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Divine Dyads: Ancient Civilization in Tibet

Divine Dyads: Ancient Civilization in Tibet
Item Code: IHF040
Author: John Vincent Bellezza
Publisher: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala
Edition: 1997
ISBN: 8186470190
Pages: 497 (45 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 9.3”X 6.8”
weight of the book: 878 gms
Back of Book

Divine Dyads: Ancient civilization in Tibet aims to comprehensively document the cultural and religions history of a neglected but vital part of Tibet, the Divine Dyads of the Byang thang. This work marshals a wide variety of resources in expounding the history and culture of these two areas, each revolving around a mountain and take of epic geographical and mythological proportions. The focus of this work is the development of indigenous religion and mythology in these areas and its impact on the culture of the Byang thang and Tibet in general.

Publisher’s Note

The Library of Tibetan works and Archives is pleased to be publishing. Divine Dyads: Ancient Civilization to Tibet by author and explorer John. V. Bellezza. The Divine Dyads, the lake and mountain pairs of gNyan chen thang lha and gNam mtsho, and rTa rgo rin poche and Dang ra g.yu mtsho, are analysed in terms of prehistoric significance, cultural and religious history, and in relation to the civilization hof the Byang thang region of Tibet, specifically during the Zhang zhung period.

The author traces the significance of each of the Dyad personalities, individually and collectively, from their nature-based origins, through their incorporation in Bon and Buddhist tenets, into the contemporary vision of the deities in popular and literary culture. The deities are compasses along which the cultural, social environmental and religious development of region can be ascertained.

The research provides important insights into ancient Byang thang civilization and is a stepping stone towards further discoveries concerning the origins and development of Tibetan culture. We hope that, with some of the new interpretations presented here by the author, readers will find this book interesting and that it will expand the unfortunately scant knowledge of ancient Tibetan civilization.

Gyatsho Tshering Director

Library of Tibetan Works and Archives

July 1997


This book would not have been possible without the collaboration of many fine people from various walks of life, who willingly devoted time and energy to help me in every stage of the book. Although I have a working knowledge of the rudiments of the Tibetan language to which I have had recourse over the last 14 years, I am not a professional translator and, therefore, sought expertise in unlocking the meaning of Tibetan texts. The co-operation of people in this area was extremely noteworthy, not least of all because this was voluntary. I ask the reader to bear with any shortcoming and inadequacies of this book, all which should rest squarely on my shoulders.

Foremost among those who assisted me and whose help was indispensable were Gyalwa Menri Khenpo Lungtog Tenpai Nyima, Lobpon Tenzin Namdag, and Chado Rinpoche, with whom I had the great privilege of working over the past five years.

Menri Khenpo (Gyal ba sman ri’I khri’ dzin mkhan rabs so gsum pa, Lung rtogs bstan pa’I nyi ma), the distinguished supreme leader of the Bon religion, whose headquarters is situated in Dolanji, Himachal Pradesh, India, kindly took time out of his extremely busy schedule to render invaluable help. He personally endeavored to answer my many questions and provide guidance. Moreover he deputed members of his highly competent staff to provide me with assistance. I extend my sincere and heartfelt gratitude ti Menri Khenpo and his staff.

Lobpon Tenzin Namdag (sLop dpon bstan rnam dag), widely recognized as the foremost Bon scholar is based at the Khri brtan nor bu rtse monastery in Ichangu, Kathmandu. Despite his engaged schedule this sincere and modest man repeatedly offered his assistance. The superb scholar is the unrivalled expert on the Divine Dyads.

Chado Rinpoche (Bya do rin po che bstan dzin) was born at gNam mtsho, Tibet and is the titular head of the Bya do dgon pa at gNam mtsho. Although Bya do rin po che has sadly spent little time in Tibet, his razor-sharp intellect and inquisitive mind have insured that he mastered the history and culture of gNam mtsho. Bya do rub po che has sadly spent little time in Tibet, his razor-sharp intellect and inquisitive mind have insured that he mastered the history and culture of gNam mtsho. Bya do rin po che, a dGe lugs pa scholar who gradated with the highest honors, currently the abbot of rNam rgyal grwa tshang in Dharamsala, devoted countless hours, towards making this book a reality. His learning kindness and humility were a constant inspiration and helped to smooth the long and difficult road to the creation of this book.

Very special thanks are due to my wife Rebecca Claire for her excellent illustrations of cave paintings and landscapes as well as for the cover photograph. Her tireless support during the compilation of this book is much appreciated. My gratitude also goes out to Arthur King a retired professional artist, for his illustrations of deities, landscapes the rTa rgo range profile map.

I am very grateful to Choegyal Namkhai Norbu for his interest in my work and for kindly writing the Foreword to this book. I would also like to specifically thank professor per Kvaerne for taking the time an trouble to look at early stages of the book and for his insightful guidance and comments. Among the many other people who have helped me is Thubten Rikey, a scholar of great and modesty. His help, good will and friendship are especially noteworthy. Without his textual expertise insights and sense of humor, my efforts would have been seriously impeded. I am also indebted to the Bon scholar Namgyal Nyima Dagkar who not only generously gave me copies of four excellent articles of his own on Bon before they were published, but also helped me in a timely manner with translations. Additionally, he inspected the manuscript for spelling errors and inconsistencies a task which consumed many hours. Four young but fully qualified and gifted Bon scholars also demand special mention: Latri Khenpo Nyima Dragpa, Khenpo Tenpa for scholars who work under the auspices of Menri Khenpo and Lobpon Rinpoche, helped with translations and answered many questions. It was a joy to work with these exceptional men.

Special thanks also go to Gurchung Rinpoche a rNying scholar and Chadur Sonam Sangpo, a Bon po scholar who found time to answer my incessant questions. Thank must also go to a variety of friends and mentors who were instrumental in bringing this book to fruition, among whom are the following: Stan Armington, Kenji Babasaki, Bob Brundage, Geshe Champa Losel, Drubpa Tharchin, Ven. Gendo Drag, Gochung Rinpoche, Melvin Goldstein, Gyurme Dorje, Lobsang Shastri Lobsang Tenzin, Gary McCue, Dan miller, Namkhai Dorje, Ven. Nyida Tshewang, Khenpo Nyima Wanggyal, Ven. Guru Oser, pasang wangdu, Bradley Rowe, George Schaller, Shentshang Rinpoche, Rupert, Smith, Sonam Dargye, Acharya Sonam Wangdu, Sonam Wangdu, Taglung Matrul Rinpoche, Taglung Tsetrul Rinpoche, Tashi Tshering, Tenzin Chagdor, Geshe Tenzin Drugdag, Ven. Tenzin Tshultrim, Tshering Dorje Burangwa, Ven. Tshultrim Rabgye, Susil Upadhaya, Yacob Urban, Roberto Vital, Emil Wendel, Ted Worcester and Ven. Yungdrung Gyaltshan. I would also like to thank Tashi Norbu for his illustrations.

This book would never have been realized without the charity and cooperation of scores of people in Tibet who offered information, advice and logistical support. They are the unsung heroes of this book and must, for the time being, remain so. From the bottom of my heart I thank and salute them. Thanks must also go out to numerous officials in the dpal mgon county, Nag chu prefectural and Xizang provincial governments for their assistance, encouragement and graciousness.

Last but no least, I want to thank the editorial staff of the LTWA including Maura Ginty, Vyvyan Cayley, Toby Williamson Alex Taylor, Tenzin Sonam, Tenzin Yangchen and Jigme Tsering for all their hard work. I would also alike to thank the LTWA librarians Pema Yeshe, Geshe Tashi Wanggyal and the rest of the library staff. These dedicated staff were indispensable in making this book a reality.


The Nature of the Divine Dyads

Dyad is a word of Greek origin which denotes the two units objects or personalities that make up a pair. Divine a word of Latin origin means being or having the nature a daily. Although there are innumerable dyads in Tibet, in the context of the study Divine Dyads refers specifically to two pairs of mountain and lake deities: gNam mtsho and gNyan chen thang lha, and Dang ra g.yu mtsho and rTa rgo rin po che. This includes all their manifestations and elaborations as well as their geographical delimitation. The common mythological denominator and theme, irrespective of time and individual tradition, is that each mountain and lake are coupled. However this relationship between the mountain and lake of each Divine Dyad varies greatly and is dependent on time and context.

This pairing of mountains and lakes takes on various forms defined by the particular perspective from which they are viewed. Textual oral and personal perspectives each affect the manner in which this pairing is described and conceived. The literal translation of Divine Dyad in Tibetan, rttsa chen cha, is not used as an appellation. General synonyms in Tibetan for the Divine Dyads include: 1) yab yum (father/ mother-consorts), 2) ri mtsho (mountain/lake) lcam dral (sister/ brother-wife /husband)and 4) mtsho brag (lake/ rock). It must be added that these synonyms are not only applied to the Divine Dyads but have other application in Tibetan culture and sacred geography. The relevance of these terms to the Divine Dyads is primarily that they establish a reciprocal and indivisible relationship between each lake and mountain.

In both of the Dyads here discussed the male aspect is embodied by the mountain gNyan chen thang lha or rTa rgo po che. While there are mountains in Tibet of female gender the two mountains of this study are male and they seem to have always been seen as such. Conversely, the gender of the lakes gNam mtsho and Dang ra g.yu mtsho is always thought of as female. This male/female assignment of gender is common in Tibet. The maleness of the two mountains and the femaleness of the two lakes are formative elements in the diverse mythological and religious traditions that arose around them.

On the 1,300-kilometer-long Byang thang there are three major pairs of sacred mountains and lakes which crown its eastern central and western sections. In the east is gNam mtsho and gNyan chen thang lha; in the center, Dang ra g.yu mtsho and rTa rgo; and in the west, mTsho ma pham and Gangs ti se. they ornament and circumscribe the northern plains of Tibet and constitute the three most sacred and celebrated mountains and the three most sacred and well-known lakes on the entire Byang thang. Each of these Dyads is also important in terms of the Byang thang resource base and local economic activity, which are not unrelated to their sanctified status. As well as being prominent in the numinous landscape of the Byang thang, the three Dyads also have economic, geographical and cultural relevance in Tibet as a whole.

These three major pairs of mountains and lakes on the Byang thang were unified into one sacred geographical tradition known as the gNas chen ganas ri mtsho gsum. This tradition, which is associated with the Bon religion, calls each of the three Dyads ri mtsho. It has become extremely obscure. There is apparently not a single text in existence that treats it specifically. The origins of this Byang thang-based sacred geographical tradition seem to lie in the pre-Imperial period Zhang zhung. Without concrete historical evidence it is very difficult to assess the significance of this tradition. However, because the prominent g.yon sgo territories of Zhang zhung and the gNas chen gangs ri mtsho gsum are virtually synonymous and both are important to the Bon religion, we can surmise that the gNas chen gangs ri mtsho gsum developed as a flagship of the Zhang zhung sacred geographical tradition used to demarcate large swathes of territory, it is also worth considering the possibility that the gNas chen gangs ri mtsho gsum functioned to define and enhance the political base of Zhang zhung.

In order to limit the size and scope of this book, it was decided to omit a detailed examination of the cultural history of Gangs ti se and mTsho ma pham, the most famous of the three Dyads. Because of this Dyad’s fame both within and outside of Tibet, and the sizable body of primary and secondary literature devoted to them, there was little incentive to rework what has been already published or discussed at length. Nevertheless parallels and interrelationships between the two Dyads of this book and Gangs ti se and mTsho ma pham are explored wherever appropriate. This Dyad shares some of its sacred geography as well as a good portion of its history culture and physical environment with the two Dyads of this work.

In the vast and largely unstudied matrix of Byang thang sacred geography the three Dyads are the hubs which co-ordinate and rule over a plethora of minor sacred topographical entities. This tri-polar system dominated the sacred geography of the Byang thang forging it into a unified whole. This is an important factor in keeping the gNas chen gangs ri mtsho gsum tradition alive, despite the loss of whatever ancient political connotations it once might have had. The wide plains and broad valleys of the Byang thang have an atmospheric quality about them and require some way to differentiate and quantify them. The Dyads provide such a perceptual benchmark.

The two Dyads of this study gNam mtsho and gNyan chen thang lha, and Dang ra g-yu mtsho and rTa rgo rin po che, share many common links apart from being members of the obscure Bon gNas chen gangs ri mtsho gsum. The deities from being associated with the two Dyads bear close resemblance to one another, especially in their most primitive form as rules and progenitors of the cosmos and the pantheon of elemental spirit.

Another commonality among the Dyads is the manner in which the lamaist religious, Bon and Buddhism, strove to redefine them to conform with their own doctrines, values and beliefs. Both religions relied on the same kinds of tactics and stratagems to bring the mountains and lakes into their fold. The result was that the Dyads become for both Bon and Buddhism worldly protectors of religion, albeit in close correspondence with hierarchically superior deities. This melding of the identities of worldly elemental spirits with higher deities that have passed beyond the sphere of transmigratory existence is a hallmark of the religious tradition of the Dyads.

There are a number of other ways in which the two Dyads resemble one another. They share a common ground as clan protectors (rus rgyud lha) genealogical deities (A pha’I lha) and ancestral deities (mes lha) for the inhabitants of the Byang thang. The Dyads are also important in the cult of spirit mediums in Tibet (ie. Tibetan Autonomous Region) are as celebrated in the folk oracular tradition. Another link between the Dyads is their influential role in the history of Zhang zhung. Few other places on the Byang thang have such a density of archaeological sites purported to date from that time. Since the fall of Zhang zhung in the 7th or 8th century the Dyads have receded in historical importance and many of their interconnections have been severed. Despite the loss of national significance, the Dyads have remained core areas on the Byang thang.


Divine Dyads: ancient civilization in Tibet is an interdisciplinary study designed to pave the way for additional investigation of the literature history archaeology and anthropology of the Byang thang. The book is compiled from four kinds of sources, giving it a wide scope: 1) Tibetan textual sources, 2) written sources in other languages, 3) oral sources of information, and 4) field surveys.

The charting of the course of history through the indigenous cultural fabric of the two study areas is designed to provide a perspective on the foundation and development of Tibetan civilization. The historical period began in Tibet in the 7th century and an understanding of the country heritage prior to that is sparse. A systematic approach and methodology for elucidating prehistoric culture has not yet been formulated not have many inroads been made in this area. This exposition of the indigenous religions heritage of gNam mtsho and gNyan chen thang lha, and Dang ra g.yu mtsho and rTa rgo rin po che is a step towards development a firm base for the study of Tibetan prehistory through the annals of cultural development, Tibetan have adhered to a belief system that deifies the natural environment, coloring their perception and helping to mold their metaphysical and ethical structures. Accordingly a bridge of tradition linking all periods of the Tibetan cultural legacy is intact to some degree. The goal of this book is to traverse that bridge by surveying Byang thang culture holistically, thus contributing to our understanding of the origins of Tibetan civilization.

Indigenous religious traditions were not necessarily terminated with the founding of the modern lamaist religious of Buddhism and Bon and the period of recorded history. On the contrary these indigenous traditions continue to thrive in the contemporary period. The indigenous popular religion –the amorphous body of folk tradition and belief connected to the divinity and sentient qualities of natural objets and phenomena has always managed to adapt. As such the deification of meteorological and celestial phenomena, topographical features and animal and plant life remains a cornerstone of the Tibetan faith. The very character of a way of life directly dependent on the natural environment ensured the survival of traditions of Tibetan and symbolism derived from it. Each major economic social and cultural transition of Tibetan civilization has posed its challenges to the prevailing religious sentiments, customs and beliefs of the Tibetan people. Through the ages an environment based livelihood reinforced an environment based ethic and belief system, which is still recognizable in contemporary religious expression.

Oral sources of information proved especially valuable in reference to the popular traditions surrounding the Divine Dyads, and were also crucial in corroborating, supplementing and clarifying data obtained from literary sources. Nevertheless most of the information regarding the personality, mythography and iconography of the Divine Dyads was obtained from written sources. The Tibetan literary sources used in this work can be broadly classified as follows: gsol kha (entreaties), bskang ba (offerings and blandishments), gnas bshad (guide books), dkar chag (registries of sacred places), rnam thar (biographies) chos byung (religions histories) and lo rgyus (histories).


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Dedication v
Foreword vii
Publisher’s note viii
Acknowledgments ix
1. The Nature of the Divine Dyads 1
2. Overview 4
3. The Objections 5
4. Sacred Geography 7
5. The Divine Dyads Expeditions 10
6. The Physical Geography of the Divine Dyads 11
7. Problems Concerning the classification of Time 12
8. The Divine Dyads in the Environmental context 15
Chapter One –gNyan chen thang lha in History, Religion and Mythology
1. Introduction 23
2. gNyan chen thang lha –the protector of the Doctrine 25
3. gNyan chen thang lha –the Yul lha 30
4. The Iconography of gNyan chen thang lha 42
5. gNyan chen thang lha –the Ancestral Deity 44
6. The mother and father of gNyan chen thang lha 48
7. gNyan chen thang lha as other Deities 51
8. The Mandala of gNyan chen thang lha 55
9. The Spirit –Mediumship of gNyan chen thang lha 62
Chapter Two-gNam mtsho in History, Religion and Mythology
1. Introduction95
2. The Personality of gNam mtsho phyug mo97
3. The Portals of gNam mtsho 103
4. The Father and mother of gNam mtsho 104
5. The Incarnations of gNam mtsho 105
6. The Goddess and the Lake 109
7. Ma rgyud110
8. mTsho sman rgyal mo110
9. dBam lcags mi mo lha112
10. Yum sras112
11. The Great Goddess115
12. The Marriages of gNam mtsho118
13. The Eighteen Headlands and the Eighteen Faces120
Chapter Three- The Appeasement and worship of gNam mtsho and gNyam chen thang lha
1. Introduction 139
2. gNyan chen thang lha as the Focus of worship140
3. gNam mtsho as the Focus of worship146
Chapter Four-A Survey of Srin mo do and bKra shis do
1. Srin mo do159
2. The Biographies of the Saints of gNam mtsho162
3. bKra shis do Overview 173
4. bKra shis do chung175
5. bKra shhis do chen introduction 190
6. The Pyramidal Nooks195
7. mKha gro bro ra201
8. Brag ching gur phug202
9. The Outbound sites210
10. kLu Khang212
11. The Final Leg of the sKor lam217
Chapter Five-Survey of the Other Sacred Sites of gNam mtsho
1. Introduction 231
2. South side of gNam mtsho 231
3. Gur chung dgon pa231
4. gShen gyer 234
5. Do skya dgon pa236
6. iCe do238
7. Bon po Enclave 247
8. sTong shong phug248
9. Bya do251
10. Lug do and Ra ma do260
11. rTa mchog ngang pa do, Bra gu rta ra and sNying do 262
12. Do Khra, Sha do, Do ring and points East270
Chapter Six-rTa rgo po che in History, Religion, and Mythology
1. Introduction 293
2. Bon and Buddhist Syncretism 294
3. rTa rgo-the Protector 295
4. rTa rgo –the Yul lha298
5. The Personality of the Unitary rTa rgo303
6. The Theogony of rTa rgo rin po che309
7. The Marriage of rTa rgo and Dang ra310
8. rTa rgo mched bdun rol brgyad313
9. The Spirit Mediumship of rTa rgo 318
Chapter Seven-Dang ra g.yu mtsho in history Religion and Mythology
1. Introduction 333
2. The Protectress 334
3. Other Facets of the Goddess personality 335
4. The Theogony of Dang ra338
5. Dang ra rgyal mo and Her Sisterhood341
6. The Zoomorphic Dang ra345
Chapter Eight-The Survey of Dang ra g.yu mtsho and rTa rgo rin po che
1. Introduction 351
2. Pilgrimage 352
3. Scriptural worship354
4. Tshogs Offerings 357
Chapter Nine-A Survey of Dang rag.yu mtsho and rTa rgo rin po che
1. Introduction 365
2. The Confluence of the rTa rgo and Ngang ma Rivers 365
3. To Dang ra g.yu mtsho369
4. Phyug tsho371
5. Other Ancient Communities 375
6. g. Yu bun Monastery 379
7. Khyung rdzong 384
8. In the Vicinity of Gangs lung388
9. g.Yung drung lha rtse390
10. Om bu393
11. The west side of Dang ra g. yu mtsho395
12. rTa rgo phrang and Gangs lung lha rtse397
13. Se zhig Monastery and Environs399
Appendices 421
Conclusion 441
Bibliography 445