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date: 25 September 2017

Tri Songdétsen

Summary and Keywords

Emperor Tri Songdétsen (Khri Srong lde brtsan; 742–c.800 ce) is one of the most fascinating figures in Tibet’s religious and political history. He played a central role in shaping the character of early Tibetan Buddhism by patronizing and protecting it as an official religion of the Tibetan Empire (c. 608–866). After proclaiming his official patronage of Buddhism in c. 779, Tri Songdétsen oversaw the consecration of Samyé (Bsam yas) Monastery and made provisions for the official sponsorship of a nascent Sangha. From this point onward, Buddhism became an irrevocable component of Tibetan culture and spread its roots at both elite and popular levels.

The basic contours of Tri Songdétsen’s life and work may be gleaned from contemporary administrative records and from the king’s own inscribed pillar edicts and their accompanying paper documents. These describe how he was enthroned as a fourteen-year-old boy after his father was assassinated in the course of a revolt. They also give Tri Songdétsen’s reasons for officCially supporting Buddhism, and mention some of the opposition that he faced. As accounts of the concerted introduction of Buddhism to Tibet, Tri Songdétsen’s edicts constitute a clear forerunner to later Tibetan “histories of the Dharma” (chos ’byung) that would become a standard medium for Tibet’s Heilsgeschichte from the 11th century to the 21st. In this way, Tri Songdétsen also played a key role in the genesis of Tibet’s unique form of Buddhist historiography.

Ironically, the very historiographical traditions that Tri Songdétsen inaugurated in Tibet would in subsequent centuries come to express an ambivalent attitude toward the emperor’s central role in the establishment of Buddhism. Although he was lionized shortly after his death and in the century that followed, in Buddhist histories and hagiographies from the 12th century onward, Tri Songdétsen is eclipsed by the figure of the yogin Padmasambhava, who is credited as the real agent in the conversion of Tibet. Within this new narrative, the king is somewhat ineffectual in his commitment to Buddhism, such that his failure to follow Padmasambhava’s instructions eventually accounts for Padmasambhava’s departure from Tibet and for all sorts of future calamities that befall Tibet, its monarchy, and its people.

The subordination of Tri Songdétsen to Padmasambhava is part of a larger movement by which kings receded from Tibetans’ devotional emphasis and from their daily lives, and by which the figure of the lama ascended to cultural paramountcy. In particular, it reflects a shift in devotional emphasis across the 11th to 13th centuries from the cult of Emperor Songtsen Gampo (Srong rtsan sgam po; c. 605–649), who was viewed as an emanation of Tibet’s protector bodhisattva, Avalokiteśvara, to that of the yogin Padmasambhava, revered as an emanation of the Buddha Amitābha. Tri Songdétsen became a supporting player in Padmasambhava’s hagiography and cult, as one of his twenty-five disciples, and was also refigured as an emanation of the bodhisattva Mañjusrī. It is in this guise that Tri Songdétsen is remembered within Tibetan cultural memory and within Tibetan Buddhism more generally from the 12th century to the 21st.

Keywords: Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan kings, Buddhist kingship, Nyingma (Rnying ma) school, Tibetan Buddhist historiography, Padmasambhava, Council of Tibet, Terma (gter ma) literature

The Life of Tri Songdétsen

Tri Songdétsen’s life was marked by conflict and tragedy. His birth is recorded in the Old Tibetan Annals’ entry for the Tibetan year spanning the spring of 742 to the spring of 743. In its matter-of-fact style, the Annals states that Emperor (btsan po) Songdétsen was born in Drakmar (Brag dmar), and that his mother, Mangmojé Shiteng of the Nanam clan (Sna nam za Mang mo rje Bzhi steng), died.1 One assumes from this that she died in childbirth, but it should also be said that the prince was born into a world of plague and pestilence. Just one year previous, the Annals records the entombment of the prince Lhébon (Lhas bon) and the Chinese princess Jincheng Gongzhu, who died in 739 and early 740, respectively.2 Their deaths have generally been attributed to a disease thought to have been brought to Tibet by refugees, among them many Buddhist monks fleeing persecution in Central Asia.3 Whether just or unjust, laying the blame at the feet of foreign Buddhist monks signaled a nativist antipathy toward the foreign religion, a point with which Tri Songdétsen would later have to contend in acting as Buddhism’s champion.

At the time of his death in 739, Prince Lhébon appears to have been the only son and presumably the crown prince of the emperor, Tri Détsuktsen (Khri Lde gtsug rtsan; 704–c. 755). Despite the tragedy of his mother’s death, Tri Songdétsen’s birth three years after the prince’s death was fortuitous in preserving the royal succession. As the only clear heir to his father, Tri Songdétsen also staved off the sort of succession struggle that his father went through as a baby in 705, when, following the death of his father Tri Düsong (Khri ’Dus srong; 676–704), Tri Détsuktsen’s supporters deposed his elder brother Lha Belpo (Lha Bal po), after which Tri Détsuktsen’s grandmother effectively ruled the country in his stead until 712.4 Even in the apparent absence of a rival brother, however, Tri Songdétsen’s succession was still a contested and bloodstained affair. There is a rather fascinating lacuna in both extant versions of the Old Tibetan Annals between the years 747 and 755. When the Annals resumes its account in the latter year, it appears to be describing the “mopping up” of a revolution led by two councilors, Lang Nyézik (Lang Myes zigs) and Bel Dongtsap (’Bal Ldong tsab), who assassinated Emperor Tri Détsuktsen and set up their own regime. By 755, however, Lang and Bel are dead, their property is being confiscated, and their supporters are being rounded up and punished.5 The Annals does not record the funeral and entombment of Tri Détsuktsen, however, which would customarily be noted two years after an emperor’s death. Assuming the veracity of the later tradition, according to which his tomb stands in the royal burial ground of Chonggyé (’Phyong rgyas), on Mura Hill just below the large and commanding tomb of his son Tri Songdétsen, the clear implication is that Tri Détsuktsen was assassinated in 753 at the latest.6 Given that the Old Tang Annals records Tri Détsuktsen’s death in 755, it is unlikely that he died many years earlier than this.7 We can therefore assume that the councilors Lang and Bel ruled Tibet for one to two years from 753 to 754. This temporary overthrow of the monarchy—the only such interregnum known in the history of the Tibetan Empire—would account for the lacuna in the official administrative record during this time, assuming that their revolt was already underway in 748, where the gap in the Annals begins.

One cannot overestimate the impact of this revolt both on Tri Songdétsen and on Tibet as a whole. Even in the civil war of the 690s, the powerful Gar (Mgar) clan was unable to overthrow the Tibetan emperor—a point that is celebrated in the Old Tibetan Chronicle to emphasize the insuperable power of the Tibetan emperors.8 Breaking the sacred contract between emperors and their councilors, Lang and Bel’s revolt had the potential to permanently undermine the imperial ideology upon which the Tibetan Empire depended. It is against this backdrop of royal weakness and ministerial usurpation that Prince Songdétsen, aged fifteen by Tibetan reckoning, assumed the emperorship with the regnal name Tri Songdétsen in the summer of 756.9 Living through this crisis, which claimed the life of his father, put him in serious danger, and saw the Tang win many border skirmishes with Tibet, Tri Songdétsen embarked on a war footing. For the remainder of his reign Tibet took full advantage of Tang weakness during and after the An Lushan rebellion to seize control over the four garrisons and annex Tang territories in the Gansu corridor.10

At home, Tri Songdétsen was also fighting battles with his councilors, though these seem to have been of an ideological rather than a military variety. He describes these in two of his edicts recorded in a 16th-century Tibetan Buddhist history.11 These paper edicts, which appear to be genuine in their content if not in their imperfectly reworked and updated orthography, accompanied a short edict inscribed on a pillar to mark the consecration of Samyé Monastery, in all likelihood in the year 779.12 The second of the paper edicts goes into some narrative detail about the background to the legal act of royally endowing Samyé Monastery and binding all of the high-ranking councilors to support the Buddhist religion.13 It recounts how shortly after Tri Songdétsen’s father was assassinated, some councilors hastily passed a law banning the practice of Buddhism, arguing that its foreign gods and customs were unsuitable for Tibet. The edict states that matters changed when Tri Songdétsen reached the age of twenty (i.e., 761). What is fascinating is that the law against the practice of Buddhism was not reversed based on royal decree or on the triumph of reason, but on the basis of signs and omens. When no ritual could reverse bad omens, which persisted for several months, they finally abated and turned positive after the law against Buddhism was abandoned and Buddhist practice was allowed.

In the edict’s narrative, the adoption of Buddhism was a deliberate process that was discussed with different religious teachers and in the face of several doubts about its compatibility with traditional Tibetan beliefs and, notably, whether or not it would be a threat to Tibet’s traditional methods of governance. Some, adopting the same line of argument that seems to have precipitated both the law against Buddhism and its repeal, feared that the practice of Buddhism would bring on disease and famine in Tibet. In order to set things right, Tri Songdétsen convened a council in c. 761 at which he addressed his vassals and councilors. Though the emperor called this a “consultation,” he was also clear that the point of the council was to secure support for Buddhism and to quash dissent.14 It ended, in fact, with all of Tri Songdétsen’s vassals and councilors swearing never to persecute Buddhism, but to increasingly uphold and support it.15

In the first edict, which closes with a list of the “signatories”— that is, those who are sworn to support Buddhism upon the consecration of Samyé Monastery in c. 779—Tri Songdétsen presents the consecration of the monastery and official support for Buddhism as a remedy for what he refers to as the unrest that followed his father’s death.16 In this way, the young emperor effectively aligns—rightly or wrongly—the opponents of Buddhism with political adversaries that remained from the revolution that resulted in his father’s assassination. Reciprocally, one can clearly see that those who swore to uphold the Dharma were also pledging their allegiance to Tri Songdétsen.

The way in which Tri Songdétsen deftly wielded Buddhism as a marker of royal allegiance can certainly be read in the context of the ministerial revolt that resulted in his father’s assassination, and the young emperor’s consolidation of power following this crisis. Notably, and in keeping with one of the core principles of Tibetan rhetoric and persuasion, Tri Songdétsen is at pains to emphasize the temple building and other Buddhist activities of his forbears, and to thus present his support for Buddhism as having royal precedent in Tibet. At the same time, it is abundantly clear that his reign is a dividing line such that one can speak of Tibetan Buddhism before Tri Songdétsen and Tibetan Buddhism after Tri Songdétsen. Indeed Tri Songdétsen’s successors advanced his vision such that Buddhism became increasingly central to the culture of the Tibetan Empire.

The conflict and tragedy that marked Tri Songdétsen’s life did not end with his victory in founding Samyé Monastery and establishing a Buddhist Sangha in Tibet. Besides the doctrinal disputes attending the Tibetan assimilation of various forms of Buddhism from India, Central Asia, and China, the end of Tri Songdétsen’s reign was marred by a battle for succession between his sons. Interrogating the accounts of various Old Tibetan and Classical Tibetan sources, it appears that Tri Songdétsen had four sons.17 His first son, born in the summer of 760—just prior to the time that the emperor successfully reversed the law against practicing Buddhism—appears to have died young. Concerning his three subsequent sons, Tri Songdétsen either abdicated in favor of, or ruled jointly with, Munétsen (Mu ne brtsan) from c. 797 until this son was assassinated c. 798. There followed an unfortunate struggle involving Tri Songdétsen and his two remaining sons, the elder, Muruktsen (Mu rug brtsan), and the younger, Désong (Lde srong), which would not be resolved until after their father’s death. In the face of violent opposition from Muruktsen, Tri Songdétsen groomed his younger son, Désong, and ruled jointly with him until passing away c. 800. At this point, however, Tri Songdétsen’s chosen heir was not yet well established, and elder brother Muruktsen ousted Désong and ruled Tibet for approximately two years before Désong retook the throne c. 802. Two years later, it appears that Muruktsen died, and only Désong, now enthroned as Tri Désongtsen (Khri Lde srong brtsan), remained of Tri Songdétsen’s royal progeny.18 Tri Désongtsen would rule Tibet until 815. During his reign he sponsored the translation of Buddhist scriptures from India and extended his father’s patronage of Buddhism. He was succeeded by his own devout son Tri Tsukdétsen (Khri Gtsug lde brtsan; r. 815–841), alias Relpachen (Ral pa can).

The Buddhism of Tri Songdétsen

In his edicts, Tri Songdétsen introduces the core of Buddhist doctrine as he understood it, or as he wished to present it to a potentially skeptical audience. Specifically, he emphasizes karma and transmigration. In his first edict, he clearly states that there is no one who has not been born before, and that beings will be reborn in good or bad stations depending on their deeds. He also introduces the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.19 Tri Songdétsen explains the Buddhist cosmology of the six classes of beings with reference to the Tibetan belief in a tripartite universe consisting of an above, a below, and a between, each populated by various beings such as gods (lha), lu spirits (klu) , and humans, respectively. Mapping the one cosmology onto the other, he states that the gods are above in the heavens; the hell beings are under the earth; and demi-gods, humans, animals, and hungry ghosts (pretas) are between, on the earth. With reference to karma, he explains that it consists of good deeds resulting in virtue (dge ba), and wicked deeds resulting in sin (sdig pa). The core of virtue is the practice of the ten virtues and the avoidance of the ten non-virtues, and the accumulation of virtue leads to Buddhahood, bodhisattvahood, and so on. There is also the accumulation of transcendent virtue and wisdom, based on the four noble truths, the twelve links of dependent origination, the practice of the ten perfections, and the thirty-seven practices of a bodhisattva.20

Among the Buddhist commentaries preserved in the commentarial part of the Tibetan Buddhist canon (Tenjur; Bstan ’gyur) are several that are attributed to Tri Songdétsen. In the longest of these, The Authentic Proof of the Scriptures (Bka’ yang dag pa’i tshad ma), Tri Songdétsen emphasizes causality and karma in the process of transmigration and rebirth. The emperor’s exposition appears to delight in its embrace of Buddhist scholasticism and reasoned argumentation.21 This is perfectly in keeping with Tri Songdétsen’s argument in the second of his edicts: addressing objections that Buddhism is incompatible with traditional Tibetan customs, and charges that it might cause disease and famine, Tri Songdétsen does not rebut these head-on and claim that the practice of Buddhism will bring forth good health and good harvests—though these claims are made vigorously elsewhere—but rather gives a short discourse on karma and rebirth. In urging his subjects to embrace Buddhism, the emperor was also thrusting upon them a new type of reasoned discourse and a cosmopolitan model of elite learning.22

Tri Songdétsen’s initial support of Buddhism was directed largely at establishing a Sangha in Tibet. Samyé Monastery played host to some of the first Tibetans to be ordained as monks. Led by the abbot Śāntarakṣita (725–c. 788), a famous Indian Buddhist teacher from Vikramaśīla Monastery, Samyé also constituted a royal center. Not only was it built near Tri Songdétsen’s birthplace in Drakmar, but its architecture and layout emphasized the synergy between Buddhism and kingship. The message that Tri Songdétsen sent with the consecration of this monastery and with his edicts was heard clearly by Tibet’s aristocratic families, whose scions were ordained as monks and thus gave rise to a new and important figure within the Tibetan imperial bureaucracy: the monk-councilor.

The Sangha was bureaucratized to a high degree, and leading monks were appointed to official posts, such as that of the “representative of the bhagavan” (bcom ldan ’das kyi ring lugs).23 One monk additionally held the privilege of serving as the emperor’s kalyāṇamitra or “spiritual friend.” Besides acting as the emperor’s spiritual tutor or preceptor, the kalyāṇamitra oversaw, or exercised jurisdiction over the Buddhist temples and monasteries in the region from Samyé to Lhasa (Lha sa).24 The importance of this office is evident in that fact that Tri Songdétsen’s son and chosen heir, Tri Désongtsen, was tutored in his youth by the kalyāṇamitra-monk Nyang Tingédzin (Myang Ting nge ’dzin), who in turn became one of the first of Tibet’ highly powerful monk-councilors. A generation later, he would be succeeded by Drenka Pelgyiyönten (Bran ka Dpal gyi yon tan), a Buddhist monk who served as Tibet’s chief councilor, and who presided over the 821–822 peace treaty with the Tang.25

Tri Songdétsen’s edicts emphasize temple building, both that of his ancestors, beginning with Songtsen Gampo, and his own efforts in founding Samyé Monastery. The latter, which still stands in southern Tibet, persists as Tri Songdétsen’s most visible achievement, and a monument to his successful struggle to transplant the roots of Buddhism into Tibetan soil. The monastery is a visual representation of the Vajradhātu mandala with its central figure, the primordial Buddha Vairocana. This Buddha is prominent in statuary of the late imperial period, where he is clearly associated with the figure of the Tibetan emperor.26 The layout of Samyé Monastery, which also represents Buddhist cosmology more generally, deftly wielded Buddhist iconography to further align Tri Songdétsen with the religion that he supported and protected.27

Tri Songdétsen’s reign also saw the production of translations of Buddhist scriptures from Chinese and Sanskrit into Tibetan. At the outset, such translations were carried out piecemeal, by students of various teachers from China, India, and Central Asia, based on their own interests and needs. In this way, some of the most important sutras, such as the Ratnamegha and the Laṅkāvātara, were first translated into Tibetan.28 With Tri Songdétsen’s patronage of Buddhism, this process gathered pace such that more and more translations were produced. In this environment, there was no lexicographic standard for all scriptoria to follow, either with respect to common terms such as the Sanskrit “sūtra”—initially translated with dar ma, and only later with mdo—or with regard to rendering Sanskrit case endings in Tibetan.29 In the manner of an archetypal Buddhist monarch, Tri Songdétsen appears to have made moves to standardize and centralize such practices. These efforts were only realized later, during the reign of Tri Désongtsen, who also ordered the creation of a catalog of all translations of Buddhist scriptures extant in Tibet.30 In drawing on the expertise of various translators’ colleges, and on a central committee who standardized lexicographic practices, Tri Désongtsen no doubt built upon the foundations that had been laid by his father.

Although the first catalog of Tibet’s Buddhist translations, the Lhenkarma (Lhan dkar ma), was not produced until c. 812, it included many scriptures translated during the reign of Tri Songdétsen. Notable in this respect is the fact that the text with pride of place as the first entry in the catalog is the longest Perfection of Wisdom sutra, the Śatasāhasrikāprajñāpāramitā-sūtra, embodying the totality of Indian Madhyamaka philosophy.31 This well reflects Tri Songdétsen’s emphasis on philosophical reasoning. This is not to say, however, that tantric Buddhism was absent from Tri Songdétsen’s interests or from Tibetan Buddhism during his reign. While it is true that the official protocols for translation published under successor Tri Désongtsen include an injunction not to produce translations of tantras without royal permission, this is not to rule out royal interest in such texts. Indeed, among the translations recorded in the Lhenkarma Catalog is the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana, a tantra which, in addition to being the basis for Buddhist funeral rites, also includes technologies for purifying misdeeds and for supporting kings.32 Some later representations of Tri Songdétsen, as we shall see, in fact emphasize his status as a tantric king, a view that may have already been held by those who appreciated the symbolism of Samyé Monastery.

The Lhenkarma Catalogue, the non-extant Chimpuma (Mchims phu ma) Catalogue, and the recently unearthed Pangtangma (’Phang thang ma) Catalogue represent three successive records of Tibetan imperial holdings of Buddhist texts.33 Their internal organization represents an early attempt at a Tibetan canonical doxography, with various distinctions being made, for example, between types of sutras based on length, genre (e.g., “Avataṁsaka class,” “Ratnakūṭa class,” or Hīnayāna), and on source language (e.g., Chinese). There are also several divisions of dhāraṇī and commentaries, as well as one section on tantra, one on vinaya, and one on logic.34 Another section contains compositions by Tri Songdétsen and other Tibetan authors, demonstrating at once the importance of this king as a Buddhist figure, and the emergence of a distinction between Indian and Tibetan compositions that would play an increasing role in debates over canonicity in Tibetan Buddhism.

In his more public and performative aspect, Tri Songdétsen well fit the profile of a traditional Buddhist monarch. This is most evident in his presiding over the famous Council of Tibet or Council of Lhasa, an effort to establish which form of Buddhism was most appropriate for Tibet. The council of Tibet can be viewed as the culmination of the consultation process that began c. 761 when the law against Buddhism was overturned. In the first instance, the conflict was largely over quelling opposition to Buddhism as such, and the council involved Tri Songdétsen compelling his councilors to swear not to curb or destroy Buddhism’s prospects in Tibet. This was essentially repeated or ratified with the consecration of Samyé Monastery and with the accompanying edicts, in which the councilors once again swore to uphold the religion of the Buddha. But once Samyé was consecrated and populated with its first Tibetan monks, the process of deliberation begun in c. 761 became less a question of whether Buddhism should be followed and more a matter of how and in what form it should be practiced.

To this end, Tri Songdétsen sent queries to some of the greatest Buddhist masters of India and China. A few of their responses, including short expositions on the nature of Buddhism and Buddhist practice from such luminaries as Tankuan, have been passed down.35 This sort of exploratory reconnaissance came to a head in approximately 792, when the Indian Buddhist teacher Kamalaśīla and several of the Tibetan monks at Samyé confronted the Chinese Chan teacher Moheyan (alias Hashang Mahāyāna) and his followers. The exact nature of this confrontation, and even its outcome, remain contentious matters. The traditional Tibetan account has it that Moheyan and his followers were defeated in a face-to-face debate at Samyé Monastery, after which Moheyan was sent back to China, Chan was discredited, and the form of Indian Buddhism espoused by Kamalaśīla was embraced in Tibet.36 A contemporary Chinese account by one of Moheyan’s disciples, on the other hand, claims that Moheyan won the debate.37 Moreover, many scholars have pointed to the persistence of Chan in Tibet after the council.38 To this one can add that some have expressed doubt that a face-to-face debate ever took place, arguing that this would be practically and linguistically very difficult, and that the discourse likely took place through the medium of writing.39 What is not in dispute, however, is that Tri Songdétsen presided over the exercise, and wielded the power to choose which form of Buddhism Tibet should embrace. Even more indisputable is the fact that from around this time onward, Tibet’s translation and transmission activities were directed more toward Sanskrit texts and Indian teachers than Chinese texts and Chinese teachers.

King-Centric Representations of Tri Songdétsen, 9th–12th Centuries and Beyond

One can distinguish three main types of representations of Tri Songdétsen which, while roughly succeeding each other chronologically, have each been transmitted to the present day.40 The first comprises self-representations in his edicts, the inscribed eulogy in the Chonggyé Bridge Inscription, and the eulogy in the Old Tibetan Chronicle. The second type includes posthumous representations from the 9th through the 11th centuries that expand upon Tri Songdétsen’s Buddhist legacy and emphasize his role in establishing Buddhism in Tibet, with the primary example being the early Tibetan Buddhist history called the Bazhé (Sba bzhed). The third type, from approximately the 12th century onward, subordinates Tri Songdétsen as an important but secondary character in the story of the taming and conversion of Tibet by the yogin Padmasambhava. Generically, the first and second types of representations fed into the genre of religious historiography (chos ’byung), and informed standard narrations of Tri Songdétsen’s reign such as one finds in the famous 14th-century Tibetan Buddhist history, The Mirror Illuminating the Royal Genealogies (Rgyal rabs gsal ba’i me long).41 The third type of representation, on the other hand, is generally articulated in hagiographies of Padmasambhava, beginning in earnest with the Zanglingma (Bka’ thang Zangs gling ma) “revealed” by Nyangrel Nyima Özer (Nyang ral Nyi ma ’Od zer; 1124–1192).

The closest thing to a self-representation of Tri Songdétsen is found inscribed on a pillar that stands near the royal burial ground of Chonggyé.42 This inscribed pillar was most likely erected on the occasion of Tri Songdétsen’s entombment, c. 802, two years after his death. Like the pillar erected near the tomb of his son, the inscription publishes a royal eulogy that encapsulates the emperor’s life according to a standard literary format.

This literary form is also found in the royal eulogies collected in the Old Tibetan Chronicle.43 The eulogy to Tri Songdétsen, as is typical, opens with an evocation of the royal ancestor, introduces the person being eulogized, the reason for the eulogy, and the existence of a more detailed paper document recording his deeds. The eulogy then proceeds to a res gestae mentioning how Tri Songdétsen conquered in the four directions while benefiting his people and embracing the good religion, that is, Buddhism. It ends with a summation, including his posthumous name and title, “the sacred god, Great Bodhi” (’phrul gyi lha Byang chub chen po), supposedly bestowed upon him by the people. While this literally means “Mahābodhi,” as in the name of the temple that stands at the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment in Bodhgaya, India, it may be an abbreviation for “great bodhisattva” or “bodhisattva mahāsattva” (byang chub sems dpa’ sems dpa’ chen po).44 In any case, Tri Songdétsen’s posthumous name echoes his own pen name, Jangchup Dzuntrül (Byang chub rdzu ’phrul), which he used in signing colophons to his Buddhist commentaries.45

Although these praises, including the posthumous name, were only published after his death, Tri Songdétsen may have had some hand in their drafting.46 Even so, the restrictive genre of eulogy is such that it leaves little room for innovation. Where Tri Songdétsen’s eulogy differs from those of his predecessors as recorded in the Old Tibetan Chronicle is in its emphasis on Buddhism. Not only did he embrace Buddhism in order to give it to all of his people, but, the eulogy states, he was also a “great Dharmarāja” (chos rgyal chen po).47 This clearly presents him both as the ideal Tibetan emperor, and as the ideal Buddhist sovereign, connecting him not only with his forefathers but implicitly with other great Buddhist kings such as Aśoka.

Other 9th- and 10th-century representations of Tri Songdétsen, which are truly posthumous and where there is little question of self-portraiture or self-mythologization, develop and expand the Buddhist themes in his eulogy. In the eulogy to Tri Songdétsen found in the Old Tibetan Chronicle, this even takes on a messianic flavor: “Establishing the Dharma, he embraced everyone with his compassion, liberated them from birth and death, and delivered them eternally.”48 This further elaboration on the inscribed eulogy may reflect a posthumous development in Tri Songdétsen’s mythologization, added in the telling and redaction of the Old Tibetan Chronicle. Another document that keeps close to the outlines of Tri Songdétsen’s life as revealed by his edicts and by his eulogy inscription is a short text called “The Sutra that Came Down from Heaven” (Gnam babs kyi dar ma—recalling that dar ma here translates the Sanskrit sūtra, not dharma).49 It celebrates two emperors, Songtsen Gampo and Tri Songdétsen, and mentions some biographical details of the latter, for example, his advocacy for Buddhism after its decline following the death of his father. Written in seven-syllable verse, the text glorifies the reigns of these emperors as a golden age when people were virtuous, healthy, and prosperous, and when there was a great harmony characterized both by the practice of Buddhism and the upholding of Tibet’s ancestral traditions.

Further posthumous depictions develop Tri Songdétsen’s image as a Buddhist ruler. A mid-9th-century prayer from Dunhuang, for example, praises Tri Songdétsen as a great king alongside Aśoka, Kaniṣkā, and Harṣa Śīlāditya.50 A rock inscription in eastern Tibet that likely postdates the 10th century refers to Tri Songdétsen as “the emperor, the bodhisattva,” thus making explicit what may have been implicit in Tri Songdétsen’s pen name and posthumous name.51

The Prophecy of the Khotanese Arhat (Li yul dgra bcom gyi lung bstan pa), the earliest manuscript of which dates to the 9th or 10th century, includes a prophecy that a bodhisattva will take birth as the king of Tibet and will support the Sangha, build temples and monasteries, and patronize Buddhism there. This is arguably the earliest reference to a Tibetan emperor as an emanation of an arya-bodhisattva, to be distinguished from the use of “bodhisattva” as a title, or in the sense of a Buddha-to-be, as in a Jātaka tale.52

Another Dunhuang manuscript, possibly dating to the 10th century, also refers to Tri Songdétsen as being “of a bodhisattva lineage.” Furthermore, this text equates him with King Dza (Rdza), an important figure in Mahāyoga tantric lineages.53

One further posthumous representation of Tri Songdétsen stands between the early and later refigurations. This is the pseudepigraphical letter of Buddhaguhya/Buddhagupta, supposedly sent to Tri Songdétsen by way of politely refusing his invitation to come and teach in Tibet.54 For a letter by an Indian teacher based near Mt. Kailash, it displays a very odd amalgamation of accurate and inaccurate knowledge about the Tibetan royal line, the names of Tibetan religious figures, and standard Tibetan forms of royal praise. Whether its core contained an actual letter from Buddhaguhya or not is debatable, but in the manner in which it has come down in the Tibetan canon, it is most likely the work of a Tibetan some centuries removed from the lifetime of Tri Songdétsen. Notably, it salutes Tri Songdétsen as being of an unbroken bodhisattva lineage with Songtsen Gampo, who is saluted as the embodiment—actually, “the body” (sku)—of Avalokiteśvara. Buddhaguhya further refers to Tri Songdétsen as “belonging to the uninterrupted lineage of manifestations” (sprul pa’i rgyud ma chad pa’i nang).55 This may be one of the earliest articulations of the belief that Songtsen Gampo was an emanation of Avalokiteśvara. It does not seem, however, to equate Tri Songdétsen with Mañjusrī, despite an opening invocation to this bodhisattva. If anything, a firmer emanational line is drawn between Tri Songdétsen and Songtsen Gampo and, by extension, Avalokiteśvara.

The most important development during this early phase of representation was the extension of Tri Songdétsen’s edicts into a longer account concerning the fate of Buddhism during his reign. Just as the Samyé edicts drew on earlier accounts and on the narratio to earlier binding decisions such as that enacted by Tri Songdétsen at his council in 761 to promote the acceptance of Buddhism, the Samyé edicts informed later accounts arising out of similar situations. The council of Tibet may constitute one such example, as may a grant supposedly given to Selnang of the Ba clan (Sba Gsal snang) for his service to the Buddhadharma in Tibet.56 With the collapse of the monarchy, this clan took on the role of caretaker of this narrative tradition, which came to be known as the Bazhé (Sba bzhed), or Testament of the Ba Clan.57

The earliest extant version of the Testament of the Ba Clan bears the subtitle “Text of the Royal Narrative Concerning How the Buddhist Religion Came to Tibet” (Sangs rgyas kyi chos bod khams su ji ltar byung ba’i bka’ mchid kyi yi ge), where “royal narrative” is the same generic term that describes one of Tri Songdétsen’s two Samyé edicts. This earliest version, like later versions of the Bazhé, is centered on the reign of Tri Songdétsen and closely echoes his edicts and eulogies while adding quite a lot of further detail regarding the construction and consecration of Samyé Monastery, the council of Tibet, and the leading roles played by Ba clan members in the Tibetan assimilation of Buddhism. Several influential religious histories relied on the Bazhé’s account for their narrations of Tri Songdétsen’s reign, and the Bazhé in turn expanded itself on the model of such histories, appending short vignettes of Tri Songdétsen’s predecessors and successors. Its core nevertheless remained the narration of the reign of Tri Songdétsen.

In this way, Tri Songdétsen’s administrative acts in support of Buddhism, and their attendant narratios, initially composed in the context of a conflict with his councilors and in the shadow of his father’s assassination, fed into the creation of Tibet’s unique form of religious historiography. To this one can also add influences from eulogies, praises, administrative genres, Khotanese religious histories, ritual texts, and Tibet’s chronicle-epic tradition, but there is no question that Tri Songdétsen, and his context of conflict and advocacy, is strongly implicated in the birth of Tibetan Buddhist historiography.

Yogin-Centric Representations of Tri Songdétsen, 12th–14th Centuries and Beyond

In the 11th and 12th centuries, an emerging Tibetan Heilsgeschichte, in which Avalokiteśvara was identified as the patron bodhisattva of Tibet, interacted in dynamic ways with the earlier, royalist tradition of Buddhist historiography represented by the Bazhé. The initial focal point of the new devotional and narrative dispensation, articulated in revealed “treasure” (gter ma) literature, was Emperor Songtsen Gampo, who was refigured as an emanation of Avalokiteśvara. Subsequently, however, there was a shift in emphasis to a second figure, the yogin Padmasambhava, who was presented as a demon-tamer chiefly responsible for civilizing and converting Tibet during the reign of Tri Songdétsen.58 The change in focus from Songtsen Gampo to Padmasambhava mirrored a parallel movement whereby, after the collapse of the monarchy and with the rise of tantric ideals, the lama or religious hierarch came to displace the king as the center of spiritual and secular power in Tibetan culture. This movement is acted out in various ways in the portrayals of Emperor Tri Songdétsen in the hagiographies of Padmasambhava. Here, the emperor is no longer the main agent in bringing Buddhism to Tibet but is overshadowed by the powerful displays of Padmasambhava, whose disciple he becomes. Simultaneously, Tibetan Buddhists articulated a sort of emanational hierarchy for their most treasured religious kings, flanking Songtsen Gampo (the emanation of Avalokiteśvara) with Tri Songdétsen, who was identified with the bodhisattva Mañjusrī, and Tri Tsukdétsen (alias Relpachen), who was refigured as an emanation of Vajrapāṇi. These representations of Tri Songdétsen as a disciple of Padmasambhava and as an emanation of Mañjusrī remain the most salient in Tibetan religious memory and have tended to exist unproblematically alongside one another and in conversation with the more “kingly” representations such as those transmitted in the Bazhé.

Relics, objects, and texts associated with the imperial period were revealed and revered as “treasure” (gter ma) from the 11th and 12th centuries onward, giving rise to a genre of revealed or inspired Buddhist apocrypha. As part of this process, Emperor Songtsen Gampo was identified as an emanation of Avalokiteśvara, and became an increasingly important site of memory and devotion. The most important such treasures that expressed and disseminated this refiguration of Songtsen Gampo were the Kachem Kakölma (Bka’ chems ka khol ma) and the Mani Kambum (Ma Ni bka’ ’bum).59

Devotion to Avalokiteśvara also informed the subsequent and enduring turn in treasure literature toward the figure of the tantric-adept Padmasambhava. On an ontological level, the shift to a new protagonist in Tibet’s Heilsgeschichte entailed no essential change: Padmasambhava is an emanation of the Buddha Amitābha, to whose “family” Avalokiteśvara belongs. While Padmasambhava is somewhat peripheral to the Bazhé’s narrative and, unlike Śāntarakṣita, is not mentioned in any of Tri Songdétsen’s writings, he emerged in some circles as a central devotional figure. This process was certainly in motion by the 10th century and may have begun as early as Padmasambhava’s lifetime.60 The full flowering of the devotional mythologizing of Padmasambhava took place in the 12th century with the appearance of the Zanglingma hagiography “revealed” by Nyangrel Nyima Özer. Here, Padmasambhava is the central protagonist, and the narrative follows him from his appearance or miraculous birth in Oddiyana through his sojourns in India and Tibet to his departure from Tibet to tame demons elsewhere.61

Within this narrative, Tri Songdétsen is clearly subordinate to Padmasambhava, a fact illustrated by the popular topos of the meeting of the emperor and the yogin. This topos, found also in connection with Tri Songdétsen’s meeting with other tantric masters such as Vairocana and Vimalamitra, trades on the protocols of who should bow to whom. Within Tibetan imperial culture and court etiquette, there is no doubt that one prostrates to the emperor. In the 12th-century milieu of Nyangrel Nyima Özer and thereafter, however, the figure of the lama or yogin reigned supreme, and it was to him that one should show obeisance. These two vectors of respect come together in dramatic fashion in the Zanglingma when Padmasambhava refuses to bow to Tri Songdétsen, and the emperor in turn refuses to bow to Padmasambhava. Padmasambhava then resolves the situation by bowing, but simultaneously using his magical powers to set fire to Tri Songdétsen’s robes. Duly chastened, the emperor then bows to Padmasambhava.62

The narrative amplifies the portrait of Padmasambhava given in the Bazhé such that he plays a central role in taming the demons of Tibet, preparing the ground for the foundation of Samyé Monastery, giving instruction to Tri Songdétsen, performing miracles, and concealing “treasures” for future generations to reveal. His only failures are inevitably due to his being curtailed or thwarted by Tri Songdétsen, who is either at the mercy of his wary councilors, or who is himself vacillating in one way or another. When Padmasambhava leaves Tibet, therefore, he gives a prophecy that details not only how well everything would have turned out had he not faced such obstacles, but also the consequences that the failings of Tri Songdétsen, his councilors, and others will have for Tibet’s future.63 Much of this comes in the form of advice directed at various sectors of Tibetan society, and in this it closely resembles the pseudepigraphical letter of Buddhaguhya.

Seen in the context of earlier, “kingly” depictions of Tri Songdétsen, the hagiography of Padmasambhava essentially dethrones the emperor in favor of the yogin. In the context of treasure literature, it also marks a shift in emphasis from the figure of the king, Songtsen Gampo, to that of the yogin, Padmasambhava. There is a third demotion, which happens on an emanational level. During this period, various of Tibet’s best-remembered emperors were being identified as emanations of bodhisattvas. This was a matter of negotiation, however, and it remained in flux for some time, both with regard to which emperors were highlighted and with respect to which bodhisattvas’ emanations they represented. This is evident, for example, in the letter of Buddhaguhya, which appears to identify Tri Songdétsen as belonging to a lineage of emanations of Avalokiteśvara. The Zanglingma, however, along with most subsequent works, introduces Tri Songdétsen as an emanation of the bodhisattva of wisdom, Mañjusrī. Later versions of the Zanglingma also depict the emperor dissolving into the heart of Mañjusrī upon his death, echoing a similar scene in narrations of the life of Songtsen Gampo.64 Assimilating Tri Songdétsen to Mañjusrī also shunts him somewhat to the side as being peripheral to the narrative of the fate of Buddhism in Tibet through its patron bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara.

The yogin displaces the king in one further sense in Nyangrel Nyima Özer’s work. Nyangrel himself, the champion of the Padmasambhava hagiography, was identified as a reincarnation of Tri Songdétsen. His depictions, therefore, are of his own past life as this emperor. Furthermore, Nyangrel’s present incarnation as a lama is an improvement on, not to say the perfection of, his previous incarnation as an emperor. In this fashion, claiming Tri Songdétsen as a previous incarnation adds to Nyangrel’s legacy and prestige, and puts him in close proximity to the previous guru, Padmasambhava, to whom he can show obeisance by proxy in debasing his past, kingly self.65

Many other Tibetan lamas and religious hierarchs, notably the Fifth Dalai Lama Ngawang Losang Gyatso (Ngag dbang Blo bzang Rgya mtsho’; 1617–1682), adopted a similar strategy, claiming Tri Songdétsen among their previous incarnations.66

The Zanglingma’s depiction of Tri Songdétsen informed later Padmasambhava hagiographies, such as the popular 14th-century Pema Katang (Padma Bka’ thang) of Orgyen Lingpa (O rgyan gling pa; b. 1323) and the Katang Sertreng (Bka’ thang Gser phreng) of Sanggyé Lingpa (Sangs rgyas gling pa; 1340–1396). It also found itself in dialogue with historical works such as the Bazhé and the Chöjung Metok Nyingpo Drangtsi Chü (Chos ’byung me tog snying po sbrang rtsi’i bcud), the latter also attributed to Nyangrel. In the course of their elaboration and transmission over centuries, these works, particularly the Bazhé and the Zanglingma, increasingly borrowed from each other and from other sources in order to further develop their narratives. As a result of Padmasambhava’s growing centrality to Tibet’s national mythos, and his emergence as the main figure of the Nyingma (Rnying ma) school of Tibetan Buddhism, the depiction of Tri Songdétsen the disciple remains the abiding one within Tibetan cultural memory, and within Tibetan Buddhism more generally.

Finally, mention should be made of a non-Buddhist counter-representation of Tri Songdétsen within the Tibetan Bon religion. Its earliest articulation is arguably that found in the Drakpa Lingdrak (Bsgrags pa gling grags), a Bon history that may date to as early as the 12th or 13th century. In its organization, it resembles the extended Bazhé, with a core narrative concerning Tri Songdétsen, and short vignettes of the reigns of previous and subsequent Tibetan emperors.67 Its narration of the reign of Tri Songdétsen is like a mirror image of that of the Bazhé in that it covers the same basic events but narrates them in an opposite manner, casting Tri Songdétsen, Padmasambhava, and Śāntarakṣita as villains who embrace a perverse religion and endanger the traditional Bon religion of Tibet. The Bon depiction embellishes the yogin-centric Buddhist depiction of Tri Songdétsen’s vacillation to good effect, showing him as sometimes supporting Bon and sometimes supporting Buddhism, sometimes in the sway of councilors and sometimes in the sway of priests, but in the end persecuting the Bon religion and its adherents. This depiction, like the Buddhist refiguration articulated from the twelfth century onward, has been transmitted up to the present and continues to circulate as a dissenting counter-representation of Tri Songdétsen.68

Review of the Literature

Buddhological and Tibetological scholarship has traditionally followed the dominant Tibetan Buddhist narrative in approaching Tri Songdétsen as an auxiliary to Padmasambhava. This is due partly to the youth of these disciplines, and partly to the influence that translations of Padmasambhava’s hagiography have exerted on the study of Buddhism and of Tibetan literature in the West.69 In this way, the disciplines received and transmitted, somewhat uncritically at first, the traditional Tibetan Buddhist narrative concerning Padmasambhava and Tri Songdétsen. Tibetan Buddhists worldwide remain familiar with the depiction of Tri Songdétsen as a disciple of Padmasambhava, and are often unaware of the more recent critical reappraisal of the role of Tri Songdétsen in establishing Buddhism in Tibet, or of the existence of Old Tibetan sources written prior to the emergence of Tibet’s grand Buddhist framing narrative in the 11th and 12th centuries.

From the late 1960s onward, the figure of Padmasambhava was subjected to scholarly scrutiny, such that it became a matter of debate whether any such person ever existed.70 Around the same time, the field of Old Tibetan studies matured as scholars focused on imperial Tibetan inscriptions and on Tibetan Dunhuang manuscripts as sources for the study of Tibetan history, religion, and culture. This served as a corrective in some sense, since Tri Songdétsen looms large in these early sources, while Padmasambhava is relatively obscure. As the field of Tibetology marshaled its sources, and as more and more Tibetan histories and hagiographies appeared due to the flight of Tibetans into exile in India and Nepal, advances during this period were cautious and piecemeal. Many focused on contradictions between earlier and later accounts or between Tibetan and Chinese sources in an attempt to discern accurately the broad outlines of Tibet’s history.71

Another strand of research, emphasizing the Tibetan kings, and the nature of Tibetan sacred kingship, also informs developments in the understanding of Tri Songdétsen. This can be traced back to seminal works by Giuseppe Tucci and Erik Haarh, and more recently to Matthew Kapstein’s study of the Tibetan assimilation of Buddhism during the imperial period.72 Most recently, scholars of Old Tibetan studies, notably Lewis Doney, have turned their attention to representations of Tri Songdétsen in the earliest sources, and have emphasized his importance as a pivotal figure in the Tibetan adoption of Buddhism.73

Primary Sources

Many of the primary sources for the study of Tri Songdétsen exist in translation. In particular, Hugh Richardson, W. South Coblin, Li Fang-Kuei, and many others have translated the Old Tibetan inscriptions and Tri Songdétsen’s edicts. Dunhuang manuscripts relevant to Tri Songdétsen have also been subject to translation and study. Those wishing to consult images and rubbings of the inscriptions can refer to a recent collection of new transliterations of the inscriptions by Nathan Hill, Kazushi Iwao, and Tsuguhito Takeuchi.74 Their introduction to each inscription gives references to translations and secondary literature, and also to published rubbings and photographs, including those on the Tibet Album website operated by the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Many of the Dunhuang manuscripts relevant to Tri Songdétsen, including the Old Tibetan Annals and the Old Tibetan Chronicle, are available online in searchable transliterations on the Old Tibetan Documents Online websites. One can also consult high-quality digital images of these manuscripts on the websites of the International Dunhuang Project, Gallica, and Artstor.

For classical Tibetan sources relevant to Tri Songdétsen, one is even better served by well-annotated translations and studies of key histories and hagiographies. The earliest extant version of the Bazhé exists in English translation, accompanied by photographic reproductions of the manuscript.75 Per Sørensen’s annotated translation of the influential 14th-century history The Mirror Illuminating the Royal Genealogies features heavy annotation that cross-references this history’s account with those of the most important Tibetan Buddhist histories.76 Nyangrel Nyima Özer’s Zanglingma hagiography of Padmasambhava, so influential to the changing depiction of Tri Songdétsen from the twelfth century onward, is the subject of a recent study by Lewis Doney that includes a long introduction and photographic reproductions of manuscripts representing the earliest extant version of the Zanglingma.77 An English translation of a later version of the hagiography was published by Erik Pema Kunsang.78

Further Reading

Bacot, Jacques, Frederick W. Thomas, and Charles G. Toussaint. Documents de Touen-houang relatifs à l’histoire du tibet. Paris: Librarie Paul Geuthner, 1940–1946.Find this resource:

Chetsang, Drikung Kyabgon. A History of the Tibetan Empire. Drawn from the Dunhuang Manuscripts. Translated by Meghan Howard, with Tsultrim Nakchu. Dehra Dun: Songtsen Library, 2011.Find this resource:

Doney, Lewis. “Emperor, Dharmaraja, Bodhisattva? Inscriptions from the Reign of Khri Srong lde brtsan.” In Current Issues and Progress in Tibetan Studies. Edited by Tsuguhito Takeuchi et al., 63–84. Kobe, Japan: Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, 2013.Find this resource:

Doney, Lewis. “Nyang ral Nyi ma ‘od zer and the Testimony of Ba.” Bulletin of Tibetology 49.1 (2013): 7–38.Find this resource:

Doney, Lewis. “Early Bodhisattva-Kingship in Tibet: the Case of Tri Songdétsen.” Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 24 (2015): 29–47.Find this resource:

Dotson, Brandon. “‘Emperor’ Mu-rug-btsan and the ’Phang thang ma Catalogue.” Journal of the International Association for Tibetan Studies 3 (2007): 1–25.Find this resource:

Dotson, Brandon. “Tri Songdetsen.” In Oxford Bibliographies Online: Buddhism. Edited by Richard Payne. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Haarh, Erik. “The Identity of Tsu-chi-chen, the Tibetan ‘King’ Who Died in 804 AD.” Acta Orientalia 25 (1960): 121–170.Find this resource:

Kapstein, Matthew T.The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism: Conversion, Contestation, and Memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Kollmar-Paulenz, Karénina. “The Buddhist Way into Tibet.” In The Spread of Buddhism, part 8, vol. 16. Edited by Anne Heirman and Stephan-Peter Bumbacher, 303–340. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.Find this resource:

Li, Fang Kuei, and W. South Coblin. A Study of the Old Tibetan Inscriptions. Taipei: Academia Sinica, 1987.Find this resource:

Richardson, Hugh E.A Corpus of Tibetan Inscriptions. London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1985.Find this resource:

Schaeffer, Kurtis, Matthew T. Kapstein, and Gray Tuttle. Sources of Tibetan Tradition. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Scherrer-Schaub, Cristina. “A Perusal of Early Tibetan Inscriptions in Light of the Buddhist World of the 7th to 9th Centuries A.D.” In Epigraphic Evidence in the Pre-Modern Buddhist World. Edited by Kurt Tropper, 117–165. Vienna: Arbeitskreise für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, 2014.Find this resource:

Seyfort Ruegg, David. Buddha-Nature, Mind, and the Problem of Gradualism in a Comparative Perspective: On the Transmission and Reception of Buddhism in India and Tibet; Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion. London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1989.Find this resource:

Sørensen, Per K.Tibetan Buddhist Historiography: The Mirror Illuminating the Royal Genealogies. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1994.Find this resource:

Stein, Rolf. Rolf Stein’s Tibetica Antiqua with Additional Materials. Translated and edited by Arthur McKeown. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010.Find this resource:

Wangdu, Pasang, and Hildegard Diemberger. dBa’ Bzhed: The Royal Narrative concerning the Bringing of the Buddha’s Doctrine to Tibet. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2000.Find this resource:


(1.) Brandon Dotson, The Old Tibetan Annals: An Annotated Translation of Tibet’s First History (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2009).

(2.) Dotson, The Old Tibetan Annals.

(3.) Matthew T. Kapstein, The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism: Conversion, Contestation, and Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

(4.) Kapstein, The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism.

(5.) Dotson, The Old Tibetan Annals.

(6.) Jampa L. Panglung, “Die metrischen Berichte über die Grabmäler der tibetischer Könige. Ihre Überlieferung und ihr Beitrag zur Identifizierung,” in Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 4th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, ed. H. Uebach and J. Panglung, 321–368 (Munich: Bavarian Academy of Sciences Press, 1989).

(7.) S. W. Bushell, “The Early History of Tibet: From Chinese Sources,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 12 (1880): 435–541; Paul Pelliot, Histoire ancienne du tibet (Paris: Adrien Maisonneuve, 1961).

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(9.) Dotson, The Old Tibetan Annals.

(10.) Christopher I. Beckwith, The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese during the Early Middle Ages (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993).

(11.) Hugh E. Richardson, “The First Tibetan chos-’byung,” Tibet Journal 5.3 (1980): 62–73; W. South Coblin, “A Reexamination of the Second edict of Khri-Srong-Lde-Btsan,” in Reflections on Tibetan Culture: Essays in Memory of Turrell V. Wylie, ed. L. Epstein and R. Sherburne (New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1989), 165–185; Matthew T. Kapstein, “The Conversion Edict of Tri Songdetsen,” in Sources of Tibetan Tradition, ed. K. Schaeffer, M. T. Kapstein, and G. Tuttle (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 60–64.

(12.) Hugh E. Richardson, A Corpus of Tibetan Inscriptions (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1985); Li Fang Kuei and W. South Coblin, A Study of the Old Tibetan Inscriptions (Taipei: Academia Sinica, 1987).

(13.) Coblin, “A Reexamination of the Second Edict of Khri-Srong-Lde-Btsan”; Kapstein, “The Conversion Edict of Tri Songdetsen.”

(14.) Lewis Doney, “Emperor, Dharmaraja, Bodhisattva? Inscriptions from the Reign of Khri Srong lde brtsan,” in Current Issues and Progress in Tibetan Studies, ed. T. Takeuchi et al. (Kobe, Japan: Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, 2013), 63–84.

(15.) Coblin, “A Reexamination of the Second Edict of Khri-Srong-Lde-Btsan”; Kapstein, “The Conversion Edict of Tri Songdetsen.”

(16.) Richardson, “The First Tibetan chos-’byung”; Kapstein, “The Conversion Edict of Tri Songdetsen.”

(17.) Erik Haarh, “The Identity of Tsu-chi-chen, the Tibetan ‘King’ Who Died in 804 AD,” Acta Orientalia 25 (1960): 121–170.

(18.) Brandon Dotson, “‘Emperor’ Mu-rug-btsan and the ’Phang thang ma Catalogue,” Journal of the International Association for Tibetan Studies 3 (2007): 1–25.

(19.) Richardson, “The First Tibetan chos-’byung”; Kapstein, “The Conversion Edict of Tri Songdetsen.”

(20.) Coblin, “A Reexamination of the Second Edict of Khri-Srong-Lde-Btsan.”

(21.) Kapstein, The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism, 45–46; Matthew T. Kapstein, “Causes and Signs,” in Sources of Tibetan Tradition, ed. K. Schaeffer, M. T. Kapstein, and G. Tuttle (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 118–123.

(22.) Kapstein, The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism.

(23.) Helga Uebach, “On Dharma-Colleges and Their Teachers in the Ninth Century Tibetan Empire,” in Indo-Sino-Tibetica: Studi in Onore Di Luciano Petech, ed. P. Daffinà (Rome: Bardi, 1990), 393–417.

(24.) Dotson, “‘Emperor’ Mu-rug-btsan and the ’Phang thang ma Catalogue.”

(25.) Hugh E. Richardson, “Great Monk-Ministers of the Tibetan Kingdom,” in High Peaks, Pure Earth: Collected Writings on Tibetan History and Culture, by Hugh E. Richardson, ed. M. Aris (London: Serindia, 1998), 140–148.

(26.) Amy Heller, “Buddhist Images and Rock Inscriptions from Eastern Tibet, VIIIth to Xth Century, part IV,” in Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 7th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Graz 1995, ed. H. Krasser (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 1997), 385–403; Kapstein, The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism; Michael Walter, Buddhism and Empire (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009).

(27.) Giuseppe Tucci, “The Simbolism [sic] of the Temples of bSam yas,” East and West 6.4 (1956): 279–281; Kapstein, The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism.

(28.) Cristina Scherrer-Schaub, “Enacting Words: A Diplomatic Analysis of the Imperial Decrees (bkas bcad) and Their Application in the sGra sbyor bam po gnyis pa Tradition,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 25.1–2 (2002): 263–340.

(29.) Rolf Stein, “Tibetica antiqua I: Les deux vocabularies des traductions Indo-Tibétaine et Sino-Tibétaine dans les manuscrits de Touen-Houang,” Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient 72 (1983): 150–236; Rolf Stein, Rolf Stein’s Tibetica Antiqua with Additional Materials, trans. and ed. A. McKeown (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010).

(30.) Adelheid Herrmann-Pfandt, Die lHan kar ma: Ein früher Katalog der ins Tibetische übersetzten buddhistischen Texte (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2008).

(31.) Marcelle Lalou, “Les texts Bouddhiques au temps du roi Khri-Sroṅ-lde-bcan,” Journal Asiatique 241 (1953): 313–353; Herrmann-Pfandt, Die lHan kar ma.

(32.) Zeff Bjerken, “Of Mandalas, Monarchs, and Mortuary Magic: Siting the Sarvadurgatipariśodhana Tantra in Tibet,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73.3 (2005): 813–841.

(33.) Dotson, “‘Emperor’ Mu-rug-btsan and the ’Phang thang ma Catalogue.”

(34.) Georgios Halkias, “Tibetan Buddhism Registered: A Catalogue from the Imperial Court of ’Phang thang,” Eastern Buddhist 36.1–2 (2004): 47–105; Kawagoe Eishin, dKar chag ‘Phang thang ma (Sendai, Japan: Tōhoku indo chibetto kenkyū kai, 2005).

(35.) Werner Pachow, A Study of the Twenty-Two Dialogues on Mahāyāna Buddhism/Ta-sheng erh-shih-erh wen chih yen-chiu (Taipei: Tung-ch’u ch’u-pan-she, 1993).

(36.) Giuseppe Tucci, Minor Buddhist Texts, Part II: First Bhāvanākrama of Kamalaśīla; Sanskrit and Tibetan Texts with Introduction and English Summary (Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1958); David Seyfort Ruegg, Buddha-Nature, Mind, and the Problem of Gradualism in a Comparative Perspective: On the Transmission and Reception of Buddhism in India and Tibet; Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1989); Pasang Wangdu and Hildegard Diemberger, dBa’ Bzhed: The Royal Narrative concerning the Bringing of the Buddha’s Doctrine to Tibet (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2000); Matthew T. Kapstein, “Chinese and Indian Buddhists at Samyé,” in Sources of Tibetan Tradition, ed. K. Schaeffer, M. T. Kapstein, and G. Tuttle (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 142–150.

(37.) Paul Demiéville, Le concile de Lhasa: Une controverse sur le quiétisme entre Bouddhistes de l’Inde et de la Chine au VIIIe siècle de l’ère Chrétienne (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1952).

(38.) Sam van Schaik, Tibetan Zen: Discovering a Lost Tradition. Stories Told by the Dunhuang Cave Manuscripts (Boston, MA: Snow Lion Publications, 2015).

(39.) Yoshiro Imaeda, “Documents tibétains de Touen-Houang concernant le concile du Tibet,” Journal Asiatique 263 (1975): 125–146.

(40.) Brandon Dotson, “Tri Songdetsen,” in Oxford Bibliographies Online: Buddhism, ed. R. Payne (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

(41.) Per K. Sørensen, Tibetan Buddhist Historiography: The Mirror Illuminating the Royal Genealogies (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1994).

(42.) Richardson, A Corpus of Tibetan Inscriptions; Li and Coblin, A Study of the Old Tibetan Inscriptions; Doney, “Emperor, Dharmaraja, Bodhisattva?”

(43.) Brandon Dotson, “The Unhappy Bride and her Lament,” Journal of the International Association for Bon Research 1 (2013): 199–225.

(44.) Doney, “Emperor, Dharmaraja, Bodhisattva?”

(45.) Ernst Steinkellner, “Who Is Byaṅ chub rdzu ‘phrul? Tibetan and non-Tibetan Commentaries on the Saṃdhinirmocanasūtra,” Berliner Indologische Studien 4–5 (1989): 229–252.

(46.) Brandon Dotson, “Naming the King: Accession, Death, and Afterlife through the Re-, Un-, and Nick-naming of Tibet’s Kings,” Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 24 (2015): 1–27.

(47.) Richardson, A Corpus of Tibetan Inscriptions; Li and Coblin, A Study of the Old Tibetan Inscriptions; Doney, “Emperor, Dharmaraja, Bodhisattva?”

(48.) Jacques Bacot, Frederick W. Thomas, and Charles G. Toussaint, trans., Documents de Touen-houang relatifs à l’histoire du tibet (Paris: Librarie Paul Geuthner, 1940–1946); Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, A History of the Tibetan Empire. Drawn from the Dunhuang Manuscripts, trans. M. Howard, with T. Nakchu (Dehra Dun, India: Songtsen Library, 2011).

(49.) Rolf Stein, “Tibetica antiqua IV: La tradition relative au début du Bouddhisme au Tibet,” Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient 75 (1986): 169–196; Stein, Rolf Stein’s Tibetica Antiqua; Hugh E. Richardson, “‘The Dharma [sic] That Came Down from Heaven’: A Tun-huang Fragment,” in Buddhist Thought and Asian Civilization: Essays in Honor of Herbert V. Guenther on His Sixtieth Birthday, ed. L. S. Kawamura and K. Scott (Emeryville, CA: Dharma Publications, 1977), 62–73.

(50.) Sam van Schaik and Lewis Doney, “The Prayer, the Priest, and the Tsenpo: An Early Buddhist Narrative from Dunhuang,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 30.1–2 (2007): 175–217.

(51.) Heller, “Buddhist Images and Rock Inscriptions from Eastern Tibet”;Lewis Doney, “Early Bodhisattva-Kingship in Tibet: the Case of Tri Songdétsen,” Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie 24 (2015): 29–47.

(52.) Frederick William Thomas, Tibetan Literary Texts and Documents Concerning Chinese Turkestan (London: Luzac, 1935).

(53.) Samten Karmay, “King Tsa/Dza and Vajrayāna,” in Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honour of R. A. Stein, vol. 1, ed. M. Strickmann (Brussels: Institut Belge des Hautes Études Chinoises, 1981), 192–211; Yoshiro Imaeda, “Un extrait tibétain du Mañjuśrīmūlakalpa dans les manuscrits de Touen-houang,” in Nouvelles contributions aux études de Touen-houang à la mémoire de Paul Demiéville, ed. M. Soymié (Geneva, Switzerland: Librairie Droz, 1981), 303–320; Rolf Stein, “Tibetica Antiqua III: À propos du mot gcug-lag et de la religion indigène,” Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient 74 (1985): 83–133; Stein, Rolf Stein’s Tibetica Antiqua.

(54.) Siglinde Dietz, Die buddhistische Briefliteratur Indiens: Nach dem tibetischen Tanjur herausgegeben, übersetzt und erläutert (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1984); David Snellgrove, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism: Indian Buddhists and their Tibetan Successors (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1987).

(55.) Snellgrove, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.

(56.) Philip Denwood, “Some Remarks on the Status and Dating of the sBa bzhed,” Tibet Journal 15 (1990): 135–148; Per K. Sørensen, “Preface: dBa’/sBa bzhed: The dBa’[s]/sBa [Clan] Testimony Including the Royal Edict (bka’ gtsigs) and the Royal Narrative (bka’ mchid) Concerning the bSam yas Vihāra,” in dBa’ bzhed, by P. Wangdu and H. Diemberger, ix–xv (Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2000).

(57.) Wangdu and Diemberger, dBa’ bzhed.

(58.) Ronald Davidson, The Tibetan Rennaissance: Tantric Buddhism in the Rebirth of Tibetan Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).

(59.) Kapstein, The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism; Ronald Davidson, “The Tibetan Kingly Cosmogonic Narrative and Tibetan Histories: Indian Origins, Tibetan Space, and the bKa’ chems ka khol ma Synthesis,” Lungta 16 (2003): 64–84.

(60.) Jacob Dalton, “The Early Development of the Padmasambhava Legend in Tibet: A Study of IOL Tib J 644 and Pelliot tibétain 307,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 124.4 (2004): 759–772; Cathy Cantwell and Robert Mayer, “Representations of Padmasambhava in Early Post-Imperial Tibet,” in Tibet after Empire: Culture, Society and Religion between 850–1000, ed. C. Cüppers, R. Mayer, and M. Walter, 19–50 (Lumbini, Nepal: Lumbini International Research Institute, 2013); Lewis Doney, The Zangs gling ma: the First Padmasambhava Biography. Two exemplars of its Earliest Attested Recension (Andiast: International Institute of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2014).

(61.) Doney, The Zangs gling ma.

(62.) Lewis Doney, “Nyang ral Nyi ma ‘od zer and the Testimony of Ba,” Bulletin of Tibetology 49.1 (2013): 7–38.

(63.) Doney, The Zangs gling ma.

(64.) Doney, The Zangs gling ma.

(65.) Daniel Hirshberg, Remembering the Lotus-Born: Padmasambhava in the History of Tibet’s Golden Age (Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2016).

(66.) Per K. Sørensen, “The Dalai Lama Institution: its Origins and Genealogical Succession,” Orientations (September 2005): 53–60.

(67.) For a short précis of its contents, see Per Kvaerne, “Religious Change and Syncretism: The Case of the Bon Religion of Tibet,” in Bon, Buddhism and Democracy: The Building of a Tibetan National Identity, ed. P. Kvaerne and R. Thargyal (Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 1993), 7–26.

(68.) Samten Karmay, The Treasury of Good Sayings: A Tibetan History of Bon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972).

(69.) Gustave-Charles Toussaint, Le Dict de Padma (Paris: E. Leroux, 1933); Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays, trans., The Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava (Padma bka’i thang) (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978); Erik Pema Kunsang, trans., The Lotus-Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1993).

(70.) F. A. Bischoff, “Padmasambhava est-il un personnage historique?,” in Proceedings of the Csoma de Koros Symposium, edited by L. Ligeti (Budapest: Akademiai Kiado, 1978), 27–33; Anne-Marie Blondeau, “Analysis of the Biographies of Padmasambhava According to Tibetan Tradition: Classification of Sources,” in Tibetan Studies in Honour of Hugh Richardson, ed. M. Aris and A.S. Suu Kyi (Warminster: Aris and Philips, 1980), 45–52.

(71.) Haarh, “The Identity of Tsu-chi-chen”; Erik Haarh, The Yar-Luṅ Dynasty (Copenhagen: Gad, 1969); Christopher Beckwith, “The Revolt of 755 in Tibet,” in Contributions on Tibetan Language, History and Culture, ed. E. Steinkellner and H. Tauscher (Vienna: University of Vienna Press, 1983), 1–16; Dotson, “‘Emperor’ Mu-rug-btsan and the ’Phang thang ma Catalogue.”

(72.) Giuseppe Tucci, “The Secret Characters of the Kings of Ancient Tibet,” East and West 6 (1955): 197–205; Erik Haarh, The Yar-Luṅ Dynasty (København: Gad, 1969); Kapstein, The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism.

(73.) Lewis Doney, Transforming Tibetan Kingship: the Portrayal of Khri Song lde brtsan in the Early Buddhist Histories (D.phil. thesis: School of Oriental and African Studies, 2011); Doney, “Emperor, Dharmaraja, Bodhisattva?,” Doney, “Early Bodhisattva-Kingship in Tibet.” See also Walter, Buddhism and Empire.

(74.) Kazushi Iwao, Nathan Hill, and Tsuguhito Takeuchi, Old Tibetan Inscriptions (Tokyo: Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, 2009).

(75.) Wangdu and Diemberger, dBa’ bzhed.

(76.) Sørensen, Tibetan Buddhist Historiography.

(77.) Doney, The Zangs gling ma.

(78.) Kunsang, The Lotus-Born.