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!


Berlin, 5 July 2015

 Obituary and all photos by Guntram Hazod

 05_obituaryTGTsering Gyalpo in his homeland

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Tsering Gyalpo, selection of major publications, 2000-2015


(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.


  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.


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).


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.


(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)


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.)


(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


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.

Helmut Krasser 1956-2014


Dear friends and colleagues,

As most of you have just learned, our excellent friend and colleague Helmut Krasser (born April 27, 1956) passed away during the night of Saturday to Sunday (March 29-30, 2014) at the Saint-Elizabeth Hospital in Vienna, attended by his daughter Sarah, his ex-wife Sabine, and his beloved mother. A leading scholar in the field of Buddhist philosophy and epistemology, Helmut Krasser had been the director of the Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna) since 2007, an institute in which he had been active since 1987. Our friend died after a two-year struggle against illness during which he exemplarily never gave up hope and never abandoned his optimism or his good mood.

Helmut Krasser had studied Indian Buddhism, Tibetology and philosophy at the University of Vienna from 1981 to 1989 under the guidance of his teacher Prof. Ernst Steinkellner, whom he succeeded as the head of the Vienna institute. After his PhD (an edition and German translation of Dharmottara’s Laghuprāmāṇyaparīkṣā, Vienna 1991), he spent two years in Kyoto under the learned and friendly supervision of Prof. Katsumi Mimaki. Back in Vienna, he developed further the philological and historical acumen that made his work such an irreplaceable standard in the field of late Indian Buddhist philosophy. During the last ten years, Krasser had been increasingly involved in the Viennese institute’s groundbreaking cooperation with the China Tibetology Research Center (Beijing), a cooperation that resulted in the sensational publication of numerous works of which the Sanskrit originals had been hitherto considered lost. Besides his participation in numerous collective works and a long list of articles (e.g., Pramāṇakīrtiḥ, Festschrift Steinkellner, Vienna 2007, together with Birgit Kellner, Horst Lasic, Michael Torsten Much, Helmut Tauscher; Religion and Logic in Buddhist Philosophical Analysis, Vienna 2011, together with Horst Lasic, Eli Franco and Birgit Kellner; Scriptural Authority, Reason and Action, Vienna 2013, together with Vincent Eltschinger), Krasser’s most significant works include the monumental edition, translation and study of Śaṅkaranandana’s Īśvarāpākaraṇasaṅkṣepa (Vienna 2002, Krasser’s habilitation thesis), the edition of the first two chapters of Jinendrabuddhi’s Viśālāmalavatī commentary on Dignāga’s Pramāṇasamuccaya (Vienna, 2005 and 2012, together with Horst Lasic and Ernst Steinkellner), and an annotated translation of the final section of Dharmakīrti’s Pramāṇavārttikasvavṛtti (Vienna 2012, together with Vincent Eltschinger and John Taber). In his capacity as a lecturer at the University of Vienna, Krasser supervised the PhD theses of several promising young scholars, among whom mention may be made of Masamichi Sakai, Hisataka Ishida, and Patrick McAllister. It should also be mentioned that in the last few years, Krasser’s research work led him to hypothesize that most of the extant Buddhist philosophical literature actually consisted of more or less carefully edited notes taken by monastic students during “philosophy” classes. The (hypo)thesis, which certainly needs further substantiation and an edition of Krasser’s research notes, will not fail to be the source of scholarly debate and inspiration.

All those who had the privilege to meet Helmut Krasser were instantly charmed by his wit, the warm and vibrant expression of his eyes, his exceptional understanding of things human and social, and the unique manner in which he managed not to take himself or his research (too) seriously. Krasser did not only belong to the most talented scholars of his generation. He was also—and maybe above all—one of the most generous, humorous and lucid representatives of our field(s). We all owe you, we all miss you, Helmut.

Vincent Eltschinger