Obituary and Tribute to Yangga (1964-2022)

Yangga delivering a lecture. Date and photographer unknown.

Written by Janet Gyatso

It is with deep sadness that I report the death of Yangga (Dbyangs dga’), ground-breaking historian of Tibetan medicine.  He was my teacher, and my student. 

Yangga passed away from liver cancer on the evening of December 17, 2022, in Chengdu, China.   At the time of his untimely death, at the age of 58, Yangga was Professor (Dge rgan Chen mo) at Bod ljongs Gso rig slob grwa chen mo (University of Tibetan Medicine) in Lhasa [see:].  Yangga first contracted a liver tumor in around 2015 but he was able to keep working and writing until the last few months of his life.  He died at his temporary home in Chengdu, China,  where he was living with his wife in order to be near a hospital where he was being treated.  His permanent home was in Lhasa and Nagchu.  He was joined by his family in the last days after he left the hospital to be able to die at home. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.  

Yangga was born in Driru (‘Bri ru) County, Nagchu City, in 1964, where he was educated through high school. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Tibet University in Lhasa in 1989, and another bachelor’s degree from University of Tibetan Medicine in Lhasa in 1991.  He earned a master’s degree from University of Tibetan Medicine in 2002.  His main teachers in medicine were the famous Khenpo Troru Tsenam (Mkhan po Khro ru rtse rnam) and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyaltsen (Mkhan po Tshul khrims rgyal mtshan).  In 2003 he was accepted into the doctoral program in Inner and Altaic Studies at Harvard University, where he worked with myself and Leonard van der Kuijp, and earned his PhD in 2010.

Beginning in 1991 Yangga served as an instructor and then a lecturer at University of Tibetan Medicine.  He was promoted to Associate Director of the Dean’s office in 2000.  After returning to Lhasa upon graduating from Harvard, he was promoted to Associate Professor in 2013 and full Professor in 2018.  Yangga also taught Tibetan language and medicine at Harvard University, and he served as Lecturer in Tibetan in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan during the 2009-2010 academic year.  In 2013, he was offered a postdoctoral fellowship to return to the University of Michigan but was unable to accept because he did not receive permission to travel to the United States.  In recent years Yangga was Visiting Professor at Southwest University for Nationalities in Chengdu.  He was also Deputy Director of the Tibet Autonomous Region Ancient Books Protection Expert Committee, and a member of the Tibetan Medicine Standardization Technical Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Yangga was only able to present a paper at the International Association of Tibetan Studies (IATS) on one occasion, in Paris 2019 at the 15th IATS Seminar.  But he was also on the program for the 14th IATS Seminar in Bergen in 2016 as well.  His paper had been accepted and scheduled, but he could not attend at the last minute because his passport for travel was revoked. 

I myself have had the great fortune to get to know Yangga well.  I first met him in Lhasa at the International Conference on Tibetan Medicine in 2000.  At that time I was still teaching at Amherst College, and he was finishing his masters’ degree at the Tibetan Medical University.  During the week of that amazing conference in Lhasa, with scores of very learned medical scholars from all over Tibet, we spoke about medicine often.  I was quite impressed by the nuance and precision in this young man’s manner of discussing scholarship on Tibetan medicine.  And so the following year when I moved to Harvard Divinity School, and I suddenly found myself with the privilege and resources to be able to invite international scholars as visitors, I did so.  Yangga was thus able to come to Harvard as a visiting scholar in 2002.  Then he went back to Lhasa, and applied into the doctoral program at Harvard in Inner Asian and Altaic Studies, and he was admitted as my advisee.  He gained his master’s degree from University of Tibetan Medicine in the same year.

Yangga returned to Harvard in fall 2003 to start his doctoral work.  Capable a person as Yangga was, he also managed to get his wife and two young daughters to join him in Somerville, where he lived as a student, within a year’s time.  In fact, both children had medical conditions, which Yangga was able to have fixed here in Boston, at our excellent hospitals.

Yangga proceeded to study at Harvard for seven years.  He wrote an important doctoral thesis under my direction on the sources of the Tibetan medical classic Rgyud bzhi.  In that thesis he provides a detailed comparison of the Rgyud bzhi’s overall chapter structure, as well as the contents of each of those chapters, with the Indic medical classics of Ayurvedic tradition. He shows how in some portions of the work, the Rgyud bzhi is closely dependent on Ayurvedic knowledge. However, in other chapters, its author Yuthok Yontan Gonpo (Gyu thog Yon tan mgon po) was drawing on other medical traditions from both western Asia and East Asia, as well as a range of indigenous medical knowledges on the Tibetan plateau.  Yangga identified many of these other medical streams in his thesis with textual precision.  He showed how large sections of the Rgyud bzhi are indebted to certain old Tibetan medical works — still extant in Lhasa and to which he and his colleagues there have had access — that predate the Rgyud bzhi and are themselves indebted to various medical traditions not related to Ayurveda. These include Biji poti kha ser, Byang khog dmar byang and Sman dpyad zla ba’i rgyal po. 

Next Yangga turned to pay particular attention to the medical knowledge in the Rgyud bzhi on wounds to the upper body.  Yangga estimated that this section of Tibetan medicine was connected to empirical knowledge in ancient Tibet regarding how arrows enter the torso in military conflict, and the various surgical procedures to remove them without causing collateral damage in the body.

Yet another important aspect of Yangga’s thesis concerns the families in Tibetan history that were most active in transmitting the Rgyud bzhi in its early years, including the Brang ti lineage of physicians, as well as the Gong sman and Tsha rong families.

Finally, Yangga’s very important contribution was his investigation into the figure of Yuthok Yontan Gonpo the Elder. Yangga speculated that his lifestory and even very existence might have largely been created in the 16th-17th centuries, based on earlier biographical writings which are really about the person whom we now call Yuthok the Younger.  In this Yangga was following previous research by outstanding critical Tibetan historians of medicine from the past, with evidence starting in the 13th century at least.  Yangga confirms that there is no reference to an “Elder” (as opposed to a “Younger”) Yuthok in pre-16th century Tibetan medical historiography. He also rejects the possibility that there was a physician named Yuthok who served in the royal court of the Tibetan Yarlung dynasty.  But most of all, he sets out convincing reasons to attribute the authorship of the Rgyud bzhi to the 12th century figure whom modern scholars have been calling Yuthok the Younger.  The Rgyud bzhi was not translated from Sanskrit and is rather a creative and original treatise by the 12th century Tibetan doctor Yuthok Yontan Gonpo, drawing on many medical traditions in Asia and beyond.  For the intricate details on this intriguing issue, the reader can consult Yangga’s English articles listed below, one from 2014 and the other from 2019. Even more so, the reader is commended to Yangga’s new book on the life of Yuthok Yonden Gonpo, also listed just below, which he published in the last year of his life, a copy of which I have recently received.  I have not yet had the chance to read this book closely, but can say that Yangga provides here six biographical sources for the figure of Yuthok in full, and presents his most up-to-date analysis of the whole issue.

Yangga at his Harvard Graduation, May 2010. Photographer not known.

After finishing his thesis and graduating from Harvard, Yangga returned to Tibet and continued to pursue his scholarly work at the same time that he took up teaching and administrative duties.  He continued his deep research in the various archives and libraries of Lhasa, and wrote many articles. A full c.v. of his works is being prepared and may be requested from me when it is ready.  Most notably, he published three substantial books, including editions of valuable and rare original documents, during the last year of his life.  Each of these volumes make major contributions to the study of Tibetan medicine.

Bod lugs gso ba rig pa’i khog dbub gces btus rin chen phreng ba, Lhasa: Bod ljong bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang. 2022. 440 pp.  (Selected rare historical writings on Tibetan medicine).

Gyu thog gsar rnying gi rnam thar dang de’i skor gyi dpad pa drang gtam rna ba’i bu ram. Chengdu: Si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2022. 360 pp. (Research on the Elder and Younger Yuthok Yontan Gonpos, including six Yuthok biographies).

Bi ji’i po ti kha ser dang de’i dpyad pa pa dgyes pa’i gtam, Lhasa: Bod ljong bod yig dpe rnying dpe skrun khang. 2022. 321 pp.  (Two versions of, and research on, an early medical work in Tibetan which presents medical knowledge from Western Asia and beyond.) 

Additionally, Yangga edited and compiled material for other volumes, including a catalogue of the medical texts held at Sku ‘bum Moastery, published by Kan suʼu mi rigs dpe skrun khang in 2001, and a volume on the scientific research methods and procedures of Tibetan medicine published by Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang, in Lhasa in 2017.

Some of Yangga’s work on the multiple medical traditions converging in Rgyud bzhi was addressed in the paper he delivered at the 15th IATS seminar in Paris in 2019, entitled “Preliminary Investigations into Shang Siji Bar [Zhang gzi brjid ‘bar’] and His Medical Works.”  He has published numerous other scholarly articles in Tibetan in China, including a study of rDzong ‘phreng ‘phrul gyi lde mig.  Additionally, he is co-author of numerous articles with other scholars of Tibetan medicine, including an analysis of the anti-rheumatic effects of huang lian jie du tang from a network perspective; an investigation and analysis of employment psychology of students in Tibetan professional colleges; an analysis of cynandione A’s anti-ischemic stroke effects; and a piece on Tibetan veterinary documents from Dunhuang in France.

Among his publications in English are “The Origin of the Four Tantras and an Account of Its Author, Yuthog Yonten Gonpo ” in Bodies in Balance: The Art of Tibetan Medicine, ed. Theresia Hofer,New York: Rubin Museum of Art in conjunction with Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014, 154-177; and “A Preliminary Study on the Biography of Yutok Yönten Gönpo the Elder: Reflections on the Origins of Tibetan Medicine,” in  Knowledge and Context in Tibetan Medicine, ed. William A. McGrath, Leiden/Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2019, 59-84.   Both of these essays will give the reader a good idea of the intricate arguments and evidence Yangga amassed and analysed to establish the historical authorship of the medical classic Rgyud bzhi in the 12th century.  Another important article in English is his “A Comparative Study of the Relationship between Greek and Tibetan Medicine” in Journal of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, 2018, 73-87.

Another area of Yangga’s many interests was the origins of the medicinal baths tradition in Tibetan medicine.  The paper he had planned to deliver at the IATS conference in Bergen was entitled “Study on the Origin of Tibetan Five Nectars Medicated Bath Therapy.”  He has published about the matter in several articles in China in 2016. 

While I do not know much about the service that Professor Yangga performed for his school and with colleagues inside Tibet at other universities and medical centers, I do know about one big effort in which he was involved.  This came after the bid on the part of the Indian government to claim gso ba rig pa as an Indian “intangible cultural heritage” as specified by UNESCO and therefore under Indian jurisdiction and copyright.  Who better to refute that too-simplistic claim about. the origin of gso rig than Yangga himself?  He consulted with me while he was laboriously preparing the appropriate arguments for the Tibetan origin of the Rgyud bzhi, together with his colleague at University of Tibetan Medicine, Mingji Cuomu. Then Yangga and Yum pa, astrologer and Vice–President of the Lhasa Men-Tsee-Khang (Sman rtsis khang), finally travelled to Bogota, Columbia in 2019 from 9th to 14th December to testify in front of the 14th session of the Intergovernmental Committee on Intangible Cultural Heritage within UNESCO, and the case was decided in the favor of China.

Yangga at his home in Lhasa, Losar 2021. Photograph by his daughter Tsultrim Padmo Drushik.

I mourn the thought that Yangga will not be able to produce more ground-breaking work on the history and theory of Tibetan medicine, and be able to mentor many more students.  But more sorrowfully yet, I mourn the loss of Yangga the person, the man, the father, the friend.  In addition to working with him throughout his time at Harvard, I later had the fortune to tour Lake Kokonor 2016 with him on a visit to Xining.  I also visited his family at their home in Lhasa when I attended another medical conference in Lhasa, this time hosted on 12–13 September 2016 by the Lhasa Men–Tsee–Khang, along with the Tibetan Medicine Committee of the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Sman rtsis khang in Lhasa by the 13th Dalai Lama.

I consider Yangga to have been my teacher because of his expert guidance and instruction when I was reading the history of medical thought in Tibet for my own research, over a period of seven years while he was at Harvard.  It is no exaggeration to say that I could never have been able to write the book that I did, Being Human in a Buddhist World: An Intellectual History of Tibetan Medicine (2015), without the extensive discussions we had during that time.

Yangga at Kokonor, 2016. Photograph by Janet Gyatso

Yangga had an extremely warm personality. One of my favorite memories is from one evening when he and his family were at my husband’s and my home for dinner.  I remember Yangga’s two little daughters hiding behind the door to the dining room as he sat at our table, peeking out and giggling at him. They kept interrupting the adult conversation we were carrying on at the table. But Yangga was not at all annoyed; in fact he could barely hold back his own giggles at their pranks. 

I also remember a conversation we once had about a negative colleague.  Yangga opined, “Everyone has a beautiful smile.  XX is one of the rare few who doesn’t,  hahahaha!”  I actually regard that as a profound and  compassionate observation — as well as a case of the exception proving the rule.  Everyone’s face has its own beauty.

Yangga took a huge amount of joy in life.  He expressed it with a deep and resounding laugh, and he laughed a lot — at himself, at others, at whatever was true. I can hear that laugh in my head right now; too bad I cannot convey it on the page.  A favorite memory from recent times is of sitting with him and many of the other Tibetan delegates to the Paris IATS meeting in July 2019, on the roof of a sight-seeing bus.  As we floated around Paris and admired the wonderful sights and architecture, we simultaneously were engaged in a bus-wide contest of trading insults, barbs, and smart-aleck comments, mostly about each other.  Yangga was one of the ringleaders and sharpest in the group.  He came out with some hilarious observations (only a few of which I could truly follow, but the infectious laughter all over the bus had me laughing anyway).

Yangga on tour bus in Paris, 2019. Photograph by Janet Gyatso

Yangga had a very keen sense of people’s character.  He plumbed the depth of their sincerity, and was attuned to how they try to come across.   After all, not only was Yangga a historian of medicine, he was a full-fledged physician who had learned well the art of diagnosis, although he did not practice often. A big part of what a doctor needs to do is to read your outer signs for what they portend about what is going on inside of you. Indeed, the entire field of logic in Indian philosophy, including the arts of induction and deduction, had its first major articulation in the classical Indian medical works. 

I found Yangga to be a most intelligent conversation partner, and enjoyed many deep discussions with him about Tibetan history and culture.  He was not completely traditional in the sense of being unwilling to question received wisdom, although his education with Khenpo Troru Tsenam and Khenpo Tsultrim Gyaltsen was indeed very much in line with old Tibetan medical pedagogy rather than modern critical academic method.  Yangga was very critical of rhetoric, and had a talent for spotting unspoken agendas.  He was also deeply aware of the importance and status of evidence — and the implications of the lack thereof — in historiography.  in many ways Yangga was a perfect example of the keen values and capabilities that the very texts I was reading with him were promoting as the virtues of the ideal doctor.   Yangga taught me to recognize sarcasm and irony, for example, in the way that Zur mkhar ba Blo gros rgyal po portrayed the authorship of Rgyud bzhi, which I never would have recognized on my own.  And I remember him chuckling on many occasions at the audacity of some of Sde srid Sangs rgyas rgya mtsho’s own barbs about his colleagues and his fierce criticism thereof.

Yangga too was fierce as a professional academic.  He told me that when he returned to Lhasa and gave a talk to an audience of Tibetan doctors and scholars on the paucity of evidence that our stories about Yuthok the Elder are historically true, some of the elder scholars in the audience wept.  Poignant as the moment was, the story also shows that in order to weep, his audience must have been convinced by him.  And that shows their own basic respect for facts, evidence, and historiographical reasoning — all mainstay values in traditional Tibetan medical pedagogy and scholasticism.

I perceived the gravity of Yangga’s physical condition by early 2022, when he had to return  to the hospital for more treatment. I was gripped by a sudden fear he might die.  I shared my fear with him in a text message — we were corresponding on about a monthly basis.  He wrote back to me, “My mind is fine.  I am not so worried about the disease.  It depends on my own karma.”

He also told me at that time the names of some of his students, including his best ones, of which there are now many.  And we discussed the location of some important manuscripts, although Yangga reminded me that the majority of the rare ancient medical manuscripts that were preserved in the Potala have recently all been published and distributed to libraries around the world. The main set, edited by Ye shes Yang ‘dzoms and  Yum pa, is entitled Gangs ljongs sman rtsis rig mdzod chen mo,  Bejing, Bod rig pa dpe skrun khang, 2016 and consists in 130 vols. A second set of 30 volumes, also from the Potala, is entitled Krung go’i bod lugs gso rig rtsa che’i dpe rnying kun btus or China’s Traditional Tibetan Medical Texts, and was compiled by Gso rig slob grva chen mo under the direction of Nyi ma Tshe ring and published in Lhasa in 2013 by Bod ljongs mi dmangs dpe skrun khang.

According to his own wishes and instructions, Yangga’s body was brought back from Chengdu, carried by his younger brother.  It was cremated in the great holy site of Samye Chimphu, according to Gen Yanggala’s own wishes.

Deep thanks to Tsultrim Padmo Drushik, Karma Topdhen, William McGrath, Yangbum Gyal, Sun Penghao, Yumpa, Mingji Cuomo, Donald Lopez, Hanna Havnevik, and Leonard van der Kuijp for providing information contributing to this Obituary.

IN MEMORIAM: Erberto Lo Bue (1946-2022)

John Bray and Amy Heller

Erberto Lo Bue, who passed away in November 2022, was a distinguished scholar of Tibetan and Himalayan art history. His wide range of interests included contemporary sculptors from Nepal and Ladakh, the art of the Great Stupa in Gyantse and the love songs of the Sixth Dalai Lama.  In the course of his career, he prepared some 200 longer and shorter academic publications, including research papers, monographs, exhibition catalogues and edited volumes. His final post was as Associate Professor at the University of Bologna, and he remained active in research and writing long after his retirement in 2012.

Erberto in front of his birthplace, 2019. Photo: Guido Vogliotti.

Erberto was born in Torre Pellice in the alpine foothills of northern Italy on 30 July 1946. His father, Francesco Lo Bue, was a teacher of Latin and Greek who also served as a minister of the Waldensian Church. The Waldensians are a small denomination that dates back to the 12th century and later became aligned with the Reformed tradition of Protestant Christianity. Erberto was the eldest son, followed by two younger sisters.

According to Erberto himself, he had two distinguishing features as a child: the first was an insatiable sense of curiosity, and the second was a desire to impose order and tidiness, first on the things in his own room and then on the rest of the house. In these two qualities we can perhaps discern his future vocation for scholarly enquiry combined with a parallel vocation as an exhibition curator, selecting, documenting and explaining the best work of his chosen artists. 

Francesco Lo Bue, who passed away when Erberto was only nine, always insisted that his son should make up his own mind on religious matters. Ultimately, Erberto never sought baptism but he took pride in his father’s legacy, especially including his role in Italy’s anti-fascist resistance between 1943 and 1945. He also remarked that his own links with the Waldensians had increased his sympathy for other minority groups in both Europe and Asia, including Tibet.

Growing up in Torre Pellice, Erberto developed a love of nature and of hiking. He retained these loves throughout his life, while extending his horizons through increasingly adventurous travel. Shortly before his final year at high school, he travelled by train and hitchhiking to England and Scotland before embarking on a fishing vessel bound for Norway, and then travelling through Scandinavia to Germany.

After his high school education, Erberto studied for a Laurea (honours degree) in Foreign Languages and Literatures at the University of Venice. His choice of subject was motivated by the desire to be able to communicate as effectively as possible wherever he travelled. He graduated with a thesis related to Anglo-American literature and his degree course also included the study of French and German.

Alongside his Italian mother tongue, Erberto felt a particularly close relationship with the English language, perhaps partly because his paternal grandmother had been from England. In his editing work he was always punctilious on the finer points of English grammar and style, sometimes to the point of appearing old-fashioned. He must have been one of the few people still living in the early 21st century who habitually used expressions such as “on the third inst.”, meaning “on the third day of the current month”.

In 1968 Erberto moved from Venice to Switzerland where he initially worked for Vittorio Chiaudano, whom he later described as “an Italian eccentric then interested in parapsychology” (Lo Bue 2014).  Later in the same year, he was employed as a secretary and advisor to the widow of the Italo-Swiss painter Charles Rollier (1912-1968), who drew much of his inspiration from Hinduism and Buddhism. Rollier’s library served as Erberto’s first introduction to Indian and Tibetan art. Subsequently, his taste for travel took him further and further east. In the summer of 1969, he travelled overland to Turkey and the following year to Iran and Afghanistan.

An exhibition on Tantra at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1971 provided a further stimulus for Erberto’s growing Asian interests. In 1972, he submitted to Chiaudano a project aimed at putting together a collection of Tibetan and Himalayan traditional objects to be purchased in Britain as well as Nepal and India, and to “organize sale-exhibitions in Switzerland with the aim of reinvesting the earnings in the purchase of representative items of finer and finer quality” (Lo Bue 2014). This is what led to Erberto’s first visit to Nepal in 1972, and to his lifelong interest in the work of Newar sculptors in the Kathmandu valley. He made further visits to Nepal in 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1977. In 1977 he embarked on a research degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London.

At SOAS, Erberto’s senior supervisor was the eminent Tibetologist David Snellgrove (1920-2016). At one of their first meetings, Snellgrove made clear that there was little point in studying Tibetan art unless one had the linguistic competence to study the associated Tibetan-language religious texts. Erberto took this observation as a guiding insight that determined the course of his research as well as his relationship with his own students. Alongside Snellgrove, Philip Denwood served as Erberto’s main Tibetan teacher, and he later worked with Erberto on the translation of key Tibetan texts.

Erberto working on the Dharmamandala Sutra, 1986. Photo Stella Rigo Righi.

Erberto’s Ph.D thesis, which he submitted in 1981, was on “Himalayan Sculpture in the XXth Century. A Study of the Religious Statuary in Metal and Clay of the Nepal Valley and Ladakh.”  His overall argument was that the study of 20thcentury Himalayan art was not only a subject worthy of serious historical research in its own right but might also help to shed more light on the history of Tibetan and Himalayan art in general. He often returned to the theme of contemporary Buddhist artists in both Nepal and Ladakh in his later work.

Erberto continued his friendship with Snellgrove after completing his Ph.D: he was responsible for introducing him to Torre Pellice, where he bought a house following his retirement from SOAS.  Snellgrove had been a former student of the Italian scholar Giuseppe Tucci (1894-1984) whom Erberto regarded as a foundational figure in modern Tibetan studies. He praised Tucci as “the first scholar who placed the history of Tibetan art within its political and cultural context on the basis of a systematic analysis of original sources, both historical and religious, local as well as encyclopaedic” (Lo Bue 2007). Erberto was proud to place himself in the same academic lineage.

After completing his doctorate, Erberto held a series of temporary research and teaching positions at the Universities of Turin and Milan as well as the Centro Piemontese di Studi sul Medio ed Estremo Oriente (CeSMEO) in Turin. From 1983 Stella Rigo Righi became his life-long companion, often accompanying him in his Asian travels.

Alongside his teaching, Erberto continued to curate exhibitions on Tibetan and Himalayan art, as well as conducting a series of research expeditions, notably to Central Tibet, Kham and Mustang, as well as return visits to Ladakh and the Kathmandu Valley. From 1997 to 1999 he taught in Istanbul on behalf of the Italian Foreign Office. In 1999 he moved to the University of Bologna, where his students remember him as a brilliant and inspiring teacher. Erberto was responsible for the Indology course at the Department of Linguistic and Oriental Studies, and taught Indian and Central Asian art history as well as classical Tibetan. He retired from Bologna as an Associate Professor in 2012.

Erberto (right) in Kham, together with a local guide, in 1997. Photo: Stella Rigo Righi.

Erberto always insisted on high standards for himself, his students and the researchers whose work he edited. When confronted with what he considered to be poor or sloppy scholarship, Erberto responded with a sense of pain, indignation and even outrage.  In print, his words sometimes seemed severe. However, the Erberto whom one met in person was always more engaging than the author of his emails. Expressions of scholarly dismay would be tempered by a shrug, a laugh and a wry smile.

Erberto will be celebrated because of his major contribution to the study of Tibetan art and civilisation.  He will be remembered for his devotion to his chosen field, his insistence on high standards, his compassion, and his joie-de-vivre. Among those who knew him best, he will be missed most of all for his immense personal warmth.

He is survived by his wife Stella Rigo Righi as well as his two younger sisters and his stepson Paolo Buissa (son of Stella Rigo Righi).



Unpublished Ph.D thesis

1981. Himalayan Sculpture in the XXth century: a Study of the Religious Statuary in Metal and Clay of the Nepal Valley and Ladakh. Ph.D thesis. School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. DOI:

Books and exhibition catalogues

1983. sKu-thang. Tibetan Paintings from the Fifteenth to the Twentieth Century. Florence: Mario Luca Giusti.

1990. Gyantse Revisited. With Franco Ricca. Florence: Casa Editrice Le Lettere Turin: CESMEO.

1991. Tibet: dimora degli dei. Arte buddhista tibetana e himalayana dal XII al XX secolo. Milan: La Rinascente.

1993. The Great Stupa of Gyantse. A Complete Tibetan Pantheon of the Fifteenth Century. With F. Ricca. London: Serindia, London.

1994. Le Montagne Sacre. Antica Arte del Tibet. Modena: Museo d’Arte Medievale e Moderna.

1994. Tesori del Tibet: oggetti d’arte dai monasteri di Lhasa. Milan: La Rinascente,

1998. La preziosa ghirlanda degli insegnamenti degli uccelli [Bya chos rin-chen ’phreng-ba]. Milan: Adelphi.

1998. A Tibetan Journey. Dipinti dal Tibet XIII-XIX secolo. Milan: Emil Mirzakhanian.

1998. Tibet. Templi scomparsi fotografati da Fosco Maraini. Turin: Ananke

2001. Art of Tibet. Milan: Renzo Freschi.

2011. Images of Devotion. Religious Sculpture from Nepal, Tibet and India. Como: Capriaquar & Studio Nodo, Pescara.

2012. Gods and Demons of the Himâlayas. London: Rossi & Rossi.

Edited collections

2001-2003. Contributions to the History of Tibetan Art, special double issue of Tibet Journal 26, Nos. 3-4; 27, Nos 1-2; 27, Nos. 3-4; 28, Nos 1-2.

2010. Wonders of Lo. The Artistic Heritage of Mustang. Mumbai: Marg.

2010. Tibetan Art and Architecture in Context. Proceedings of the Eleventh Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Königswinter 2006. With Christian Luczanits. Andiast: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies.

2011. Art in Tibet and the Himalayas. Issues in Traditional Tibetan Art from the Seventh to the Twentieth Century. Proceedings of the Tenth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Oxford, 2003.Vol. 10/13. Leiden: Brill.

2014. Art and Architecture in Ladakh. Cross-Cultural Transmissions in the Himalayas and Karakoram. With John Bray. Leiden: Brill.

2014. Il Tibet fra Mito e Realtà. Tibet Between Myth and Reality. Atti del Convegno per i centenario della nascita di Fosco Maraini. Florence: Leo S. Olschki.

Articles and book chapters

1983. “Traditional Tibetan Painting in Ladakh in the Twentieth Century.” International Folklore Review 3, pp. 52-72. London.

1987. “The Dharmamandala-sutra by Buddhaguhya”. In Orientalia Iosephi Tucci Memoriae Dicata, pp. 787-818. Edited by G. Gnoli and L. Lanciotti Roma, IsMEO.

2000. “On Some Inscriptions in the Temples of the ‘bum-pa’ of the Great Stupa at Gyantse.” East and West 50, No. 1/4, pp. 387-437.

2002. “Newar Sculptors and Tibetan Patrons in the 20th Century”. Tibet Journal 27, No. 3/4, pp. 121-170.

2005. “Lives and Works of Traditional Buddhist Artists in 20th Century Ladakh. A Preliminary Account.” In Ladakhi Histories. Local and Regional Perspectives, pp. 353-378. Edited by John Bray. Leiden: Brill.

2005. “Yama’s Judgement in the Bar do thos grol chen mo: An Indic Mystery Play in Tibet”. Tibet Journal 30, No. 2, pp. 9-24

2007. “A 16th-Century Ladakhi School of Buddhist Painting.” In Buddhist Art: Form & Meaning, pp. 102-116. Edited by Pratapaditya Pal. Mumbai: Marg Publications.

2007. “The Gu ru lha khang at Phyi dbang. A Mid-15th Century Temple in Central Ladakh”. In Discoveries in Western Tibet and the Western Himalayas, pp. 175-196. Edited by Amy Heller & Giacomella Orofino. PIATS 10. Vol. 8. Leiden: Brill.

2007. “Giuseppe Tucci and Historical Studies on Tibetan Art”. Tibet Journal 32, No. 1 pp. 53-64.

2009. “Notes on Sky-burial in Indian, Chinese and Nepalese Tibet.” Mountains, Monasteries and Mosques. Recent Research on Ladakh and the Western Himalaya, pp. 221-237. Edited by John Bray & Elena De Rossi Filibeck. Supplement No. 2 to Rivista degli Studi Orientali 80 (New Series).

2011 “Newar Artistic Influence in Tibet and China between the 7th and the 15th century Rivista degli Studi Orientali 84, Supplement 1:25-62.

2014. “The Painting of Charles Rollier: the Influence of Indian culture on a European Artist”. Marg, a Magazine of the Arts 65, No. 3, pp.

2014. “In Memory of Vittorio Chiaudano (1935-1996): 20th-century Buddhist and Hindu Statues from the Nepal Valley Belonging to the Aniko Collection on Loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum”. Tibet Journal 39, No. 2 pp. 3-35.

2016. “A Tibetan ‘Mahābodhi’. The Main Image in the dPal khor chos sde of “rGyal rtse”. Rivista degli studi orientali. Nuova Serie, 89, pp. 133-146. Studies in Honour of Luciano Petech: a Commemoration Volume.

2017. “Tshe ring dngos grub, a Ladaki Painter and Astrologer”. Tibet Journal 42, No. 1, pp. 3-12

Mireille Helffer: a life devoted to music and ritual

Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy and Katia Buffetrille

Mireille Helffer passed away on Tuesday 17 January 2023. We would like to pay tribute to the friend who accompanied us over the years and to the pioneering researcher whose work sparked interest among young people. In 2017, we presented her with a collection of articles on the occasion of her 90th birthday.[1] In the introduction to the volume, we recounted her personal history, her encounters and her passions in life. Here we take up part of this text to evoke a woman whose enthusiasm for music led her to study Tibetan in order to penetrate the depths of this ‘musical offering.’

Helffer did not explicitly decide, let alone intend, to become an ethnomusicologist specialised in the Tibetan world. This is simply because, as she set out in life, like all the pioneers of her generation, the multidisciplinary fields such as ethnomusicology, and the ethnographic study of the Himalayas did not exist, at least institutionally. As she herself puts it, she ‘was swept along by events.’ Her research bears witness to a path which, through encounters and collaborations, but also by virtue of her perseverance in  pursuing a largely solitary field of study, developed over more than half a century and has inspired several generations of researchers. Three main stages in her career can be singled out. She initially devoted herself to the study of Nepalese bards (Gāine) and, more broadly, to the popular music of Nepal. She then turned to Tibetan culture, proposing an in-depth analysis of the musical aspect of bards singing the Gesar epic, based on recordings made in France. Finally, from the 1970s onwards, she strived to understand the ritual music of Tibetan Buddhism, based on materials collected from monks exiled in India and Nepal. Her numerous publications on musical notations and monastic musical instruments are indispensable references. Her work as a musicologist and anthropologist never eschewed a rigorous philological method. The foundations of her training lay in history and texts, supplemented by years’ practice of museography at Musée Guimet, which explains the privileged place that texts and iconography occupy in her work. It is perhaps precisely in the relationship between the written word and sound that the essence of Helffer’s reflections lies, whether it be the relationship between text and music (as in the epic) or the rapport between music and notation (as in musical notations), which occupied a large part of her research. 

Helffer was born in 1928 into a non-musical Catholic family. She took piano lessons at Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris and met the pianist Claude Helffer at the Jeunesses Musicales. They married when she was 18 and had four children within the space of eight years. However, encouraged by her husband and influenced by post-war feminism, she decided to pursue her studies, which led to a particularly rich, committed and productive intellectual career. Although she was not predestined to become a specialist of the Tibetan world, it was her early academic choices that led Helffer to Upper Asia.

Her career began in 1947 when she enrolled for a degree at the Sorbonne, which included certificates in music history, aesthetics, ethnology and Indian civilisation. During Olivier Lacombe’s course in Indian philosophy, it became clear to her that knowledge of Sanskrit was essential for understanding Indian culture. Thus, in the early 1950s, alongside her classes on the history of music, she enrolled in Louis Renou’s Sanskrit class, to which all students interested in South Asia converged. It was there that she met Alexander Macdonald, with whom she would later collaborate for her first articles. The two of them also attended Rolf Stein’s lessons at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, which were devoted to the Tibetan epic. Helffer’s first steps in Tibetology were thus part of a classical and textual training. It was thanks to her knowledge of Sanskrit that Philippe Stern, chief curator at Musée Guimet, asked her to join the museum’s music section, which he created in 1953: ‘He invited me to be in charge of the record collection he had deposited at Musée Guimet. I started listening to all these records and, little by little, I found myself captured by Asian music,’ she recalls. She was taken on as a project manager for national museums, then, from 1961 onwards, as a CNRS researcher assigned to Musée Guimet where she remained there for many years, keeping her office even after being assigned to the Musée de l’Homme’s ethnomusicology department (1968). During the first years of her assignment, she was still a student. It was a formative period that made her receptive to questions regarding the written word, archives and archiving in music, which prefigured her future research on musical notations, iconography and instruments. She classified the recordings deposited in the collections, puchased records and created the sound programme to accompany exhibitions of objects in the museum. For many years she was the only musicologist working at the Musée Guimet, which enabled her to work simultaneously on various Asian musical traditions. 

In the early sixties, she was mainly interested in the classical music of India but her scientific research took her to Nepal. It was there that she did her first fieldwork (1966-1970). It was during that period that French scholars first carried out ethnological research in Nepal, with a marked interest in oral and popular literature. Some colleagues from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) had brought back recordings – in particular of Gāine songs – and they didn’t know what to make of them. They invited her to join their projects. Helffer’s early work thus stemmed from collaborations with A. W. Macdonald on the subject of the Gāine, then with M. Gaborieau on the Hudkyā singers. This collaborative work culminated in the recording Castes de musiciens au Népal (1969), which features songs recorded by four researchers (M. Gaborieau, M. Helffer, C. Jest, A.W. Macdonald), and comes with two booklets, one in English, another in French, containing translations (prepared with the help of M. Gaborieau) of the songs as well as musical notations. This was an important scientific milestone that was highlighted in an exhibition at Musée de l’Homme entitled Népal, hommes et dieux. Helffer chose the musical illustrations for the objects and slides shown during this exhibition (December 1969-March 1970).

It was also at Musée Guimet that she made recordings with Lozang Tenzin, known as the Hor pa, a Tibetan who had taken refuge in France since the early 1960s and who could sing the epic text of Gesar, for which Rolf Stein had published a summarised translation of Ling’s version. It was on this recording that she based the musicological analyses developed in  her thesis (1972) published in 1977 under the title Les chants dans l’épopée tibétaine de Ge-sar d’après le Livre de la Course de Cheval. Version chantée par Blo bza bstan ’jin. It is a monument of meticulousness and rigour that sheds light for the first time not on the textual dimension of the epic, but on its living and performing dimension, on the musical work carried out by the bard. The quality and originality of this contribution was also recognised by her colleagues working in the People’s Republic of China, since her work was translated into Chinese in 2004. 

It was again at Musée Guimet that she discovered ‘a document containing Tibetan musical notations whose system intrigued me; it almost became an obsession.’ Indeed, this discovery was to be the driving force behind the next three decades of her research, this time devoted to monastic music. From then on, she would no longer work with professional or mendicant musicians, but would instead devote herself to meticulously deciphering the graphic vocabulary and writing conventions of these graphic representations with the help of learned monks. After having inventoried all the notations of this type in the manuscripts housed by the major Western libraries, she met a monk in 1972 at the Tibetan Institute in Rikon, near Zurich, who was able to read these notations and chant them. Noting the interest shown by her Tibetan colleagues in these studies, she carried out a first exploratory mission to a Tibetan monastery in India (1973), followed by numerous other surveys among several religious lineages. 

The year 1987 marked a turning point in her career, when she was at Payül Monastery in Bylakuppe, South India, to study the hitherto relatively neglected Nyingma musical traditions. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche performed an initiation ritual (lung) in the presence of many Nyingmapa dignitaries. Among them was Rabjam Rinpoche, abbot of Shechen Monastery in Bodnath, Nepal. He told her about the great difference in the musical traditions in his monastery and invited her to come and study them. “I accepted the invitation and since then never left Shechen where I was able to witness the whole tsechu ritual. I sat in a corner with the text and did not move. Little by little, year after year, as I attended these rituals, always the same ones, I was able to follow what was being done on the ritual text”.

Helffer’s second book, Mchod-rol. Les instruments de la musique tibétaine (1994) offers once again an impressive synthesis of many years of research, and its contribution lies just as much in the wealth of the materials exploited and described as in the methodology that the author had to apply in order to arrange it. The book presents and analyses instruments from several museum collections in Europe, America and Asia, relating them not only to a rich iconography, but also to the Tibetan texts themselves, from the various religious lineages – all original and unpublished sources, often difficult to access and interpret. In her conclusion, Helffer explains the ritual role, within Tantric Buddhism, of this ‘musical offering.’

In her article entitled ‘Quand le terrain est un monastère bouddhique tibétain’ (1995), Helffer explains at length the conditions of her successive investigations, her methodology, which was always fundamentally empirical, the way she recorded the music (how to record a long tantric ritual during an entire performance? ), the challenges of understanding the rituals (linguistically and culturally), the warm welcome she received or the painstaking work she carried out on these notations at a time (1975 to 1985) when the number of publications or collections on musical notations rose sharply, and thus increased the amount of written documentation to be taken into account.

Her third and final book, Music from the Roof of the World: The Sound World of the Tibetan Culture (2004), is an extended translation of a book that was previously published in Italian in 2000. It takes stock of a whole career of research. It presents for the first time, and with exemplary clarity, the whole range of Tibetan musical traditions, both religious and popular. It is a work of reference unequalled to this day. 

Helffer’s initial training in the extensive exploration of these large areas of Tibetan rituality was at the crossroads between musicology, ethnology and Tibetology, taking into account the rigour and the approach of each of these three disciplines. She was  associate member of the team Langues et cultures de l’aire tibétaine (CNRS, ESA 8047), which later became Tibet, Bhutan and the Tibetan cultural area (TBACT) of the research unit Centre de recherche sur les civilisations de l’Asie orientale. She always took part in the team’s ‘Rituals’ seminar chaired by Katia Buffetrille. Helffer was also one of the main initiators of a solid training course for young researchers in ethnomusicology. She created the first ethnomusicology courses at the University of Paris X-Nanterre (1976) and was one of the founding members of the French Society of Ethnomusicology (SFE) in 1983. From 1985 to 1989, she directed the Department of Ethnomusicology at the Musée de l’Homme. She retired in the mid-1990s but continued to participate actively in various seminars, to publish and to follow the work of students.She was a pioneering researcher and a passionate teacher, supervising many students and taking on administrative tasks. Mireille has left behind the vibrant memory of a person who listened to others and was always ready to help, whether in word or in deed.

[1] Katia Buffetrille et Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy) 2017 Musique et épopée en Haute-Asie. Mélanges offerts à Mireille Helffer à l’occasion de son 90eanniversaire. Paris, L’Asiathèque.

Letter to IATS members

Dear IATS members and participants in the IATS Prague seminar,

We hope this post finds you well after a not totally Covid-free 16th IATS, held in the wonderful city of Prague, and masterfully organised by Daniel, Jarmila, Geshe Nyima Woser and Martin Hanker, as well as their team of voluntaries.

We are pleased to share with you the composition of the newly elected board of advisors of the IATS. The IATS board members starting a 2-conference mandate from 2022 onwards are:

  1. Daniel Berounský (Czech Republic)
  2. Geshe Nyima Woser Choekhortshang Rinpoche (Nepal)
  3. Hildegard Diemberger (Austria)
  4. Dorji Wangchuk (Bhutan)
  5. Iwao Kazushi (Japan)
  6. Lama Jabb (UK)
  7. Pema Choedon (Norway)
  8. Karma Phuntsho (Bhutan)
  9. Françoise Pommaret (France)
  10. Jarmila Ptáčková (Czech Republic)
  11. Françoise Robin (France)
  12. Ulrike Roesler (UK)
  13. Yudru Tsomu (China)

The president remains Hanna Havnevik, elected in Paris in 2019 for a mandate of 2 conferences. Françoise Robin remains the General Secretary. You can find a detailed overview of the board here.

We also want to inform you that the new Advisory board, which met on Friday 8th July, decided that the next IATS would take place in 2026, not in 2025. This is to accommodate the request of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (IABS). Like IATS seminars, IABS conferences take place on a three-year basis, the last one being in 2017. Not having been able to meet in 2020, nor in 2021, they could only convene in 2022. Having had already a 5-year gap between 2017 and 2022, and realizing that coinciding with IATS could be detrimental to both conferences, they asked the IATS board to consider not holding the next IATS seminar in 2025, as the IABS wants to maintain theirs that year. As per item 7 of our statutes, an IATS seminar can be held every three or four years. Thus, the board decided that the 17th IATS seminar would be held in 2026.

The location of the next IATS seminar has not been decided yet. We will write to you in the autumn on that topic.

Last, regarding the “Ethics Statement” and the “Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault” documents, we have heard and received your views and suggestions, and we thank those among you who made constructive contributions. As requested by several members of IATS, find the attached the bilingual and final draft of the Ethics Statement for your reference. The minutes of the plenary session of July 5th in Prague, kindly taken by Lauran Hartley and Charlene Makley, are not publicly available (yet). We will return in the autumn with information about how we intend to proceed with both documents.

Best regards,

Hanna and Françoise

2nd September 2022

In Memoriam: Chen Qingying (October 1941-April 11, 2022)

Chen Qingying

Mr. Chen Qingying, former director and researcher of the History Institute of China Tibetology Research Center, Beijing, passed away on April 11, 2022 in Chengdu at the age of 81. He was born in October 1941, in Nanchong City, Sichuan Province. In 1958, he moved to Qinghai with his family. He successively studied in the High School Affiliated with Qinghai Normal University and the Department of Physics of Qinghai Nationalities University, where he earned a BSc. degree. He also started learning Tibetan at the Qinghai University for Nationalities. After graduating in 1964, he worked as a teacher at the Delingha Middle School and Haixi Normal School for Nationalities in Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province.

In October 1978, Mr. Chen Qingying was admitted to the Department of Minorities and Languages ​​of the Central University for Nationalities, Beijing. Majoring in Old Tibetan and studying Tibetan Dunhuang literature, he obtained an MA degree in October 1981. From October 1981 to March 1984, he was engaged as an assistant researcher in Tibetan studies at the Institute of Tibetan Studies, Central University for Nationalities. In March 1984, he was transferred to the Institute of Tibetan Studies, Qinghai Academy of Social Sciences, where he was inter alia responsible for the compilation of a catalogue of Tibetan books of Sku ‘bum Monastery and doing research on its historical relics. In 1986, he served as an associate researcher and deputy director, and in 1987 he was appointed director of the Tibetan Studies Institute of the Qinghai Academy of Social Science.

Mr. Chen Qingying then transferred to the China Tibetology Research Center in August 1993 and served there as the director and researcher of the Institute of History and Religion. From 2000 to 2004, he was the director and researcher of the History Institute and concurrently served as the doctoral tutor of the Central University for Nationalities and the Southwest University for Nationalities. Within the years 1993 and 2004, he was Visiting Professor at the Department of Ethnology, National Chengchi University, Taiwan, from October 1995 to January 1996, and from February to December 1999, he conducted cooperative research at the Harvard-Yenching Institute, Cambridge, MA, as a Visiting Scholar. From February to June 2004, he was a Visiting Professor at the Department of Religious Studies, Foguang College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Taiwan. He retired in 2009.

Mr. Chen Qingying’s scholarship is virtually unrivalled. He has no equal in his numerous translations of Tibetan biographical and historical literature in terms of their accuracy and sheer volume. His fluency in both spoken and written Tibetan and his knowledge of Chinese materials have allowed him to finish extraordinary translations of difficult works such as the Rgya bod yig tshang, many of which still serve as classics for historians of the Yuan period, and the three-volume autobiography of the Fifth Dalai Lama. In addition, he has published more than 100 academic papers. In the course of his academic career, he was the recipient of numerous awards for his academic excellence. Among other publications, one can mention, with Wang Xiangyun, “Tibetology in China: a Survey”, in Images of Tibet in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Monica Esposito (ed.), École française d’Extrême-Orient, 2008, pp. 611-681.

Mr. Chen Qingying devoted his life to the development and progress of Tibetan Studies and made countless outstanding contributions to the field. 

His passing is a great loss for those who share his passion for the study of things Tibetan.


Leonard van der Kuijp

Professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies
Harvard University



In Memoriam: Dr Isrun Engelhardt (1941–2022)

Isrun Engelhardt (photo: Emanuel Engelhardt)

With the passing of Isrun Engelhardt (née Schwartz) colleagues in Tibetan studies have lost a devoted historian and independent researcher of more than thirty years’ standing. She will be remembered for her articles on the Capuchin missions to Tibet, the 1938-1939 Schäfer expedition to Lhasa, the Tibetan Melong newspaper and “the Buddha from Space”. Equally, colleagues and friends will greatly miss Isrun’s kindness and constant readiness to share information, and to assist colleagues with her great investigative skills.

Isrun was born in Arnsdorf in the foothills of the Riesengebirge Mountains. In the 1950s she moved with her parents and siblings to Icking, south of Munich, and continued to be based there for the rest of her life. She passed away at her beloved home in Icking on 2 March 2022 after a long struggle with cancer.

Isrun came from a scholarly family and was a distant relative of the German sociologist Max Weber. From her youth onwards she struggled with severe health problems but never allowed these to restrict her in following her passions: historical research and mountaineering.

In 1974 Isrun earned her doctorate at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. Her thesis carries the title Mission und Politik in Byzanz. Ein Beitrag zur Strukturanalyse byzantinischer Mission zur Zeit Justins und Justinians, and discusses the politics of the Byzantine missionary enterprise in the sixth century AD. In the course of her studies, she met her future husband Hans Dietrich Engelhardt who later became Professor of Sociology and Social Work at the Hochschule München. Their son Emanuel was born in 1979.

Since there were few employment opportunities for Byzantine scholars, Isrun at first worked as a career advisor for high school and university graduates. After Emanuel’s birth she worked at a children’s library as a volunteer. In 1986/1987 she undertook professional librarianship training in Frankfurt.

Meanwhile, her research interests began to shift towards the Himalayan region.  With her husband, also an enthusiastic mountaineer, she went on her first trekking tour to Nepal in 1973. They were impressed by the kindness and religious devotion of the Tibetan refugees whom they met and, as a result, became interested in Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. They therefore seized the opportunity to visit Ladakh when it was opened to foreign tourism after 1974. Several more visits and trekking tours followed, and in 1994 Isrun went on her first trip to central Tibet. These personal encounters with the peoples of the Himalayan borderlands and the Tibetan diaspora led Isrun to resume her academic career with some four years studying Tibetan at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Bonn in the early 1990s.

Isrun taking part in an interview, Dharamsala, 1997. Photo: Bianca Horlemann

Since Isrun had already established her academic credentials with her doctorate, she never felt the need to register for a further degree in Tibetan Studies. However, she received a research grant from the prestigious Gerda Henkel Foundation for a project on the 1938-1939 German expedition to Tibet led by Ernst Schäfer, showing how it was caught in the crossfire between politics and scientific research. The fruits of her work include the beautifully produced edited publication Tibet in 1938-1939 (2007), which highlights the photographs taken by expedition members in Sikkim and Lhasa.

Isrun was often called to distinguish between “fact and fiction” regarding the expedition’s links with the Nazi administration as well as the alleged esoteric aspects of its work. In this regard, one of her most notable contributions was her 2017 article on the provenance of the “Buddha from Space”, a statue which had apparently been fashioned out of metal deriving from a meteorite. Numerous press articles and blogposts suggested that the statue had been taken from Tibet by the Schäfer expedition in 1939. Isrun convincingly argued that the statue had most probably been designed and made for the eccentric Russian orientalist and artist Nikolai Roerich (1874-1947).

Alongside her work on the Schäfer expedition, Isrun took particular pleasure in the history of the Melong (Yul phyogs so so’i gsar ‘gyur me long), the monthly newspaper published from Kalimpong between 1925 and 1963 by Gegen Dorje Tharchin (1890-1976). In a series of articles, she drew out the distinctive characteristics of the paper and its editor, including its reporting of international news, its innovative use of cartoons and Tharchin’s “one-man war against Mao”. The Melong provides valuable insights on a range of topics linked to 20th century Tibet and Isrun readily shared these with other researchers.

Isrun was the most encouraging of colleagues, taking as much pleasure in other people’s discoveries as her own. Perhaps her most outstanding characteristic was her generosity in sharing source materials, often going far out of her way to make them available to individual researchers as well as the wider scholarly community. Among many other examples, she contributed to the Tharchin Collection at Columbia University’s Starr Library, using her own funds to purchase photograph albums from the Tharchin family and delivering them to New York in person. Similarly, she worked hard to collect copies of the Himalayan Times, which was published in Kalimpong, for the period 1947 and 1963: these are now available online through the University of Heidelberg.

Isrun kept in touch with her colleagues and friends through an extensive e-mail correspondence and – above all – through her participation in conferences and workshops. She took part in all the IATS conferences from the Seventh Seminar in Schloss Seggau (Austria) in 1995 until the 14th Seminar conference in Bergen (Norway) in 2016. In addition, she participated in many colloquia organised by the International Association for Ladakh Studies (IALS) as well as other more specialist workshops. Her final visit to India was in 2015 for a conference in Kalimpong on “Transcultural Encounters in the Himalayan Borderlands”. On the same occasion, she took the opportunity to make a side visit to Bhutan.

In Kalimpong with Trine Brox and Miriam Koktvedgaard Zeitzen. 2015. Photo Markus Viehbeck

Isrun was always excellent company, and her conference contributions were unfailingly insightful, often drawing out fresh angles from previously neglected or undiscovered materials. However, many of us will remember her most fondly from her presence at some evening gathering – glass of wine at hand – following a long day’s academic discussion in Gangtok, Ulaanbaatar, Kalimpong, Oxford or Pistoia.

Isrun’s academic legacy includes a long list of high-quality scholarly publications. More than that, her colleagues and friends will remember her personal qualities with warmth and gratitude.

Bianca Horlemann and John Bray


  • (1974). Mission und Politik in Byzanz. Ein Beitrag zur Strukcturanalyse byzantischer Mission zur Zeit Justins und Justinians (Miscellanea Byzantian Monacensia 19). Munich: Institut für Bynzantinistik und Neugriechische Philologie der Universität München.
  • (2007) (ed.), Tibet in 1938-1939. Photographs from the Ernst Schäfer Expedition to Tibet. Chicago: Serindia.
  • (2017). Un mythe occultiste démasqué – les prétendus liens entre le Tibet et le National-socialisme. Saint-Genis-Laval: Akbrieia.

Articles and book chapters

  • (1999) “Zur Ent-fremdung des Europäers: Gastfreundschaft und Abbau von Fremdheit in den Beziehungen von Tibetern und Europäern im 18. Jahrhundert.” In Aneignung und Selbstbehauptung: Antworten auf die europäische Expansion, ed. byDietmar Rothermund. München: Oldenbourg, 183-202.
  • (2001) “Perlen, Pelze und Pistolen: Facetten des Geschenkaustausches zwischen Tibetern und Europäern vorwiegend im 18. Jahrhundert.” In Tractata Tibetica et Mongolica. Festschrift für Klaus Sagaster zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. by Karénina Kollmar-Paulenz and Christian Peter. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 85-102.
  • (2002) “The Closing of the Gates: Tibetan-European Relations at the End of the Eighteenth Century.” In Tibet, Past and Present: Tibetan studies 1: PIATS 2000: Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the Ninth Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000, ed. by Henk Blezer and Abel Zadoks. Leiden: Brill, 229-45.
  • (2003) “The Ernst-Schaefer-Tibet-Expedition (1938-1939): New Light on the Political History of Tibet in the First Half of the 20th Century.”In Tibet and Her Neighbours: A History, ed. by Alex McKay, London: Edition Hansjörg Mayer, 187-230.
  • (2004) “Tibetan Triangle: German, Tibetan and British Relations in the Context of Ernst Schäfer’s Expedition, 1938-1939.” Asiatische Studien 58/1, 57-114.
  • (2005) “Between Tolerance and Dogmatism: Tibetan Reactions to the Capuchin Missionaries in Lhasa, 1707-1745.” Zentralasiatische Studien (ZAS) 34, 55-97.
  • (2005) “Schäfer, Ernst.” In Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) Band 22, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2005, S. 503-504.  [Online-Version]; URL:
  • (2007) “Tibet in 1938–1939: The Ernst Schäfer Expedition to Tibet.”In Tibet in 1938-1939: Photographs from the Ernst Schäfer Expedition to Tibet, ed. by Isrun Engelhardt, Chicago: Serindia, 11-61.
  • (2008). “Mishandled Mail: The Strange Case of the Reting Regent’s Letters to Hitler.” Zentralasiatische Studien (ZAS) 37 (2008), 77-106.
  • (2009) “Nazis of Tibet: A Twentieth Century Myth.”In Images of Tibet in the 19th and 20th Centuries, ed. by Monica Esposito. Paris: EFEO, 63-96.
  • (2009) “Die Ernst Schäfer Tibetexpedition 1938–1939.” In Brennpunkt Tibet März, ed. by Klemens Ludwig.
  • (2009) “Tibet und der Nationalsozialismus: Fakten und Fiktionen.” In Tibet und Buddhismus 3.
  • (2010) “Tharchin’s Melong.” In Hartmut Walravens (ed.), The First Tibetan Serial: August Hermann Francke’s La-dvags-kyi-ag-bâr (1904 – 1907): Facsimile of a Unique Set in the Archives of the Evangelische Brüderunität, Herrnhut. Neuerwerbungen der Ostasienabteilung. Sonderheft 22. Berlin: Staatsbibliothek, 1-22 (separate pagination).
  • (2011). “Praise for Sikkim from 1938: Sikkim in Original Quotes by the Ernst Schäfer Expedition.” In Buddhist Himalaya: Studies in Religion, History and Culture. Volume II: The Sikkim Papers, ed by Anna Balicki-Denjongpa & Alex McKay. Gangtok: Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, 191-206.
  • (2011) “Reflections in The Tibet Mirror:News of the World, 1937-1946.” In Mapping the Modern in Tibet, ed. by Gray Tuttle. Andiast: IITBS, 205-64.
  • (2012) “Tharchin’s One Man War with Mao.”In Studies on the History and Literature of Tibet and the Himalaya, ed. by Robert Vitali. Kathmandu: Vajra Publications, 2012, 183-209.
  • (2013) “The Holy City of Lhasa: Dream and Destination for Sven Hedin and Ernst Schäfer.” In Nordic Ideology between Religion and Scholarship, ed. by Horst Junginger and Andreas Åkerlund. Frankfurt/M: Peter Lang, 207-24.
  • (2013) “Tharchin’s Tibet Mirror: A Christian Oriented Newspaper?” In Historical and Philological Studies of China’s Western Regions 6, edited by Shen Weirong. Beijing: Science Press, 129-55.
  • (2015). “Italian Capuchins as the First Western Healers in Lhasa, 1707-1945.” In In Tibetan and Himalayan Healing. An Anthology for Anthony Aris, ed. by Charles Ramble and Ulrike Roesler. Kathmandu: Vajra Books, 195-210.
  • (2017) “The Strange Case of the ‘Buddha from Space’.” In Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines 42, October 2017, 39-67.
  • (2018). “The Quip as the Whip: Political Cartoons in the Melong.” In Cahiers du Mirror, ed. Françoise Wang-Toutain and Marie Preziosi. Paris: Collège de France, 41-57.
  • (2019) “L’évolution de l’image du Tibet dans la pensée et les écrits de Nicolas Roerich: d’une spiritualité exaltée à un chamanisme dépravé.” In Autour de Nicolas Roerich: art, ésotérisme, orientalisme et politique, ed. by Dany Savelli. Slavica Occitania 48, 201-37.
  • (2020) “An Indigenous Tibetan Name for Mount Everest?” In On a Day of a Month of the Fire Bird Year. Festschrift for Peter Schwieger on the occasion of his 65th birthday, ed. by Jeannine Bischoff et al. Bhairahawa: Lumbini International Research Institute, 245-64.

In Memoriam: Nima Dorjee Ragnubs ར་ནུབ་ཉི་མ་རྡོ་རྗེ་ལགས། (1934–2021)


༡༩༣༤ – ༢༠༢༡

༄༅། ༢༠༢༡ ཟླ་ ༩ ཚེས་ ༢༡ དེ་ནི་སེམས་ཤིན་ཏུ་སྐྱོ་པོའི་ཉི་མ་ཞིག་ཡིན། དེའི་ཉིན་མོ་བྲག་གཡབ་མ་དགོན་ར་གནུབ་ཚང་གི་བུ་ཉི་མ་རྡོ་རྗེ་ལགས་ཨ་མེ་རི་ཀར་འདས་གྲོངས་སོང་འདུག  ཁོང་གི་སྐྱེས་ལོ་ ༡༩༣༨ ཡིན་ནའང་། ལག་ཁྱེར་ནང་ ༡༩༣༤ འཁོད་པར་བརྩིས་ན། རང་ལོ་བརྒྱད་ཅུ་གྱ་གསུམ་རེད།

            ང་ཆུང་ཆུང་དུས་ནས་ར་གནུབ་ཉི་མ་རྡོ་རྗེ་ལགས་ངོ་ཤེས་ཀྱིན་ཡོད། ང་གཉིས་མཉམ་དུ་རྩེད་མོ་རྩེས་པ་རང་དྲན་གིན་མི་འདུག  ཁོང་གི་མི་ཚང་དེ་ལ་“ར་གནུབ་ཚང་“དང་། “ར་གནུབ་དཔོན་ཚང་“ཡང་ཟེར་བ་རེད། བྲག་གཡབ་༧སྐྱབས་མགོན་སྐུ་ཕྲེང་བཞི་པ་དང་། ལྔ་པ་གཉིས་ཀ་ཁོང་ཚོའི་ནང་ལ་འཁྲུངས་པ་རེད། ང་ཆུང་ཆུང་སྐབས་ལ་ཁོང་ཚོའི་ནང་ལ་ཞག་པོ་ཁ་ཤས་བསྡད་མྱོང་། ར་གནུབ་ཚང་ནི་བྲག་གཡབ་ཀྱི་དཔོན་ཁག་གྲས་ཡིན་ཙ། ཁོང་ཚོ་མི་ཚང་ཆེན་པོ་རེད་ལ། ཁང་པའང་ཆེན་པོ་འདུག  ཁང་པའི་མིང་ལ་“ར་གནུབ་རྒྱས་ཁང་“ཟེར་བ་རེད། རྒྱས་ཁང་ཟེར་བ་ནི་ཕལ་ཆེར་ཕོ་བྲང་ཟེར་བ་དང་གཅིག་པ་རེད།

ཉི་མ་རྡོ་རྗེ་ལགས་ཀྱི་ཕ་ནི། ར་གནུབ་དྲུང་ཡིག་བློ་བསྟན་རེད། ང་ཚོ་བྲག་གཡབ་བླ་བྲང་གི་དྲུང་ཡིག་བརྒྱད་ཀྱི་ནང་ནས་ལེགས་གྲས་ཤིག་དང་། མི་གོ་ཆོད་པོ་འབྱོན་ཐང་ལྡན་པར་བརྩི་གིན་འདུག  ༡༩༥༢ ལོར་ང་རང་ལྷ་སར་འགྲོ་དུས་ཁོང་ཡང་བླ་བྲང་གི་ལས་བྱེད་ཁོངས་སུ་མཉམ་དུ་ཡོད། ལྷ་སའི་བྲག་གཡབ་བླ་བྲང་གི་ཕྱག་ཁང་ནང་ལོ་ཤས་ལས་ཀ་བྱས་ནས་བསྡད་པ་རེད།  

            ཉི་མ་རྡོ་རྗེ་ལགས་ཀྱང་ང་རང་བྲག་གཡབ་ནས་ལྷ་སར་སློབ་གཉེར་བྱེད་སར་འགྲུལ་བཞུད་སྐབས་དེར་མཉམ་དུ་ཡོད། ལྷ་སར་འབྱོར་ནས་ཁོང་རྭ་སྟོད་དགོན་པར་སྒྲིག་ཞུགས་ཐོག  སློབ་གཉེར་ཡག་པོ་བྱས་སོང་།

རྗེས་མ་རྒྱ་གར་ལ་འབྱོར་ནས་ཝཱ་རཱ་ཎཱ་སིར་སློབ་གྲྭ་ཆེན་མོར་ལེགས་སྦྱར་སྐད་ཀྱང་སྦྱངས། དེ་རྗེས་སློབ་གྲྭ་དེའི་དཔེ་མཛོད་ཁང་ལ་ལས་ཀ་བྱས་ཤིང་། རིག་གཞུང་སྣ་ཚོགས་ལ་དོ་སྣང་དང་། མཐོང་རྒྱ་ཆེ་བས། ཤེས་ཡོན་སྣ་འཛོམས་ཡོད་པའི་མཁས་པ་དང་། ལོ་རྒྱུས་སྨྲ་བ་པོ་ཞིག་ཆགས་སོང་།

            ཁོང་ནས་ཕ་ཡུལ་བྲག་གཡབ་ལ་བལྟ་བསྐོར་ཕྱིན་པ་དང་། ར་གནུབ་ཚང་ཡོད་སའི་ཕྱོགས་ཀྱི་གྲོང་གསེབ་དེར་སློབ་གྲྭ་བཙུགས་པ་རེད།

ཁོང་ནས་ལོ་མང་པོའི་རིང་ལ་དཀའ་ལས་བརྒྱབས་ནས་བྲག་གཡབ་ཀྱི་ལོ་རྒྱུས་རྒྱས་པ་ཞིག་བྲིས་སོང་། དེའི་སྐོར་ཁོང་ནས་ང་ལ་ཡང་ཡང་འབྲེལ་བ་བྱས་བྱུང་ལ། དེའི་ཆེད་དུ་ང་ཚོའི་སར་རྗར་མེ་ནིར་ཡང་སླེབས་སོང་། ང་རང་ཁོང་སྡོད་ས་་་ནིའུ་ཡོརྐ་དང་། ཁྲ་ཁོ་མ་་་གཉིས་ཀ་ལ་ཁོང་དང་། སྐུ་ཟླ་ཐུག་སར་ཕྱིན་ནས། ཁོང་གཉིས་ཀྱི་ནང་ལ་ཉིན་ཤས་རེ་བསྡད་པ་ཡིན།  ད་ལྟ་ཁོང་གི་དེབ་དེ་མི་ཁ་ཤས་ཀྱིས་རྩིས་འཁོར་(གློག་ཀླད་ཀྱང་ཟེར་)ནང་བཅུག་ནས་ཞུ་དག་གཏོང་གིན་ཡོད་རེད། དེ་ནི་ཁོང་གི་བྱས་རྗེས་ཆེ་བའི་ལོ་རྒྱུས་ཀྱི་ཡིག་འཇོག་ཅིག་ཡོང་གི་རེད། 

ང་ཚོའི་མི་རབས་ཀྱི་གྲགས་ཅན་མི་སྣ་གཅིག་མེད་པར་གྱུར་པ་འདི་ལ་ཕངས་སེམས་ཆེན་པོ་འདུག་ཀྱང་། མི་རྟག་པའི་རང་བཞིན་ལ་འགྱུར་བ་གཏོང་ཐབས་ཡོད་མ་རེད། ཁོང་གི་སྐུ་ཟླ་གཙུག་ལག་སློབ་དཔོན་་་ལི་ཟ་སྦེ་ཐི། སྦར་ནེ་ཌི་་་ (Prof. Elisabeth Benard ) སྐུ་གཟུགས་བདེ་ཞིང་། ཐུགས་སེམས་ཧ་ཅང་སྐྱོ་པོ་མེད་པ་དང་། རིག་གཞུང་གི་ཕྱག་ལས་གནང་བཞིན་འདུག་པས་དགའ་པོ་ཡོད།

བྲག་གཡབ་༧སྐྱབས་མགོན་སྐྱེ་ཕྲེང་དགུ་པའི་མིང་འཛིན་བློ་ལྡན་ཤེས་རབ་ཀྱིས་བྲིས། ༢༠༢༡།༢།༨ ཕུལ།

Nima Dorjee Ragnubs 1938–2021

The 20th of September 2021 is a day marked by great sadness for me. It is the day when Nima Dorjee, son of the Ragnubstshang family associated with the Dagyab Magon Monastery in Yemdun, passed away in the United States. Nima Dorjee was born in 1938, even if his passport suggests 1934, and was eighty-three years old at the time of his passing. His family, known as Ragnubstshang or Ragnubs Pontshang, and the Fourth and Fifth Dagyab Khyabgons were born in this family. 

I knew Nima Dorjee from early childhood. Even though I do not recall playing with him, I vividly remember visiting his family estate situated within Dagyab principality. The extensive family lived in a four-storied house known as Ragnubs Palace. 

At the time, Nima Dorjee’s father, Loden, worked as the Ragnubs secretary and was known as one of the most gifted and capable staff members. As part of the Labrang, the monastic estate, he accompanied me on my trip to Lhasa in 1957. Loden remained for one year, working in the Dagyab Labrang treasurer’s office. In 1954 Nima Dorjee travelled to Lhasa to enrol at Rato Monastery, where he successfully took up a course of study in Buddhist philosophy and logic. 

Once he arrived in Indian exile in 1959, he received a scholarship from the Sampurnan Sanskrit University in Varanasi to study Sanskrit and Buddhist philosophy. Upon completing his studies, he became a librarian at the university’s manuscript library. He indeed became an expert in historical disciplines based on his lively interest in different cultures, various fields of knowledge, and his ability to cultivate a broad perspective on the topics he studied. 

In 1969, Khyongla Rato Rinpoche, a relative of Nima Dorjee, invited him to come to the United States. Throughout his life there, he worked in different occupations. He particularly enjoyed working at the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art in New York. During his time there as a Tibetan art historian, he co-authored Treasures of Tibetan Art: Collections of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art.

In 1995 he visited Dagyab and founded two schools in Ragnubs Village and in a nearby village. Schools, which then flourished for 20 years.

As the outcome of many years of arduous research, he began to write a history of Dagyab, and it was in this context we renewed our contact. He visited me in Germany, and I also visited him and his wife in New York and Tacoma. With the manuscript now typed up, proofread and copyedited, I am much looking forward to the publication of this significant historical contribution. 

The passing away of one of the most significant figures of our generation fills me with a deep sense of grief and the clear awareness that there is no way to exert influence on the nature of impermanence. To his wife, Prof. Elisabeth Benard, I would like to express my most heartfelt condolences, my hope that she may not be overwhelmed by sadness, and my very best wishes for her good health. In concluding, I would also like to use this opportunity also to express my appreciation for her academic contribution. 

Loden Sherab, the Ninth Dagyab Kyabgon

Translated by Chandra Chiara Ehm 

In Memoriam: Géza Bethlenfalvy (1936–2021)

Apart from memories of scholarly nature, older colleagues will certainly remember the conferences in the old days when one would meet in the evenings in Géza’s hotel room, commonly referred to as “Géza’s Bar,” to end the day over a few drinks that he had brought along from Hungary, continuing scholarly discussion of the day, or in relaxed gossip. Géza was a perfect host, and his hospitality was legendary, both at his home in Budapest or his residence in Delhi from 1994-2000, when he was the director of the Hungarian Cultural Centre. “Now that I am not in contact with research,” he used to say at that time, “I want at least to keep contact with researchers,” and he accommodated many colleagues during their stay in Delhi and made them feel at home. In a way, Géza seemed to be predestined for this position. Ever since his high school days, he had been interested above all by Eastern philosophy and religion, including yoga, as well as in Hungarian culture and literature. Cultural relations between India and Europe, with an emphasis on Hungary, also became one of his main research topics, and he dedicated a number of his publications to this subject.

Géza Bethlenfalvy was born on 10 February 1936 in Huncovce (Hunfalva), Slovakia, in a Hungarian minority family. This village is situated at the feet of the High Tatra mountains, and he had the chance to visit its upland areas in his childhood. After World War II his family relocated to Hungary. They settled in Mosonmagyaróvár, his mother’s hometown, the gateway to the scenic Szigetköz region of the Danube with several river branches and islands. He attended secondary school there, and it was during these years that he received a book on yoga by Selvarajan Yesudian from a fellow townsman. He started to do some practice with a few classmates, something that was frowned upon by local authorities because any sort of religious activities was considered undesirable in the early 1950s.

His attempts to enter university education were blocked for two years by the regime as his father’s family had been landowners before the end of the war. Thanks to auspicious coincidences, however, he was finally admitted to Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), Budapest, in the summer of 1956. Here he had to take Hungarian and Russian as a major, but soon “escaped” (he actually used this expression when talking about those days) to Indology, which had just started as an independent subject led by János Harmatta. He also took courses in Art History and Psychology. He was the only student of Indology at ELTE then, before he was expelled from university, and even imprisoned, in 1957 for his engagement in the Hungarian revolution of 1956 and for participating in the commemoration of this event a year later. His suspension lasted for two years during which he worked in a foreign language bookshop, learned to play the flute and even received training as a goldsmith. Thereafter he was able to return to university and finally graduated in 1963 with degrees in Hungarian linguistics and literature and Indology.

At that time, he became involved with Tibetan Studies: he was approached by Lajos Ligeti, himself a former student of Henri Maspero, Jacques Bacot and Paul Pelliot, and invited to join the freshly formed Research Group of Altaic Studies at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and to learn Tibetan. During the next years he first studied and then also taught Tibetan and developed an interest in Buddhism and also in Buddhist meditation, and developed a scholarly interest in European-Tibetan relations and in Sándor Kőrösi Csoma (Alexander Csoma de Kőrösi). In connection with his research on this pioneer of Tibetan Studies in Europe, the history of Ladakh and Zangskar emerged as one of Géza’s major fields of interest, as well as Tibetan Buddhism in general, with an emphasis on folk religion, the development of Buddhist canonical literature, and questions concerning the tantric tradition.

Géza’s first personal encounter with Asia took place in 1969, when he made a trip to Mongolia, which he later described as a first love. He spent three months in the country, primarily in Ulaanbaatar, as a member of an academic exchange programme, and explored Buddhist scriptures there. The following year he received a six-month grant to travel to India, and used this study tour to visit Delhi, Pune, Calcutta, Darjeeling and Banaras, where he examined documents related to Csoma de Kőrös as well as various Buddhist texts.

From 1974 to 1980 he was appointed Lecturer in Hungarian at Delhi University, and India became his second home. He was good colleagues and friends with Lokesh Chandra, who encouraged him to continue work on the Mongolian Kanjur. His endeavours resulted in his first major monograph, A Catalogue of the Urga Kanjur, which was published in New Delhi in 1980. Two years later he published another catalogue, that of the Urga manuscript of the Them spangs pa Kanjur, compiled from a handwritten list and from Dzaya Paṇḍita’s Thob yig. He was particularly pleased that he was allowed to feast his eyes for a short while on this rarity, which became fully accessible only about a decade ago.

Besides philology, he researched the lives of Amrita Sher-Gil, Elizabeth Brunner, Charles Fabri, Ervin Baktay and, of course, Alexander Csoma de Kőrös, and published a volume titled India in Hungarian Learning and Literature in Delhi in 1980. After his return to Hungary he continued research at the Academy and taught at ELTE University passionately with his unique personality.

He held various leading positions at the Csoma de Kőrös Society, Budapest, first as secretary (1968-1974), then as general secretary (1984-1991, when he was awarded the Csoma de Kőrös Prize), deputy president (1991-1994), and finally (after 2001) as a member of the steering committee. From 1992–1995 he was also deputy president of the Hungarian Society of Religious Studies. From 1994 to 2000 he acted as director of the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre in New Delhi. His office and residence on Janpath became a home away from home and a meeting place for many colleagues and friends. Upon his return to Hungary after six years he rejoined the Academy research group until 2006.

Between 2007 and 2010 he was a guest professor at the University of Vienna, reading topics of Tibetan folk religion, tantrism, the Buddhist canons, the discovery of Tibet, cultural history of Ladakh, etc. The students loved him for his unconventional and easy-going way of teaching. His work was always essentially determined by extensive field research in India, Mongolia, and Tibet; in 2008 he joined the Viennese “Tibetan Manuscripts” project in Ladakh and Zangskar.

In the early 2010s he continued to pursue his various research interests related to India, Ladakh, Tibet and Mongolia, while remaining devoted to classical music, fine art and tea. From around the middle of the decade his health started to decline slowly but steadily. He passed away peacefully at his home, a legendary place for numerous visitors, situated on the slopes of the highest hill of Budapest, on 18 November 2021. Alongside the great amount of valuable help he provided to colleagues, his curiosity, enthusiasm, bohemian character and good spirits were irresistible; one walked away from each conversation not only laden with new information (and anecdotes), but a certain cheerful lightness. The international community of Tibetan Studies will remember him as a brilliant yet modest researcher, a reliable partner in the field, a good colleague to all, and a friend to many. On the day following his passing, one of his former students wrote: “if you knew him, you liked him—no exceptions”.

For the English translation of an interview with Géza Bethlenfalvy recorded on 15 April 2017, visit

Publications and Conference Papers – A Brief Selection

Books and articles

“Representation of Buddhist hells in a Tibeto-Mongol illustrated blockprint” (co-author: Alice Sárközi). W. Heissig (ed.), Altaica Collecta, Berichte und Vorträge der XVII. Permanent International Altaistic Conference, 3.-8. Juni 1974, Bonn/Bad Honnef. Wiesbaden 1974. 93–130.

A Painter’s Pilgrimage : Elizabeth Brunner’s Buddhist Paintings from India, Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand. New Delhi 1978.

A Catalogue of the Urga Kanjur. Delhi 1980.

India in Hungarian Learning and Literature. Delhi 1980.

“Bla-ma Bžad-pa and the Rdzong-khul Gompa.” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 34. Budapest 1980, 4-6.

A Hand-list of the Ulan Bator Manuscript of the Kanjur Rgyal-rtse Them-spangs-ma. Budapest 1982.

“The Śatagāthā attributed to Vararuci.” L. Ligeti (ed.), Tibetan and Buddhist Studies Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Alexander Csoma de Kőrös. Budapest 1984. 17-58.

Enchanted by India – Ervin Baktay (1890–1963). Life and Works. New Delhi 1990.

“Frightening and Protective Deities: Sky-, Air-, Earth-, Mountain-, Water-demons, Helpful and Harmful Demons, Spirits, Ghosts, Devils, and Witches in Tibet and Mongolia.” Béla Kelényi (ed.), Demons and Protectors. Budapest 2003, 27–46.

The Mystical India – Through the Art of Two Hungarian Painters. (Exhibition catalogue). Budapest 2007.

India magyarjai – Kőrösi Csoma Sándor. (Documentary video). 2008.

A Tibeto-Mongolian Picture-book of Hell. Budapest 2010.

Conferences papers

1992 6th Conference of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (IATS), Fagernes, Norway: “Golden libation (gser-skyems) to the Altai mountains, a Tibetan text from Western Mongolia” [not in the proceedings]

1995 International Symposium on India Studies, Trivandrum, India: “Historical and ideological background of Indian religious syncretism” [no proceedings found]

1996 7th Conference of IATS, Graz, Austria: “Three notices to important Kanjur lineages” [not in the proceedings]

1998 Nemzetközi Orientalista Kongresszus (International Congress of Orientalists), Budapest: “The work of Alexander Csoma de Kőrös in the context of the contemporary historical-political situation in Asia” [no proceedings found]

1998 8th Conference of IATS, Bloomington, USA: “Notes to the Rdzong-khul lineage” [no table of contents available]

1999 Kőrösi Csoma Seminar, New Delhi and Calcutta, India: “Alexander Csoma de Kőrös, a pioneer of Buddhist studies” [no proceedings found]

Lectures: 2001 Ladakh and Alexander Csoma de Kőrös (6 lectures at the Shambala Society, Budapest in November–December 2001)

For his contributions to several documentaries, see:

Gergely Hidas, Péter-Dániel Szántó and Helmut Tauscher

* * *

The following message was recently circulated by Géza Bethlenfalvy’s family

To family and friends, colleagues, students and admirers of Géza Bethlenfalvy

As you may have heard, Geza left us on 18 November 2021. He was at home, with his family beside him. Thank you to everyone who has already, or will be expressing their love and respect for him in kind messages to us!

We know that many friends want to find a way to take leave of him, yet an obstacle is posed not only by the great distances between the countries where we live, but the dreadful surge of the epidemic in Hungary and elsewhere. So we would like to offer a number of ways in which he can be remembered.

Many of us have a memorable story to share about Géza. We have created a page online where anyone can add their story and/or photograph to remember Géza by. You can write on the page by clicking on the + sign you see at the bottom right of the page:

Géza’s ashes were laid to rest in the Cemetery of Mosonmagyarovar in a close family circle on 28 December. We are planning an English-speaking Zoom event for 30 January at 6.30 pm Indian time, 2 pm Hungarian time, 1 pm UTC/GMT, where we can gather to retell short reminiscences of Géza. If you would like to join us, please let Balint Bethlenfalvy know (

Various institutions of oriental studies in Hungary plan to hold a memorial event in the Spring, where we might be able to see each other in person. A date will be set as soon as the Covid situation gets a bit better.

Warm greetings and thanks,

from Géza’s family

Oral History of Tibetan Studies

Collecting the memories of the pioneers of Tibetan Studies

The IATS is very pleased to inform its members and the public interested in the history of Tibetan Studies, that the “Oral History of Tibetan Studies” has launched its website (, in the context of the 21st anniversary celebration of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies at Oxford. Initiated in 2017 by Anna Sehnalova and Rachael Griffiths, with the help of Daniel Wojahn, the project seeks to build and preserve a collection of interviews with pioneers of Tibetan studies and related disciplines.