sur le terrain, il ne voyait « qu’une méchante forme de troc », et sans lendemain.

Il était donc parti chez les Sherpa avec l’idée, peut-être inspirée par Gene Smith, de « provoquer une situation où les Sherpa eux-mêmes seraient intéressés par ce que fait l’ethnologue chez eux ». Sans doute, ces année-là furent-elles un moment très particulier dans son oeuvre. Sans doute connut-il sa « Tentation de l’occident ». Quoiqu’il en soit, il parvint à ses fins. Au début, son idée était d’écrire, en commun avec Sangye Tenzin, le moine Sherpa, une histore du bouddhisme en pays Sherpa. Avec le temps, il en vint à proposer à ce dernier de rédiger, comme cela se fait au Tibet, son autobiographie. Longtemps, Sangye Tenzin refusa : il avait fait trop peu de choses dans sa vie, disait-il. Macdonald réussit pourtant à le convaincre et, pendant que Sangye Tenzin se mettait à l’ouvrage, lui-même arpentait le pays sherpa à la recherche de guides de pèlerinage, de généalogies familiales, de descriptions de « pays cachés », de biographies de lamas, de textes su la géographie locale liés au foncier, à l’irrigation, aux droits de pâtures, de légendes de clans, etc. Certains des documents qui’il rapportait étaient inconnus de Sangye Tenzin lui-même. Et tous les deux, ils décidèrent des parties de l’ouvrage, de la forme traditionnelle à donner à chacune.

Ce que montre le livre (en même termps que les articles qui suivirent, en anglais cette fois), dans les années 1979-1981, c’était comment les Sherpa étaient demeurés aux marges de l’expansion de l’hindouisme, d’introduction récente chez eux, et même, pour une part, du bouddhisme venu du Nord. Surtout, les textes mettaient en évidence l’importance de la tradition orale. Ils montraient comment, dans le rituel, le passé est présent chez les Sherpa, dans leur perception du paysage. Et surtout, que « si un livre survit dans le contexte culturel tibétain, c’est parce qu’il est en relation directe avec la tradition orale héritée du passé ».

Un dernier mot sur Sangye Tenzin : il n’est pas le seul dans les missions successives de Macdonald. Il y avait eu bsTan-’dzin phrin-las, le conteur khams-pa, Bal Bahadur Tamang, le guérisseur népalais, et d’autres encore : pourquoi les informateurs de Macdonald ont-ils tant de talent ?

Depuis son retour de Kalimpong, en 1960, et jusqu’à aujourd’hui, c’est-à-dire depuis plus de trente ans, Macdonald est partout où le vent d’Asie pousse la vague de la philologie et de l’ethnologie. Il est sur la crête qui déferle, si l’on peut dire.

Son oeuvre semble avoir eu constamment une influence immédiate. Elle se fraye un chemin au fur et à mesure que s’ouvrent de nouveaux terrains. Elle défriche des thèmes rarement abordés avant lui. Elle est fonction, de façon très pragmatique, des changements de situation politique.

Outre son goût de présenter des « matériaux », Macdonald procède par des textes ou des articles courts, d’une vingtaine de pages et qui concernent des populations toujours différentes. En apparence les thèmes qu’il traite n’ont pas de relation les uns avec les autres. Quel est le rapport entre les guérisseurs népalais, la théorie du maṇḍala, l’art newar, l’histoire des clans Sherpa et les pèlerinages tibétains ? En fait, son oeuvre possède une unité profonde. Certes, elle touche à ces sujets, des populations, des moments de l’histore très différents, mais le centre de gravité est le même partout. Nous y reviendrons.

Parfois, tous les cinq ou dix ans, il fait le point sur le fond d’un domaine large : l’évolution des études sur l’Asie du Sud-Est (1961) ; le développement des études himalayennes (1974) ; la manipulation du pouvoir (1987), etc. Là encore, ce sont des articles courts, mais lourds de sens, où il dresse le bilan critique dans un domaine de connaissance. Il y pose des questions qui ouvriront la voie à de nouveaux cheminements.

Toutefois, entre les volumes de « matériaux », les courts articles sur des sujets très pointus, ou au contraire d’une large saisie, l’édition d’ouvrages collectifs dont nous reparlerons, il y a aussi, il ne faut pas l’oublier, des dizaines et des dizaines de comptes-rendus de livres édités partout de par le vaste monde et dont il fait la critique dans des revues spécialisées.

Il peut être critique. La polémique, cependant, n’est pas, pour lui, une fin en soi. Elle demeure secondaire et si, parfois, elle est violente, c’est du fait des ses exigences scientifiques, de la haute idée qu’il a des disciplines qu’il pratique et de son respect pour un héritage intellectuel laissé par les générations passées.

Souvent, il entre en contract personnel avec les auteurs des ouvrages dont il fait le compte-rendu. Il est parfois le premier à aller vers eux. Il édite de jeunes chercheurs dans la collection Haute-Asie qu’il a fondée à l’Université de Paris X. Il y traduit et publie des ouvrages qui lui semblent importants.

Il fait parti des comités de rédaction de revues savantes tant en France qu’à l’étranger. Au Népal, il a participé à la fondation de la revue Kailash. Il tisse des liens avec les chercheurs des cinq continents. Il a un rôle fédérateur, de garant. Il est au coeur d’un réseau où affluent l’information, les échanges.

Il tire parti des opportunités que peuvent offrir les changements en Asie. En 1973-1975, il s’installe au Népal, choisi pour fonder le Département de Sociologie à l’Institut des Études du Népal et de l’Asie (Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, CNAS) de l’Université Tribhuvan de Kirtipur. En 1979-1980, il est à Hong-Kong et participe à la mise en place du Département d’Ethnologie de l’Université Chinoise, à Shatin. Cette année-là, il visite la Chine communiste et rend compte de l’état des recherches ethnologiques en rentrant à Paris. En 1984, il est Visiting Professor à l’Université de Californie à Berkeley. Souvent, il est à Londres. En 1986, il effectue une enquête de terrain chez les Naxi de la Chine du Yunnan. En 1988, il fait de même à Chengdu au Sichuan. En 1991, il est élu Secrétaire Général de l’International Association of Buddhist Studies pour une période de quatre ans. Après avoir contribué à la mise à jour de la Constitution de l’Association, et après avoir organisé deux conférences internationales, l’une à Paris (UNESCO) en 1991, l’autre à Mexico City en 1994, il transmet sa charge en 1994 à son collègue allemand de Freiburg, Oskar von Hinüber. Avec l’Art Newar (1979), écrit en collaboration avec Anne Vergati, A.W. Macdonald abandonne les petites sociétés haut perchées des montagnes pour s’affronter aux villes de la vallée de Katmandou.

Cette fois, ce ne sont plus les récits de migration, les transes ou les contes qui sont le champ-clos priviligégié où, l’espace d’un moment se révèle l’interaction d’influences millénaires, c’est la splendeur de l’art Newar. Cette fois, ce ne sont plus les bardes, les lamas ou les guérisseurs qui transmettent la tradition ou imposent le changement, mais les tailleurs de pierres, les fondeurs de bronze, les bâtisseurs de temples.

N’est-ce pas Gustave Le Bon, autrefois, qui, sur la grand-place de la ville de Patan, face au spectacle des palais, des statues et des sanctuaires, évoquait la rêverie d’un fumeur d’opium? Pour la prèmier fois A.W. Macdonald s’affronte aux témoignages d’une histoire plus de deux fois millénaire. Ne dit-on pas que le Bouddha lui-même a visité la vallée? Que c’est l’empereur Ashoka qui fit édifier les stūpa de la ville de Patan? Et pour la première fois, ce n’est pas le philologue qui garantit la qualité du travail de l’ethnologue, mais le contraire : l’ethnologue impose sa saisie au philologue; il refuse la séparation de l’art, de la société et la religion.

De nouveau, cependant, comme avec les contes, la transe ou les chants, il s’agit de s’affranchir d’une vision occidentale, de tenter de comprendre comment les Newar eux-mêmes perçoivent leurs oeuvres d’art. L’idée de « matériaux », là encore est présente, quoique de façon plus diffuse. Comme le guérisseur en transe qui met en scène les dieux, le tailleur de pierre ou le fondeur de bronze n’est pas seulement l’artiste que voit en lui l’occidental : ne dit-on pas que son travail ne s’achève qu’après le rituel où, pour la premiére fois, il fait descendre le dieu dans son image de pierre ? L’oeuvre d’art newar est le support où s’incarnent les dieux. Comme le guérisseur en transe, le tailleur de pierre et le fondeur de bronze mettent en scène : les dieux prennent le visage que leur a donné l’artisan.

Chez les Newar, en outre, Macdonald s’oppose à l’idé d’un syncrétisme du bouddhisme et de l’hindouisme qui se seraient « enracinés dans les croyances animistes ». La façon de vivre le panthéon, pour un Newar, n’est pas celle de l’occidental : elle est fonction de la caste, de la lignée, de la famille, de la profession. Le choix religieux demeure, au bout du compte, un choix personnel, qui s’effectue dans le cadre d’une tradition.

La ville newar est l’oeuvre des artisans. Ce sont eux qui furent les agens « d’une façon de mettre de l’ordre, de donner une forme au monde, c’est-à-dire au paysage local ». Ils furent des statuaires et des urbanistes, mais aussi des créateurs de cosmos. Car tout se tient dans l’art Newar : l’individu, la ville et l’univers.

Hors de la ville, dans le « monde sauvage » au-delà des remparts, les dieux s’incarnent dans une pierre brute ou dans un morceau de bois informe. À l’intérieur, ils prennent le visage des dieux de l’hindouisme, ou des maîtres du bouddhisme. Ainsi, si l’on accepte que l’integration à la communauté se fait par les étapes du cycle de vie où les dieux sont présents, alors, ce sont les artisans qui ont fondé la société newar. Si l’on accepte que l’art fut utilisé par les rois newar pour « affirmer leur pouvoir et asseoir leur état », alors ce sont les artisans qui on rendu le pouvoir des rois légitime. Et si l’on accepte que c’est l’art qui a donné une forme aux dieux, alors ce sont les artisans qui furent les missionnaires des grandes religions venues de l’Inde. « L’hindouisation du Népal ne s’est pas faite par les livres. Elle s’est faite par les oeuvres d’art ».

Issus directement de l’enseignement d’A.W. Macdonald à l’Université de Paris X, deux ouvrages collectifs voient le jour, dont le premier a pour titre : Les royaumes de l’Himalaya. Paru en 1982, il se compose de cinq monographies qui se succèdent, concernant le Ladakh, le Bhoutan, le Sikkim et le Népal. C’est Macdonald lui-même qui présente le Ladakh, laissant à ses collaborateurs la rédaction des autres études. C’est lui, en outre, qui introduit le livre par un texte de perspective historique. Cette introduction, par son ample saisie comparative, apporte son unité à l’ouvrage.

Plus tard, dans l’article de fond paru en 1987 sur « la Manipulation du pouvoir… », Macdonald reviendra sur les Royaumes Himalayens. L’article et l’introduction à l’ouvrage se complètent et nous en donneront un aperçu conjoint.

Dans les deux textes, Macdonald pose à nouveau la question d’une saisie comparative du Domaine Himalayen, de son unité. Certes, il insiste sur la nécessité de mettre en oeuvre à la fois l’étude des textes et celle de terrain, la philologie et l’ethnologie. Toutefois, il perçoit bien qu’un changement apparaît dans l’air du temps, auquel, au reste, il n’est par étranger. Le pouvoir, désormais, est mis en relation avec le rituel ;  les droits et les devoirs des rois sont formulés en termes de religion ; et seule une autorité de nature religieuse fonde la légitimité politique.

Certes, concernant le Domaine Himalayen, Macdonald admet qu’un petit nombre de données semblables sont partout présentes : sans doute la « petite tradition » les anciennes façons de penser, ont-elles cédé la place à la « grande » (l’hindouisme et le bouddhisme) ; sans doute, les premiers états centralisés sont-ils d’abord apparus dans les fonds de vallée, liés à la pénétration des grandes religions et, plutôt que sur l’élevage, ils reposent sur une économie agricole. Et sans doute, retrouve-t-on très souvent l’importance des modèles du démembrement, de la montagne ou du stūpa pour organiser les centres politiques.

Néanmoins, dans sa saisie comparative, c’est plutôt sur l’extrême diversité du Domaine Himalayen qu’il insiste. Il remarque d’abord que l’hindouisme et le bouddhisme sont présents dans l’Himalaya dès le début de notre ère, si ce n’est avant. Alors pourquoi la création des états s’effectue-t-elle à des dates si tardives et, en outre, si différentes : au VIIe siècle au Tibet ; au Xe au Ladakh au XVIIe au Sikkim at au Bhoutan ; au XVIIIe au Népal ?

De même, pourquoi, selon les lieux, la nature des pouvoirs apparaît-elle aussi diverse ? Pourquoi le roi de Yarlung, au Tibet, demeure-t-il un laïc, un soldat, le chef d’une fédération de tribus pastorales qui est parvenu à fonder un empire ? Pourquoi le roi du Bhoutan est-il d’abord un moine bouddhiste et qu’à l’inverse du précédent, il laisse à d’autres que lui le soin de mener les armées au combat ? Pourquoi le roi du Népal, lui, tire-t-il sa légitimité de l’hindouisme qui en fait l’incarnaton de Vishnou, un personnage sacré ? Et, en outre, pourquoi les modèles politiques qu’offrent les grandes religions venues de l’Inde, s’implantent-ils ici et non ailleurs ? Pourquoi des poches de refus apparaissent-elles, ici et là, où les hommes de pouvoir refusent la centralisation politique ? La violence qui a permis la création des états n’est-elle justifiée que plus tard, par les grandes religions ?

Dans l’introduction du livre comme dans l’article, la question qui se pose au lecteur est constamment la même. D’un côté, une affirmation faite d’emblée : l’unité du Domaine Himalayen. Et de l’autre, le constat d’une réalité hétéroclite. Puisque le Domaine Himalayen est à ce point complexe, invraisemblablement divers, pourquoi Macdonald le présente-t-il comme une unité culturelle dont la saisie est une ? Nous reviendrons sur la question.

L’autre ouvrage collectif, très lié au séminaire de Macdonald à l’Université de Paris X et à son influence hors de France, est consacré aux Rituels himalayens (1987), qui regroupe cette fois une dizaine de contributions. Le recueil s’ouvre avec une contribution dont le sujet est un rituel de mariage chez un groupe Rai, du Népal Oriental. L’auteur décrit le rituel qui est incohérent. Il montre qu’il ne devient compréhensible qu’à la condition de le saisir comme un produit de l’influence hindouiste s’exerçant sur ce groupe tibéto-birman : on y voit à l’oeuvre l’apparition dans le mariage d’une idéologie toute nouvelle.

Une autre étude analyse un autre rituel qui fonde la naissance d’un village tharu dans la plaine du Terai népalais. L’officiant traditionnel a pour fonction de se rendre maître des esprits de l’espace sauvage. L’auteur, lui aussi, montre que les idées anciennes sont désormais conceptualisées en termes hindouistes. Et la délégation des pouvoirs du roi hindouiste du Népal aux chefs tharu a entraîné, en outre, une modification profonde des structures sociales et du rapport de l’homme au territoire.

Dans un village magar des collines népalaises, un troisième auteur s’attache à montrer comment le rituel en l’honneur de l’esprit du lieu relève à la fois des fêtes de printemps propres à l’Inde du Nord et de la célébration du Nouvel An tibétain. Les éléments de la fête ne sont en rien originaux. Ce qui l’est, en revanche, c’est l’ordre dans lequel ces éléments s’organisent. Et c’est dans cette configuration que le village magar trouve son identité.

Ailleurs, c’est l’analyse de la fête des moissons à Muktinath dans le nord du Népal. La description fait ressortir les tensions qui existent entre officiants bon-po et bouddhistes, et aussi entre la stratification actuelle de la société et celle d’un ordre ancien : le rite apparaît comme un modèle pour façonner la société.

Ensuite, se trouve abordé le culte des dieux du clan chez les Tamang (Népal). Le rituel, officiellement, est bouddhiste. Mais il ne peut masquer une dualité de représentation. Et la question est posée de savoir comment le bouddhisme parvient à rendre compatible cette dualité.

D’autres contributions concernent un rituel saissonnier des Kalash de l’Hindou-Kouch ; les conceptions concernant l’âme et son support, la turquoise, au Tibet ; une autre décrit le Nouvel An tibétain au Ladakh, montrant comment s’articulent des éléments bouddhistes et d’autres, qui ne le sont pas. Une dernière, enfin, met en évidence l’efficacité de la cure de chamanes de l’Est du Népal.

Dans son introduction, Macdonald insiste sur le changement qui apparaît avec ce volume dans l’étude des rites. Jusqu’alors, dit-il, les auteurs se bornaient à mettre en évidence les apports respectifs stratifiés et juxtaposés de « l’animisme, de l’hindouisme et du bouddhisme » : cette saisie était stérile ; de tout temps il l’avait critiquée. Il fallait, au contraire, analyser l’interaction réciproque de ces diverses composantes. Il fallait aborder le rituel par ses effets sur la société. Ce qu’il fallait comprendre, c’est la finalité du rite, son enjeu : souvent c’est l’obtention d’un pouvoir.

En fait, ce changement que Macdonald constatait dans l’étude des rituels himalayens résultait pour une large part de sa lente influence.

Avec le temps, l’un des intérêts d’A.W. Macdonald va devenir majeur. Il se manifestera par une longue suite d’articles qui mettent en relation les pèlerinages, le maṇḍala et la perception d’un paysage local.

Pour la première fois, en 1971, Macdonald s’intéresse à un pèlerinage : celui du Gosainkund, au Népal, qui se tient lors de la pleine lune du mois népalais de Saun où les fidèles viennent effectuer leurs dévotions au Shiva du lieu. Toutefois, ce jour-là, les bouddhistes Newar eux aussi sont montés des fonds de vallée. Des Tibétains sont également présents. Et, encore, des Tamang, accompagnés de leurs propres intercesseurs. Ainsi, il est des lieux et des dates qui sont exceptionnels : un court moment s’y manifeste puissamment une profusion de rituels, de traditions différentes et de croyances multiples.

Plus tard, en 1975, c’est la traduction d’« un Guide peu lu des Lieux Saints du Népal ». Le manuscrit, tibétain, date du XVIIIe siècle. Son auteur est bouddhiste. Il décrit les hauts lieux de la vallée de Katmandou, ainsi que d’autres, proches de la frontière tibétaine. Il insiste sur le fait qu’en certains endroits privilégiés, les hommes et les dieux sont liés par les traditions conjointes de l’hindouisme et du bouddhisme. Ce que l’auteur impose surtout, c’est une vue claire du processus selon lequel le Népal est devenu bouddhiste.

En 1979, de nouveau, un article sur les pèlerinages. Mais cette fois, il se situe dans une région charnière du Népal, celle de Muktinath et du Dhaulagiri, où se confrontent le brahmanisme monté du Sud, et le bouddhisme venu du Nord. Dans le petit monastère bon-po de Thini, près de Jomsom, Macdonald recopie un autre guide de pèlerinage dont l’auteur est bouddhiste. L’article insiste surtout sur un point : entre ce que décrit le guide et ce que livre la vue du paysage, il n’existe aucune relation. Ce qu’effectue l’auteur du guide, c’est la projection stéréotypée d’une vision mystique sur le paysage. On y voit la transformation de la montagne locale, des esprits de la terre et des eaux, en gardiens de la foi bouddhique.

Avec l’article de 1983 sur « la religion au Tibet à l’époque de Srong-btsan sgam-po », Macdonald s’interroge sur cette conviction des Tibétains d’aujourd’hui selon laquelle leur roi d’autrefois aurait édifié douze sanctuaires bouddhiques pour « fixer au sol le corps de la démone ». Cette croyance, dit-il, résulte d’une reconstruction faite après coup par des auteurs tibétains tardifs. Le thème du « démembrement » de la démone, modèle traditionnel du pouvoir dans l’Himalaya, a été délibérément manipulé par les élites pour faire du roi un bouddhiste. L’objectif était d’aider à la construction de l’unité nationale du Tibet, et aussi de rattacher le Tibet à l’Inde. Le procédé n’est pas sans évoquer les 84.000 stūpa d’Ashoka. Désormais, l’étude des pèlerinages et celle du mandala seront en relation directe avec ce que Macdonald appelle « l’opération bouddhisme ».

En 1985 paraît l’étude d’un autre pèlerinage, celui de Halase, au Népal Oriental. C’est le lieu où Padmasambhava, en route vers Samye, a soumis la démone locale qui a laissé sur place des traces de sa chair et de son sang. On y voit aussi l’empreinte du pied de Padmasambhava. Autrefois, la soumission de la démone a permis aux hommes de s’installer en ce pays. Aujourd’hui encore, les pèlerins affluent chaque année pour obtenir un peu de la puissance qui se manifeste en ces lieux. C’est un drame très ancien qui justifie des comportements d’aujourd’hui.

Enfin, avec l’article de 1990 consacré, cette fois, au pèlerinage de La-phyi, Macdonald revient sur la nature du drame cosmique dont le paysage, là aussi, conserve les traces. Ce drame, c’est celui de l’ouverture des portes du site par des maîtres bouddhistes accomplis : il a fallu que les dieux du bouddhisme soient vainqueurs pour que les hommes puissent s’installer en ces lieux. Ce qui s’est passé à La-phyi, une fois encore, pose la question de « l’incorporation par le bouddhisme des esprits hindous et animistes ». Et ce scénario général de la conversion du Tibet au bouddhisme est celui qui s’inscrit partout, dans chaque paysage local.

Dans l’esprit de ces travaux, s’ensuit un ouvrage collectif sur le thème du maṇḍala.

Si Macdonald, autrefois, s’est fixé en France, c’est à cause de l’école orientaliste, si prégnante dans ses travaux. Il a oeuvré pour faire mieux connaître les oeuvres de Pelliot, de Granet, de Przyluski. Il vient de terminer la traduction anglaise du magistral « avant-propos » de Paul Mus à son Barabudur, qu’il a par ailleurs préfacé.

Les idées de Paul Mus, il les a constamment reprises, celles d’une « Religion de l’Asie des Moussons ». Et nombreuses sont les phrases même de Mus qui pourraient s’appliquer à ses travaux : ce que possèdent en commun des aires géographiques immenses d’Asie, « c’est un substrat autochtone » … « un fond local ancien » … « pris en tenailles par l’influence conjuguée de l’Inde et de la Chine ». Et dans ce cadre conceptuel, comme Paul Mus, il montre dès ses premiers écrits que « le fond local ancien … déjà complexe … non seulement a survécu a l’organisation de l’Inde, … mais l’a encore conditionné ». Lui aussi doute « du caractère passif de l’Inde autochtone ». Lui non plus n’accepte pas l’idée que l’Inde peut se réduire à une expression sancrite de sa civilisation.

Ces idées qui concernent l’Inde autochtone, il les appliqua d’abord à l’Asie du Sud-Est. Et-ce sont elles, ensuite, qu’il ne cessa d’adapter au Domaine Himalayen et au Tibet qu’il a fait siens dès l’époque où A. Spanien-Macdonald préparait son oeuvre sur les rois du Tibet.

Critique à l’égard des saisies de la pensée de l’orient par l’occident, et pour tenter de s’affranchir de l’ethnocentrisme, il a, pour une part, inventé ses propres « genres » de rédaction : « les matériaux pour  l’étude de … ». Les courts articles de bilan de recherche qui font le point des questions qui se posent à un moment donné ; des introductions volontairement philologique à des volumes collectifs d’ethnologues, replaçant des matériaux ponctuels dans le cadre d’une saisie comparatiste et historique.

Dans l’esprit qui fut celui de R.A. Stein, cette volonté de comparer explique la diversité et le nombre de populations qu’il a étudiées. C’est en fonction des questions qu’il se pose qu’il s’installe sur les crêtes ou dans les fonds de vallée, qu’il étudie l’emprise du bouddhisme ou celle de l’hindouisme, qu’il travaille chez les Indo-Népalais, les Newar ou les Tibétains.

En fait, cette unité historique de Domaine Himalayen qu’il a constamment affirmée, celle de l’interaction du socle asien « pris en tenailles par la Chine et l’Inde », est devenu une saisie méthodologique.

Certes, il a montré, entre autres, que la pensée chinoise semble assez lointaine dans l’Himalaya. C’est l’Inde, sous toutes ses formes, qui est surtout présente, et son écho est répercuté par le Tibet.

Certes, dans cette interaction, les institutions archaïques qui organisaient les anciennes sociétés sont reprises par les grandes religions avec un sens nouveau.

Mais au-delà de cet aspect d’unité du Domaine Himalayen, ce que l’oeuvre d’A.W. Macdonald met surtout en évidence, c’est au contraire l’extrême diversité des cheminements et des emprises de la pensée indienne sur le « substrat », ses succès, ses accélérations, ses retards, ses absences et ses manques.

Il a mis en évidence la multiplicité des « champs clos » sur lesquels s’exercent l’interaction de l’Inde et du « socle » dans l’Himalaya : les contes, les lois, les rituels, les oeuvres d’art, le paysage, le plan des villes, la guérison des maladies, l’architecture, les pèlerinages, etc.

Il a, certes, présenté l’aspect planfié de « la prise en tenailles », l’action délibérée de missionnaires venus de l’Inde, l’intelligence des fiefs de guerre et des politiques qui font appel à eux pour affirmer leurs pouvoirs. Mais, plus encore, il a insisté sur toutes sortes de créateurs qui ont agi de façon désintéressée, en toute liberté : les bâtisseurs et les chamanes, les conteurs et les guérisseurs, les artistes et les bardes. Et toujours ce sont des idées, des représentations qui on modelé des faits des réalités.

L’interaction du « socle asien » et de la pensée indienne ou chinoise devait faire la preuve de l’unité historique du Domaine Himalayen. Elle en montre, au contraire, l’extrieme diversité. Comme toutes les oeuvres pionnières, celle d’A.W. Macdonald est paradoxale. Et pour cette raison, elle n’a pas fini d’exercer son influence.

Néanmoins, au-delà de ces travaux qui marquent de leur empreinte les orientations actuelles de la recherche occidentale en Asie, il semble que l’originalité profonde de l’oeuvre d’A.W. Macdonald soit à chercher ailleurs.

Durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, lui, l’occidental, il a combattu côte à côte avec des Orientaux. L’essentiel de cette expérience, il le dit, « c’est d’avoir fait des choses ensemble ». Une fois la paix revenue, cette expérience de la guerre est demeurée prégnante. Et, sans doute, est-ce dans ce sens qu’il faut interpréter le travail effectué en commun et en tibétain par Sangye Tenzin et A.W. Macdonald sur les Sherpa du Népal.

À ce titre, A.W. Macdonald a donné une orientation sans précédent à l’ethnologie. Lui, l’érudit occidental, il a contribué à la prise de conscience, exemplaire, qu’ont les Sherpa de leur propre identité.

Elliot Sperling 1951–2017

sperlingDSC_0074 - Version 2

The untimely passing of Professor Elliot Sperling is devastating news to the
International Association of Tibetan Studies. Elliot had served on the advisory
board of the IATS for many years. His advice and guidance on the furtherance of
Tibetan studies were much appreciated by all of us.   In July 1998,  Professor
Sperling was the convener for the Eighth Seminar of the International
Association for Tibetan Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington.  While
teaching at the Department of Central Eurasian Studies, at Indiana University,
Professor Sperling helped to establish Indiana as one the leading centres of
Tibetan Studies in the world and was responsible for the training of a
generation of Tibetan studies scholars.  IATS has asked his close friend
historian Roberto Vitali, who edited Trails of the Tibetan Tradition, Papers
for Elliot Sperling, (published by Tashi Tsering, Amnye Machen, Dharamsala,
2014), to write a tribute to Professor Sperling. We are sharing Roberto Vitali’s heartfelt words.

Tsering Shakya – President, International Association for Tibetan Studies

Tibetan

English

 

Anthony Aris 1946–2015

Anthony book portrait smallAnthony Aris (27 March, 1946 – 14 October, 2015)

After more than a year of illness, Anthony Aris passed away in his home, on the 14th of October.

Anthony will not only be sorely missed by his family, but will always be remembered with great affection by his numerous friends in the Tibetological community as a man of extraordinary gentleness and warmth, intelligence, wit and culture.

Anthony was born on the 27th of March, 1946. He went to Worth Abbey School in Sussex, and studied Anthropology at Durham University in the late 1960s. Subsequently he travelled in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Visiting his twin brother Michael, who had been invited to Bhutan in 1967 as the tutor of the children of the royal family, Anthony, too, fell in love with what in those days was a truly remote and hidden land. During his travels he met Marie-Laure Labriffe, whom he married in 1975.

It is above all as a publisher that Anthony made a lasting contribution to Himalayan and Tibetan studies. It has been said of him that he had a passion for books and determination to produce them to perfection. His brother-in-law, Adrian Phillips, has kindly provided the following account of how Anthony’s remarkable career started:

After leaving Durham University, Anthony gained his first experience in publishing when he went to India and worked for Hal Kuloy on his publications there.

When he returned to England, Anthony asked us to help him gain experience in book selling. He first worked for Dillons (London University Bookshop) and left them for Kegan Paul, the oriental booksellers in Museum Street. There Anthony took charge of their gallery of oriental art and learned to buy and sell at auctions and to organize  exhibitions. When Kegan Paul closed their shop, Anthony joined our family publishing company, Aris & Phillips Ltd in Warminster, commissioning and editing books for us on Asia, such as Philip Denwood, The Tibetan Carpet (1974) and Heather Karmay, Early Sino-Tibetan Art (1975).

At this point, Aris & Phillips were approached by Kodansha International of Japan to market their great series of illustrated volumes of Oriental Ceramics. We mutually decided   that Anthony should concentrate on oriental art, for which he had a flair…  Anthony took on the sales and marketing of the Kodansha volumes personally and this gave him a solid base from which to commission his own titles on his real interest which was Tibet and the  Himalayas. We effectively divided the world at the Persian Gulf with Aris & Phillips concentrating on the West and Anthony on the East.

Anthony founded Serindia Publications in 1976, continuing to cooperate with Kodansha as a dynamic distributor of their high-quality books on East and Central Asian art. This contributed to making Serindia a successful and, in Marie-Laure’s words, ‘animated’ publishing business for twenty-five years, resulting in a great number of exquisitely produced volumes in many different fields of scholarship related to Tibet, Bhutan, and the Himalayas in general. Anthony eventually sold Serindia Publications, but it continues to flourish along the lines that he had established.

In an obituary in the Thimphu newspaper Kuensel on 17 October, Anthony’s Bhutanese friend Karma Phuntso wrote:

We often give credit only to the author of the book and overlook the work of the publisher. Yet, it is often the publisher who makes a substantial difference in how the book looks…and in the overall ranking of the book and its subject in the eyes of the readers. Anthony Aris was a publisher par excellence, who made such difference to the books he published.

Among these publications – too numerous to list here – there is one which merits particular mention, not only for its sumptuous production, but also for its intrinsic importance, namely Tibetan Medical Paintings, which appeared in 1992. This publication contains the high-quality reproduction of seventy-seven paintings, copies of a unique set of medical paintings commissioned in the seventeenth century by the regent of Tibet, Sangyé Gyatso. In fact, if Anthony had not taken on the publication of these paintings more than twenty years ago, the recent book by Janet Gyatso, Being Human in a Buddhist World. An Intellectual History of Medicine in Early Modern Tibet, published just a little more than half a year ago, could hardly have been written, as it refers to these paintings on almost every page. This is just one example of how Anthony’s engagement with the Himalayas and Tibet sowed seeds which will long continue to yield a rich harvest.

Anthony was not only a professional and passionately engaged publisher, he was also a social entrepreneur, in the very best sense of the word. With his open and generous personality and great gift of listening, this came naturally to him. A short time before he passed away in 1999, his brother Michael had taken the first steps towards setting up a Tibetan and Himalayan Studies Centre in Oxford, with the financial backing of generous benefactors, in particular the Koerner and the Rausing families. Anthony brought this project to a successful conclusion, securing the patronage of the Prince of Wales. The Centre is now located at Wolfson College, which also hosts the Lectureship dedicated to Tibetan and Himalayan studies, created in the year 2000 with part-funding from the Centre. For a number of years a librarian was also funded from the same source, making the cataloguing of the Tibetan books in the Bodleian Library possible. In bringing all this about it would be very difficult to overrate the importance of Anthony’s patient, diplomatic, and dedicated efforts.

Anthony arranged for Michael’s photos from Bhutan to be given to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, and later contributed his own photos from the Himalayan kingdom. The latter are still in the process of being catalogued.

Anthony’s career intersected in many ways with that of his twin brother Michael. For example, Michael was the convenor of the first international seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (IATS), which took place at St. John’s College in Oxford in July 1979, and, together with Aung San Suu Kyi, he subsequently edited the conference papers, published the following year by the publishers Aris and Phillips, in other words by his brother Anthony and brother-in-law Adrian Phillips. This volume, Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson, was, as the title indicates, a tribute to Hugh Richardson (1905-2000), the last British representative in Lhasa, a fine scholar and a close friend of Michael as well as Anthony. Michael eventually edited Hugh Richardson’s writings, collected in a volume of more than 750 pages, published by Anthony (Michael Aris, ed., High Peaks, Pure Earth. Collected Writings on Tibetan History and Culture, London, 1998) – yet an example of how the interests and commitments of the two brothers coincided.

Michael’s deep personal involvement with Burma, through his marriage with Aung San Suu Kyi, is well known. Anthony, too, was a true friend of Burma, and was for many years engaged in providing support for Burmese students in exile. He also encouraged the publication of books on the struggle for democracy in Burma, such as James Mackay’s Abhaya. Burma’s Fearlessness (Bangkok, 2011).

Anthony was a master of the English language, his style in prose as well as speech characterised by elegant ease. This was simply an aspect of his profound and humanistic culture. One expression of this culture was his lively and wide-ranging interest in art, not only Oriental art, and in the course of the last year of his life he often visited art exhibitions in London, ranging from Turner to Henry Moore, from Viking art to contemporary abstract Iranian art.

On the occasion of his birthday in March 2015, Anthony was presented with a volume of sixty articles written by scholars from all over the world, paying tribute not only to his long career as a publisher, but also – and above all – to the man. This extraordinary book, published in record time, focusing on the theme of ‘healing’, provided Anthony with great pleasure during the final months of his life (Charles Ramble and Ulrike Roesler, eds., Tibetan and Himalayan Healing. An Anthology for Anthony Aris, Kathmandu, 2015).

On 22 October 2015, the first ‘Aris Lecture’ took place at Wolfson College. This is to be an annual event, in memory of Michael and Anthony. Anthony had wished to set this up to honour his brother, but was prevailed upon to accept the name it eventually was given as he could hardly deny that he himself had also played a significant role in promoting Tibetan studies in the UK. The lecture was given by Janet Gyatso, on the appropriate theme “Tibetan Studies and its Possible Futures”. Sadly, Anthony passed away in the week before the lecture.

Those – and they are many indeed – who had the privilege of spending time with Anthony and Marie-Laure during the last year of his life, always found a warm welcome in their home in Westbourne Gardens, and were not only treated to lunch, tea or dinner, a glass of wine or a ‘wee dram’, but above all to lively and wide-ranging conversation. Anthony was always a family man. His and Marie-Laure’s children Arabella and Roderick, and, not least, their grand-children were frequent visitors, surrounding Anthony with their love and care. After being installed in a hospice, he continued to receive his family and friends, deeply engaged with life and serenely awaiting the end, his last days spent in his home in Westbourne Gardens.

Per Kværne
University of Oslo

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tsering Gyalpo 1961–2015

 

01_obituaryTGTsering Gyalpo, 1961–2015

On Saturday 27 June, early in the morning, our friend and colleague Tsering Gyalpo unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack. He died in his apartment in Berlin – at the Institute for Advanced Study, where he had been active since last autumn as a Fellow and member in a “Tibet Focus Group” together with Guntram Hazod and Shen Weirong.

His sudden death has profoundly affected us all. But above all, we first think of his family, and our deepest and heart-felt condolences go out to Tsering’s wife and their two children.

Tsering came from a nomadic family in western Tibet, where he grew up as the fourth of nine children, before his parents sent him to Lhasa further education. From here his education led him to Beijing, with studies at the Minzu University and the Ethnology Department of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. From 1994 he occupied a leading position at the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences (TASS), Lhasa, where for the last 15 years he served as director of the Religious Department of this institution. He greatly influenced the research work of this institute, and the gap he leaves within the whole TASS will be enormous.

From 1995 he was involved in a number of national and international teaching and research programmes, with Guest Professorships at universities in China, and as a research associate at several prominent foreign institutes – in Vienna (1996, 1998, 1999/2000, 2010, 2011), Virginia (2001), Harvard (2004) and Princeton (2006). Widely known are the books, where he essentially participated as co-author or collaborator – text and ethnography based studies on medieval Central Tibet (2000, 2005, 2007). Similarly important are his numerous later studies (in Tibetan, several also trilingual Tibetan/Chinese/English) related to the history of Western Tibet (2006, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014).

From 2001 Tsering increasingly dedicated himself to his West Tibet (Stod Mnga’ ris) research, especially related to the Kingdom of Guge (10th–17th century CE). He often verbally stated that his aim was to reveal as much as possible of the cultural heritage of his West Tibetan homeland to the world during his lifetime. He considered that this treasure belonged neither to Tibet nor to China, but to the whole world. This was the standard he set for his own work; it might even be said that this was his central message as a Tibet researcher.

There was something quite unusual in Tsering’s approach as both as a researcher in general and a field researcher in particular: he was a gentle door-opener; in fact, with him many doors opened as if by magic. The range of his findings is enormous. A number of these are known from his publications, but much more material is still unprocessed, and we know from discoveries in West Tibet, which have not yet been recorded – such as collections of unique texts from monasteries whose evaluation would require a multi-annual project. His last work, which will be published this year, is related to an exceptional discovery in South East Tibet where Tsering stayed for an extended period in 2014: a monumental, four-metre high stone relief of the Buddha Vairocana with his entourage, a work from the late 8th or early 9th century.

03_obituaryTGIn Berlin, 2015

 

Most recently, in Berlin he worked on a book project on Zhang Zhung, based on chapters in Pandita Grags pa rgyal mtshan’s Nyi ma’i rigs kyi rgyal rabs skye dgu’i cod paṇ nyi zla’i phreng mdzes. Tsering’s approach to Zhang zhung was characterised by a rather critical attitude towards contemporary Zhang Zhung studies in Western, Tibetan and Chinese works. Many of them were pure fables, he used to say, or more prosaically: “Zhang Zhung is (like Bon) a pot where everything that is found in the highlands, which appears to be old and is not instantly explainable, is thrown into it”.

He was emotionally closely connected to the history of his homeland, and the fact that he adopted for himself the author’s name “Guge Tsering Gyalpo” is simply an expression of this pride. His maternal grandfather came from the small district called Gu ge (not far northwest of Tholing), after which historically the famous Buddhist Kingdom is named.

Tsering was exceptional. Apart from his special talent for getting access to new historical material, his enormous lexical knowledge, and so on, all those who knew him and worked with him emphasised his unique character: humility, generosity and openness. But there was much more. His entire being was one of infinite warmth, and an almost childlike purity. This exceptional combination of characteristics also made it easy for him to develop an immediate rapport with everyone, as well as with worlds not familiar to him. Here at the Institute for Advanced Study, an elite institution where the humanities and life sciences meet, he was immensely popular from the very beginning. And, with ease, he led the wondering Fellows into the fascinating world of his homeland.

With Tsering Gyalpo a pearl of the Tibetan Studies community has gone from us, but even more so a pearl of a human being.

I personally will miss you infinitely, Tsering Gyalpo-la; at the same time I’m so thankful that our paths crossed, that I could learn from you, laugh with you and that you have shown me, and many others, how great people can be!

Guntram

Berlin, 5 July 2015

 Obituary and all photos by Guntram Hazod

 05_obituaryTGTsering Gyalpo in his homeland

* * *

Tsering Gyalpo, selection of major publications, 2000-2015

2000

(with Guntram Hazod and Per K. Sørensen) Civilization at the Foot of Mt. Sham-po. The Royal House of lHa Bug-pa-can and the History of g,Ya’-bzang. Historical Texts from the Monastery of g.Ya’-bzang in Yar-stod (Central Tibet). Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

2005

  1. a) Gu ge tshe ring rgyal po’i ched rtsom phyogs bsgrigs. Beijing: Krung go’i bod rig dpe skrun khang.
  1. b) Cooperation in Per K. Sørensen and Guntram Hazod 2005, Thundering Falcon. An Inquiry into the History and Cult of Khra-’brug, Tibet’s First Buddhist Temple. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

2006

Mnga’ris chos ’byung gangs ljongs mdzes rgyan. Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang. (Tranl. into Chinese 2014; awarded the Mount Everest Tibetology Prize, 2010).

2007

Cooperation in Per K. Sørensen and Guntram Hazod 2007, Rulers on the Celestial Plain. Ecclesiastic and Secular Hegemony in Medieval Tibet. A Study of Tshal Gung-thang. 2 Vols. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

2009

(With Christian Jahoda, Christiane Papa-Kalantari), The Buddhist Monuments of Khartse Valley, Western Tibet. Austrian Academy of Sciences / AAS Working Papers in Social Anthropology 2009, Volume 9: 1–28. (http://epub.oeaw.ac.at/wpsa9)

2011

Mural paintings of Wa-chen cave in Rtswa-mda’, mNga’-ris (Tibetan, Chinese and English), Lhasa: Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang. (Awarded the Mount Everest Tibetology Prize, 2013.)

2012

(With Christian Jahoda, Christiane Kalantari and Patrick Sutherland), ’Khor chags / Khorchag / Kuojia si wenshi daguan [Kuojia Monastery: An Overview of Its History and Culture]. Studies and Materials on Historical Western Tibet, Volume I. Lhasa: Bod ljongs bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang.

Forthcoming (2015)

Gsar du rnyed pa’i bod btsan po’i skabs bzhengs pa’i smar khams rdzong rnam par snang mdzad kyi brag brkos snang brnyan skor la rags tsam brjod pa (A Brief Report on a Rock-carve Image of Vairocana, recently traced in Smar khams County and erected during the Imperial Period), in: Czaja, Olaf and Guntram Hazod (eds.), The Illuminating Mirror: Festschrift for Per K. Sørensen on the occasion of his 65th Birthday.

Michael Hahn 1941-2014

Obituary

It is with deep regret that I convey to you the sad news of the passing away of our beloved teacher and good friend Professor Michael Hahn. After a prolonged illness this distinguished scholar left us peacefully in the evening of July 12, 2014. For almost two decades from 1988 till 2006 Professor Michael Hahn held the chair of the Department of Indology and Tibetology at the University of Marburg, where he fostered many students and contributed numerous books and articles. Even to the very last days of his fruitful life, despite the impediments of his illness, he was always keen to promote scholarship and generously shared his vast knowledge. We will all dearly miss him. A small memorial service will be held today at 5 p.m. in the St. Elisabeth-Hospiz in Marburg. At present arrangements for a funeral service at his birthplace in Otterndorf are being made.

Dragomir Dimitrov

A Personal Homage to Michael Hahn (1941-2014)

I am grateful to have the opportunity to convey a few words in memory and in honor of an esteemed colleague and dear friend, the late Prof. Dr. Michael Hahn.

Michael Hahn showed a remarkable diversity of talents and interests already in his youth. Born in 1941 in Otterndorf, a small town on the northern coast of Germany, he was an enthusiastic piano player from a young age and this love stayed with him till the end of his life. One of the last times we met, in 2012, he treated us, his guests, to a wonderful recital of Mozart and Beethoven in his living room.

His university studies at Göttingen, Hamburg and Bonn (between 1960 and 1968) included such multifarious fields as mathematics, Sanskrit, psychology, musicology, Tibetan and Mongolian. I think we can find echoes of all these various academic disciplines and approaches throughout Hahn’s work.

His immense contribution to South and Central Asian literary studies, and to Tibetan linguistics is of course obvious. Mathematics I see in the thorough systematics and uncompromising precision which is typical of all of his publications. Psychology is present in many of his discussions of –for instance— poetical tropes and metaphors in narrative or lyrical literature which so often speak of the peculiarities –both strengths and weaknesses— of human nature. Even musicology and his love of music I see reflected, for example  in his work on chandas, ‘metrics’, which of course dictates the ‘musical’ rhythm and melody of  poetry.

As successor to Wilhelm Rau (1922-1999), Michael Hahn was professor of Indology and Tibetology at the Marburg University from 1988 to 2007. During these years he produced groundbreaking explorations of a number of Indo-Tibetan literary fields, notably poetical metrics, didactical narrative, Buddhist plays and hymns. Both Indian and Tibetan studies owe him a great debt for the wealth of textual materials he has made accessible, with uncompromising precision in its presentation and analysis.

Michael was not merely a huge source of knowledge and information, he also was a tremendous inspiration to his students and colleagues alike. To phrase it in Buddhist terms: he had no ācāryamuṣṭi, no ‘clinched fist of the teacher’. In other words, he did not withhold knowledge or insights, but shared this freely with those sincerely intent on a thorough exploration of these often abstruse literary fields. So he was not only the Marburg  Mahāpaṇḍita par excellence, but I have always regarded him also –to remain in the Buddhist idiom– as a true Kalyāṇa-mitra in academia.

I have used Hahn’s textbook of classical Tibetan as the main tool ever since I started teaching Classical Tibetan at Leiden University in 1987, and I still use it to this day. Needless to say that it was a thrill for me to meet Michael in person for the first time at a conference in the 1990s. I sensed that quite a few colleagues were in awe of his rather strict and rigorous outward appearance, but I –and many with me— have admired and appreciated the magnanimous way in which he shared his vast expertise, and the warm heart that lived within him.

Actually the very first paper I heard him deliver was a real eye-opener for me. He spoke on the etymology of one Tibetan word: gtsug-lag, ‘science / sacred literature’.* Anyone familiar with Tibetan literature will have encountered this term countless times. I had occasionally wondered  briefly about its etymology, but did not give it serious attention and moved on. It is the kind of term one takes for granted. But Michael didn’t. He really set his teeth in it and came up with an etymological analysis that went against traditional views, yet was perfectly logical and consistent, lucidly argued and entirely convincing to me.

During my numerous visits to the Marburg Indology department I was invariably struck by the welcoming and warm atmosphere, yet at the same time intensely serious and focused spirit that pervaded the institute. And it was perfectly clear that Michael stood at the heart of this, that he was the true moving and inspiring force behind this.

To those truly committed to acquiring a well-founded and comprehensive understanding of the Indo-Tibetan literary heritage Michael offered exemplary integrity and accuracy. He did so to those who met him in person. He does so today still in his many publications and indirectly through his students and all others he inspired and taught by example. Let us remember the scholar and the man Michael Hahn in fond recognition.

Peter Verhagen (Leiden University Institute of Area Studies, The Netherlands)

* Paper read at the 7th IATS seminar in Graz 1995, and published as: M. Hahn (1997).’ À Propos the Term gtsug lag’, PIATS 7 Wien, vol. 1.