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Protecting Beijing: The Tibetan Image of Yamåntaka-Vajrabhairava in Late Imperial and
Republican China
During the Qing, an oral belief identified Beijing with the mandala of Yamåntaka as Vajrabhairava (Ch. Daweide Jingang buwei
, Tib. rDo rje ’jigs byed): a statue in Beihai
Park represented the deity himself, and the Forbidden City, the Imperial City and the Outer City
were intended to be the three concentric rings of the mandala. This Tantric wrathful deity was
thus chosen by the Manchus as one of the protectors of the capital city of the Chinese Empire.
Vajrabhairava was worshiped at the Imperial Court and in the Tibetan monasteries in Beijing.
Imperial translations of this Tantric cycle were also undertaken; while most of them were in
Mongolian, they also included some in Chinese and Manchu. Nevertheless, it seems that this
practice never really widespread among Chinese Buddhists. On the other hand, in republican
China that of Yamåntaka-Vajrabhairava became a favorite practice also of a number of Chinese
interested in Tibetan Buddhism. In those milieus, new translations were made, thus enriching the
Chinese corpus of scriptures devoted to the deity.
The present study aims at evaluating the role of Vajrabhairava during the Qing and in the first
half of the 20th century, trying to understand his position among other Tibetan deities and within
the context of Tibetan Buddhist practice in China proper.
Pour protéger Pékin : l’image tibétaine de Yamåntaka-Vajrabhairava à la fin de l’Empire
chinois et pendant la République de Chine
Pendant la dynastie des Qing, une croyance orale identifiait la ville de Pékin avec le mandala
de Yamåntaka sous la forme de Vajrabhairava (ch. Daweide Jingang buwei
, tib.
rDo rje ’jigs byed) : une statue dans le parc Beihai représentait la divinité principale, et la Cité
interdite, la Cité impériale, ainsi que la Cité extérieure étaient les trois cercles concentriques du
mandala. Cette divinité courroucée fut donc choisie par les Mandchous comme un des protecteurs
de la capitale de l’Empire chinois.
Le culte de Vajrabhairava est attesté tant à la Cour impériale que dans les nombreux monastères tibétains de Pékin sous les Qing. Alors que plusieurs textes de ce cycle tantrique furent
traduits officiellement en mongol, en chinois et en mandchou, il semble que sa pratique n’était
pas répandue chez les bouddhistes chinois. En revanche, pendant l’époque républicaine le culte
de Yamåntaka-Vajrabhairava attira aussi l’attention des chinois qui s’intéressaient au bouddhisme
tibétain. Dans ce milieu, des maîtres chinois et des lamas tibétains réalisèrent de nouvelles traductions et enrichirent le corpus des écrits chinois consacrés à cette divinité.
Cette étude porte sur le rôle de Vajrabhairava en Chine pendant la dynastie Qing et la première
moitié du XXe siècle avec pour but d’analyser non seulement sa position dans le panthéon des divinités tibétaines, mais aussi son rôle dans le cadre de la diffusion des pratiques tibétaines dans le
territoire Han.
t the Shanyindian
, a small shrine on a hill in Beijing’s Beihai
Park, in front of a buffalo-headed deity holding a variety of weapons and
ritual objects, a sign states: “According to tradition, this is the protector
deity (baohu shen
) of Beijing” [Fig. 1]. An oral tradition, which may date back
to the reign of Gaozong
, 1736-1796), identifies the city with
) as Vajrabhairava (“Vajra
Yamåntaka (Tib. gShin rje gshed, Ch. Daweide
Terror,” Tib. rDo rje ’jigs byed, Ch. Jingang buwei
),1 a Tantric wrathful
* This study was conceived within a research unit of the University of Venice, belonging to the “MURST Research of Relevant National Interest,” 2000-2001, coordinated by
Francesco Remotti of the University of Turin and directed by Gian Giuseppe Filippi, to
whom I wish to express my gratitude: “Luoghi dei vivi e luoghi dei morti. Confini, separazioni, intersezioni: prospettive interdisciplinari e comparative.” This project was also made
possible by a two-year research grant funded by the Department of East Asian Studies of the
University of Venice, to whose director Magda Abbiati and vice-director Tiziana Lippiello I
am particularly grateful. My gratitude goes also to sKal bzang rgyal of the Institute of World
Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and to Luo Wenhua
and Wang
of the Religion Section of the Palace Museum of Beijing, whose support was
of primary importance for the completion of this paper. I owe a great debt of gratitude also
to sprul sku Lianbo
of the Xihuangsi
, to Lama Dam chos nyi ma and sKal
bzang don grub of the Yonghegong
, as well as to Renxiang fashi
. I am grateful as well for the valuable suggestions from Anne Chayet, whose study on the Chengde
complex first inspired me to pursue my research on Tibetan Buddhism in Qing China.
The common name for Vajrabhairava in Chinese is Jingang buwei, or simply Daweide,
although different translations and transliterations may also be found in both imperial and
republican sources. The Chinese word daweide, “[endowed] with great power and virtue,” is
employed in Chinese canonical texts to refer to Yamåntaka (see for instance T. 1215), while
bhairava, “terrifier,” is generally translated as buwei
or transliterated as weiluowa
Nevertheless, wei also implies a threatening or terrifying power, thus referring to the same
semantic context of bhairava: “Le fait que Yamåntaka s’appelle Daiitoku [Daweide] en sinojaponais … fournit un argument non négligeable à l’appui de l’identification de Yamåntaka et
] peut fort bien avoir servi à traduire bhairava.” Robert
de Bhairava. … Bref, itoku [weide
Duquenne, “Daiitoku MyØØ”
[Yamåntaka vidyåråja], in HØbØgirin: Dictionnaire
Images of Tibet in the 19 th and 20 th Centuries
Paris, EFEO, coll. « Études thématiques » (22.1), 2008, p. 329-356
Ester Bianchi
Fig. 1: Sign in front of Shanyindian, Beihai. (Photo by E. Bianchi)
deity belonging to the Anuttarayogatantra cycle, and particularly worshipped in the
dGe lugs pa tradition. In view of the fact that this deity’s mandala was considered to
be reproduced in the layout of Beijing, Vajrabhairava should have held a prominent
position among Buddhist deities at the Qing court. Just as Vajrapåˆi was the protective deity for the Mongols, and Avalokiteßvara for the Tibetans, Mañjußr¥ played
the same role for the Manchus and Chinese; thus, the choice of Yamåntaka as a
protector for the empire’s capital city is not so surprising, given that he is none other
than a wrathful form of Mañjußr¥ (Tib. ’Jam dpal, Ch. Wenshu
). Even though
no ancient scriptural account of this tradition appears to have survived, it should
be noted that “this belief lived … in Peking even after the downfall of the Manchu
dynasty.”2 Furthermore, according to one modern Chinese source and Buddhist
masters presently living in Beijing, this belief has persisted up to the current time.3
The present study aims to evaluate the role of Vajrabhairava during the Qing
dynasty (1644-1911), trying to understand his position among other Tibetan deities
and within the context of Tibetan Buddhist practice in China proper. His cult at
the imperial court and in the Tibetan monasteries in Beijing, as well as the translations of his scriptural cycle, will be taken into account. Finally, the worship of Vajrabhairava in republican China and the spread of his practice among Han Buddhists
will also be considered.
encyclopédique du bouddhisme d’après les sources chinoises et japonaises (Tokyo – Paris: Maison
Franco-Japonaise, 1983): VI, 652-670, here 652-653. On the Chinese names of Vajrabhairava,
see Luo Wenhua
, “Zangchuan fojiao zhong de sishen jiqi zhongjiezhe”
[Death and its destroyer in Tibetan Buddhism], Zijincheng
(1997): 10-14, here 14. Also see Ester Bianchi, “The ‘Sådhana of the Glorious Solitary Hero
Yamåntaka-Vajrabhairava’ in China,” in Buddhist Asia 2, eds. Silvio Vita and Giacomella
Orofino (Kyoto: forthcoming).
Ferdinand Diederich Lessing, “The Topographical Identification of Peking with
Yamåntaka,” Central Asiatic Journal 2 (1956): 140-141, here 140.
The oral tradition of Beijing’s association with the mandala is reported, without
details, in Niu Song
(ed.), Yonghegong: Zhongguo zangchuan fojiao zhuming gusi
[Yonghegong: The celebrated ancient Tibetan Buddhist monastery of
China] (Beijing: Dangdai Zhongguo, 2001): 548. My thanks to Ven. Dam chos nyi ma and
sKal bzang don grub for acquainting me with this study: I was not able to trace any other
Chinese source, ancient or modern, referring to this topic.
Protecting Beijing
Beijing city and Vajrabhairava’s mandala
With the title “The Topographical Identification of Peking with Yamåntaka,”
Ferdinand Diederich Lessing introduced one of his shortest but still very significant studies, which is the only reference on this subject to be widely cited by later
Western scholars.4 As clearly stated by Lessing, “The god whose image was supposed to be reflected in the city plan of Peking was one of the most formidable, if
not the most formidable, creations of Tantric imagination, Yamåntaka, ‘He who has
put an End to Yama (Death),’ usually referred to as Çr¥-mahå-bhairava.”5 The belief
that Vajrabhairava’s mandala [Fig. 2]6 was read into the city plan of Beijing has been
endorsed by contemporary Buddhist masters, who were acquainted with the story
even though they could not quote any ancient written sources. A comparison of this
information with the contents of Vajrabhairava’s sådhana and tantras, as well as with
mandala representations, reveals striking correspondences that draw forth a number
of symbolic meanings from each portion of the old city.
According to Lessing, the statue of “Solitary Hero”7 Vajrabhairava in Beihai
represented the main deity of the mandala [Fig. 3]. Others suggest that this position may well have been occupied by the Qing emperors themselves, since they
were considered to be manifestations of Mañjußr¥.8 Furthermore, the Manchu rulers
F. D. Lessing, “The Topographical Identification.” For instance, Lessing’s study
is cited by Patricia Berger, Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing
China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003): 216, note 44; Susan Naquin, Peking:
Temples and City Life 1400-1900 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000): 14 and 473;
Bulcsu Siklós, The Vajrabhairava Tantras: Tibetan and Mongolian Versions. English Translation
and Annotation (Tring, UK: The Institute of Buddhist Studies, 1996): 15; and Michel
Strickmann, Mantras et mandarins. Le bouddhisme tantrique en Chine (Paris: Gallimard, 1996):
F. D. Lessing, “The Topographical Identification,” 140.
Mandala of Vajrabhairava as a single deity on the vault of the Shanyindian. According
to Paˆ chen bSod nams grags pa (1478-1554), the extensive root tantra of Vajrabhairava
included the following mandalas: Vajrabhairava as a single deity, the Eight Vetålas, the Nine
Deities, the Thirteen Deities, and the Forty-nine Deities. However, the short version of
the root tantra, i.e., the version transmitted into Tibet, has only the Eight Vetålas and the
Forty-nine Deities mandalas; it also includes the mandala of the Thirteen Deities, even if it
is not explicitly described. See Panchen Sonam Dragpa, Overview of Buddhist Tantra. General
Presentation of the Classes of Tantra, Captivating the Minds of the Fortunate Ones, trans. M. J.
Boord and Losang Norbu Tsonawa (Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives,
1996): 48.
“By the term ‘solitary hero’ or ‘sole hero’ (Skt. ekkav¥ra) we understand only the father
deity, as opposed to the ‘co-emergent’ (Skt. sahaja) form of the union of the father and mother deities” (Panchen Sonam Dragpa, Overview, 49).
This point of view was expounded by sprul sku Lianbo (private communication,
December 27, 2004) and is also held by Siklós: “The essential point may well have been concealed from Lessing since the Vajrabhairava at the centre of the Forbidden City would have
been the Mañjußr¥ Emperor himself in any protective or wrathful function while the relevant
rituals would have centred around the representative statue” (Bulcsu Siklós, The Vajrabhairava
Ester Bianchi
Fig. 2: Mandala on the vault of Shanyindian, Beihai. (Photo by E. Bianchi)
Fig. 3: Statue of Vajrabhairava in Shanyindian, Beihai. (Photo by E. Bianchi)
Protecting Beijing
might also be seen in the bodhisattva displaying its imperturbable features above
the buffalo head of Vajrabhairava.
In general terms, the layout of the Forbidden City, and the imperial and outer
cities, is intended to relate to the three concentric rings of Vajrabhairava’s mandala.
The Forbidden City corresponds to the first and central ring, symbolizing prajna,
“wisdom.” The walls surrounding the Forbidden City correspond to the mandala’s
vajra fence (Tib. rdo rje’i rwa ba), which is symbolic of emptiness and of its realization; the four main doors parallel the gates to realization in Vajrabhairava’s mansion.9 The imperial city is then identified with the ring of fire, symbolizing karuˆå,
“compassion.” Finally, the outer city coincides with the ring of the charnel grounds,
representing the spiritual path. At the very core of the mandala is the celestial
mansion,10 where the main deity resides surrounded by twelve other deities.11 In the
Tantras, 15). The idea that Manchu emperors were manifestations of Mañjußr¥ dates back to
the seventeenth century, and was supported by Tibetan prophecies speaking of a ruler able
to unite Chinese, Tibetans, and Mongols in the faith of dGe lugs pa Buddhism (sixteenth
century); it was justified by the assonance between the Bodhisattva’s name and “Manchu.”
Tibetan and Mongolian sources from the seventeenth down to the nineteenth centuries often
refer to Qing rulers as “the Mañjugho a Emperors”; however, very few Chinese sources sustain the idea of emperors being manifestations of the Bodhisattva. On this issue, see particularly David M. Farquhar, “Emperor as Bodhisattva in the Governance of the Ch’ing
Empire,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 38.1 (1978): 5-34; also see Patricia Berger, Empire
of Emptiness, 55-61 and 162, and Xiang Si
, Huangdi de foyuan
Buddha-karmic affinity] (Beijing: Zijincheng, 2004): 157-170. For a list of thangkas portraying Qianlong as Mañjußr¥, see Lucie Olivová, “Tibetan Temples in the Forbidden City (An
Architectural Introduction),” Archiv Orientálí 71.3 (2003): 409-432, here 427, note 38, and
Evelyn S. Rawski, The Last Emperors. A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1998): 381-382, note 135. A so-conceived portrait of Qianlong
is reproduced in Yang Xin
, Wang Jiapeng
, Liu Lu
, and Hu Jianzhong
(eds.), Qinggong zangchuan fojiao wenwu
[Cultural relics of Tibetan
Buddhism collected in the Qing palace] (Beijing: Zijincheng, 1998): 88-89; a Tibetan inscription on the thangka states that the Emperor is the “manifestation of Mañjußr¥, dharmaråja of
great virtue.” For two other similar portraits belonging to the Qing Palace Collection, see
(ed.), Zangchuan fojiao tangka
[Thangka: Buddhist painting
Wang Jiapeng
of Tibet] (Shanghai: Shanghai kexue jishu, 2003): 38-39.
In commenting on the Vajramahåbhairava-tantra, Sonaßr¥ explains that the four gates
are the four doors to realization: “emptiness (stong pa nyid), signlessness (mtshan ma med
pa), wishlessness (smon pa med pa) and effortlessness (mgon par ’du byed med pa)” (quoted in
Bulcsu Siklós, The Vajrabhairava Tantras, 28). Alternatively, Cozort writes: “The doors represent accomplishments: the white east, the five faculties of belief and faith; the yellow south,
the perfect abandonment of afflictions; the red west, the ‘close contemplations’; the green
north, miracles. The gateways themselves represent the four meditative concentrations of
the form realm.” Daniel Cozort, The Sand Mandala of Vajrabhairava (New York: Snow Lion
Publications, 1995): 26.
For a fine copy of a three-dimensional reproduction of Vajrabhairava’s palace
(enameled copper, h. 50 cm, d. 75cm) belonging to the Qing Palace Collection, see Wang
(ed.), Zijincheng li de zongjiao
[Religion in the Forbidden
City] (Beijing: Zijincheng, 1999, first published 1992): 3.
It is thus very probable that the mandala referred to in this oral tradition is that of the
Thirteen Deities (Tib. lha bcu gsum gyi dkyil ’khor, Ch. shisan zun tancheng
). For a
Ester Bianchi
city of Beijing, this is represented by the Taihedian
(Audience Hall), which is
square, and has four gates as in the mandala, but positioned differently.12 In its ceiling are nine niches [Fig. 4], which in Vajrabhairava’s mansion house nine out of the
thirteen deities.13 The interior of the celestial mansion, as well as the Taihedian, is
divided into five parts; the center is occupied in the former by the inner lotus or seat
of Vajrabhairava, and in the latter by the emperor’s throne.
Fig. 4: Nine niches on the ceiling of the Taihedian, Forbidden City.
(Photo by E. Bianchi)
reproduction of such a mandala, belonging to the Qing Palace Collection and dating back
to the eighteenth century, see Wang Jiapeng, Zangchuan fojiao tangka, 232. The thirteen deities of the mandala include Vajrabhairava himself, and represent the thirteen stages of the path
described in the Yamåntaka tantras. Among them there are the five J¥nas, with Vajrabhairava
in central position on behalf of Ak obhya, the head of his own lineage. On this issue, Beer
writes: “The central and the eastern positions of Akshobhya and Vairochana are frequently
interchanged. Most of the yoga tantras (the third of the four classes of tantras), for example, have the peaceful white form of Vairochana at their centre, whilst many of the anuttarayoga tantras (the highest of the four classes of tantras) … have blue Akshobhya at their centre.”
Robert Beer, The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motivs (London: Serindia Publications,
1999): 92.
The Taihedian has three front doors and a rear gate, while the four doors of Vajrabhairava’s mansion open to the four cardinal points. On the Confucian-inspired symbolism of the Taihedian and its throne, particularly in regard to the accession ritual, see E. S.
Rawski, The Last Emperors, 203-207.
In reality, these nine niches are not so clearly outlined on the ceiling of the Taihedian:
“If one disregards the columns which support the heavy roof except for those four which
mark the corners of the place occupied by the throne, then the coffers in the ceiling constitute a regular square, divided into nine small squares” (F. D. Lessing, “The Topographical
Identification,” 141). The remaining four deities are gate guardians and are consequently collocated with the four main entrances to Vajrabhairava’s mansion.
Protecting Beijing
Finally, Vajrabhairava’s palace stands on a huge blue foundation, symbolizing
Ak obhya, inside which a cross vajra is inserted.14 According to a belief referred to
by Lessing, such a vajra is said to be buried under the steps leading to the dais on
which the throne stands in the Taihedian.15 In the Vajrayana tradition, the vajra
cross is collocated with the base of Mount Meru (i.e., the axis mundi), which in
fact is represented by the shape of an overturned pyramid positioned below it in
Vajrabhairava’s mandala. According to such symbolism, the emperor’s throne in
the Taihedian of the Forbidden City would be identified with the very center of the
manifested world.
Images and worship of Vajrabhairava in Beijing
The dGe lugs pa cult of Yamåntaka as Vajrabhairava first entered the Chinese
court at the beginning of the fifteenth century.16 Even if Ming emperors generally
preferred Chinese Buddhism, Chengzu
, 1403-1425), and to some
extent Taizu
, 1368-1399)17 and Xuanzong
1426-1436),18 were also interested in Tibetan Buddhism. Chengzu, who had Tibetan
images (including Vajrabhairava) produced and presented to high lamas,19 was more
inclined towards the Karma pa tradition, which was favored by the Tibetan ruling
The vajra cross (Skt. vißvavajra, Tib. rdo rje rgya gram), also called “universal vajra,”
symbolizes the Absolute, or the stability principle of worldly manifestation. It has five colors (white in the east, yellow in the south, red in the west, green in the north and blue in the
center) representing the five J¥nas. See R. Beer, The Encyclopedia, 239-243.
This detail was unknown to all the Buddhist masters I interviewed.
A cult to Vajrabhairava seems to have already reached the court during the Yuan
dynasty (1279-1368), according to a mandala of the fourteenth century showing, on its lower-left side, two seated Mongolian patrons, identified as two great-grandsons of Khubilai;
Heather Stoddard suggests that they could be Togh Temur and Koshila, who might have
received Vajrabhairava’s initiation around the years 1328-1329. Patricia Berger, “Preserving
the Nation: The Political Uses of Tantric Art in China,” in Latter Days of the Law. Images
of Chinese Buddhism 850-1850, ed. Marsha Weidner (Honolulu: Spencer Museum of Art,
1994): 89-123, here 104-105 (citing an unpublished report by Heather Stoddard). Moreover,
it should be mentioned that the Chinese canonical texts T. 1217, T. 890 and T. 891, all attributed to Faxian
(?-1001), present descriptions of Yamåntaka which may well refer to
Vajrabhairava (R. Duquenne, “Daiitoku,” 665).
Taizu, who was a devout Buddhist, sent Chinese monks to Tibet, including Zongle
, and Zhiguang
(?-1435), the most important translator of Tibetan texts during
the Ming. Lü Jianfu
, Zhongguo mijiao shi
[A history of Chinese Tantric
Buddhism] (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue, 1995): 543.
Like Chengzu, Emperor Xuande also invited Shåkya ye shes to his court (1426-1435).
See Huang Hao
, Zai Beijing de zangzu wenwu
[Cultural objects of the
Tibetans in Beijing] (Beijing: Minzu, 1993): 33, and Suonan Cairang
, Xizang mijiao
[A history of Tibetan Vajrayana] (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue, 1998): 567.
A statue of Vajrabhairava (Yongle reign period) is reproduced in Heather Karmay,
Early Sino-Tibetan Art (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1975): 91.
Ester Bianchi
clans of the time.20 Nevertheless, during his reign, Byams chen Chos rje Shåkya
ye shes (1354-1435), one of Tsong kha pa’s closest disciples, went to Beijing (14141416), and is said to have initiated the emperor and his court into Tantric practices, including the Forty-nine Deities Vajrabhairava.21 Among later emperors, Wuzong
, 1506-1521), “an enthusiastic devotee of Tibetan Buddhism,”2 2
also favored the production of Tibetan art in Beijing; a group of paintings from his
reign include a thangka of Vajrabhairava.23 However, it was during the Qing dynasty that the cult of Vajrabhairava became widespread in Beijing’s imperial and Tibetan
milieus. Since Vajrabhairava is one of the three main dGe lugs pa deities, together
with Guhyasamåja (Tib. gSang ’dus, Ch. Miji
) and Sa vara (Tib. bDe mchog,
), it was very natural for this deity to be elevated to the top of the
Ch. Shengle
Buddhist pantheon at the Manchu court, given the court’s inclination towards the
school of Tsong kha pa, founder of the dGe lugs pa tradition.24
Even if the first Manchu emperors did show some interest in Tibetan Buddhism,25
its “golden age” at the Qing court came with Qianlong, who proved to be a devout
Chengzu invited and received at his court the fifth Karma pa De bzhin gshegs pa
(1384-1415). Elliot Sperling, “The 5th Karma-pa and some aspects of the relationship
between Tibet and the early Ming,” in Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson, eds.
Michael Aris and Aung San Suu Kyi (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1980): 280-289. The
same emperor appointed altogether eight Tibetan religious dignitaries to China, including Tsong kha pa. At least two imperial delegations were sent to Lhasa for this purpose (H.
Karmay, Early Sino-Tibetan, 73-74).
The other Tantric practices transmitted by Shåkya ye shes to Chengzu were those of
Guhyasamåja, Hevajra, Sa vara and Bhai ajyaguru (Suonan Cairang, Xizang, 566). No other
eminent dGe lugs pa master seems to have inherited his influence at the Chinese court.
Still, his activities were of primary importance, since they introduced Tsong kha pa’s teachings in China for the first time. See Huang Hao, Zai Beijing, 31-33, Suonan Cairang, Xizang,
565-568, and H. Karmay, Early Sino-Tibetan, 80-83.
Marsha Weidner, “Buddhist Pictorial Art in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644): Patronage,
Regionalism and Internationalism,” in Latter Days, ed. M. Weidner, 51-88, here 59.
These pictures, dated 1512, were made for dPal ldan rin po che, an important lama
residing in Beijing, and were most probably produced in China. See M. Weidner, “Buddhist
Pictorial Art,” 59 and 250-253 (for the analysis and reproduction of Vajrabhairava’s thangka).
Tsong kha pa is said to have conducted a service devoted to each of the three yi dam
every day. F. D. Lessing, Yung-ho-kung. An Iconography of the Lamaist Cathedral in Peking. With
notes on Lamaist Mythology and Cult (Stockholm – Goteborg: Elanders Boktryckeri Aktiebolag,
1942): 91. Moreover, according to lHun grub paˆ ita Blo bzang lhun grub, Mañjußr¥ revealed
five features of the Vajrabhairava cycle to the founder of the dGe lugs pas, stating that it
included the main features of Guhyasamåja and Sa vara. See B. Siklós, The Vajrabhairava
Tantras, 4-5, and Sharpa Tulku, and Richard Guard, Self-initiation of Vajra bhairava. By
Phabongkha Kyabje Dechen Nyingpo (Dharamsala – Delhi: Library of Tibetan Works and
Archives, 1991): vii.
Among Qianlong’s predecessors, both Shizu
, 1644-1661) and
, 1723-1736) seem to have preferred Chan Buddhism; the latter was also devoted to Daoism. Shengzu
, 1662-1723), on the other hand,
was mainly an adherent of Confucianism. However, all of them were also inclined towards
Tibetan Buddhism, as proved by their role in the building of Tibetan temples in Beijing, on
Mount Wutai, in Dolonnor, and in Chengde. Kangxi was very close to Zanabazar, the first
Protecting Beijing
Buddhist,26 in spite of some contradictory official declarations.27 Qianlong engaged
in intensive Buddhist studies, received Tantric initiations, and was said to participate
in Buddhist services every day; he frequently made pilgrimages to Mount Wutai, had
Tibetan temples constructed inside the Forbidden City “which could only be meant
for his private practice,”28 and requested Buddhist carvings and reliefs for his personal tomb.29 He was close to the lCang skya Khutukhtu Rol pa’i rdo rje (1717-1786; Ch.
Zhangjia Ruobi duoji
),30 whom he met when still young and with whom
he studied Mongolian and Tibetan. Later, Rol pa’i rdo rje acted as religious and political advisor to the emperor and in 1734 was granted the title of State Preceptor (Ch.
), which had also been given to ’Phags pa during the Yuan dynasty.31 From
Jebtsundamba of Urga, whom he regarded at least with “great admiration,” but probably also
as a spiritual guide (P. Berger, Empire of Emptiness, 26-28).
Emperor Qianlong’s patronage of Buddhism may be exemplified by the fact that he
had himself portrayed in the role of Vimalak¥rti, the greatest and most celebrated layman
in Buddhist history. On this issue see particularly the broad and exhaustive work by Berger,
Empire of Emptiness.
On a stele inscription in Chengde, Qianlong declared himself a non-Buddhist. See A.
Chayet, Les temples de Jehol et leurs modèles tibétains (Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les civilisations, 1985): 60. Furthermore, another well-known marble stele erected in 1792 in Yonghegong, reporting an essay of Qianlong in the four main languages of the Empire, suggests
that he was reprimanded for his interest in Tibetan Buddhism. This inscription, known
as Lama shuo
[On the lamas], is translated in Lessing, Yung-ho-kung, 58-61. Also
see James Hevia, “Lamas, Emperors, and Rituals: Political Implications in Qing Imperial
Ceremonies,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 16.2 (1993): 243-278,
here 243-244, and the contribution by Shen Weirong and Wang Liping in this volume.
Wang Jiapeng
, “Gugong Yuhuage tanyuan”
the origin of the Yuhua pavilion at the imperial palace], in Qingdai gongshi tanwei
[Explorations into Qing dynasty palace history] (Beijing: Zijincheng, 1991): 272 (this sentence is applied by Wang only to the Yuhuage
, but may also be extended to the other
Tibetan temples inside the Forbidden City).
On Qianlong’s mausoleum, see Qingdai diwang lingqin
[Imperial mausoleums of the Qing] (Beijing: Dang’an yuan, 1982): 35-36 (cited in E. S. Rawski, The Last
Emperors, 381, note 128).
Khutukhtu (Ch. hutuketu
) is the Mongolian term corresponding to the
Tibetan sprul sku. Since the eighteenth century, the lCang skya Khutukhtu resided in Beijing.
On lCang skya Rol pa’i rdo rje, see Wang Xiangyun, “The Qing Court’s Tibet Connection:
Lcang skya Rol pa’i rdo rje and the Qianlong Emperor,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 60.1
(2000): 125-163, and Wang Xiangyun, Tibetan Buddhism at the Court of Qing. The Life and Work
of lCang-skya Rol-pa’i rdo-rje (1717-1786) (PhD diss., Harvard University, 1995); his biography
has recently been translated into Chinese: Chen Qingying
and Ma Lianlong
(trans.), Zhangjia guoshi Ruobi duoji zhuan
[Biography of lCang skya State
Preceptor Rol pa’i rdo rje], by Tuguan Luosang queji nima
(Beijing: Minzu,
1987). For a thangka portraying Rol pa’i rdo rje, see Wang Jiapeng, Zangchuan fojiao tangka,
36-37; note that in the upper left corner stands an image of Vajrabhairava.
lCang skya Rol pa’i rdo rje and Qianlong’s connection was often compared to the ‘king/
chaplain’ relationship of Khubilai Khan and ’Phags pa. Thu’u bkwan Blo bzang chos kyi nyi
ma, lCang skya’s biographer, even maintained that ’Phags pa was a previous manifestation of
the Khutukhtu (Wang Xiangyun, Tibetan Buddhism, 294). On Blo gros rgyal mtshan (12351280), better known as “’Phags pa the Saint,” see Luciano Petech, “Religious Leader. ’P’ags-pa
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1737 he became the highest lama in the imperial administration and the supervisor of
all temples and monasteries in Beijing.32 Although in 1745 Rol pa’i rdo rje conferred
the initiation of his own tutelary deity Sa vara on Qianlong,33 he is also said to have
transmitted other Tantric practices to the emperor, as well as to princes, other members of the imperial clan, Manchu officials, and wealthy Chinese. At the request of
palace officers and Chinese monks, he gave a two-day lecture in Chinese, transmitting the text of the initiation into the Thirteen Deities Vajrabhairava to a large audience of Manchus and Chinese.34
Imperial patronage of Tibetan Buddhism continued throughout the entire Qing
sovereignty, which may be explained in part by the strong devotion accorded by
later emperors to Qianlong,35 even if such patronage became weaker as time went
by. Beijing remained one of the major centers of Tibetan Buddhism: lamas (some of
them eunuchs trained for this purpose)36 resided in the imperial palace and on a daily
basis performed Tibetan Buddhist rituals there, Tibetan delegations were received in
Beijing, and thousands of Tibetan and Mongol lamas permanently lived in the many
Tibetan monasteries of the city. In the late eighteenth century, there were fifty-three
Tibetan Buddhist temples in Beijing: including the shrines in the Forbidden City and
in the Beihai area, about thirty temples were to be found inside the imperial city and
around the suburban villas.37 Most of them were still active at the beginning of the
twentieth century, though in many cases undermined by poverty.38
Inside the walls of the Forbidden City, within the inner court, there were temples
meant for the private worship of the emperor and his entourage, among which a
(1235-1280),” in In the Service of the Khan. Eminent Personalities of the Early Mongol-Yüan Period
(1200-1300), eds. Hok-lam Chan et al. (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1993): 646-654. The
title of guoshi had already been given by Kangxi to the first lCang skya Khutukhtu. The same
emperor also chose the Chinese characters to transliterate his name: zhangjia
instead of
(the latter being traditionally employed to transliterate the lCang skya prefecture). See Lü Jianfu, Zhongguo mijiao, 612.
Wang Xiangyun, Tibetan Buddhism, 117.
Chen Qingying and Ma Lianlong, Zhangjia guoshi, 182-183.
Chen Qingying and Ma Lianlong, Zhangjia guoshi, 186, and Wang Xiangyun, Tibetan
Buddhism, 126, quoting the Tibetan text by Thu’u bkwan Blo bzang chos kyi nyi ma, 300-301.
Qianlong is generally regarded as the last great emperor of China. As Lucie Olivová
has it, “a strong, if not decisive, factor of Tibetan Buddhist practice intensity in the Manchu
court throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was the personal religious devotion of Emperor Qianlong” (Olivová, “Tibetan Temples,” 427).
See S. Naquin, Peking, 54 and 303-304, and Evelyn S. Rawski, The Last Emperors, 271.
Interestingly, no Tibetan temple seems to have been located in the outer Chinese city.
See Naquin, Peking, 309 and 585.
Naquin, Peking, 591. For an overview of Beijing’s Tibetan temples, see G. Bouillard,
Le temple des Lamas. Temple lamaïste de Yung Ho Kung à Péking. Description, Plans, Photos,
Cérémonies (Peking: Albert Nachbaur Éditeur, 1931): 29-39; Huang Hao, Zai Beijing, and
Zhou Shujia
, Qingdai fojiao shiliao jigao
[A collection of historical
data on Buddhism during the Qing dynasty] (Taibei: Xinwenfeng, 2000): 67-89. For Qing
administration of the Tibetan temples, see. Rawski, The Last Emperors, 254-259.
Protecting Beijing
dozen halls were entirely devoted to Tibetan Buddhist practice.39 The most important
was the Zhongzhengdian
(Hall of Central Uprightness) complex, rectangular
in shape and predominantly dedicated to Amitåyus, except for a small temple in the
northern courtyard in which Mañjußr¥ was worshipped.40 In the middle of the southern courtyard stood the Yuhuage
(Pavilion of Raining Flowers),41 a four-storey
pagoda built by Qianlong in 1750 and representing the four classes of tantras. On the
ground floor were three huge three-dimensional mandalas of the three main dGe
lugs pa yi dam, including Vajrabhairava.42 The same deities, embracing their Tantric
consorts, were worshipped on the fourth floor, which was devoted to the Anuttarayogatantra: Guhyasamåja in the center, with Sa vara and Vajrabhairava (here Ch.
Weiluowa jingang
) on either side.43 Every year, on the eighth day of the
fourth month, this upper floor was the venue where five lamas from Yonghegong
recited a text on Mahåvajrabhairava’s mandala (Ch. Dabuwei tancheng jing
For a general but still in-depth outline of the Tibetan temples of the imperial palace,
see Olivová, “Tibetan Temples,” and Wang Jiapeng
, “Qinggong zangchuan fojiao wenhua kaocha”
[Investigation into Tibetan Buddhist culture in the Qing
palace], in Qingdai gong shi congtan
[Conference on Qing palace history] (Beijing:
Zijincheng, 1996): 135-152, here 137-139 (cited by Berger, Empire of Emptiness, 97). Wang lists
thirty-five buildings in the Forbidden City completely devoted to Tibetan Buddhism. Also see
Wang Baoguang, Zijincheng; Yang Xin, Wang Jiapeng, Liu Lu, and Hu Jianzhong, Qinggong;
(ed.), Qinggong shuwen
[Reports about the Qing palace]
and Zhang Naiwei
(Beijing: Zijincheng, 1990): 444-448. On the Tibetan rituals performed within the Forbidden
City, see DQHDSL , Neiwu fu—zali
[Internal archives, diverse regulations], j.
1219. Far from being exhaustive, this account refers only to the most important of these events;
in general terms, private rituals within the inner court were not cited in the public records. On
the same issue, see also Zhou Shujia, Qingdai fojiao, 101-103.
Built in the early fifteenth century, Zhongzhengdian was located in the north-western
section of the Forbidden City and, after 1697, it housed the Nianjingchu
, a place where
religious services where organized and where Tibetan scriptures and worship objects were
produced. See Wang Jiapeng
, “Zhongzhengdian yu Qinggong zangchuan fojiao”
[The Hall of Central Uprightness and Tibetan Buddhism at the Qing palace], Gugong bowuyuan yuankan
53.3 (1991): 58-71.
On this pavilion, which was meant to be a reproduction of mTho ling gser khang
monastery (or of bSam yas, according to others), see Liu Sheng
, “Yuhuage yu Sangyesi
bijiao yanjiu”
[A comparison between the Pavilion of Raining Flowers
and bSam yas monastery], in Zhongguo Zijincheng xuehui lunwen ji
collection of studies by the Forbidden City Association of China], eds. Yu Zhuoyun
and Zhu Chengru
(Beijing: Zijincheng, 2002): 100-104, and Wang Jiapeng, “Gugong
Yuhuage.” Also see Patricia Berger, Empire of Emptiness, 97-104, and Lucie Olivová, “Tibetan
Temples,” 412-417.
These huge mandalas (d. 3.65 m), which are ornamented with lace-like decorations of
enamel, were commissioned by Qianlong and were made in the years 1753-1755. For an account
of Qianlong’s orders and the subsequent production of the mandalas, see Qianlong reign’s
DAG, quoted in Wang Jiapeng, “Gugong Yuhuage,” 264-265 and 266-267 (also see 278-279).
For a reproduction, see Yang Xin, Wang Jiapeng, Liu Lu, and Hu Jianzhong, Qinggong, 248.
Wang Jiapeng, “Gugong Yuhuage,” 270. For an overview of the main altar, holding a
statue and a thangka of each deity, see Yang Xin, Wang Jiapeng, Liu Lu, and Hu Jianzhong,
Qinggong, 260.
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).44 North-west of the Yuhuage, Qianlong erected in 1768 a small two-storey
building, the Fanzonglou
(Hall of Buddhism), which was completely devoted
to this same Tantric cycle; on the ground floor, a statue of Mañjußr¥ was enshrined
and on the upper floor, one of Vajrabhairava.45 Among the other Buddhist buildings,
the most important was the Baohuadian
(Hall of Treasure Brilliance), which
was consecrated to Íåkyamuni Buddha and in front of which all major Buddhist ceremonies took place. In addition, statues and paintings representing Buddhist deities
(including Vajrabhairava or other forms of Yamåntaka) were kept and worshipped in
some of the other temples and chapels, as well as in the residential palaces of emperors, empresses, concubines, and princes.46
Out of the eight Buddhist temples in the Western Park (Ch. Xiyuan
), or
Beihai,47 four were inhabited by lamas. On Qionghua Island there was an impressive Tibetan worship place, which was to become Beihai’s principle landmark. The
(White Stupa) was built in 1651 by Shunzhi in order to welcome the
Dalai Lama’s official visit to Beijing.48 Positioned on a hill associated with Mount
Kunlun,49 the Baita was intended to reproduce the homonymous stupa constructed
by Anige in the Yuan era. Right in front of the bell-shaped pagoda, and at the rear
of the Yong’ansi
(Monastery of Everlasting Peace), a Yamåntaka Hall (Ch.
), i.e., Shanyindian (Good Causes Hall) [Fig. 5] was erected in 1751.50 This small square building, covered with about four hundred and fifty
DQHDSL , j. 1219, 2b. On the same day other texts where chanted at Qingjingdi
in Yuanmingyuan
and at Bao’enyanshousi
. Also see Niu Song,
Yonghegong, 516. The useful account of services by the Yonghegong monks in Niu’s work is
, Yonghegong manlu
[Casual notes on the
mainly based on Wei Kaizhao
Yonghegong] (Zhengzhou: Henan renmin, 1985): 147-166.
On every first and fifteenth day of the lunar calendar months, libations were offered to
the Bodhisattva. These two statues are the biggest representations of the two deities inside the
Forbidden City. See Yang Xin, Wang Jiapeng, Liu Lu, and Hu Jianzhong, Qinggong, 240-243.
Some of these statues, thangka and religious objects were imported from Tibetan
or Mongolian areas, while others where made by the artists, painters and artisans of the
Nianjingchu, the Ruyiguan
, and the Zaobanchu
inside the imperial palace.
For some images of Vajrabhairava and of other forms of Yamåntaka, see Luo Wenhua
(ed.), Tuxiang yu fengge. Gugong zangchuan fojiao zaoxiang
[Iconography and styles. Tibetan Buddhist statues in the Palace Museum] (Beijing:
Zijincheng, 2002): 124-139; Wang Jiapeng, Zangchuan fojiao tangka, 43, 168, 241, 255 and 266[Buddhist statues of Tibet]
267; Wang Jiapeng (ed.), Zangchuan fojiao zaoxiang
(Shanghai: Shanghai kexue jishu, 2003): 152-153, 207, 215, 253-254 and 263; and Yang Xin,
Wang Jiapeng, Liu Lu, and Hu Jianzhong, Qinggong, 76-79 and 146-147.
On Beihai, see particularly Liu Xianyin
and Wang Xin
(eds.), Beihai
Jingshan gongyuan zhi
[Records of Beihai’s Jingshan park] (Beijing: Beihai
Jingshan gongyuan guanlichu – Zhongguo Linye, 2000).
On this official visit, see W. W. Rockhill, “The Dalai Lamas of Lhasa and their
Relations with the Manchu Emperors of China 1644-1908,” T’oung Pao 2.11 (1910): 1-104, here
13-18. Also see Ya Hanzhang, The Biographies of the Dalai Lamas. Translated by Wang Wenjiong
(Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1991): 31-44.
See L. C. Arlington and William Lewisohn, In Search of Old Peking. With an Introduction by Geremie Barmé (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1987): 82.
Liu Xianyin, and Wang Xin, Beihai Jingshan gongyuan, 67. The consecration of the
Protecting Beijing
small Buddhas on blue glazed tiles, nowadays enshrines a reproduction of the already mentioned
statue of Vajrabhairava [Fig. 3].51
According to Ven. Renxiang
who was quoting Nenghai’s
(1886-1967) words, the reason why
Vajrabhairava’s statue was placed
on the top of the hill was to protect Beijing by propitiating waters
of the imperial lake, in line with
Tibetan geomancy.52 The Shanyindian was repeatedly renovated during the 19th century, thus confirming that after Qianlong the imperial court did not lose interest in it.53
Another important site in Bei hai
was the Chanfusi
(Conferring Blessing Monastery), a Ming
construction converted into a temple in 1746, and a main venue for
court Buddhist rituals during the
Fig. 5: Detail of Shanyindian, in front of the Baita,
whole dynasty; here, Qianlong had
Beihai. (Photo by E. Bianchi)
a service for the Sixteen Arhats,
Amitåyus, the four great Dharmapålas, and Vajrabhairava celebrated by a hundred and
eight lamas from the fourteenth to the sixteenth day of the last month of every year.54
The Regulations of the Qing inform us that during the same days, fifty-four lamas
statue took place in the eleventh month of the same year.
The original bronze gilded statue was destroyed during the Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution. Interestingly, in 1933 Arlington and Lewisohn were told by Chinese people that
“only a horrible-looking god like this can keep such wild people as the Mongols in order”
(L. C. Arlington and W. Lewisohn, In Search of Old Peking, 82).
Private communication with Renxiang fashi (January 20, 2005). According to Susan
Naquin, in spite of their intention to propitiate the gods who governed the waters that
flowed into the imperial lakes, Qing rulers “built rather few institutions for Daoist clerics
within this part of their domain” (Naquin, Peking, 309). Nenghai’s words may be taken as a
partial explanation for this absence.
Renovations took place in 1832 during the reign of Xuanzong
1821-1851), in 1856 during the reign of Wenzong
, 1851-1862), and finally in 1888, 1895 and 1905 during the reign of Dezong
, 1875-1908) (Liu
Xianyin and Wang Xin, Beihai Jingshan gongyuan, 67).
Liu Xianyin and Wang Xin, Beihai Jingshan gongyuan, 281 (quoting a source in the
DAG). The Regulations of the Qing specify that these rituals took place in the Dacizhenru
(Hall of Reality and Compassion) and do not mention the text devoted
to the four great Dharmapålas (DQHDSL, j. 1219, 3a). For the Chanfusi, located on the northwestern edge of Beihai, see Liu Xianyin and Wang Xin, Beihai Jingshan gongyuan, 107-111.
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chanted the text of Vajrabhairava in the nearby Dayuanjingzhi baodian
(Hall of Perfect Mirror-like Knowledge).55
Among Beijing’s Tibetan Buddhist temples, the most outstanding and important
was the Yonghegong, which had been the princely residence of Shizong (Yongzheng,
1723-1736) and was located in the northeastern quadrant of the imperial city.56 It was
converted into a monastery by Yongzheng himself and later dedicated by Qianlong
to his father in 1743-1745.57 The monastery soon became the stronghold of Tibetan
Buddhism within China proper and was closely connected with the imperial court.58
The Yonghegong once housed between six and twelve hundred Mongol and Tibetan
monks,59 though by 1905 fewer than four hundred lived there.60
As for the cult of Vajrabhairava, an impressive bronze-cast statue of Solitary
Hero61 was worshipped in the Mizongdian
(Vajrayana Hall) [Fig. 6], a blackroofed building devoted to Tantric practices. He also appeared as a gilt bronze statue
in a pentad with Guhyasamåja, Sa vara, Mahåkåla and Yama,62 and, in the upper
section of the same shrine, as the main deity of a painting also portraying Tsong
DQHDSL , j. 1219, 3a. As at the Chanfusi, texts devoted to the Sixteen Arhats and to
Amitåyus were also chanted. On the Dayuanjingzhi baodian, which was located next to the
Nine Dragons Screen (Ch. Jiulongbi
), see Liu Xianyin and Wang Xin, Beihai Jingshan
gongyuan, 98-102.
On Yonghegong, see particularly the recent and comprehensive collection of studies by Niu Song, Yonghegong, and Lessing, Yung-ho-kung, which still stands as the most thorough study on the monastery in a Western language. Also see: RXJW, j. 20, 263-269; and
Jean Bouchot, Le temple des lamas (Pékin: La Politique de Pékin, 1923); G. Bouillard, Le tem, Zangchuan fojiao gusi Yonghegong
ple des Lamas; Chang Shaoru
[Yonghegong, ancient Tibetan Buddhist monastery] (Beijing: Beijing yanshan, 1996); and
Wei Kaizhao, Yonghegong.
On the history of the foundation and organization of the Yonghegong, mainly based
on lCang skya Rol pa’i rdo rje’s biographies, see Wang Xiangyun, Tibetan Buddhism, 91-98.
During the Qing, emperors used to go to the Yonghegong every year on the third day
of the first month, on the summer solstice in the fifth month, and on the thirteenth day of
the eighth month, i.e., on the three days devoted to Qianlong (Wei Kaizhao, Yonghegong, 26).
Patricia Berger defines the Yonghegong as a “lineage temple for the Manchus, established to
honor the link in the dynastic chain between Yongzheng and his son,” but also adds that the
monastery was “both private and public” (Berger, Empire of Emptiness, 117).
Most of those living at the Yonghegong were Mongol monks, since it was conceived
specifically for Mongol practitioners. However, high positions were held mainly by Tibetans,
and from the very beginning the Yonghegong’s abbot was a Tibetan (DQHDSL, j. 974, 1082,
cited by Wang Xiangyun, Tibetan Buddhism, 96). On the place of origin of the Yonghegong’s
monks, which varied during four phases from its foundation up to the end of the Qing
dynasty, see Wei Kaizhao, Yonghegong, 134-138.
Jean Bouchot, Le temple des Lamas, 15, and Wang Xiangyun, Tibetan Buddhism, 94.
For everyday life in Yonghegong at the beginning of the 1930s, see G. Bouillard, Le temple des
Lamas, 97-101.
For this statue, which is approximately 2 meters high, see Niu Song, Yonghegong,
330-331, and Wei Kaizhao, Yonghegong, 93-94.
This shrine is reproduced in Yonghegong
(Beijing: Zhongguo minzu sheying
yishu, 2001): 38-39.
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Fig. 6: Statue of Vajrabhairava
in Mizongdian, Yonghe gong. (Photo by E.
Fig. 7: Statue of Vajrabhairava
in Dongpeidian, Yonghe gong. (Photo by E.
Fig. 8: Statue of Vajrabhairava
in Yamandagalou, Yonghe gong. (Photo by E.
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kha pa and other deities.63 Finally, another statue of him, in yab yum position, was
once placed on the second floor (which was usually closed to visitors), together with
statues of Vajrasattva and Sa vara.64 The Dongpeidian
(Eastern Side Hall),
also called Wudajingangdian
(Hall of the Five Mahåvajra), was dedicated
to the five principal protectors of the dGe lugs pa pantheon; Vajrabhairava was here
portrayed in a colorful clay statue embracing his mudrå Vajravetål¥ [Fig. 7].65
Finally, at the rear of the monastic complex, just west of the Wanfuge
, the principal hall of the Yonghegong, stood the Yamudekelou
renamed Yamandagalou
), where chanting services were held every day
by the resident monks.66 Nowadays, a modern statue of Vajrabhairava [Fig. 8] shares
the place with Guanyu
, the Chinese god of war,67 who was once worshipped in
another nearby building. The connection between the two deities is far from casual,
considering that the Yamåntaka pavilion was a martial tower where officials used to
make sacrifices during times of war, and where Qianlong kept his own weapons.68 In
fact, on the two days of the year consecrated to Guanyu, the thirteenth of the fifth
month and the twenty-fourth of the sixth month, a service including the sådhana
Lessing, Yung-ho-kung, respectively 72-76 and 91. In the same hall, there were also
other paintings of Vajrabhairava (see Lessing, Yung-ho-kung, 109-110).
Lessing, Yung-ho-kung, 113-114 and pl. XXV, 2.
This colorful statue was partially covered at the time of the author’s photograph.
It is reproduced in full in Yonghegong, 66. For a detailed description of this statue, which is
approximately 1.5 meters high, see Niu Song, Yonghegong, 321-322.
Vajrabhairava, or other forms of Yamåntaka, were also worshipped elsewhere in the
Yonghegong. For instance, he was among the deities surrounding Tsong kha pa on a painting to be hung above the offering table in the Tianwangdian
(Hall of the Mahåråja)
on the occasion of a special ritual (Lessing, Yung-ho-kung, 53). Three fine small statues of
Vajrabhairava belonging to the Yonghegong’s collection (one from the Ming and two from
(ed.), Yonghegong foxiang baodian
the Qing), are reproduced in Lü You
[Buddhist statues in the Yonghegong] (Beijing: Beijing chubanshe, 2002): 17-19. A mandala of
the Thirteen Deities Vajrabhairava and a thangka of Solitary Hero Vajrabhairava are reproduced in Jia Muyang
et al. (eds.), Yonghegong tangka guibao
[The treasured thangkas in Yonghegong palace] (Beijing: Zhongguo minzu sheying yishu, 1998): 31
and 45.
Guanyu, also called Emperor Guan (Guandi
) or Duke Guan (Guangong
the famous Chinese hero of the third century, was worshipped as the god of war of the bannermen by the Manchus, who built a Guandi temple outside the northern gate of Mukden
(modern Shenyang) before conquering Beijing, and afterwards encouraged devotion to him by
all their subjects. He was identified with Vaißravaˆa, the Buddhist guardian king of the north,
and with the Tibetan hero Gesar (E. S. Rawski, The Last Emperors, 259). Guanyu also became
a tutelary deity of lCang skya Rol pa’i rdo rje who, in his offering-prayer for this Chinese god,
declared he was the protector deity of the Chinese-Manchu empire and placed him in connection with the three main dGe lugs pa yi dam, thus also with Vajrabhairava (Wang Xiangyun,
Tibetan Buddhism, 137-139 and 315-316). On Guandi as protector deity of Rol pa’i rdo rje, see
Wang Zilin
, “Sanshi Zhangjia yu tade hufa shen”
[The third
lCang skya and his protector deities], Zijincheng 2.119 (2003): 36-43, here 43.
Berger, Empire of Emptiness, 118.
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of Solitary Hero Vajrabhairava and a text devoted to Guanyu, was celebrated in the
(Dharmacakra Hall).69
As is well known, the Yonghegong was conceived as a great Buddhist university with four monastic colleges,70 which were also the sites for Buddhist services.
Chanting sessions devoted to Vajrabhairava or other forms of Yamåntaka were held
in the Jiangjingdian
(Hall for Sutra Explanation), or “Philosophy College,” on
the eighth day of the third month, and in the Mizongdian from the fourteenth to the
twenty-first of the tenth month.71 It should also be mentioned that nowadays, at dawn
on the first day of the new year, monks gather to chant a sådhana of Vajrabhairava.72
Finally, in modern times, from September 24th to 30th of the solar calendar, the Festival of Vajrabhairava’s Mandala (Ch. Daweide Jingang tancheng fahui
) takes place in the Yonghegong; the event is now attended by hundreds of visitors, while in former times it was closed to the public.73 It involves the creation of the
mandala by the monks and also includes the recitation of various texts belonging to
Vajrabhairava’s cycle (first to third day); the celebrations end with a hØma (Tib. sbyin
sreg, Ch. huogong
) rite on the last day,74 thus coinciding with the eve of China
National Day. The Yonghegong monks link these rituals with the belief that Vajrabhairava is the protector of Beijing, and state that they are meant to be auspicious for
the grand event of the following day.75
During the Qing, the cult of Vajrabhairava was also common in the other Tibetan temples in Beijing, most of which belonged to the dGe lugs pa tradition.76 A sin69
Niu Song, Yonghegong, 546-547. The annual ceremonies to Guanyu on the thirteenth
day of the fifth month were celebrated from Yongzheng’s reign up to 1911 (Berger, Empire of
Emptiness, 119).
The four monastic colleges were focused on the following Buddhist disciplines: philosophy, tantra, arts and sciences, and medicine. See Wang Xiangyun, Tibetan Buddhism, 93.
The texts to be chanted were respectively the Yamudagajing
and the
Daweide Jingangjing
. See Niu Song, Yonghegong, 519 and 520.
Niu Song, Yonghegong, 534.
During the Qing dynasty, the Yonghegong was normally closed to the public, and only
opened on certain occasions, such as the masked dances at the beginning of the new year. For
the latter, see Niu Song, Yonghegong, 534-546, and Wei Kaizhao, Yonghegong, 183-197.
On Vajrabhairava’s fire offering, see Sharpa Tulku, and Michael Perrott, A Manual
of Ritual Fire Offerings (Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1987): 16 and
Niu Song, Yonghegong, 548. For a detailed description of the festival see also 547-551.
Among the other Tibetan temples in Beijing, worthy of mention is the celebrated
Yellow Monastery (Huangsi
) which was built in 1651 by Shunzhi to host the 5th Dalai
Lama. The 3rd Panchen Lama and the 13th Dalai Lama also stayed there during their official visits to Beijing. One of the two parts of the building was inhabited by lamas throughout
the entire Qing dynasty. Nowadays it is a monastic college for Tibetan monks. See the comand Li Decheng
(eds.), Mingcha
prehensive study: Danjiong Rannabanza
shuang Huangsi. Qingdai Dalai he Banchan zai Jing zhuxidi
[The celebrated two Yellow Monasteries, place of residence of the Dalai Lama and
the Panchen Lama in Beijing] (Beijing: Zongjiao wenhua, 1997). Finally, even if not closely related to the main topic of this study, which only considers Beijing city, there are two
other localities which should be mentioned in regard to Tibetan Buddhism in China proper:
Ester Bianchi
gle example may suffice to give an idea of the way Han people regarded such a wrathful deity. According to a Chinese chronicle, in Beijing’s Huguosi
for the Protection of the State), Tibetan monks venerated “blue-faced and pig-headed statues, fat and short, carrying human heads all over the body, with ten paired legs
and war weapons, and having a very terrifying appearance,” a description which, in
spite of some inaccuracies, may well have referred to Vajrabhairava.77
Chinese translations of the Vajrabhairava cycle
As a consequence of the support given by emperors to Tibetan Buddhism, during the Qing dynasty the translation of Tibetan Buddhist scriptures continued and
flourished.78 These were mostly into Mongolian but also included some into Chinese
and Manchu. According to Song Zhusi
, the first Chinese imperial translation
of a text from the Vajrabhairava Tantric cycle dates back to Emperor Yongzheng’s
reign.79 However, it should be noted that its title, which refers to a Complete Sådhana of
Vajrabhairava, includes a name for the deity that was presumably standardized during
Qianlong’s reign by lCang skya Rol pa’i rdo rje (Ch. Daweide buwei jingang
The oldest extant Chinese translations of the Vajrabhairava cycle appear to be
three works in a collection titled Three Texts of Vajrabhairava (Ch. Daweide jingang
buwei sanjing
), which include the Precious Basket of the Sådhana of
Chengde’s Jehol complex (Ch. Rehe
), and the various Tibetan temples on Mount Wutai.
Vajrabhairava was worshipped on the third floor of the Pududian
in Chengde’s
. For Chengde’s Tibetan temples, see Chayet, Les temples de Jehol. For
Wutaishan, where during Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong’s reigns thirty-two Tibetan
temples were consecrated (newly built or converted from Chinese monasteries), see E. S.
Fischer, “The Sacred Wu T’ai Shan,” Journal of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic
Society 54 (1923): 81-113, and D. Pokotilov, “Der Wu Tai Schan und seine Klöster. Eine historisch-geographische Skizze und Schilderung der örtlichen Verhältnisse im Jahre 1889,”
Sinica Sonderausgabe (1935): 38-89.
RXJW, j. 53, 847 (quoting the Chongguosi youji
). Huang Hao definitely
identifies the deity described here with Vajrabhairava (Huang Hao, Zai Beijing, 12).
For the translation of Tibetan works into Chinese, see Lü Jianfu, Zhongguo mijiao,
, “Song Yuan Ming Qing yijing tuji”
543-546, and Zhou Shujia
scheme of Buddhist scriptures translated during the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties], in Foxue lunzhu ji
[A collection of studies on Buddhism] (Beijing: Zhonghua
shuju, 1991): vol. 2, 583-604. Also see the contributions by Françoise Wang-Toutain and
Chen Bing in the present volume.
Ch. Daweide buwei jingang zun fo yigui quanjing
. See Song
, “Mizong suxiang shuolüe”
[A short talk on Tantric Buddhist statues] (1936), in Luoyinshi xueshu lunzhu
[Academic studies of the Luoyinshi],
ed. Wu Shichang
(Beijing: Zhongguo wenyi lianhe, 1984): vol. 4, 421-455, here 434.
I am grateful to Luo Wenhua for this valuable suggestion. On the method of transliterating Sanskrit and Tibetan syllables into Manchu and Chinese by lCang skya Rol pa’i rdo
rje, see particularly Luo Wenhua, “Qianlong shiqi manwen aligali zi yanjiu”
[A study of Manchu Ólikåli of Qianlong period], Yanjing xuebao
(2004): 157-181.
Protecting Beijing
the Thirteen Deities Vajrabhairava, the Sådhana of Solitary Hero Vajrabhairava’s Victory
over Måra, and the Initiation of Vajrabhairava.81 The collection was sponsored by
the Xian Prince
,82 and edited between 1741 and 1763. The
Prince’s preface gives a detailed account of the long work of editing. His primary
intention was to produce well written copies of the Tibetan texts; for this purpose,
he asked Chongfan Jingjue
to revise the texts, and asked phonologists to
gloss them according to the national rules. For more than twenty years, he repeatedly had them corrected, copied, and printed, and saw to their circulation in the
Tibetan temples of Beijing. The phonetic glosses proved to be very useful as far
as chanting was concerned, but did not facilitate an understanding of the texts. In
order to make their meaning clear to non-Tibetan practitioners, the Xian Prince
had each of the texts translated into Chinese. The Precious Basket was translated in
1742 by Gongbu Chabu
(Tib. mGon po skyabs), an imperial relative.84 In
Respectively: Ch. Daweide jingang buwei shisan zun chengjiu yigui baoqie jing
, Weide jingang buwei benzun duyong chengjiu yigui shengmo chuang
, Jingang buwei guanding jing
. See
Daweide jingang buwei shisanzun chengjiu yigui baoqie jing
Translated by Gongbu Chabu
, revised by Chongfan Jingjue
, established
by Baerzang jiacuo
(Beijing: 1763; reprint Beijing: 1803) (a copy of the Precious
Basket, presently preserved in Beijing National Library), and Wu Wude
(ed.), Daweide
Jingang duyong fa
[Sådhana of Solitary Hero Vajrabhairava] (Taibei: Haide,
1988) (reprint of the Victory over Måra). The Tibetan text of the Victory over Måra was taken
from a collection of works by lCang skya Rol pa’i rdo rje. As for the Precious Basket, it was
first based on another version and then compared with lCang skya Rol pa’i rdo rje’s text
as soon as the Xian Prince knew of its existence in 1743. In regard to the Initiation, Xian
explains that some bannermen gave him an incomplete Chinese text, and that he emended it on the basis of a Tibetan text which circulated in the city. See Xian Qinwang, “Xu”
[Preface], in Daweide jingang buwei, respectively 2b and 3a, and 6a and 7a.
Prince Yanhuang inherited the rank of Xian Prince in 1702. He died in 1771 and
was given the posthumous title of Jin . The same rank was already held by Haoge
and Danzhen
(Yanhuang’s father) (QSG 5018 and 5034). A more famous
imperial prince involved in Tibetan Buddhism was Yunli
, the seventeenth son of Emperor
Kangxi. It is worth mentioning that in 1734-1735 in mGar thar, the 7th Dalai Lama wrote a sådhana of Solitary Hero Vajrabhairava to be practiced by Yunli. See Vladimir L. Uspensky, Prince
Yunli (1697-1738). Manchu Statesman and Tibetan Buddhist (Tokyo: Institute for the Study of
Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, 1997): 20.
According to the biographical note at the beginning of the Precious Basket and the
Xian Prince’s preface, Chongfan Jingjue was a “great lama” from Lintao’s Chandingsi
, i.e., from the celebrated Co ne monastery in A mdo. His name was transliterated as
(Tib. Chos dbyangs Blo bzang ?) (Daweide jingang buwei, 5a,
Zhuoyang Luozan [¬]
; he died
and Xian Qinwang, “Xu,” 1b). While in Beijing, he used to live at the Cidusi
in 1760 (Xian Qinwang, “Xu,” 4b). Chongfan Jingjue also collaborated with mGon po skyabs
in the translation of T. 927, and is mentioned in the latter’s introduction to T. 1419 (see
below, note 84). On the Cidusi, see G. Bouillard, Le temple des Lamas, 33-34.
mGon po skyabs was a member of the Üjümücin tribe from Inner Mongolia and was
an imperial relative by marriage. He studied “the languages of the lands of the West” during Kangxi’s reign, and was put in charge of imperial translations during the reigns of both
Yongzheng and Qianlong. He is well-known for his Chinese version of the Pratimålak aˆa
Ester Bianchi
1759, all mantras and dharanis were rectified according to the rules of the Tongwen
,85 to which the subsequent translations also strictly conformed. In
integrated into the Precious Basket more than a
1761, Baerzang jiacuo
hundred words that were not included in the first Chinese version. The same lama
was also entrusted with the translation of the Victory over Måra (1761) and of the
Initiation (1762-1763). As for other translations of this Tantric cycle during the Qing,
there was a Chinese version of a sådhana of Vajrabhairava by Ngag dbang blo bzang
chos ldan, the first historical lCang skya Khutukhtu,87 and five more short texts
whose translation dates are uncertain.88
(Ch. Zaoxiang liangdu jing
, Sutra on Iconometry, T. 1419), probably translated from
a Tibetan version of the text in 1742. He participated in the translation of the Mongolian
bsTan ’gyur (1741-1742) sponsored by Qianlong (Berger, The Empire of Emptiness, 84). He
is also the translator of T. 927 and T. 1144. The biographical note at the beginning of the
Precious Basket adds to this information that he was director of the Tibetan Studies and in
charge of translating from the Tibetan and the Mongolian languages for the Qing court
(Daweide jingang buwei, 5a).
This text, whose full title is Qingding tongwen yuntong
, was composed
between 1748 and 1750 by Qianlong’s uncle, Prince Zhuang (1695-1767) and by lCang skya
Rol pa’i rdo rje, and gives cross references in Manchu script, Chinese characters, and Sanskrit
and Tibetan alphabets. On this text, explained as the origin of the ålikåli system of transliteration, see Luo Wenhua, “Qianlong shiqi,” 158-164; see also Wang Xiangyun, Tibetan
Buddhism, 149. The Tongwen yuntong was the basis for the compilation of one of the most
important Buddhist works sponsored by Qianlong: the Yuzhi Man Han Menggu Xifan hebi
dazang quanzhou
(1748-1758, printed in 1773), a huge anthology
of dharanis and mantras, elaborated by a team of phonologists headed by Prince Zhuang and
lCang skya Rol pa’i rdo rje, all of which were transcribed in Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese,
and Manchu scripts. This work was primarily meant to correct wrong Chinese pronunciation of mantras. See for instance Berger, Empire of Emptiness, 39 and 44-45, and David M.
Farquhar, “Emperor as Bodhisattva,” 23-24. Before its compilation, Qianlong wrote a commentary about the importance of the correct pronunciation of mantras and dharanis (DQSL,
926 juan, 457, cited in Wang Xiangyun, Tibetan Buddhism, 149-150).
Tib. dPal bzang rgya mtsho? According to our text, it was a “great lama” from
(Monastery of Buddhist Fragrance), who also operated in the
Beijing’s Fanxiangsi
court’s Jingzhouguan
(Xian Qinwang, “Xu,” 5b). He further completed mGon po
skyabs’s translation of T. 927.
Ch. Weide jingang buwei fo chengjiufa huiyi zhi guansong yigui Wenshu hui yan dabao jujing
. The translation of this text, and of
the texts collected by Xian Qinwang, is ascribed by Zhou Shujia to Chongfan Jingjue (Zhou
Shujia, “Song Yuan,” 603-604). The Tibetan title is given by Siklós, The Vajrabhairava, 257.
For the first historical lCang skya, see Klaus Sagaster, ‹ag dba blo bza ı’os ldan (1642-1714).
Leben und historische Bedeutung des I. (Pekinger) l¿a skya khutukhtu, dargestellt an Hand seiner mongolischen Biographie Subud erike und anderer Quellen (PhD diss., University of Bonn,
1960), and Manfred Taube, “Einige Notizen zum Leben des 1. Pekinger Lˆa -skya Qutu tu,”
Oriens 21-22 (1968-69): 326-356.
Ch. Yama ana daga huixiang wen
, Yama ana daga lizan
, Yama ana daga gongzan
, Yama ana daga jixiang zan
, and Bala duolaji jiga geida ba bo jiga bi’an duo ga zhaila die shuga suo
(Bulcsu Siklós, The Vajrabhairava, 257). For the translation of Vajrabhairava’s texts into Manchu and Mongolian, see Siklós, The Vajrabhairava, 255-256 and 258.
Finally, Song Zhusi mentions that the Chinese Index of Tibetan Canonical Scriptures (Ch. Rulai
Protecting Beijing
Xian Qinwang’s preface also provides interesting data on the practice of Vajrabhairava at the Qing court. Full of biographical details, it informs the reader that in
1735, while in mourning for his wife’s death, he was comforted by Buddhist scriptures
and thus decided to found a “pure abode” (Skt. vihåra, Ch. jingshe
) of his own,
where he later invited Tibetan lamas for chanting services. He studied Tibetan language with Chongfan Jingjue, and chose the Precious Basket for his daily practice, but
found the text too long and complicated. Therefore, in 1743, as soon as he knew of the
existence of the Victory over Måra in a collection of Buddhist texts by Rol pa’i rdo rje,
he decided to dismiss the Precious Basket in favor of this shorter and easier text. The
Xian Prince received the initiation into the Vajrabhairava cycle together with five
other people in 1741; in 1762 he invited a lama in his vihåra to bestow the initiation on
five other people. But he also tells us that other Manchus, whom he refers to as “blue
bannermen,” had also been initiated into the same Tantric cycle, presumably by Rol
pa’i rdo rje at the imperial court.89 The bannermen repeatedly requested the Chinese
translations from Xian, and it was to them that the collection of the three works was
destined. These people, who were not fluent in Tibetan, did not consult the texts in
order to fully understand their meaning (as in Xian’s case), but “made the Chinese
version [of the Precious Basket] the text of their daily practice.”90
Even if we know from Rol pa’i rdo rje’s biography that he also lectured on
Vajrabhairava texts to some Chinese followers, it is difficult to understand the extent
of Han devotees’ involvement in these practices, particularly considering the undeniable fact that the majority of the Chinese people were not concerned with Tibetan
Buddhism during the Qing.91 On this issue, the Xian Prince concludes his preface
(1763) with the following meaningful words:92
These three texts belong to a secret practice. Only those followers who have
received the initiation and frequent Buddha Halls can read them and compredazangjing mulu
), which was translated from the Manchu language and sponsored by Qianlong, includes the titles of two sådhana of Vajrabhairava (Song Zhusi, “Mizong
suxiang,” 435, citing the Wei Zang tongzhi
, j. 16, 219).
See above, note 34.
Xian Qinwang, “Xu,” 9b. Manchu people were more likely to be acquainted with
Chinese language than with Tibetan: “The only possible way for the Manchu rulers to exert
control was to adopt Chinese governmental institutions as well as the cultural soil on which
they evolved, including the Chinese language” (Uspensky, Prince Yunli, 2).
“Lamaism never became popular among the common people, being limited to Tibetans, Mongols and perhaps some Manchu. As to the Confucianist ruling class, it was as
contemptuous and coldly hostile towards Lamaism as towards every other foreign religion.” Luciano Petech, China and Tibet in the Early 18th Century: History of the Establishment
of Chinese Protectorate in Tibet (Westport, Connecticut: Hyperion Press, 1973): 241. Susan
Naquin, who depicts Tibetan lamas in Beijing as being as foreign to Chinese people as
Jesuit priests, adds to this same issue that “the spread of Tibetan Buddhism to the Chinese
lay community was discouraged” (Naquin, Peking, 584). Nevertheless, the same author also
states that the early Ming prohibition against the Chinese studying Tibetan Buddhism was
probably rescinded and that contacts between lamas and Chinese lay people were not infrequent (Naquin, Peking, 589-591).
Xian Qinwang, “Xu,” 10a-b.
Ester Bianchi
hend their fundamental meanings. Those who have not been initiated [into
this practice] cannot even see them. They also cannot generally be consulted
by the [Chinese] monks (seng ) who often go to the court. In fact, there was
formerly no Chinese version; the [Chinese] sangha, in seeing that they have
not been transmitted among the Chinese Buddhist works, is not only unable
to believe in them reverently, but is also likely to give birth to criticism and
discussions, thus accumulating heavy guilt. This collection was composed
to be kept in the vihåra and to permit a comparison with the Tibetan texts.
Unlike other texts, they should not be reprinted and circulated.
The situation changed drastically during the first part of the twentieth century,
when new translations and explanatory texts on this Tantric cycle were explicitly
compiled for Han practitioners. In 1931, the Mongol lama Guxili dorje
(Tib. Gu sri dkon mchog rdo rje, Ch. Guxili gunque duoji
) gave
some lectures on the Precious Texts of the Generation of the Three Bodies in the Practice
of Vajrabhairava, which were later recorded by his Chinese disciples.93 In 1933, at
the Institute for Tibetan Tantric Studies of Beijing, Lama Gongjue dorje
lectured on Vajrabhairava to Chinese followers; together with works dating back to
Qianlong, this resulted in a collection of oral instructions: Mandala Rite, Chanting
Rite, and Notes on the Initiation of the Thirteen Deities Vajrabhairava.94 Other of his texts
were collected in another work, edited in 1938 in Beijing by the laymen Liu Yumin
and Jun Pengyi
, which included the Explanation of the Great Tantric
Fast Method of Vajrabhairava and Images and Generation in the Preliminary Method of
Vajrabhairava.95 A Chinese translator of Vajrabhairava texts was Tang Xiangming
, who lived in Beijing during the twenties and thirties; he is the author of the
Brief Sådhana of Solitary Hero Vajrabhairava, and of the Sådhana of the Thirteen Deities
Vajrabhairava.96 Far from Beijing, another translator was taking on the same task: the
Guxili dorje
, Da jingang weide qifen zhi xing sanshen baozang
(Taibei: Xinwenfeng, 1987, first published 1931). On this master see G. Tuttle,
“Translating Buddhism from Tibetan to Chinese in early 20th Century China (1931-1951),” in
Buddhism Between Tibet and China, ed. M. T. Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2008).
Gongjue dorje
(ed.), Buwei shisanzun tanyi. Buwei shisanzun ziru songyi. Buwei
shisanzun guanding biji
Xinwenfeng, 1987, first published 1933). Note that the text Buwei shisanzun ziru songyi in
Gongjue dorje’s collection has a postface penned by the Xian Prince and dated 1763.
Liu Yumin
and Jun Pengyi
(eds.), Jingang buwei yuanwen shushi dami
sudao. Jingang buwei chujidao quanxiang. Jingang buwei chujidao qifen
(Beijing: Mizang Foxueyuan, 1938). The first of
these texts is attributed to Gongjue dorje.
Respectively: Tang Xiangming
, “Daweide jingang yizun lüegui”
[Brief sådhana of Solitary Hero Vajrabhairava], and “Daweide jingang buwei shisan
zun chengjiu yigui baoqie huiyi zhi guansong Wenshu zhenyan jing”
[Precious basket of the sådhana of the Thirteen Deities
Vajrabhairava], in Zangmi xiufa midian
[Secret compendium of Tibetan Tantric
practices], ed. Zhou Shaoliang
(Beijing: Huaxia, 1991): 659-682, 875-970. Note that
the second text, which is given as the recording of teachings by Anqin
, probably refers
to the same tradition as the text mentioned above, note 87. On this master Anqin identified
Protecting Beijing
Chinese monk Nenghai (1886-1967),97 who operated mainly in Tibet and in Sichuan,
in the 1930s translated and composed fifteen works of the same Tantric cycle;98 the
most popular text among his disciples, also in contemporary times, is the Sådhana for
the Practice of the Yidam Mañjußr¥ Vajrabhairava.99
In regard to the worship of Vajrabhairava at the Qing court, it has to be admitted
that the number of statues, halls, rituals and translations devoted to him did not outnumber those of the other principal Tibetan deities of the dGe lugs pa pantheon, thus
implying that the role of primary importance he was granted was mainly due to the
fact that he was one of the three higher yi dam of the Anuttarayogatantra.100 Similarly,
in the Tibetan temples in Beijing his practice was parallel to those of Guhyasamåja
and Sa vara, as it was in all dGe lugs pa monasteries. Nevertheless, Vajrabhairava
as sNgags chen Khutukhtu (1884-1947) see the contribution by Chen Bing in this volume
(pp. 398-399 note 43 and 46).
On this master see particularly Ester Bianchi, “The ‘Chinese lama’ Nenghai (18861967). Doctrinal tradition and teaching strategies of a Gelukpa master in Republican China,”
in Buddhism Between Tibet and China, ed. M. Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2008).
For a list of his works devoted to the Vajrabhairava cycle (written by Nenghai himself or by his disciples), see E. Bianchi, The Iron Statue Monastery. “Tiexiangsi,” a Buddhist
Nunnery of Tibetan Tradition in Contemporary China (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 2001): 171-173.
, Wenshu Daweide jingang benzun xiuxing chengjiufa
(Ningbo: Duobaojiang si, 2000). For an Italian translation, see Bianchi, “Sådhana
della divinità solitaria Yamåntaka-Vajrabhairava. Traduzione e glossario della versione cinese
di Nenghai,” Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines 8 (2005): 4-37 (Part I); and 10 (2006): 4-43 (Part II).
This text is very close to a Tibetan sådhana by sKyabs rje Pha bong kha bDe chen snying po
(1878-1941), translated in Sharpa Tulku, and Richard Guard, Meditation on Vajrabhairava.
The procedures for doing the serviceable retreat of the glorious solitary hero Vajrabhairava with
the sadhana “Victory over Evil”, By Phabongkha Kyabje Dechen Nyingpo (Dharamsala – Delhi:
Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1990). Nenghai also translated a commentary to
this sådhana: Nenghai, “Daweide Wenshu chengjiu fangbian lüeyin”
[Introductory notes on the practice of Mañjußr¥ Vajrabhairava], in Zangmi xiufa midian,
ed. Zhou Shaoliang, 683-820. For a comparison of some of the Chinese translations of the
Vajrabhairava texts, see Bianchi, “La ‘via del vajra’ e il ‘palazzo fiorito.’ Immagini sessuali in
alcune traduzioni cinesi di testi tantrici tibetani,” in Caro Maestro … Scritti in onore di Lionello
Lanciotti per l’ottantesimo compleanno, eds. Maurizio Scarpari and Tiziana Lippiello (Venice:
Cafoscarina, 2005), 121-131, and Bianchi, “The ‘Sådhana of the Glorious Solitary Hero
Yamåntaka-Vajrabhairava’ in China.”
In regard to the position of these three deities at the Qing court, Luo Wenhua suggests that they were not simply chosen because of their preeminence within the dGe lugs pa
tradition; instead, he claims that Guhyasamåja and Vajrabhairava, both related to Mañjußr¥,
also referred to Qianlong, the “bodhisattva-emperor”; Patricia Berger, in discussing Luo’s
article, adds to this interesting point of view that the third deity was also connected with
Qianlong, considering that he was firstly initiated into Sa vara’s practice. See Luo Wenhua
, “Gugong Yuhuage shenxi yu mizong sibu yanjiu”
[Research into the lineages of deities and the four divisions of tantras in the Pavilion of
Raining Flowers of the Old Palace], Foxue yanjiu
8 (1997): 8-12, and Berger, Empire
of Emptiness, 101.
Ester Bianchi
was the most powerful manifestation of Mañjußr¥, the main tutelary deity of the
Manchus. Furthermore, the Bodhisattva and Yamåntaka were both associated with
the eastern direction.101 With such a perspective, the tradition that Yamåntaka was
chosen as the protector of Beijing becomes more believable, and a special consideration of this deity may be envisioned. Qianlong himself was said to be a manifestation
of Mañjußr¥, so the next step was very logical: connecting the Taihedian, the center
of political imperial affairs, with the celestial mansion of Vajrabhairava allowed the
emperor not only to enhance his authority as universal sovereign (Skt. cakravartin)
endowed with temporal and spiritual powers,102 but also placed his throne at the core
of the mandala, thus implying that he stood at the unique point of encounter between
the manifested world and the vertical metaphysical axis.
The existence of other traditions concerning the symbolic layout of Beijing
should not be considered contradictory.103 Instead, it emphasizes the sacredness of
the place from the perspectives of all the different subjects of the empire, be they
Chinese, Manchu, Mongol or Tibetan people. Vajrabhairava’s cult during the Qing
Yamåntaka already appears as the gate protector of the east in the Guhyasamåjatantra,
dated around the fourth century (Siklós, The Vajrabhairava Tantras, 7). He is associated with
the east also in the class of the ten krodha deities, the protectors of the ten directions. Finally,
Vajrabhairava is part of the retinue of Ak obhya, the J¥na of the east. On Mañjußr¥’s connection with the east, i.e., China, see below note 109.
On the implications of the emperor being at the same time a cakravartin and a manifestation of a bodhisattva, see D. Seyfort Ruegg, “Mchod yon, yon mchod and mchod gnas / yon
gnas: On the Historiography and Semantics of a Tibetan Religio-Social and Religio-Political
Concept,” in Tibetan History and Language. Studies Dedicated to Uray Geza on his Seventieth
Birthday, ed. Ernst Steinkellner (Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische
Studien, 1991): 441-453, here 450.
As suggested by Michel Strickmann (Mantras et mandarins, 422-423), Lessing’s account
on Yamåntaka and Beijing echoes a precedent Mongolian legend which connected the capital
city of the Chinese empire with the body of the young warrior Nalak¨bata (Ch. Nazha
son of the guardian of the north Vaißravaˆa. Particularly see Hok-lam Chan, “A Mongolian
Legend of the Building of Peking,” Asia Major 3.2 (1990): 63-93. On the same legend: L. C.
Arlington, and W. Lewisohn, In Search of Old Peking, 28 and 338-339. Another Mongolian
belief saw Beijing as the home of Vairocana, symbol of the cakravartin (Naquin, Peking, 473).
A more “Chinese” tradition associated the city structure with a dragon body. See Juliet
Brendon, Peking: A Historical and Intimate Description of Its Chief Places of Interest (Shanghai:
) was also employed to
Kelly and Walsh, 1922): 37. Chinese geomancy (Ch. fengshui
enhance Beijing’s perfect layout and location (Naquin, Peking, 15). An analysis of Ming-Qing
Beijing as a mirror of the whole world with the emperor at its core, is given in Jeffrey F. Meyer,
The Dragons of Tiananmen: Beijing as a Sacred City (Columbia: University of South Carolina
Press, 1991). It should also be mentioned that the accession ritual in the Taihedian created “a
symbolic universe,” “a microcosmic representation of the social-political cosmic order” in a
Confucian-Chinese perspective. Christian Jochim, “The Imperial Audience Ceremonies of
the Ch’ing Dynasty,” Society for the Study of Chinese Religions 7 (1979): 88-103, here 92 (quoted
in Rawski, The Last Emperors, 206). Finally, only in regard to the Forbidden City, see Yu Xixian
and Yu Yong
, “Zhouyi xiangshu yu Zijincheng de guihua buju”
[Divination figures and numbers in the Zhouyi and the layout of the Forbidden City],
Gugong bowuyuan yuankan 97.5 (2001): 18-22.
Protecting Beijing
has thus to be inserted in the more complex picture of the Qing regime’s policies
towards their multiethnic empire. They chose to address the people they were governing in their own different languages, both spoken and visual.104 Qing emperors
looked for ideologies that could legitimize their authority, and Tibetan Buddhism
was there to sustain their role as universal rulers and as bodhisattvas, at least with
the Mongols and the Tibetans.105 This also helps to explain why very few references
to their connection with Mañjußr¥ may be found in Chinese sources;106 in addressing
the Han people, the Qing emperors for the most part borrowed and used a Chinese
world view.107
Yet, as Patricia Berger clearly demonstrates, at the same time, Manchu rulers
also offered a composite view of their empire, thus synthesizing all cultures and
beliefs by speaking to several audiences at once.108 If the combination of different
traditions was a trademark of Qing sovereignty, by extension it might be argued
that the belief in a link between Beijing and Vajrabhairava was inspired not only
by Mongolian and Tibetan faith, but also, even if indirectly, by the affection of the
Pamela Crossley, A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
The favor granted to Tibetan Buddhism by the Qing court may have been encouraged by the foreign origins of the dynasty, which looked for a universal and non-Chinese ideology able to recognize its temporal authority in the Middle Kingdom. At the same
time, it served as a means of control of Mongols and Tibetans. See Sabine Dabringhaus,
“Chinese Emperors and Tibetan Monks: Religion as an Instrument of Rule,” in China and
Her Neighbours, Borders, Visions of the Other, Foreign Policy 10th to 19th Century, eds. Sabine
Dabringhaus and Roderich Ptak (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1997): 119-134; Samuel
Grupper, “Manchu Patronage and Tibetan Buddhism during the First Half of the Ch’ing
Dynasty: A Review Article,” Journal of the Tibet Society 4 (1984): 46-75; Yu Benyuan
Qing wangchao de zongjiao zhengce
[Religious policy of the Qing imperial
court] (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue, 1999); and Zhou Shujia, Qingdai fojiao, particularly
91-104 and 303-380.
In referring to Qing China, Farquhar maintains that both Confucians and Chinese
Buddhists would probably reject such an idea (D. M. Farquhar, “Emperor as Bodhisattva,”
particularly 32-34).
“Manchu styles of rulership were likewise collaged from a number of available models, Chinese, Mongolian, and Buddhist, and the Qing emperors presented themselves variously as huangdi, Khan of Khans, and cakravartin” (Berger, Empire of Emptiness, 40). On
the creation of different images of rulership for the various subjects of the empire, see also
Rawski, The Last Emperors, 231-263.
Berger, Empire of Emptiness, 14-33. Patricia Berger, throughout her work on Tibetan
Buddhism in Qing China, refutes the critique which questions the sincerity of Qing emperors’ Buddhist faith and practice, and the idea of their complete sinicization to a Chinese
world view. Instead, she argues, they borrowed “models of history and cosmology from several different systems of thought” and “sought synthesis on many different levels” (Berger,
Empire of Emptiness, 9). In the same line of thought, in her study on the eight exterior
Tibetan temples of Rehe, which reveal a strong Chinese influence from an architectonic and
iconographical point of view, Anne Chayet suggests that the whole Chengde complex evoked
the composite unity of the Manchu Empire (Chayet, Les temples, 18). Also see Bo Qingyuan
, “Qingdai gongyuan de Qianlong jianzhu fengge”
[Style of
Qianlong’s buildings in Qing imperial gardens], in Qingdai gongshi tanwei, 280-287.
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Han people for Mañjußr¥.109 In fact, a deep devotion to the Bodhisattva was shared
by Manchu and Chinese peoples, resulting in the enlisting of Confucius among his
manifestations,110 and, in general terms, making the whole Chinese empire a huge
mandala of Mañjußr¥.
In republican times, Vajrabhairava was finally granted a clear preeminence within
Tibetan practices in China. Even if his cult had already attracted a small number of
Chinese devotees during the Qing dynasty, it was only at the time of the so-called
“Tantric revival” (Ch. mijiao fuxing yundong
)111 that it drew more Han
followers. Chinese masters and laymen (sometimes together with Tibetan lamas)
were involved in the translation of Vajrabhairava scriptures, and some of the texts
edited in Qing times were “rediscovered” and collected in new editions, in order
to make them accessible to Han practitioners. More recently, new translations of
the same Tantric cycle are being made.112 Vajrabhairava’s practice was thus transmitted in Chinese up to the contemporary era, and is nowadays the main focus of
The idea that Mañjußr¥ was the special protector of China, sustained by Chinese
Buddhists as well as by Tibetans and Indians, is much earlier than the Qing dynasty, and is
connected with the association of Mount Wutai with the Bodhisattva. The first Chinese reference to this belief is to be found in the translation of the Avata saka (T. 278, fifth century); a later translation of another text (T. 1185, eighth century) went further, stating
that Mañjußr¥ resided on the “five peaks” (Ch. wuding
) mountain in Mahåc¥na (Ch.
), to the north-east of India, a place easily identified with China. On this
issue, see Étienne Lamotte, “Mañjußr¥,” T’oung Pao 48.1-3 (1960): 1-96, here particularly
84-85, and D. M. Farquhar, “Emperor as Bodhisattva,” 12-13. On the role of Amoghavajra
, 705-774) in promoting Mañjußr¥ as protector of the Tang dynasty and,
(Ch. Bukong
consequently, in establishing him as China’s own bodhisattva, see Raoul Birnbaum, Studies
on the Mysteries of Manjusri: A Group of East Asian Mandalas and their Traditional Symbolism
(Boulder: Society for the Study of Chinese Religions, 1983) (cited in Berger, “Preserving
the Nation,” 92). On the use that later foreign dynasties made of Mañjußr¥’s role as protector of China, thus justifying their right to rule Han and non-Han subjects of the Empire, see
Patricia Berger, “Preserving the Nation,” 93.
See Lessing, “Bodhisattva Confucius,” Oriens 10.1 (1957): 110- 113.
See Bianchi, “The Tantric Rebirth Movement in Modern China. Esoteric Buddhism
re-vivified by the Japanese and Tibetan Traditions,” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum
and Deng Zimei
, Ershi shiji Zhongguo
Hungarica 57.1 (2004): 31-54; Chen Bing
[Buddhism in twentieth century China] (Beijing: Minzu, 2000): 347381, and Chen Bing’s contribution in the present volume; Dongchu
, Zhongguo fojiao jindai shi
[A modern history of Chinese Buddhism] (Taipei: Zhonghua fojiao
wenhuaguan, 1974): 436-458; Monica Esposito, “Una tradizione di rDzogs-chen in Cina. Una
nota sul Monastero delle Montagne dell’Occhio Celeste,” Asiatica Venetiana 3 (1998): 221-224
and her contribution in the second volume; G. Tuttle, “Translating Buddhism from Tibetan
to Chinese in Early 20th Century,” in Buddhism Between Tibet and China; id., Tibetan Buddhists
in the Making of Modern China (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005); Françoise
Wang-Toutain, “Quand les maîtres chinois s’éveillent au bouddhisme tibétain. Fazun: le
Xuanzang des temps modernes,” Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient 87.2 (2000): 707727 and her contribution in the present volume.
An example is Xiligong Chizhu
(trans.), “Jixiang jingang buwei duyong zun
fo xingxiu zisheng fangbian huo yijing”
of Solitary Hero Ír¥vajrabhairava], in Da jixiang jing
[Greatly auspicious scriptures]
(Taibei: Geluba, 1997): 129-175.
Protecting Beijing
many Chinese people interested in Tibetan Buddhism, in the surviving monasteries
belonging to Nenghai’s tradition as well as in new Buddhist centers both in Taiwan
and in the People’s Republic of China. On the other hand, it seems that very few
Chinese are involved in the practices of Guhyasamåja and Sa vara.
The main explanation for this ‘success’ of Vajrabhairava within dGe lugs pa
practices in modern China might be that “the path conceived in the Vajrabhairava
tantras is much simpler than other Anuttarayogatantras, thus suiting the direct and
practical Chinese mentality.”113 But other reasons may also be considered. Even if
Vajrabhairava was almost unknown in China before the Qing dynasty, the Chinese
Buddhist pantheon did include other minor forms of Yamåntaka. Therefore, this
yi dam appeared less alien to Han devotees than other Tibetan deities, especially
when taking into account his connection with Mañjußr¥, whose youthful features
are well visible above the other eight fierce heads of Vajrabhairava. As in the case of
Nenghai, who is said to have been well acquainted with the oral tradition about the
special relationship between Beijing and Vajrabhairava,114 in those milieus, Chinese
devotees accepted the idea that the Bodhisattva’s most wrathful manifestation as
Vajrabhairava was the special protector of the Empire’s capital city.
In general terms, as it had been for the ten-centuries long assimilation of Buddhism in China, the assimilation of Tibetan doctrines also involved a kind of sinicization, which favored all those aspects that were more easily reconcilable with existing
Chinese needs and beliefs. The preference granted to this deity in the twentieth century thus implies that Chinese devotees were inclining towards an image of Tibet that
fitted them. Similarly, in Qing times, the belief about the correspondence between
Beijing’s city plan and the Vajrabhairava mandala had also been, in Lessing’s words,
“an attempt to reconcile Tibetan Tantrism with Chinese Buddhism or at least to work
out some sort of rapprochement.”115
Zhongguo diyi lishi dang’anguan
[First historical
archives of China]. Beijing: Forbidden City.
Qinding Da Qing huidian shili
[Imperially commissioned collected regulations and precedents of the great Qing].
Guangxu edition. Reprint Taibei: Xinwenfeng, 1976.
Da Qing shilu
[Authentic records of the great Qing]. Reprint
Beijing: Zhonghua, 1986.
Private communication with sprul sku Lianbo (December 27, 2004).
Renxiang fashi, one of the last direct disciples of Nenghai, during a private conversation with the author confirmed that he was informed of Vajrabhairava’s role as protector of
Beijing by his master, and related that he was sent by Nenghai to pay homage to the statue in
Beihai (January 20, 2005).
Lessing, “The Topographical Identification,” 141.
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Xin jiaoben Qingshi gao
[New collated history of the
Qing]. Reprint Taibei: Academia Sinica Computing Center, 1997.
Qinding rixia jiuwen kao
[Study on the historical monuments of the National Capital]. By Zhu Yizun
(1688), completed by Ying Lian
et al. (1783). Reprint Beijing: Guji, 2001.